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Biden will push allies to act on China forced labor at G7

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U.S. to reach herd immunity

By Andrea Shalal and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will urge its Group of Seven allies to increase pressure on China over the use of forced labor in its northwestern Xinjiang province, home to the Muslim Uighur minority, a top White House official said on Friday.

U.S. President Joe Biden will attend a meeting of the G7 advanced economies in person in Britain in June, where he is expected to focus on what he sees as a strategic rivalry between democracies and autocratic states, particularly China.

Daleep Singh, deputy national security adviser to Biden and deputy director of the National Economic Council, said the G7 meeting in Cornwall would focus on health security, a synchronized economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, concrete actions on climate change, and “elevating shared democratic values within the G7.”

“These are like-minded allies, and we want to take tangible and concrete actions that show our willingness to coordinate on non-market economies, such as China,” Singh, who is helping to coordinate the meeting, told Reuters in an interview.

“The galvanizing challenge for the G7 is to show that open societies, democratic societies still have the best chance of solving the biggest problems in our world, and that top-down autocracies are not the best path,” he said.

Singh said Washington has already taken strong actions against China over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, but would seek to expand the effort with G7 allies. Joint sanctions against Chinese officials accused of abuses in the province were announced last month by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada.

China denies all accusations of abuse and has responded with punitive measures of its own against the EU.

Singh said details were still being worked out ahead of the meeting, but the summit offered an opportunity for U.S. allies to show solidarity on the issue.

“We’ve made our views clear that our consumers deserve to know when that the goods they’re importing are made with forced labor,” he said. “Our values need to be infused in our trading relationships.”

Washington, he said, would be looking for the G7 to take clear steps “to elevate our shared values, as democracies and, and those certainly apply to what’s going on Xinjiang.”

Activists and U.N. rights experts say at least 1 million Muslims have been detained in camps in Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labor and sterilizations. China says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.

The White House said on Friday that Biden will travel to the United Kingdom and Belgium in June for his first overseas trip since taking office, including a stop at the G7 Summit in Cornwall, UK, from June 11-13.

 

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal And Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Calgary Stampede to proceed with limited events

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The Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival that is also Canada‘s biggest and booziest party, will go ahead this year after being pulled in 2020 due to the pandemic, though it will not look and feel the same, an event organizer told CBC Radio.

“It won’t be your typical Stampede … it’s not the experience that you had in years past,” Kristina Barnes, communications manager with the Calgary Stampede, told a CBC Radio programme on Friday.

She said organizers were still deciding whether to include rodeo or the grandstand show in this year’s version.

Known as “the greatest outdoor show on earth,” the Stampede draws tourists from around the world for its rodeo and chuckwagon races, but much of the action happens away from official venues at parties hosted by oil and gas companies.

“The Safest and Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is what we’re going to call it this year,” Barnes said, adding the organizers are working directly with Alberta Health to ensure Stampede experiences stay “within the guidelines” that may be in effect in July.

The event is scheduled to take place between July 9-18, according to the Calgary Stampede website.

Last month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told reporters the Calgary Stampede can probably go ahead this year as Alberta’s coronavirus vaccination campaign accelerates.

Barnes and the office of the Alberta premier were not available for immediate comment.

The cancellation of the event last year was a crushing disappointment for Canada‘s oil capital.

The news comes as Alberta has been dealing with a punishing third wave of the pandemic, with the province having among the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 cases in the country. Data released on Friday showed the province had 1,433 new cases, compared with the seven-day average of 1,644.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chris Reese)

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U.S. trade chief pressured to lift duties on Canadian lumber

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 As U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai prepares to meet her Canadian and Mexican counterparts on Monday to review progress in the new North American trade agreement, she is under pressure from home builders and lawmakers to cut U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber.

Shortages of softwood lumber amid soaring U.S. housing demand and mill production curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused prices to triple in the past year, adding $36,000 to the average cost of a new single-family home, according to estimates by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Republican lawmakers have taken up the builders’ cause, asking Tai during hearings in Congress last week to eliminate the 9% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Senator John Thune told Tai that high lumber costs were “having a tremendous impact on the ground” in his home state of South Dakota and putting homes out of reach for some working families.

The Trump administration initially imposed 20% duties in 2018 after the collapse of talks on a new quota arrangement, but reduced the level in December 2020.

“The Biden administration must address these unprecedented lumber and steel costs and broader supply-chain woes or risk undermining the economic recovery,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America. “Without tariff relief and other measures, vital construction projects will fall behind schedule or be canceled.”

On Friday, White House economic adviser Cecilia Rouse said the Biden administration was weighing concerns about commodity shortages and inflation as it reviews trade policy.

The tariffs are allowed under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which permits duties to combat price dumping and unfair subsidies.

The U.S. Commerce Department has ruled that lumber from most Canadian provinces is unfairly subsidized because it is largely grown on public lands with cheap harvesting fees set by Ottawa. U.S. timber is mainly harvested from privately-owned land.

Tai said she would bring up the lumber issue with Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng at the first meeting of the USMCA Free Trade Council, a minister-level body that oversees the trade deal.

WILLING PARTNER

But Tai told U.S. senators that despite higher prices, the fundamental dispute remains and there have been no talks on a new lumber quota arrangement.

“In order to have an agreement and in order to have a negotiation, you need to have a partner. And thus far, the Canadians have not expressed interest in engaging,” Tai said.

Youmy Han, a spokeswoman for Canada‘s trade ministry, said the U.S. duties were “unjustified,” and that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“Our government believes a negotiated agreement is possible and in the best interests of both countries,” Han said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

But builders are growing frustrated with a lack of high-level engagement with high-level Biden administration officials on the issue as they watch lumber prices rise.

“They are clearly still gathering facts, which is even more frustrating given that this issue has been going on since before the election, before the inaugural,” said James Tobin, a vice president and top lobbyist at the NAHB.

 

(Reporting by David Lawder and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Centerra to fight Kyrgyzstan takeover of its gold mine

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Centerra Gold said on Sunday it has initiated binding arbitration against Kyrgyzstan government, after the parliament passed a law allowing the state to temporarily take over the country’s biggest industrial enterprise, the Kumtor gold mine operated by Centerra.

Recently, a Kyrgyzstan court also imposed $3.1 billion fine on Kumtor Gold Company (KGC), which operates the gold mine, after ruling that the firm had violated environmental laws.

The gold miner said that it intends to hold the government accountable in the arbitration for “any and all losses and damage” due to its recent actions against KGC and the Kumtor mine if no resolution is reached.

“The Government’s actions have left Centerra no choice but to exercise our legal rights, through the pursuit of arbitration and otherwise, to protect the interests of KGC, Centerra and our shareholders,” Centerra’s Chief Executive Officer Scott Perry said in a press release.

Kyrgyzstan has a long history of disputes with Centerra Gold over how to share profits from the former Soviet republic’s biggest industrial enterprise.

 

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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