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Europeans look to China as global partner, shun Trump’s US
By SYLVIE CORBET | Wed, November 6, 2019 08:46 EST
PARIS (AP) — When France’s president wants to carry European concerns to the world stage to find solutions for climate change, trade tensions or Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he no longer calls Washington. He flies to Beijing.
President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China this week suggests that the United States risks being sidelined on the global stage under President Donald Trump. One moment spoke volumes: Chinese President Xi Jinping sampling French wines, which Trump’s administration recently slapped with heavy new tariffs.
Macron portrayed himself as an envoy for the whole European Union, conveying the message that the bloc has largely given up on Trump, who doesn’t hide his disdain for multilateralism.
Just as the Trump administration formally launched the process of pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement , France and China issued a “Beijing call” on Wednesday for increased global cooperation in fighting climate change and better protecting biodiversity. Both countries have deplored the U.S. withdrawal.
“One country’s isolated choice can’t change the course of the world. It only leads to marginalization,” Macron said.
While China’s president tasted French wines and high-quality beef at an import fair in Shanghai, Macron was pushing for a broader opening of the Chinese market to European products.
“I think he discovered Languedoc wine. He wasn’t familiar with it, he liked it. He tasted a Burgundy and a classic Bordeaux wine,” Macron told reporters.
Xi said the two leaders were sending “a strong signal to the world about steadfastly upholding multilateralism and free trade, as well as working together to build open economies.”
During his first state visit to China in January 2018, Macron vowed to return every year in an effort to establish “mutual trust.”
Since then, Xi has travelled to France, when China signed an agreement in March to buy 300 aircraft from European plane maker Airbus.
This time, Macron travelled east, bringing with him an ambitious agenda that includes establishing a joint stance on reforming the World Trade Organization, fighting climate change and saving the nuclear accord with Iran.
After Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 U.N. nuclear pact, France and China reiterated their support for the hard-fought deal both countries had helped negotiate.
In Beijing, Macron described recent Gulf tensions as “the negative impact of the non-respect of a multilateral agreement. … The American error has been to leave (the pact) unilaterally.”
“Strong multilateralism is more efficient than shrill unilateralism,” Macron said, praising China’s support for de-escalation of the tensions as the Europeans try to save the nuclear deal with Iran.
“China and France are together with the Europeans and Russians,” he said. “We are convinced that we should increase our joint efforts to bring Iran back into compliance.”
On trade, the EU often joins U.S. criticism of China’s protectionist policies, government subsidies and other restrictive practices.
But whereas Trump has responded by aggressively imposing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods from China, Europe and elsewhere, bypassing rules set by the WTO, the EU considers that a trade war is not the appropriate response.
“We must get stable and cooperative trade rules at the international level,” Macron said, referring to a plan to reform the WTO. Trump complains that the WTO, which is tasked with resolving trade disputes, is weak and ineffective as China flouts its rules and it takes years to address trade complaints.
Macron said it is Europe and China’s shared responsibility to make proposals to reform the WTO, because it would be a “fundamental error” to wait for “those who are calling into question the multilateral system.”
The White House did not immediately comment on Wednesday.
Besides the tariffs on China, the U.S. has hit EU steel, aluminum and agricultural products with tariffs, drawing retaliation from the 28-country bloc. And the Trump administration is due to decide this month whether to impose tariffs on Europe’s massive auto exports, a move that would significantly escalate tensions that are already hurting the global economy.
Eswar Prasad, a Cornell University economist and former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China division, said “the Trump administration’s antipathy to multilateralism, its repudiation of many international agreements, and hostility toward even longstanding allies, have all eroded U.S. economic and geopolitical influence.”
“The U.S. is now seen by other countries as an unreliable and untrustworthy partner, leaving them to maneuver around the U.S. by striking bilateral and multilateral deals that protect and advance their own interests,” Prasad said.
Associated Press writers Paul Wiseman in Washington and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Buckingham Palace: Queen’s new outfits won’t use real fur
LONDON (AP) — Buckingham Palace says new outfits designed for Queen Elizabeth II will not use real fur.
The palace said Wednesday the decision does not mean the queen will dispose of all the fur outfits she already has. The palace statement says “the queen will continue to re-wear existing outfits in her wardrobe.”
The decision pleased animal rights activists, who have sometimes criticized the monarch for the fur pieces in her collection of designer clothes.
Claire Bass, director of the Humane Society International/UK, says “we are thrilled Her Majesty has officially gone fur-free.” She says the queen’s decision will send a positive message that fur is no longer considered fashionable.
EarthLink – News
High-tech chestnuts: US to consider genetically altered tree
By MICHAEL HILL | Wed, November 6, 2019 01:19 EST
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Chestnuts harvested from high branches on a chilly fall morning look typical: they’re marble sized, russet colored and nestled in prickly burs. But many are like no other nuts in nature.
In a feat of genetic engineering, about half the chestnuts collected at this college experiment station feature a gene that provides resistance to blight that virtually wiped out the American chestnut tree generations ago.
Researchers at New York state’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry will soon seek federal clearance to distribute thousands of modified trees as part of a restoration effort — a closely-watched move that could expand the frontier for genetically engineered plants beyond farms and into forests. The precedent-setting case adds urgency to a question scientists have already been grappling with:
Should genetic engineering be used in the wild to help save or restore trees?
Opponents warn of starting “a massive and irreversible experiment” in a highly complex ecosystem. Proponents see a technology already ubiquitous in the supermarket that could help save forests besieged by invasive pests.
“We have this technology, it’s a very powerful technology, and we can use that now to save a species,” said Professor William Powell, a molecular plant biologist who directs the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project at the college.
The researchers will ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assess an American chestnut tree with a gene from wheat that helps it tolerate cryphonectria parasitica, a fungus unwittingly imported to the United States over 100 years ago.
The blight decimated a towering tree species once dominant in forests from Maine to Georgia. Nuts from up to 4 billion trees fattened hogs, and its sturdy wood was used to build cabins. Yet by the time Nat King Cole crooned about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” after World War II, trees were doomed by the blight. Surviving trees today are typically shrubs sprouting from old roots, yet to be infected.
Long-running efforts to breed American chestnut trees with the blight tolerance of Chinese chestnut trees are more complicated than once appreciated. That’s because the Chinese tree’s tolerance comes from a suite of genes, instead of one or two.
Powell and his research partner Charles Maynard began working on a complementary track decades ago at the request of the New York chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. The added wheat gene enables trees to produce an enzyme that breaks down harmful acid released by the fungus.
Right now, the trees are tightly regulated. Modified trees grow behind the fence of the college’s experiment station near trees without the added gene. Researchers breed the two types of trees for genetic diversity. But flowering branch tips are covered with bags that keep pollen from blowing away. Chestnuts grow and are harvested in the same bags.
About half the chestnuts will inherit the gene, the researchers say.
The researchers will ask the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to evaluate the risks of the modified tree. They want the agency to lift the regulations it now imposes.
“What we have to make clear is that it’s not going to be any different than the trees produced through conventional means,” Powell said.
The USDA commonly authorizes genetically engineered crops. The vast majority of commercial corn and soybean acreage in the United States is used to grow crops engineered to be tolerant to herbicides or insects. There are even some genetically engineered plantation trees, such as papayas resistant to ringspot virus.
But engineered trees are not intentionally planted in the forests for conservation. That could change as genetic manipulation becomes more common and trees are increasingly threatened by climate change and invasive pests.
“If the chestnut is approved … I think it’s accurate to say that it does help pave the way for other biotech trees,” said Jason Delborne, an associate professor of science, policy and society at North Carolina State University. Delborne served on a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine committee that this year released a report that said biotechnology has a potential to help protect forests but recommended more study and investment.
Some scientists are concerned about the long-term effects of a re-introducing a tree into the woods that can live for more than 200 years. How will the new trees interact with the species that replaced the long-gone chestnuts? What if the trees die off again in 50 years?
Forest eco-systems are incredibly complex and the current regulatory framework is not up to the task of evaluating the environmental and societal risks, said biotechnology and sustainable agriculture expert Doug Gurian-Sherman.
“I think we have to step back and ask whether our ability to manipulate things is getting ahead of our ability to understand their impacts,” said Gurian-Sherman, a former senior scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Rachel Smolker, a co-director of the advocacy group Biofuelwatch and co-author of a report critical of the tree’s release, is concerned that the chestnut tree — with its cozy public image — could be a “Trojan horse” for other trees engineered for commercial use instead of conservation.
Many scientists see biotech as a promising tool left on the shelf, partly due to opposition they say is grounded more in emotion than science.
Meanwhile, trees are dying from scourges such as the emerald ash borer and the spotted lantern fly, and some scientists say biotech could help where other efforts have failed.
“Compared to what’s happening in the world with pests and climate change, I think the risks of making a mistake due to tweaking a gene wrong are so small compared to the risks of doing nothing,” said Steven Strauss, a forest biotechnologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Strauss is prominent in efforts to overturn biotech tree bans on certified commercial forest land.
If the application clears the USDA, the tree still needs to be considered by the Food and Drug Administration and it may need to be reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Powell believes the review could take two to four years.
A green light from the government would clear the way for distribution of the genetically engineered seedlings, pollen, or scions for grafting to volunteers around the chestnut’s traditional range.
In rural upstate New York, Allen Nichols is waiting.
Nichols, president of the New York chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, has about 100 chestnut trees on a rise by his house. Thanks to his diligent care, some lived long enough to produce chestnuts this year. Other trees are dying while others sprout anew — a steady cycle of life, blight and renewal in a rural orchard.
The 69-year-old -retiree looks forward to the day he can graft the genetically engineered tree onto his stock, letting the pollen drift in the wind and bringing back a healthy tree his parents talked fondly about.
“If we can do it, we should do it,” Nichols said as he surveyed his trees. “We owe it to the forest to try to correct some of the damage that we’ve done.”
Follow Michael Hill on Twitter: @MichaelTHill
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US business sees dwindling prospects in Cuba
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN | 01:22 EST
HAVANA (AP) — The Havana International Trade Fair is where Cuba puts the best face on its struggling economy.
There are state-run restaurants stocked with fresh food; shiny displays of electric motorcycles from traders in Panama; dozens of Cuban government companies offering goods from cigars to farmed shrimp.
One dark spot this year was the American section, where the U.S. presence has shrunk from dozens of companies during the Obama administration to a handful today. Some say they may not last another year of Trump administration sanctions.
After then-President Barack Obama’s 2014 announcement of detente with Cuba, the annual trade fair was swarmed with American businesspeople hunting opportunities. There were dozens of U.S. companies, state trade offices and associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Cuban-American businesspeople prowled the aisles, discussing the possibility of a return to the island after decades in exile.
The unprecedented boom didn’t last long, as companies began to realize the difficulty of doing business in Cuba, where a centralized bureaucracy must sign off on all foreign investment, and American business is particularly sensitive.
But the American presence started shrinking in earnest after President Donald Trump’s 2017 announcement that he was reversing Obama’s opening to Cuba, following by two years of increasingly tough sanctions on Cuba and its closest ally, Venezuela.
This year, Cuba has found it harder to do business internationally. The U.S. is pressuring banks to cut ties with the island, and sanctioning tankers that bring oil from Venezuela.
There are sporadic shortages of common products, gasoline and diesel, and a perennial government cash crunch has worsened.
Jay Brickman, vice president of Cuba services for Crowley Maritime, a major Florida-based global shipper, said the company had seen its business with Cuba drop roughly 20 percent this year.
An exception in the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba allows American companies to sell food to the communist government, and Crowley moves most of the soybeans, chickens and other agricultural products that travel from the U.S. to Cuba.
Looking out onto the mostly empty American section of Pavilion 7 at ExpoCuba, a 30-year-old fairground and convention center on the outskirts of Havana, Brickman said he fondly remembered his first Havana trade fair, in 2001, after the U.S. legalized the sale of agricultural products to Cuba.
He said there were hundreds of American companies, then-Minnesota Gov. and former pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura, even American cows brought in to sell Cuba on the benefits of U.S. livestock.
With the exception of the Obama years, the last two decades have not lived up to that promise, Brickman said.
“It’s a lot more ebb than flow,” he said. “The spirit of all that began to fade away.”
During Trump’s presidency, Cuba has been looking to buy farm products from countries beside the U.S., and Crowley’s business to Cuba has been dropping to the point where its sustainability is in question.
“Our commitment is to continue to be here if it’s all economically possible,” he said.
This week thousands of Cubans and foreigners swarmed pavilions with Spanish, Panamanian, Venezuelan and other stands from dozens of other countries. Besides Crowley, the American section of the fair had a couple of small Florida-based import-export firms, and a Guatemala-based consultant for the U.S. poultry and egg association.
Stands for the Alabama State Port Association and a few other U.S. representatives were empty Tuesday afternoon, the day after the fair’s inauguration.
The highest-ranking U.S. official at the fair appeared to be Virginia Agriculture Secretary Bettina Ring, at the head of a small delegation that she said showed her state’s continued commitment to sell modest quantities of soybean and chicken to Cuba.
Given the uncertainty of international trade, delegation members said, Virginia valued Cuba’s regular purchases of farm products from the state.
“Cuba has been a reliable market,” spokeswoman Stephanie Agree said. “We’ve got to keep the friends we have.”
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EU to pay Turkey millions to boost its coast guard
By LORNE COOK | 12:26 EST
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is preparing to pay Turkey tens of millions to help bolster its coast guard, a senior EU official said Wednesday, as increasing numbers of migrants and refugees are leaving Turkey in hopes of finding sanctuary or jobs in Europe.
Greek authorities are struggling to cope with a sharp rise in the number of migrant arrivals over the summer months on the island of Lesbos and other Greek islands in the eastern Aegean Sea near the Turkish coast. EU-funded refugee camps on those islands are facing severe overcrowding , poor living conditions and outbreaks of violence.
“We have prepared a set of measures amounting to some 50 million euros ($55 million),” said Maciej Popowski, the deputy director-general for EU enlargement policy.
He said part of the money would help “improve the capacities of the Turkish coast guard to perform search-and-rescue operations.”
The rest would be used to improve conditions in migrant detention centers and to help those people permitted to stay to better integrate into Turkish society. The money would be drawn from a budget meant to prepare Turkey to join the EU and from a separate “peace and stability” fund.
Turkey is a candidate for EU membership, but its accession negotiations are at a standstill amid concerns about democratic backsliding, notably on the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, media freedoms and allegations of human rights abuses.
After well over 1 million migrants entered Europe in 2015 — most of them fleeing the war in Syria — the EU hurriedly agreed to pay Turkey up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) to stop migrants from leaving the Turkish coast for Greece. Arrivals dropped to a relative trickle after the deal took effect.
But in the weeks prior to Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria last month, Ankara sought more cash from the Europeans, claiming that the money, which is meant to help Syrians taking refuge on Turkish territory, was insufficient and that the EU has been too slow to provide it.
Popowski told EU lawmakers that Turkey directly requested more money from EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos during talks in Ankara in early October.
The migrant challenge in 2015 sparked one of Europe’s biggest crises, as nations bickered over who should take responsibility for the arrivals pouring into Greece and Italy and whether other EU nations should be obliged to help. That means the EU is very concerned about keeping Turkey onboard with its migrant deal.
But Popowski noted “the Turkish military operation in northern Syria has complicated things even further,” because the EU does not want to be involved in any attempt to send refugees into the area and it refuses to fund any Turkish military action.