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Berlin treads softly-softly on Macron over deficit (Italy is happy!!)

December 12, 2018

Germany is taking a softly-softly approach to French President Emmanuel Macron’s use of government largesse to calm violent “yellow vest” protests, government sources say, as Berlin puts European stability above fiscal discipline.

A reluctance to criticise publicly contrasts with complaints about France from Italy whose populist coalition government is in a stand-off with Brussels over its own big-spending budget which includes a sharp spike in the deficit.

“It’s good news that things are calming down. France is Germany’s most important partner and we have no interest in seeing it destabilised for the long term,” a senior German government source said.

Ministers have been urged not to stoke confrontation with Paris as Macron attempts to end mass demonstrations against his pro-business reforms, promising tax and spending measures for the lowest earners worth billions of euros (dollars).

Germany is taking a softly-softly approach to French President Emmanuel Macron's easing of the budget strings to cope with protests, with Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) focussing on stability in Europe, analysts say

Germany is taking a softly-softly approach to French President Emmanuel Macron’s easing of the budget strings to cope with protests, with Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) focussing on stability in Europe, analysts say Germany is taking a softly-softly approach to French President Emmanuel Macron’s easing of the budget strings to cope with protests, with Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) focussing on stability in Europe, analysts say POOL/AFP

“We don’t know how they’re going to pay for all this,” the government source said, but “we will hold back from talking about a budget slip. This is about the French public finances; it’s not for Germany to judge.”

– Damping down fires –

Especially since the financial crisis of 2008, Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel has prioritised tight budgets, with deficits held to well under the EU three percent of GDP limit.

Her governments have also slashed accumulated total debt, bringing it down towards the EU ceiling of 60 percent of GDP.

They have not been shy of passing judgement on less stringent fellow EU members — such as Italy — and have opposed reforms to the 19-nation euro single currency that could mean more risk sharing between capitals.

But for now Berlin’s larger concern is a political crisis across Europe that has been stoked by populist victories, including Britons’ 2016 vote to quit the European Union.

Italy, too, has been largely spared a wagging Teutonic finger this year despite its deficit-busting budget which the EU, in a first, rejected outright, insisting that Rome try again.

“We see it in France, we see it in other countries, we have an urgent responsibility to halt these populist movements in the European elections” next May, another government source said.

The tone from the European Commission has meanwhile been notably calm and understanding — unlike for Rome, as the Italian government has pointed out.

Overstepping the budget limit “can be envisaged in a limited, temporary and exceptional way,” Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told France’s Le Parisien daily Wednesday.

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio noted that a higher deficit “will create a French problem, after the Italian problem, if the rules are the same for everyone.”

“I expect the Commission to open a procedure” that could lead to sanctions for excessive spending — as it has threatened to do in Italy’s case, he added.

Despite their public forbearance, German leaders are in private frustrated with Macron’s uphill struggle to push through reforms they see as indispensable.

One senior official noted how the young president’s at times arrogant style has alienated parts of the French public.

And any weakening of restraint in French spending policy undermines Macron’s bet he could win German confidence by showing France could live within its means and reshape state finances.

– ‘More Renzi than Schroeder’ –

German economists greeted sceptically Macron’s emergency concessions to the “yellow vests” after repeated weekends of marches, barricades and violence around France.

For example, an increase in the minimum wage “will not reduce social tensions in France, where the minimum wage is already so high that it hampers the employment of weaker groups in the labour market, especially young people,” said Clemens Fuest, head of Munich’s influential Ifo think-tank.

German newspapers, which last week celebrated the 50th anniversary of irrepressible Gaulish comic book hero Asterix appearing in the language, see a similar stubbornness in modern France’s resistance to its young president.

For conservative Die Welt daily, Macron is “more of a Matteo Renzi”, whose recent premiership in Italy failed to secure much-needed reforms, than a Gerhard Schroeder — the chancellor whose policies are credited with reviving Germany’s fortunes after the moribund early 2000s.




Trade-Talk Progress Lifts U.S. Stocks

December 12, 2018

*Stock Futures Rise on WSJ Report That China Plans to Boost Access for Foreign Companies

*S&P Futures Up 1.3% Vs. 0.9%

*DJIA Futures Up 1.4% Vs. 0.9%

(This article will be updated)

Global stocks gained Wednesday on a fresh wave of trade optimism and climbing oil prices, shrugging off a leadership challenge against U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.

U.S. futures put the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average on course to rise 1% at the open, with trade-sensitive stocks like Caterpillar and Cisco up 2% and 1.1% in premarket trade, respectively. Meanwhile rising oil prices helped push Exxon Mobil stock 2.1% higher ahead of the market open.

Brent crude oil prices rose 1.6% to $61.18 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate Futures were up 1.5% at $52.58 a barrel, after weekly American Petroleum Institute figures released Tuesday revealed a larger-than-expected fall in U.S. inventories.

Stocks in Europe built on Tuesday’s gains, with the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 index up 1.3% in afternoon trade, while the British pound edged up 0.7% but remained near its lowest level in 20 months.

Lawmakers in the U.K.’s ruling Conservative party initiated a no-confidence vote against Mrs. May. On Monday, she postponed a parliamentary vote on her Brexit bill, which prompted a new volley of criticism over her handling of the country’s exit from the European Union. The yield on U.K. 10-year government bonds was at 1.23%, up from 1.18% late Tuesday. Yields rise as prices fall.

Traders at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday.
Traders at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. PHOTO: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

Rises in European stocks echoed gains in Asia, where the Nikkei climbed 2.2% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index rose 1.6% as signs of a further softening in trade tensions revived risk appetite. Benchmarks in Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore all increased more than 1%.

Details continued to emerge from the first trade talks between Washington and Beijing, with China agreeing to boost purchases of soybeans and other crops, and to reduce auto tariffs.

The warming in U.S.-China trade relations has prompted cautious optimism among some investors, said Viktor Hjort, global head of credit strategy at BNP Paribas.

“A resolution on global trade is one of the most important issues for markets going into 2019,” Mr. Hjort said. “The positive angle is that U.S. and Chinese negotiators appear to be making an effort, but I think at this point, any absence of bad news is good news.”

President Trump said in an interview with Reuters he would intervene in the Justice Department’s case against Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou if it would help smooth a trade deal with China. Ms. Wanzhou was granted bail by a Canadian judge Tuesday, after her arrest last week sent shock-waves through global stocks.

Uncertainty around trade will remain elevated, though, with technological and intellectual property disputes between Washington and Beijing unlikely to die down despite more conciliatory rhetoric, said Ann-Katrin Petersen, investment strategist at Allianz Global Investors.

The Chinese yuan was last up 0.1% against the U.S. dollar. The WSJ Dollar Index, which measures the buck against a basket of other currencies, was up 0.2%, its five-day gains eroded to 0.4%.

U.S. investors were also keeping an eye out for inflation data, due out later in the day. It comes a day after producer price data, another gauge of inflation, signaled a third straight monthly rise. The numbers will be scrutinized in the context of next week’s Federal Reserve meeting, at which investors broadly expect Chairman Jerome Powell to raise interest rates.

CME Group data gave a 78.,4% probability that Mr. Powell will announce an interest-rate increase.

Market participants will closely monitor the no-confidence vote on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership later Wednesday, although British assets’ initial reaction to the announcement was muted. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 index was last up 1.3%, broadly in line with gains elsewhere in Europe, while the FTSE 250 was up 1.2%.

More volatility may be ahead for U.K. assets, though, with some analysts seeing the confidence vote as a binary event for sterling.

Wednesday’s vote is the latest in a series of developments that have prompted investors from outside the U.K. to limit their exposure to Brexit uncertainty in recent months, said Emmanuel Cau, head of European equity strategy at Barclays.

“Global investors have left the U.K. equities and FX markets and not many people have the ability to trade on what’s going to happen,” said Mr. Cau. “In this particular situation, nobody’s been able to make forecasts so they’ve stopped trying.”

A victory for Mrs. May could prompt a rally as large as 2% for the pound, while defeat would shave off another 3%, Nomura said in a note.

Elsewhere in Europe, investors monitored the reaction to French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to cut taxes in the wake of protests. The move may test the EU’s budgetary rules and embolden other members, such as Italy, to do the same.

In commodities, gold was up 0.2% at $1,249.50 a troy ounce.

Write to David Hodari at

European Parliament backs trade pact with Japan

December 12, 2018

Image result for French Roquefort cheese, Bloomberg, pictures

‘Cars for cheese’ agreement to create trade zone covering 630m people French Camembert cheese. © Bloomberg

By Jim Brunsden in Brussels 2 HOURS AGO Print this page

European Parliament has given its backing to the EU’s “cars for cheese” trade deal with Japan, a pact that will remove more than €1bn in duties for European exporters while creating an “open trade zone” covering 630m people.

The vote by MEPs in Strasbourg means that the trade agreement, the largest ever struck by the EU with another country, is set to come into force on February 1. EU chiefs have said that the deal shows the bloc’s determination to fight protectionism and its ability to win new export opportunities for businesses. Under the agreement, Japan will scrap many of the tariffs it currently imposes on EU agricultural goods, including for wine, meat and many cheeses.

Europe in turn will remove duties on Japanese cars and car parts. Some of the most sensitive market openings will happen gradually over a period of years, or be limited by tariff-free quotas. Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU’s trade commissioner, told the FT that the deal “sends a very powerful signal” and that reflected both sides’ desire to reinforce relations.

Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, as well as his stance that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” had galvanised the negotiations on the deal, she said. The pact will stimulate trade flows across two economies that collectively account for almost a third of the world’s gross domestic product.

As well as scrapping nearly all tariffs on trade in goods, the deal also includes measures to remove regulatory barriers to trade, and to open up access to public procurement markets. EU exporters currently pay close to €1bn in Japanese customs duties every year.

Art Laffer: Government spending ‘way out of control’

December 12, 2018

Conservative economist Art Laffer, who loves the Trump administration’s economic policies, brought up the subject a lot of congressional Republicans have apparently lost interest in: The government is spending too much.

At Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., where Laffer and co-author Stephen Moore were celebrating the launch of their new book, Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy, Laffer said Tuesday that government spending is “way out of control.”

Image result for Art Laffer, pictures

Art Laffer

He said in a short conversation with me that it’s something he’s addressed directly with President Trump, who Laffer advised during the 2016 campaign.

“It’s a real problem,” he said. “It’s the one we haven’t addressed.”

The Congressional Budget Office puts the federal deficit for 2018 at $793 billion. That’s up from the previous fiscal year’s $666 billion deficit.

The CBO puts the public debt at nearly $16 trillion.

Laffer said, though, that he didn’t know if Trump would tackle the problem in his first term and he didn’t want to share what Trump has told him about government spending.

““You should ask him,” he told me. “I’ll tell you what I say. I say that government spending is taxation. I don’t want to tell you what he says. That’s not kosher, if you know what I mean.”

Markets Conclude the U.S. Is Riskier Than China

December 12, 2018

Now the Treasury has to pay a premium over Chinese bonds to attract investors. They see four major red flags in U.S. debt.

Beijing is having its moment.   Photographer: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Here’s another reason Donald Trump is “not at all happy with the Fed” and will continue to be frustrated by the world’s No. 2 economy. He is the first president to suffer the new normal of China becoming more creditworthy than the U.S. That’s right: America now pays more to borrow money than China does.

Since 2015, when the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates, the gap between the countries’ Treasury bills has narrowed and then reversed, so that now the U.S. must offer higher yields than China when it sells one-year paper. That happened for the first time in November, when the spread between Chinese and American 10-year notes also collapsed, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Only 45 basis points separates these two nations in the bond market. China still pays a little more on benchmark securities. But that historic advantage, which coincided with the embrace of the multilateral alliances that made America great and that Trump disdains, may disappear altogether as investors lose confidence in the full faith and credit of the U.S.

They would be pricing in various economic realities: the slowing rate of U.S. economic growth, the U.S. government’s exploding debt, the diminished Treasury revenue caused by the 2017 tax cuts, and the Fed’s pursuit of a monetary policy keeping rates well above their average for the decade.

Investors see growth slowing, and it shows. Extreme fluctuations in the stock and bond markets the past month reflect investor anxiety over the transition from a brightening economy to the creeping sense that the best of this cycle has come and gone.

U.S. government debt is also moving in the wrong direction. Since 2016, when the federal budget deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product declined to a decade-low of 2.2 percent from more than 10 percent in 2009, the deficit nearly doubled to almost 4 percent. GDP increased to a record $19.39 trillion at the end of 2017 as the annual rate climbed to 2.2 percent from 1.8 percent in 2007. But U.S. growth will deteriorate to an annualized 1.9 percent by 2020, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg, putting more pressure on the widening deficit.

Revenue isn’t stepping in to close that gap. The Trump tax cuts are estimated to increase these deficits by $1 trillion during the next 10 years.

The dichotomy between the U.S and China in the credit markets is exacerbated by the Fed’s determination to return the economy to normalcy: It cut the federal funds target rate to zero during the financial crisis and raised it eight times since then to 2.25 percent. During the same period, China’s benchmark one-year lending rate declined to 4.35 percent from 5.31 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

China isn’t about to tighten credit appreciably while the economy shows no signs of accelerating. The nation’s $12.24 trillion GDP is looking less robust after growth declined to 6.9 percent last year from 14.2 percent in 2007 and its deficit increased to 3.72 percent from a budget surplus a decade ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Even though China remains an emerging market, it shares some of the characteristics of Japan and the No. 3 economy’s historically tempestuous relationship with the U.S. over trade. China recognizes that its export-driven model is peaking as it attempts to transition to a developed economy. Like Japan, it has the savings to soak up its own debt and supplanted Japan four years ago as the largest holder of U.S. Treasury securities, now totaling $1.15 trillion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Because China and Japan have perennially large trade surpluses with the U.S., they use these excess dollars to buy Treasuries. China also manages its exchange rate by buying and selling dollars and yuan. Treasuries remain the primary vehicle for exchange rate management in such a predetermined band. The dollar depreciated 4.4 percent since the end of 2016, according to the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index that tracks the performance of a basket of 10 leading currencies to the American currency. That’s another way of making U.S. debt more expensive.

China and Japan, which account for more than $2 trillion of U.S. securities, have reduced their holdings in recent years. As the U.S. increasingly relies on the bond market to finance its budget deficits, reduced demand at a point when such deficits can only become more burdensome will force the U.S. to offer higher rates.

As much as he loathes the Fed for following its mandate to reach equilibrium, Trump must accept the additional indignity of being America’s first president to pay higher yields than China to finance the U.S.

— With assistance by Shin Pei

Trump says China ‘back in the market’ for U.S. soybeans — U.S. Farmers look for new buyers

December 12, 2018

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that China was buying a “tremendous amount” of U.S. soybeans and that trade talks with Beijing were already under way by telephone, with more meetings likely among U.S. and Chinese officials.

Trump told Reuters in an interview that the Chinese government was “back in the market” to buy soybeans after a Dec. 1 truce in the U.S.-China trade war.

But traders in Chicago said they have seen no evidence of a resumption of such purchases following China’s imposition of a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in July.

Related image

“I just heard today that they’re buying tremendous amounts of soybeans. They are starting, just starting now,” Trump said in the interview.

Trump also said he believes China will soon cut tariffs on U.S. autos to 15 percent from the current 40 percent level.

“I think they’re looking to do it immediately, very quickly,” he said.

A Trump administration official earlier told Reuters that China’s plan to cut car tariffs was outlined in a phone call between Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.


U.S. government data has not shown any soybean sales to China since July, when Beijing imposed tariffs on U.S. supplies of the oilseed in retaliation for U.S. duties on Chinese goods.

Traders have been watching closely for signs of confirmation of a resumption of Chinese buying of U.S. soybeans, particularly after Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that “very productive conversations” were going on with China. “Watch for some important announcements!” he added.

Chicago Board of Trade soybean futures edged higher on Tuesday on hopes that new deals would be signed soon, but there were no signs of increased activity in the cash markets, traders said.

U.S. Agriculture Department rules require exporters to promptly report sales of 100,000 tonnes or more of a commodity made in a single day.

China last year purchased about 60 percent of U.S. soybean exports in deals valued at more than $12 billion. With those exports gone, soybean prices had tumbled to their lowest in a decade, heaping pain on U.S. farmers, a key Trump constituency.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping called a temporary truce in their trade war on Dec. 1. Trump agreed to postpone for 90 days a Jan. 1 increase in tariffs on Chinese goods while the two sides negotiated over increased Chinese purchases of American farm and energy commodities, an end to forced technology transfers and stronger protections for U.S. intellectual property in China.

Trump said on Tuesday that those negotiations were already taking place by telephone.

“We’ll probably have another meeting. And maybe a meeting of the top people on both sides,” Trump said. “If it’s necessary, I’ll have another meeting with President Xi, who I like a lot and get along with very well.”

Trump did not offer any timetable for further face-to-face meetings among U.S. and Chinese officials.

He said he would wait to increase tariffs on Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent until it becomes apparent whether the United States and China can make a deal.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek and Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler



U.S. Soybean Farmers Work to Loosen China’s Grip

Agriculture officials are looking to Asia and Europe amid trade tensions, while producers consider new domestic uses.


CHICAGO—U.S. soybean farmers worked for decades to make China their biggest foreign customer. Now they face a tougher challenge: weaning themselves off the market.

As trade tensions cut deeply into exports, U.S. soybean farmers, industry groups and government officials are seeking a stronger foothold in international markets beyond China, including Europe and Southeast Asia.


‘Scotland wants to trade as freely as possible with Europe’

December 12, 2018

Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU in 2016. As the Scottish Trade Minister Ivan McKee explained in an interview with DW, the country is eager to promote itself in the face of ongoing UK political chaos.

A women in a Scottish dress

Ivan McKee is a member of Scotland’s devolved Parliament and is the Scottish government’s Trade, Investment and Innovation Minister. He is a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which advocates for Scottish independence from the UK.

He recently completed trade trips to Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and France as part of his ministerial role and he explained to DW that despite the ongoing political chaos and uncertainty around Brexit, Scotland is eager to maintain and promote its trade links with the rest of the EU.

DW: You recently visited Hamburg in your capacity with the Scottish Executive. What was the aim of your visit?

Ivan McKee: There were a number of messages we wanted to get across and one of the key ones is that Scotland is very much open for business. We have got long and deep trade links with Europe, with Germany and with Hamburg in particular and it was important to reinforce those and to look for opportunities to increase trade between Scotland and that part of Germany.

Read more: Scotland wants to avoid Brexit but doesn’t know how

Is the intention to promote Scottish-only trade or do you include UK-wide trade as part of the remit?

Our job in the Scottish government is to promote trade links between Scotland and the rest of the world and that’s what we are doing. Clearly Brexit and the confusion around that makes our job even harder but we are working as hard as we can to make sure we maintain and enhance those links everywhere we can, particularly in Europe.

When you talk to representatives of European countries, is it difficult to isolate Scottish interests and the Scottish angle from the wider UK one, given that Scotland is not yet an independent state?

Schottland Regierung | Ivan McKee, Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation (Scottish Government)Ivan McKee, Scottish Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation

I think people understand the unfortunate situation that the UK government has got itself into. I think they welcome very much the message that the Scottish government communicates around about our desire to stay as close to Europe as possible, the fact that we think — and the people of Scotland overwhelmingly think — that Brexit is a mistake, the fact that we want to keep Scotland in the customs union and the single market and to continue to trade as freely as possible with the rest of Europe.

That message is well understood and very welcome by everyone we meet. Our job is also to push Scottish business and improve Scottish trade links across Europe. People understand that Scotland’s economy and Scotland’s businesses on their own have got a huge amount to offer and they are very keen to work and trade with us.

Nothing seems to be fixed in Westminster or in British politics as a whole at the moment with regard to Brexit. What is the current position of the SNP with regard to Brexit, what would you most like to see happen right now?

Our position is that there are two options that allow us to move forward from the current mess that we are in. One of those is a solution that keeps the UK as a whole in the customs union and single market. The other option is a second referendum and we are happy to work with partners in the UK parliament that can work with us to bring about a majority for either of those options.

The SNP advocates independence for Scotland, but the Brexit vote in 2016 has obviously complicated matters greatly. Where does the Scottish independence question sit right now, given those complications?

Clearly Brexit is damaging for the UK and it is damaging for Scotland’s economy and at the moment, that is our primary focus — to protect Scotland’s economy and its jobs That is very much what we are working to protect, by bringing about a change in the Brexit decision or by insuring there is a Brexit that keeps us in the customs union and single market and minimizes that damage.

Looking at it in the context of Scottish independence, if you look at the opinion polls over the last four years pretty much all of them have shown an increase in support beyond that which was achieved in 2014. The appetite for independence is still very much there.

Read more: UK is ‘making a mess’ of Brexit, Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon tells DW

The first Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that when Brexit is clear, when the situation we find ourselves in is clarified, then at that point we will take a view on what the route forward for Scotland is and whether that involves a second independence referendum.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly (62 percent) to remain in the EU back in 2016. So what is the mood you are detecting from your constituents in Glasgow on the current state of affairs with regard to Brexit?

People are astonished that the UK government could be so useless and incompetent and that’s the prevailing sense. People know that Brexit is damaging and they know that the harder the Brexit, the more damaging it is and they can’t believe that the UK government hasn’t got a grip of this and brought about a solution to protect Scotland’s economy.

Both you and your party leader Nicola Sturgeon have said that the current proposal would give Northern Ireland unfair advantages over Scotland. Is that a fair representation of your position?

Absolutely. If a part of the UK like Northern Ireland finds itself in a place where it can trade freely within Europe and at the same time trade within the UK, then clearly any inward investors looking at that scenario would find that attractive. It would certainly put Scotland at an economic disadvantage when we are competing for those kinds of investments.

This interview was conducted by Arthur Sullivan, and was edited and condensed for clarity.

Pakistan rejects ‘politically motivated’ listing as violator of religious freedoms by US

December 12, 2018
Foreign Office Spokesman Muhammad Faisal. ─ File photo
Foreign Office Spokesman Muhammad Faisal. ─ File photo

The Foreign Office (FO) today issued Islamabad’s reaction to the listing, saying: “Pakistan rejects the US State Department’s unilateral and politically motivated pronouncement … Besides the clear biases reflected from these designations, there are serious questions over the credentials and impartiality of the self-proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise.”

The FO explained measures that the government had taken to safeguard the rights of its citizens, including the use of legal and administrative mechanisms, adding that Islamabad submits compliance reports on its obligations with respect to fundamental freedoms as a party to seven of nine core human rights treaties.

How Pakistan safeguards its minorities, according to FO:

  • Equal treatment of minorities enshrined in Constitution
  • Special seats reserved for minorities in Parliament
  • National Commission on Human Rights addresses concerns over violations of minorities’ rights
  • Successive governments make protection of minorities a priority
  • Judiciary has made several landmark decisions to protect the properties and places of worship of minority communities

“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities,” the statement asserted.

The FO suggested that honest introspection on Washington’s part would have been a timely move in order to ascertain the causes behind the exponential rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the US.

“Sadly, the proponents of human rights worldwide close their eyes to the systematic persecution of minorities subjected to alien domination and foreign occupation such as in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” the statement added.

The FO described Pakistan as a “multi-religious and pluralistic society where people of diverse faiths and denominations live together.”

Last year, Pompeo had placed Pakistan on a special watch list — a step short of the designation — which is used to persuade the targeted nation into introducing reforms suggested in annual US reports for religious freedom.

The designation is based on these annual reports and opens the door for further actions, including US economic sanctions. The US has already imposed strict economic sanctions on Pakistan for its alleged refusal to follow the Trump administration’s Afghan strategy.

The designation also includes al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Isis, Isis-Khorasan, and the Taliban as entities of particular concern.

Blacklisting Pakistan a ‘brazen political tactic’: Mazari

Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari expressed surprise at the US administration’s decision to designate Pakistan among “countries of particular concern”, terming it a “brazen political tactic to pressure Pakistan to mitigate US failures in Afghanistan”.

The PTI minister, in her official statement on the development, acknowledged that “there is no doubt that Pakistan’s record on religions freedom is not ideal” but questioned if “the EU’s record” is any better “given the restrictions on churches, the banning of certain dress codes of Mulsims, refusal of entry of certain preachers — the list continues.”

Mazari reminded the US that “in our own neighbourhood we have India where Muslims are being targeted and where the BJP is supporting violence against Muslims ostensibly over beef.”

“The timing of the US move smacks of pure political blackmailing because it comes in the wake of Pakistan opening the Katarpur corridor to ease access for the Sikhs of India,” the statement reads.

The human rights minister said that she would “like to educate the Trump administration” that a “diverse denominations of Christian churches are present in Pakistan”, including Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian and others.

Mazari made it clear that the US attempt to pressurise “Pakistan to do its bidding” will not work, directing their attention to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent remarks that he would net allow the country to be anyone’s “hired gun” anymore.

“It is time for the US to take responsibility for its failures in Afghanistan … and if it is serious about religious freedoms then it needs to examine the record of Modi’s India and and some of its EU allies,” she added.

Pompeo waives CPC sanctions for Pakistan

A US Embassy spokesperson today told DawnNewsTV that Pompeo, along with placing Pakistan on the list, had concurrently issued a waiver of ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC) sanctions against Pakistan “as required by ‘the important national interest of the United States’.”

The spokesperson explained that each country given the CPC designation “presents unique challenges, as well as a different potential for change”.

“The measures the United States carries out or waives with respect to a CPC are part of a broader strategy that aims to improve respect for religious freedom in that country,” the spokesperson added.

“In certain instances, the Secretary (Pompeo) has determined that a waiver of the Presidential Action was required in the important national interest of the United States.”

Pakistan rejects US blacklist for religious freedom violations

December 12, 2018

Pakistan on Wednesday rejected Washington’s decision to place it on a blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom, branding the move “politically motivated” and defending its treatment of minorities.

The US move to designate Pakistan “among countries of particular concern” comes at a difficult time for relations between the nations, with the Trump administration accusing Islamabad of failing to act against Islamist militants on its soil.

“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country (on) how to protect the rights of its minorities,” a statement from the foreign ministry said, adding that Islamabad “rejects” the designation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move to blacklist Pakistan in a congressionally mandated annual report released Tuesday.

In October, a Pakistani court exonerated Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had spent eight years on death row for blasphemy

In October, a Pakistani court exonerated Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had spent eight years on death row for blasphemy In October, a Pakistani court exonerated Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had spent eight years on death row for blasphemy AFP/File

The measure means the US government is obliged to exert pressure, including imposing sanctions if necessary, to end freedom violations.

However, a spokesman with the US embassy in Islamabad clarified on Wednesday that Pompeo had issued a waiver over potential sanctions against Pakistan as required by “the important national interest of the United States”.

Blasphemy is an inflammatory charge in Pakistan, and high-profile vigilante murders and mob lynchings have been carried out in the past.

In October, a Pakistani court exonerated Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had spent eight years on death row for blasphemy.

She remains in protective custody in an unknown location after violent protests against her acquittal, and a hardline cleric has been charged with terrorism and sedition over the demonstrations.

Bibi is currently seeking asylum abroad. Her family claims her life will be in danger if she remains in Pakistan.

The foreign ministry statement did not mention Bibi, or the issue of blasphemy.

“Pakistan is a multi-religious and pluralistic society where people of diverse faiths and denominations live together,” it said.

It also warned that honesty would have required Washington to examine the “exponential rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the US”.

– ‘Particular concern’ –

Pakistan says around four percent of its total population comprises citizens belonging to Christian, Hindu, Buddhists and Sikh faiths.

Human rights advocates have long voiced alarm about the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan including Shiites and the Ahmadis, whom Islamabad forbids from identifying as Muslim.

The State Department had earlier held off on condemning Pakistan, a vital gateway for US forces in Afghanistan.

But it last year placed Pakistan on a special watch list — a step short of the designation — and Washington has separately curbed military assistance.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have soured in recent years, with US officials repeatedly accusing Islamabad of ignoring or even collaborating with groups like the Afghan Taliban, which attack Afghanistan from alleged safe havens along the border between the two countries.

The troubled relationship hit another snag last month after Trump declared he had cancelled assistance worth hundreds of millions of dollars because Islamabad does not do “a damn thing” for the US.

Nine countries remained for another year on the US list of “countries of particular concern” — China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The United States removed one country from the blacklist — Uzbekistan — but kept it on the watch list.



Google CEO: Scrutiny of tech companies is ‘here to stay’

December 12, 2018

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said Wednesday that scrutiny of big technology companies is “here to stay,” a day after he rejected assertions from lawmakers that Google’s search algorithm is biased against conservatives.

“I think a broader scrutiny of technology at a high level, I think, is actually important,” Pichai told Axios in an interview after he testified before Congress. “I personally have always felt so.”

Pichai says he wants people other than just engineers to be able to weigh in on issues related to tech regulation and user security.

Sundar Pichai

“I think privacy is an area where you have constantly evolving user expectations,” Pitchai said. “I think, as a company, we have grown a lot … I think people may legitimately have questions saying, ‘I do want a different construct.’”

The CEO said Google is looking to change user settings so it would not default to collecting data that fuels its ad-targeting technology. Rather than an opt-out option, Google is exploring a way for users to have to opt-in to have their data collected in certain instances.

The balance, however, could be difficult because, although people want more privacy, they may also need to sacrifice accuracy. For example, location services allow Google to accurately translate languages when users’ locations show they are in a different country.

Pichai said people get very upset when Google gets little things like that wrong.

“We are trying to respond to user needs,” he said.

Pichai testified for three hours on Capitol Hill Tuesday in a hearing similar to the one Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went through earlier this year.