Xi Pledges to Open Chinese Market

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that China would take steps to widen access to its markets as he opened a huge trade fair amid criticism from other countries about China’s economic and business practices.

Xi said China would lower tariffs, take more action to punish violations of intellectual property rights, and work to boost domestic consumption of imported goods.

Speaking at the trade expo in Shanghai, Xi pledged to “embrace the world” as China promotes the growing consumer market in the world’s second-largest economy.

He did not mention U.S. President Donald Trump by name, but alluded to Trump’s “America first” economic policies by criticizing isolationism and citing a need to defend multilateral trade.

​The United States and China are locked in a battle over trade, with Trump complaining about the trade gap between the two countries and accusing China of stealing intellectual property and imposing policies that make it more difficult for U.S. companies to access the Chinese market.

Trump has announced boosted tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, while China has countered with $110 billion in tariffs on U.S. products. Xi and Trump are expected to meet later this month.

The European Union has also complained about China’s trade policies, including criticizing Xi for not following through on earlier reform pledges. The EU called last week for Xi to present concrete steps to opening its market.



New Orleans Restaurateur Aims for Inclusivity in New Venture

When employees enter Saba — an Israeli restaurant started by award-winning chef Alon Shaya — they pass by the company’s mission statement, which emphasizes the importance of a safe and comfortable working environment. Only at the end does it really get around to food with the words: “Then, we will cook and serve and be happy.”

“The team is number one and that is who we are as a company,” said Shaya, explaining the genesis of his and his wife’s new venture, Pomegranate Hospitality , which includes restaurants in New Orleans and Denver, and the environment he hopes to create for the company’s nearly 150 employees.

Discussions about new restaurants generally revolve around the food. And at Saba the piping hot pita bread or the blue crab hummus is discussion-worthy. But long before the first plate of shakshouka was served, Shaya and his team focused on how to create an inclusive work environment different than the toxic restaurant workplaces exposed by the #MeToo movement.

Just over a year ago, Shaya was part owner and executive chef of three restaurants in the Besh Restaurant Group, headed by New Orleans chef John Besh, including his James Beard-awarding winning namesake Israeli restaurant.

Then a story in NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune detailed allegations of sexual misconduct in Besh’s company, causing Besh to step down. Shaya wasn’t personally accused of misconduct but the story detailed allegations of harassment at two of his restaurants. Shaya was quoted in the story about concerns he had over BRG’s then-lack of a human resources department. Shaya has said that’s what led to his firing — something Besh’s company disputed. A messy legal battle ensued during which Shaya lost all rights to his namesake restaurant.

Fast forward to current day: Shaya sits at Saba discussing the policies and procedures Pomegranate has put in place to ensure a safe working environment.

The interview process includes questions way beyond whether a person has waited tables before (‘What was the last gift you bought for somebody?’). Management holds 30- and 90-day chats with new employees and then every six months. The restaurants are closed Monday and Tuesday so everyone has a guaranteed two days in a row off.

Women populate high-profile roles including executive chef in New Orleans. About 60 percent of each restaurant’s staff is women. They’ve adopted ideas from other restaurants including a system used by Erin Wade at the Oakland, California-based Homeroom to deal with sexual harassment and a code of conduct for guest chefs used by Raleigh, N.C.-based restaurateur Ashley Christiansen.

Service is limited during 2:30 to 4 p.m. so the staff can sit together for a meal, often accompanied by staff presentations to their co-workers. Some topics are work-related. But employees are also encouraged to share what interests them. During a recent session, cook Timmy Harris talked to the waiters, managers, and cooks about existentialism, Southern literature and author Walker Percy.

“It kind of drives home the point that this is a place for people to develop themselves. It’s not just a restaurant. We’re not just slinging pita,” Harris said after.

Shaya said he can’t talk much about what happened while working at BRG for legal reasons but says now that he and his wife own their company they’re able to create the structure they want.

“Even in our restaurants someone will be inappropriate at some point,” Shaya said. “And I know that when that happens people are going to jump on it because people have really bought into the values.”

Experts say many issues have contributed to sexual misconduct in the restaurant industry, including a tipping structure that can inhibit servers — often women — from complaining about out-of-line customers, little training for managers and high turnover. Restaurants’ small size — often family-owned or single units — has historically meant they don’t have strong HR policies, said Juan Madera, an associate professor at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Allegations of sexual misconduct at restaurants and the wider #MeToo discussion have been a “wakeup call for restaurants,” Madera said. He’s hearing from restaurant associations and others who want to figure out how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Raleigh, N.C.-based chef and restaurateur Ashley Christiansen, who talked with Shaya about his new venture, says a restaurant’s HR presence is as important as the food or the linen service. She says it’s difficult to measure how much progress has been made across the industry since the growth of the #MeToo movement, but she sees cause for optimism.

“I feel like it’s the thing I talk about more than food now, and I think that’s a positive thing,” she said.

Shaya says his new venture hasn’t been without problems. He’s fired one person who was cursing at another employee. But he’s also been inspired by staff members calling out someone who makes an off-color joke or not tolerating negativity.

“We’ve taken it down to the very basics of kindness, and we stick to it and I feel that we’ve attracted a lot of people who believe in that,” he said.



China Seeks to Rebrand Global Image With Import Expo 

Facing a blizzard of trade complaints, China is throwing an “open for business” import fair hosted by President Xi Jinping to rebrand itself as a welcoming market and positive global force. 

More than 3,000 companies from 130 countries selling everything from Egyptian dates to factory machinery are attending the China International Import Expo, opening Monday in the commercial hub of Shanghai. Its VIP guest list includes prime ministers and other leaders from Russia, Pakistan and Vietnam. 

The United States, fighting a tariff war with Beijing, has no plans to send a high-level envoy. 

Xi’s government is emphasizing the promise of China’s growing consumer market to help defuse complaints Beijing abuses the global trading system by reneging on promises to open its industries. 

“This says, look, we’re not a global parasite that is creating massive deficits, we are buying goods,” said Kerry Brown, a Chinese politics specialist at King’s College London. 

The event also is part of efforts to develop a trading network centered on China and increase its influence in a Western-dominated global system. 

President Donald Trump and his “America First” trade policies that threaten to raise import barriers to the world’s biggest consumer market loom in the background. 

Exporters, especially developing countries, want closer relations with China to help “insulate themselves from what is happening with Trump and the U.S.,” said Gareth Leather of Capital Economics. 

China has cut tariffs and announced other measures this year to boost imports, which rose 15.9 percent in 2017 to $1.8 trillion. But none addresses the U.S. complaints about its technology policy that prompted Trump to impose penalty tariffs of up to 25 percent on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. Beijing has responded with tariff hikes on $110 billion worth of American imports. 

Chinese ambitions

Chinese leaders have rejected pressure to roll back plans such as “Made in China 2025,” which calls for state-led creation of global champions in robotics and other fields, ambitions that some American officials worry will undermine U.S. industrial leadership. 

To keep the economy growing, China needs to nurture its consumer market, and that requires more imports. 

But foreign companies say regulators are still trying to squeeze them out of promising industries and that they face pressure to hand over technology. 

The Shanghai expo “will be of little consequence to U.S. and other companies unless its pageantry is matched by meaningful and measurable changes in China trade practices,” Kenneth Jarrett, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, said in an email. 

Some companies might get a brief sales boost, “but its long-run impact will be defined by China’s willingness to end many of its unfair trade practices,” said Jarrett. 

Europe, Japan and other trading partners have been leery of Trump’s tactics but echo U.S. complaints. 

They say Beijing improperly hampers access to finance, logistics and other service industries. European leaders are frustrated that Beijing bars foreign acquisitions of most assets while its own companies are on a global buying spree. 

Writing in a Chinese business magazine, the French and German ambassadors to Beijing appealed for changes including an end to requirements that foreign companies operate in joint ventures with state-owned partners. They called for an overhaul of rules they say hinder companies from profiting from and protecting their technology. 

“We encourage China to address these issues through concrete and systematic measures that go beyond tariff adjustments,” Ambassadors Jean-Maurice Ripert of France and Clemens von Goetze of Germany wrote in the magazine Caixin. 

China already is the No. 1 trading partner for all its Asian neighbors, though a big share of the iron ore, industrial components and other goods it buys are turned into smartphones, TV sets and other goods for export. 

Better access to some goods

Tariff cuts announced over the past year were aimed at giving Chinese consumers better access to foreign goods. Chinese leaders emphasize those include anti-cancer drugs and other medical products. But many are specialty goods such as high-end baby strollers, avocados and mineral water that don’t compete with Chinese suppliers. 

The Shanghai expo also gives Beijing a chance to repair its image following complaints about its “Belt and Road Initiative” to expand trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across a vast arc of 65 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa and Europe. 

Governments including Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand have scrapped or scaled back projects because of high costs or complaints that too little work goes to local companies. Sri Lanka, Kenya and other nations have run into trouble repaying Chinese loans. 

“It’s become too associated with debt and China getting what it wants,” said Brown. “They are trying to get out this more positive message that China is open for business.”  



As Americans Vote, Facebook Struggles With Misinformation

As U.S. voters prepare to head to the polls Tuesday, the election will also be a referendum on Facebook.

In recent months, the social networking giant has beefed up scrutiny of what is posted on its site, looking for fake accounts, misinformation and hate speech, while encouraging people to go on Facebook to express their views.

“A lot of the work of content moderation for us begins with our company mission, which is to build community and bring the world closer together,” Peter Stern, who works on product policy stakeholder engagement at Facebook, said at a recent event at St. John’s University in New York City.

Facebook wants people to feel safe when they visit the site, Stern said. To that end, it is on track to hire 20,000 people to tackle safety and security on the platform.

As part of its stepped-up effort, Facebook works with third-party fact-checkers and takes down misinformation that contributes to violence, according to a blog post by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO.

But most popular content, often dubbed “viral,” is frequently the most extreme. Facebook devalues posts it deems are incorrect, reducing their viralness, or future views, by 80 percent, Zuckerberg said.

Disinformation campaigns

Recently Facebook removed accounts followed by more than 1 million people that it said were linked to Iran but pretended to look like they were created by people in the U.S. Some were about the upcoming midterm elections.

The firm also removed hundreds of American accounts that it said were spamming political misinformation.

Still, Facebook is criticized for what at times appears to be flaws in its processes.

Vice News recently posed as all 100 U.S. senators and bought fake political ads on the site. After approving them all, Facebook said it made a mistake.

Politicians in Britain and Canada have asked Zuckerberg to testify on Facebook’s role on spreading disinformation.

“I think they are really struggling and that’s not surprising, because it’s a very hard problem,” said Daphne Keller, who used to be on Google’s legal team and is now with Stanford University.

“If you think about it, they get millions, billions of new posts a day, most of them some factual claim or sentiment that nobody has ever posted before, so to go through these and figure out which are misinformation, which are false, which are intending to affect an electoral outcome, that is a huge challenge,” Keller said. “There isn’t a human team that can do that in the world, there isn’t a machine that can do that in the world.”


While it has been purging its site of accounts that violate its policies, the company has also revealed more about how decisions are made in removing posts. In a 27-page document, Facebook described in detail what content it removes and why, and updated its appeals process. 

Stern, of Facebook, supports the company’s efforts at transparency.

“Having a system that people view as legitimate and basically fair even when they don’t agree with any individual decision that we’ve made is extremely important,” he said.

The stepped-up efforts to give users more clarity about the rules and the steps to challenge decisions are signs Facebook is moving in the right direction, Stanford’s Keller said.

“We need to understand that it is built into the system that there will be a fair amount of failure and there needs to be appeals process and transparency to address that,” she said.



Record Imports Balloon US Trade Deficit in September

A hungry American economy powered by a strong U.S. dollar saw record imports in September, driving the U.S. trade deficit to its highest level in seven months, the government reported Friday. 

And amid President Donald Trump’s trade war with Beijing, the U.S. trade deficit with China swelled again, as crucial soybean exports — a sore spot for Republicans in next week’s midterm elections — continued to suffer. 

With rising wages and low unemployment, Americans purchased more foreign-made telecommunications equipment, computers, mobile phones, aircraft engines, clothing and toys, the Commerce Department said. 

The U.S. trade deficit posted its fourth straight monthly increase, rising 1.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted $54 billion, significantly overshooting analyst forecasts, as imports hit $266.6 billion, the highest level ever recorded. Exports also rose to $212.6 billion. 

The U.S. trade gap has increased a steep 10.1 percent so far this year. 

The expanding trade gap should weigh on GDP calculations in the third quarter, although many estimates may already have factored in the trade drag. 

Record imports from China

Trade with China, a central target of Trump’s aggressive economic agenda, was a clear culprit, as the deficit in goods with the world’s second-largest economy jumped $3 billion to $37.4 billion, seasonally adjusted. 

Goods imports from China hit a record of $47.7 billion, seasonally adjusted, an increase of $3.5 billion from August. 

The trade report showed American producers sold more gold, petroleum products and civilian aircraft, but exports of soybeans fell $700 billion from August, also largely the result of the trade spat with China. 

U.S. imports rose faster than exports on robust spending by companies and consumers — driving the U.S. goods deficit to its highest level ever recorded at $76.3 billion. 

U.S. goods imports also were the highest ever, at $217.6 billion. 

Analysts say recent tax cuts and fiscal stimulus should support demand that outstrips domestic production, keeping imports high and allowing the trade gap to widen further. 

Excluding oil and aircraft, U.S. exports fell at an annual rate of 8.6 percent, something Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics called “grim.” 

Trump said Thursday that he had spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about trade confrontation, and the leaders are expected to meet late this month at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina. 

That will be a chance for the two to work toward ending a deadlock, which has imposed steep tariffs on hundreds of millions of dollars in two-way trade. 

No high hopes

However, senior White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow poured cold water on expectations for a breakthrough. 

“Look, there’s no massive movement to deal with trade,” Kudlow told CNBC on Friday. 

Markets, manufacturers and importers are bracing for a stiff increase in U.S. duties on Chinese goods, which are due to rise to 25 percent on January 1. 

Trump has slapped tariffs on more than $250 billion in imports from China, alleging massive state intervention and technological theft, and has sought leverage in talks by threatening to put duties on all Chinese imports. 

Wall Street interrupted this week’s rally, closing down sharply on fears the U.S.-China trade war could worsen. 

“The risks from a trade war remain our biggest concern in light of recent events,” Oxford Economics said in a research note.