U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will testify next week at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on U.S.-China trade issues, a spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee said on Wednesday.
Lighthizer has been the lead negotiator in ongoing trade negotiations with Beijing as the world’s two largest economies seek to find agreement amid a bitter dispute that has seen both sides impose tariffs on imports.
In a statement, the committee said the hearing was scheduled for Feb. 27, just days ahead of President Donald Trump’s March 1 deadline that the Republican U.S. leader has said could slide.
China and the United States began their latest round of talks this week.
A year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin sailed to victory in what challengers dubbed a “filthy election.” Facing weak candidates — some likely encouraged to run by a Kremlin eager to give the poll a veneer of greater competitiveness — Putin basked in his re-election, promising a flag-waving rally of loyalists off Moscow’s Red Square that “success awaits us.”
But with less than a month to go before marking the anniversary of his re-election, Putin faces rising public frustration with his rule and unprecedented dips in his approval ratings. In a recent opinion poll, nearly half of those surveyed said the country is heading in the wrong direction.
Putin, who has held power since succeeding Boris Yeltsin in 1999, had always been guaranteed victory in an election timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Russian annexation of Crimea. Many pro-Putin voters interviewed by VOA last year said they were backing him because he had restored Russian strength and transformed the country from a regional power to a global player.
The domestic political landscape has changed since then, and the spell of Russian foreign adventurism doesn’t have the pull it once had, say analysts. The 66-year-old Russian leader appeared to acknowledge that Wednesday in his first address to parliament since his re-election.
Shift in focus
He went much more lightly on foreign and military issues in contrast to his last annual address in which he saber-rattled and unveiled a raft of new missiles, bragging about their stealth and speed. This time, he focused more on domestic challenges.
In response to rising public anger at the country’s economic malaise, Putin pledged to increase spending on development and social benefits, announcing a jump in child benefits along with tax breaks for families. He also pledged to almost double disability support payments. Putin boasted that for the first time, the country’s currency reserves cover external debt obligations and said economic growth should exceed 3 percent by 2021.
“Thanks to many years of common work and the results achieved, we can now direct and concentrate enormous financial resources on our development goals for our country,” Putin said.
“Nobody gave these funds to us; we did not borrow them. These funds were earned by millions of our citizens, the whole country,” he added.
“In the near future, this year, people should feel real changes for the better,” Putin pledged.
A tough sell
Whether Putin can deliver and reverse his growing unpopularity waits to be seen.
Analysts say Russians are unlikely to be satisfied with just words when it comes to quality of life issues, including the delivery of public services, municipal amenities or, more often than not, their absence, and on health and safety issues. It is the everyday “parochial” issues that worry them, including the potentially deadly consequences of shoddy and unsafe municipal housing and the reckless discarding of trash as Russia runs out of landfill sites.
Last year, thousands protested when dozens of children, in the town of Volokolamsk near Moscow, were hospitalized with suspected poisoning, the result of noxious gases emanating from an overfull local landfill.
In the past, when his political star has waned, Putin has turned to adventurism abroad to shore up support, offering foreign policy triumphs to whip up his domestic standing. That is unlikely to work moving forward, say analysts such as Mikhail Dmitriev.
Dmitriev says polling data suggest the Kremlin is heading for a rocky few months with signs that dissent is likely to mount, and not just among the usual middle-class Putin skeptics and critics in the Russian capital and St. Petersburg, but in non-metropolitan Russia, in the smaller towns and villages, which traditionally have been the backbone of his support.
Raising the retirement age last year triggered the slide in Putin’s popularity. Cuts to salaries and sluggish economic growth added to the drag on his approval ratings, pollsters say. Real incomes have fallen by more than 10 percent since 2014, and nearly 40 percent of Russians say their material well-being has worsened just in the last 12 months.
Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a research institution, noted in a commentary earlier this month that ordinary workers are becoming more vexed with the Kremlin’s failure to deliver higher standards of living, as Putin promised he would do during the election campaign.
“Increasingly he is getting into fights with real Russians who want to complain about government policies. Last September, when he visited the Zvezda shipyard in the Russian Far East, the president got into an argument with the workers there about their salaries. (The transcript of their conversation in which Putin massively overestimated what they were paid was subsequently removed from the Kremlin website),” according to Baunov.
Baunov says the Putin system is increasingly being found wanting and the Russian president will not be able to deliver on the growing demand for economic redistribution “at the expense of the country’s rich capitalists,” in effect the friends of Putin and businessmen close to the Kremlin.
The U.S. decision last week to permit Vietnam to fly its commercial aircraft directly to American airports is seen as a continuation of improving relations and follows other signs of international recognition for Hanoi.
Observers say the breakthrough shows that major countries including the United States take Vietnam ever more seriously after more than three decades of brisk economic development and foreign policy that includes balancing relations with its communist neighbor China without worrying the West.
“It’s been a slow and progressive bringing back [of] Vietnam into the international community,” said Adam McCarty, chief economist with Mekong Economics in Hanoi. “It’s been this continual process from the Vietnamese side of being caught, as they have been historically for hundreds of years, between larger powers.”
The Federal Aviation Administration’s award of a “category 1” rating for Vietnam means the country meets international safety standards. Vietnamese airlines can get permits now from the administration to open flights to the United States and carry the codes of U.S. carriers, the FAA said in a statement February 14.
US officials see change
Vietnamese officials knew the significance of the U.S. market in 2012, when they started working toward the FAA category 1 rating, Communist Party news website Nhan Dah reported Monday. They set out to solve 49 safety problems that the FAA found a year later, the website added.
The FAA inspected Vietnam’s civil aviation schemes again last year and gave high marks in most areas. It found just 14 “individual and not systematic problems,” the report says.
Clinching category 1 status from the world’s largest economy follows other signs of growing recognition.
The U.S. ran a $29.3 billion trade deficit with Vietnam in the first nine months of last year, but Washington did not make it a big issue. China and the United States, however, have been locked in disputes for about the past year partly because of China’s trade surplus with the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who praised Vietnam’s economic momentum in 2017, is scheduled to visit Hanoi next week for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Both sides picked Vietnam as host because it’s seen as geopolitically neutral.
Trump and his “hawkish colleagues” will see Vietnam as distinct from China in terms of trade, McCarty said.
“The degree of economic and trade closeness between Vietnam and the United States is always increasing,” said Tai Wan-ping, Vietnam-specialized international business professor at Cheng Shiu University in Taiwan. “Apart from Vietnam having trade deals, in substance the degree of progress is extremely high.”
Bigger economy, more fliers
Foreign investment in Vietnamese manufacturing is fueling economic growth of 6 to 7 percent since 2012. That trend is growing the middle class to about one-third of the 93 million population by next year, the Boston Consulting Group estimates.
Citizens are spending some of their new wealth on airfares.
The country saw 94 million passengers in 2017, including 13 million foreign nationals, up 16 percent over 2016. The domestic civil aviation industry has grown 17.4 percent over the past decade and the International Air Transport Association projects Vietnam will become the world’s fifth fastest growing aviation market by 2035.
Foreign investors are expected to keep flying in, too. In January Vietnam formally joined the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal encompassing about 13.5 percent of the world economy. The European Union expects to ratify its own trade pact with Vietnam.
As part of a 10-member bloc of Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam trades freely with China. But political scientists say Vietnam avoids favoritism toward China, despite its having a similar political system and its significance as a source of raw materials. Vietnam has vied with China over territory for centuries and prefers a multi-country foreign policy today.
Loads of returnees, fewer tourists
Vietnamese in the United States are likely to pack the eventual direct flights as relatively few American tourists visit Vietnam, compared to other sources, McCarty said. Some Vietnamese-Americans go back to visit; others to invest.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are about 1.3 million people of Vietnamese heritage live in the United States today, many relocated after the U.S.-backed former South Vietnam lost to the Communist north in the 1970s. Foreign tourism to Vietnam surged to 14.1 million in the first 11 months of last year, led by citizens from China and South Korea.
“There are residents in the U.S. itself, so that alone would be good enough for airline connections if they see fit to,” said Song Seng Wun, regional economist in the private banking unit of CIMB in Singapore, “Every country on the planet has representation in the U.S. population in one way or another. Obviously therefore it makes economic sense, commercial sense to have connectivity.”
Passengers on the eventual direct flights would avoid today’s stopovers in places such as Hong Kong and Taipei, Tai said.
Hundreds of orange robots zoom and whiz back and forth like miniature bumper cars — but instead of colliding, they’re following a carefully plotted path to transport thousands of items ordered from online giant Amazon.
A young woman fitted out in a red safety vest, with pouches full of sensors and radio transmitters on her belt and a tablet in hand, moves through their complicated choreography.
This robot ballet takes place at the new Amazon order fulfillment center that opened on Staten Island in New York in September.
In an 80,000-square-meter (855,000-square-foot) space filled with the whirring sounds of machinery, the Seattle-based e-commerce titan has deployed some of the most advanced instruments in the rapidly growing field of robots capable of collaborating with humans.
The high-tech vest, worn at Amazon warehouses since last year, is key to the whole operation — it allows 21-year-old Deasahni Bernard to safely enter the robot area, to pick up an object that has fallen off its automated host, for example, or check if a battery needs replacing.
Bernard only has to press a button and the robots stop or slow or readjust their dance to accommodate her.
Amazon now counts more than 25 robotic centers, which chief technologist for Amazon Robotics Tye Brady says have changed the way the company operates.
“What used to take more than a day now takes less than an hour,” he said, explaining they are able to fit about 40 percent more goods inside the same footprint.
For some, these fulfillment centers, which have helped cement Amazon’s dominant position in global online sales, are a perfect illustration of the looming risk of humans being pushed out of certain business equations in favor of artificial intelligence.
But Brady argues that robot-human collaboration at the Staten Island facility, which employs more than 2,000 people, has given them a “beautiful edge” over the competition.
Bernard, who was a supermarket cashier before starting at Amazon, agrees.
“I like this a lot better than my previous jobs,” she told AFP, as Brady looked on approvingly.
What role do Amazon employees play in what Brady calls the human-robot “symphony?”
In Staten Island, on top of tech-vest wearers like Bernard, there are “stowers,” “pickers” and “packers” who respectively load up products, match up products meant for the same customers and build shipping boxes — all with the help of screens and scanners.
At every stage, the goal is to “extend people’s capabilities” so the humans can focus on problem-solving and intervene if necessary, according to Brady.
At the age of 51, he has worked with robotics for 33 years, previously as a spacecraft engineer for MIT and on lunar landing systems of the Draper Laboratory in Massachusetts.
He is convinced the use of “collaborative robots” is the key to future human productivity — and job growth.
Since Amazon went all-in on robotics with the 2012 acquisition of logistics robot-maker Kiva, gains have been indisputable, Brady says.
They’ve created 300,000 new jobs, bringing the total number of worldwide Amazon employees up to 645,000, not counting seasonal jobs.
“It’s a myth that robotics and automation kills jobs, it’s just a myth,” according to Brady.
“The data really can’t be denied on this: the more robots we add to our fulfillment centers, the more jobs we are creating,” he said, without mentioning the potential for lost jobs at traditional stores.
The ‘R2D2’ model
For Brady, the ideal example of human-robot collaboration is the relationship between “R2D2” and Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars.”
Their partnership, in which “R2D2” is always ready to use his computing powers to pull people out of desperate situations “is a great example of how humans and robots can work together,” he said.
But despite Brady’s enthusiasm for a robotic future, many are suspicious of the trend — a wariness that extends to the corporate giant, which this month scrapped high-profile plans for a new New York headquarters in the face of local protests.
Attempts by Amazon employees to unionize, at Staten Island and other sites, have so far been successfully fought back by the company, further fuelling criticism.
At a press briefing held last month as part of the unionization push, one employee of the facility, Rashad Long, spoke out about what he said were unsustainable work conditions.
“We are not robots, we are human beings,” Long said.
Sharing the benefits
Many suspect Amazon’s investment in robotics centers aims to eventually automate positions currently held by humans.
For Kevin Lynch, an expert in robotics from Northwestern University near Chicago, the development of collaborative robots is “inevitable” and will indeed eventually eliminate certain jobs, such as the final stage of packing at Amazon for instance.
“I also think other jobs will be created,” he said. “But it’s easier to predict the jobs that will be lost than the jobs that will be created.”
“Robotics and artificial intelligence bring clear benefits to humanity, in terms of our health, welfare, happiness, and quality of life,” said Lynch, who believes public policy has a key role to play in ensuring those benefits are shared, and that robotics and AI do not sharpen economic inequality.
“The growth of robotics and AI is inevitable,” he said. “The real question is, ‘how do we prepare for our future with robots?”
Suraj Nachre works long hours and regularly misses meals but he treasures his job as a driver for a food delivery startup — working in a booming industry that highlights India’s expanding apps-based gig-economy.
The 26-year-old is one of hundreds of thousands of young Indians who, armed with their smartphones and motorcycles, courier dinners to offices and homes ordered at the swipe of a finger.
A surge in the popularity of food-ordering apps like Uber Eats and Swiggy provides a welcome source of income for many as India’s unemployment rate sits at a reported 45-year high.
But they also shine a spotlight on the prevalence of short-term contracts in the economy, raising questions about workers’ rights and conditions and the long-term viability of the jobs.
“(These delivery workers) are treated as independent contractors so labor laws governing employees are not applicable and they lack job security,” Gautam Ghosh, a human resources consultant, told AFP.
“While jobs created by food delivery apps are crucial, they may not exist in 10 years so for the majority of youngsters they are a stopgap arrangement,” he added.
India’s army of food delivery drivers, mostly men but some women too, became a talking point on social media late last year when a rider for the Zomato platform was filmed sampling a customer’s order.
The video, apparently shot on a mobile phone, showed the man taking bites from several food parcels before wrapping them again. It sparked anger online and he was promptly sacked.
Many internet users rallied to his defense, however. They insisted that the two-minute clip showed he was hungry and desperate, and said Zomato had acted harshly in dismissing him.
“It is a challenging job,” said Nachre, expressing sympathy for the unnamed delivery man who was working in the southern city of Madurai before being fired.
“We work 12 hours straight in soaring heat and heavy rains. Sometimes I don’t even have time to eat,” he added.
Nachre drives for the Scootsy platform. He leaves home at 9:00 am and does not return until after 1:00 am. Navigating Mumbai’s abysmal traffic makes work stressful, he says.
“We’re always in a rush to deliver and customers keep calling us. We know we have to be on our toes all the time or customers might complain and we may lose our jobs,” Nachre told AFP.
India’s food delivery apps, backed by major international investment, are offering new avenues of employment for Indian youngsters who lack higher education but possess a driving license.
Their importance to the likes of Nachre was highlighted recently when a leaked government report said India’s unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in 2017-18, the highest since the 1970s.
“This job is lucrative,” said Nachre, who has no post-school qualifications and earns a minimum of 18,000 rupees ($253) a month.
In his previous job running errands at an office he made only 8,000 rupees.
The app-based food delivery industry is worth an estimated $7 billion to Asia’s third-largest economy, according to market research firm Statista, and is expanding rapidly.
Swiggy announced at the end of last year that it had received $1 billion in funding from foreign backers including South Africa’s Naspers and China’s Tencent.
That put the valuation of the five-year-old company, headquartered in Bangalore, at more than $3 billion.
Zomato, Swiggy’s nearest challenger for market dominance, is being aggressively backed by Alibaba’s Ant Financial. The Chinese giant recently pumped in $210 million, valuing the Delhi-based startup at $2 billion.
The food delivery platforms are soaring as India’s growing middle classes take advantage of better smartphone connectivity and cheap data plans that are fueling a gig economy centered on technology.
Informal, casual labor has long been the bedrock of India’s economy but now Indians can access a host of services on their phones from hiring a rickshaw to booking a plumber or yoga teacher.
FlexingIt, a global consulting agency, estimates the country’s gig economy has the potential to grow up to $30 billion by 2025.
Analysts say it is time the government started to regulate the sector.
“There is no regulator overlooking this sector. Working conditions definitely need to get better for these workers,” Anurag Mahur, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers told AFP.
Thirty-year-old Tushar Khandagale, who delivers for Zomato, is the sole breadwinner in his family.
With millions of youngsters entering India’s workforce every year and looking for a job, Khandagale would relish a long-term contract that offered him some security.
“I hope to stay in this job. It pays well and my family depend on me,” he said.
Peru on Tuesday launched a new, “sustained” effort to uproot illegal gold mining in one of the Amazon’s most biodiverse corners, sending 1,500 police and military officers to the region after deforestation from wildcat mining hit a new high last year.
The government of President Martin Vizcarra said it was suspending civil liberties and tasking the armed forces with restoring the rule of law in districts rife with illegal mining in Madre de Dios, or Mother of God, a low-lying rainforest region known for its high biodiversity, carbon-rich forests and indigenous tribes that shun contact with outsiders.
The state of emergency will be in place for 60 days, the defense ministry added in a statement.
The operation got off to a rough start, with two police officers and a prosecutor killed when a bus transporting security forces flipped over, the interior ministry said.
If successful, the operation would mark the first time Peru has been able to stop an illegal industry responsible for releasing tons of mercury into the environment as well as supporting sex trafficking and child labor in mining camps.
The crackdown might also impact the production and shipment of gold from Peru, the world’s sixth-largest producer, as illegal ore often makes its way into the legal supply chain through middlemen and shell companies. Previous crack-downs in Madre de Dios have spawned contraband smuggling into Bolivia.
High gold prices during the 2009-2010 global financial crisis fueled an illegal gold rush in Madre de Dios that has continued to expand.
“It’s been growing for better part of a decade,” said Luis Fernandez, a Wake Forest University ecologist who has been studying the issue since 2007.
“In every town there are little shops that buy gold from miners that emit levels of mercury from coal-fired power plants,” Fernandez said. “We’re just starting to learn what the impacts will be on the population.”
Wildcat miners in Madre de Dios are often tipped off about government plans to destroy illegal mining camps in the jungle, allowing them to hide expensive machinery and flee. They then regroup once security forces leave the region.
Environmentalists say criminal groups that finance the mining are now better organized and more violent than ever.
In 2018, deforestation from wildcat mining in southern Peru, where Madre de Dios is located, peaked at 9,280 hectares (22,931 acres), topping the previous high of 9,160 hectares in 2017, according to a January report by Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), which uses satellite images to track deforestation for the NGO Amazon Conservation.
The defense ministry said the current operation, which it dubbed “Mercury 2019,” will be an “unprecedented” and “sustained” crackdown on illegal mining. Three temporary military bases with 100 military officers in each are being set up in the region to oversee efforts, it said.
Negotiators from China and the United States will resume talks this week to resolve the ongoing trade war between the world’s biggest economies.
The White House says a third round of negotiations will take place Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington between lower-level deputies before moving on to senior-level talks beginning Thursday. The statement said the talks will focus on “achieving needed structural changes in China that affect trade” between the United States and China.
Washington has long complained that Beijing forces U.S. companies to transfer their technology advances to Chinese firms, and that it limits access to China’s vast market. The Trump administration has imposed punitive tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports to compel China to changes its trading practices, prompting Beijing to retaliate with its own tariff increases on $110 billion of U.S. exports.
The trade talks are the result of an agreement in December between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to stop the tit-for-tat tariff conflict for 90 days starting on New Year’s Day.
The administration has threatened to raise tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent if a deal is not reached by March 2, but President Trump said last week he may be willing to push back the deadline depending on how well the talks are going.
Vice Premier Liu He, Beijing’s top economic and trade negotiator, will again lead the Chinese side, while the United States will be led by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, along with Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro, President Trump’s top economic and trade advisors.
Pyongyang is upgrading its overcrowded mass transit system with brand new subway cars, trams and buses in a campaign meant to show leader Kim Jong Un is raising the country’s standard of living.
The long-overdue improvements, while still modest, are a welcome change for the North Korean capital’s roughly 3 million residents, who have few options to get to work or school each day.
First came new, high-tech subway cars and electric trolleybuses — each announced by the media with photos of Kim personally conducting the final inspection tours. Now, officials say three new electric trams are running daily routes across Pyongyang.
Transport officials say the capacity of the new trams is about 300, sitting and standing. Passengers must buy tickets in shops beforehand and put them in a ticket box when they get on. The flat fare is a dirt cheap 5 won (US$ .0006) for any tram, trolleybus, subway or regular bus ride on the public transport system. The Pyongyang Metro has a ticket-card system and the Public Transportation Bureau is considering introducing something similar on the roads as well.
Private cars are rare
Privately owned cars are scarce in Pyongyang. Taxis are increasingly common but costly for most people. Factory or official-use vehicles are an alternative, when available, as are bicycles. Motorized bikes imported from China are popular, while scooters and motorcycles are rare.
The subway, with elaborate stations inspired by those in Soviet Moscow and dug deep enough to survive a nuclear attack, runs at three- to five-minute intervals, depending on the hour. Officials say it transports about 400,000 passengers on weekdays. But its two lines, with 17 stations, operate only on the western side of the Taedong River, which runs through the center of the city.
“The subway is very important transportation for our people,” subway guide Kim Yong Ryon said in a recent interview with The AP. “There are plans to build train stations on the east side of the river, but nothing has started yet.”
The lack of passenger cars on Pyongyang’s roads has benefits. Traffic jams are uncommon and, compared to Beijing or Seoul, the city has refreshingly clean, crisp air. Electric trams, which run on rails, and electric trolleybuses, which have wheels, are relatively green transport options.
Crowded and slow
But mass transit in Pyongyang can be slow and uncomfortable.
The tram system, in particular, is among the most crowded in the world.
Swarms of commuters cramming into trams are a common sight during the morning rush hour, which is from about 6:00 to 8:30. Getting across town can take about an hour.
Pyongyang’s tram system has four lines. In typical North Korean fashion, one is devoted to taking passengers to and from the mausoleum where the bodies of national founder Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il, lie in state.
The city’s red-and-white trams look familiar to many eastern Europeans. In 2008, the North bought 20 used trams made by the Tatra company, which produced hundreds of them when Prague was still the capital of socialist Czechoslovakia.
North Korea squeezes every last inch out of its fleet.
Red stars are awarded for every 50,000 kilometers (31,000 miles) driven without an accident, and it’s not unusual to see trams with long lines of red stars stenciled across their sides. One seen in operation in Pyongyang last month had 12 — that’s 600,000 kilometers (372,800 miles), or the equivalent of about 15 trips around the Earth’s circumference.
The numbers work
Impossible as that might seem, the math works.
Ri Jae Hong, a representative of the Capital Public Transportation Bureau, told an AP television news crew the main tram route, from Pyongyang Station in the central part of town to the Mangyongdae district, is 21 kilometers from end to end. He said a tram might do the full route there and back on average six times a day.
By that reckoning, it would take just over 198 days of actual driving to win that first red star.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday fired one of his most senior aides and cabinet members, Gustavo Bebianno, amid a scandal involving campaign financing for some of his party’s congressional candidates.
Bebianno was secretary general of the president’s office.
His departure punctuated Bolsonaro’s first cabinet crisis since he took office on Jan. 1 and has cast a shadow over the young government’s plans.
Brazilian markets fell on Monday as investors feared that the brewing scandal could hurt Bolsonaro’s ability to pass a pension overhaul seen as key to fiscal and economic recovery.
In a short video clip released late on Monday, Bolsonaro said he took the decision to dismiss Bebianno due to “differences of opinion on important issues,” although he did not elaborate.
Bebianno, who helped coordinate government affairs and was acting president of Bolsonaro’s right-wing Social Liberal Party for the election campaign last year, denies any wrongdoing.
Analysts at Eurasia Group said in a note on Monday, before Bebianno was dismissed, that the scandal is unlikely to dent Bolsonaro’s approval ratings. Despite the dubious optics, the president can claim to be taking a tough stand against an aide accused of illicit activity.
But the timing could not be worse. Days before unveiling its landmark pension reform proposal, the government is mired in scandal, even if it is one that probably will not have much lasting impact on the administration or pension reform.
“It is indicative, however, of a political team in disarray,” they wrote, adding that everything points to “an end result that will probably lead to the approval of a less ambitious version of the government’s proposal for pension reform.”
The scandal is denting investor sentiment, which had brightened last week after early details of Bolsonaro’s social security reform proposals were released. The full package will be presented to senior lawmakers on Wednesday.
Brazil’s Bovespa stock market fell 1 percent on Monday, the dollar rose almost 1 percent to 3.7350 reais and January 2020 interest rates rose two basis points to 6.39 percent.
Last week, the Bovespa rose 2.3 percent, within touching distance of its record-high 98,588. Interest rates fell 15 basis points, the biggest weekly drop in two months, and the real also rose.
The Bebianno scandal got personal after one of Bolsonaro’s sons branded him a liar on Twitter, putting pressure on the president to dismiss him just weeks into his term.
Chinese police have investigated 380 online lenders and frozen $1.5 billion in assets following an avalanche of scandals in the huge but lightly regulated industry, the government announced Monday.
Beijing allowed a private finance industry to flourish in order to supply credit to entrepreneurs and households that aren’t served by the state-run banking system. But that threatens to become a liability for the ruling Communist Party after bankruptcies and fraud cases prompted protests and complaints of official indifference to small investors.
The police ministry said it launched the investigation because person-to-person, or P2P, lending was increasingly risky and rife with complaints about fraud, mismanagement and waste.
The ministry gave no details of arrests but said more than 100 executives were being sought by investigators and some had fled abroad. It said authorities seized or froze 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) but gave no indication how much might be returned to depositors.
Police say some lenders and investment vehicles were brazenly fraudulent, while others collapsed after inexperienced founders failed to manage risk.
Monday’s statement said P2P lenders were investigated for complaints including wasting money, reporting phony investment plans and using illegal tactics to raise money.
Lending through online platforms grew by triple digits annually until 2017 when regulators tightened controls.
Depositors lent 1.9 trillion yuan ($280 billion) last year, but that was down by 50 percent from 2017, according to the Shenzhen Qiancheng Internet Finance Research Institute.
The outstanding loan balance stood at 1.2 trillion yuan ($177 billion) at the end of 2018, down 25 percent from a year earlier, according to Diyi Wangdai, a web site that reports on the industry.
P2P lenders are part of a privately run Chinese finance industry the national bank regulator estimated in 2015 had grown to $1.5 trillion.
The internet has helped financial platforms attract money from financial novices with little knowledge of the risks involved.
Many lend to factories and retailers or invest in restaurants, car washes and other businesses. But inexperience and poor risk control means a downturn in business conditions can bankrupt them.
Finance as a whole has come under tougher scrutiny after a 2015 plunge in stock prices led to accusations of insider trading and other offenses.
In one of China’s biggest financial scams, authorities say depositors lost 50 billion yuan ($7.7 billion) in online lender Ezubo before it was seized by regulators in 2015.
The founder and his brother were sentenced to life in prison in 2017.