IMF: US Trade Wars Are Risk to America’s Economy

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The U.S. economy could be weakened by escalating trade wars or a sudden downturn in global financial markets, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns.

In an annual review of the U.S. economy, the IMF said it was on a 2.6 percent growth track this year, greater than the 2.3 percent growth rate forecast in April.

But the report also said the U.S. economy appears to be increasingly vulnerable amid investor concern over America’s trade wars, noting they could trigger worsening global financial conditions.

The IMF criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration for efforts to remake global trade relationships through higher tariffs and said it was “especially important” to resolve the trade dispute with China.

The report said the U.S. economy has recovered from the financial crisis that began in 2008, but millions of Americans did not benefit from the recovery. Household income increased a meager 2.2 percent from the end of the last century, the report said, while the U.S. economy expanded 23 percent per capita during the same period.

“The poorest 40 percent of households have a level of net wealth that is lower today than it was in 1983,” the report said.

The report called on the Trump administration to avert an economic slowdown by adopting measures to cut public and corporate debt and address inequality.

On Wednesday, the IMF warned the U.S.-China trade war could cut world economic growth next year.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Trump’s threat to tax all trade between the two countries would shrink the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by one-half-of-one percent.

“This amounts to a loss of about about $455 billion, larger than the size of South Africa’s economy,” Lagarde said in a briefing note for the Group of Twenty (G-20), a collection of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies. “These are self-inflicted wounds that must be avoided… by removing the recently implemented trade barriers and by avoiding further barriers in whatever form,” she added.

The warning came as G-20 finance ministers and central bankers prepare to meet in Japan later this month. They will gather just weeks after U.S.-China talks collapsed amid claims of broken promises and another round of punishing tariffs.

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Vietnam Businesses Push for Green Economy

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Liz Hung supports a lot of the imaginative concepts being discussed to make Vietnam “greener” economically and in terms of urban planning.


Consider traffic lights. Hung described how government authorities could collect smartphone data to see which streets are crowded, and then calibrate the stoplights to optimize traffic flow.


Hung and others in the private sector are giving Vietnamese officials their wish list for a green economy, from more renewable energy to buildings that collect rain water for use.


“Road congestion costs us at least 2 to 5% of our [gross domestic product] growth every year because of the time we lost or the high transportation cost, so that is why being smart [in] mobility is very crucial,” said Hung, who is CBRE associate director of Asia Pacific Research.


Hung’s comment highlights the link between good city planning and economic benefits.

Emulating China, Australia


There is also a larger debate about whether the economic benefits outweigh the costs of going green.


There is a financial cost of technology to make Vietnam more efficient. But there also is a security cost, as “smart devices,” like lights connected to the internet, have looser security settings that make them easier to hack.


In looking for inspiration for Vietnam’s future, Hung looked at places from Hangzhou, China, where she heard about the traffic data, to Adelaide, Australia, where authorities installed smart sensors in trash bins, which alert garbage collectors when the bins are nearly full.


If the idea is to increase efficiency, Vietnam should think about energy use, said Tomaso Andreatta, vice chair at the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam.


Last month, the chamber held a forum on sustainable cities. In addition to rooftop solar panels and wind turbines, some cities are exploring ways to create energy from things that would otherwise be tossed out.


Trash can be burned, for example, to boil water for steam generators that produce electricity, a process known as waste-to-energy. This does risk increasing carbon emissions or decreasing incentives for recycling, however.

Aiming for zero waste


“More and more we realize that resources are limited, and producing waste destroys the quality of life,” Andreatta said. “Therefore, there’s been a movement worldwide to reducing waste to an absolute minimum, ideally zero.”


He went on to say, “The rapid development of the middle class and its lifestyle, which includes intensive air conditioning use, accounts for a considerable proportion of energy consumption growth.”


It may be the middle class that benefits most from a greener Vietnam, where the private sector steps in to create greater efficiencies, when the government is not involved.


Property developers are building enclosed communities where sustainability is part of the design, whether it’s motion-detecting lights, or insulation that keeps indoor temperatures manageable. One developer introduced pollution warnings. Another made a transportation app just for its residents.


But what about those who are not lucky enough to live in a gated community?


Government officials say they are listening to proposals across all sectors. They say that as Vietnam faces a major threat from climate change, it needs to make greater efforts at green planning.


“Climate change will have a big impact on the region,” said Huynh Xuan Thu, deputy chief officer of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Architecture and Urban Planning.


Some of the ideas, such as a country full of electric cars, may be a pipe dream or years down the road. But Vietnam is getting started on some of the proposals.


In Ho Chi Minh City, officials are looking at traffic sensors and gathering data on congestion, which they hope to reduce through technology in the near future.


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US Productivity Grew at Solid 3.4% Rate in First Quarter

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U.S. productivity grew at a strong 3.4% rate in the January-March quarter, the best showing in more than four years, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was an encouraging sign that productivity may finally be improving after a long stretch of weakness.


The first quarter gain was more than double the 1.3% increase in the fourth quarter, although it was slightly lower than an initial estimate of 3.6% made a month ago. Labor costs fell during the first quarter, declining by 1.6% following a 0.4% drop in the fourth quarter.


Productivity, the amount of output per hour of work, is a key factor determining an economy’s growth potential. If the current rebound continues, it would provide support for President Donald Trump’s efforts to achieve sustained 3% growth rates.


The slight downward revision in productivity reflected the fact that overall output, as measured by gross domestic product, was revised down from an initial estimate of 3.2% growth to 3.1% growth in the first quarter.


The 3.4% advance in productivity was the strongest increase since a 3.7% rise in the third quarter of 2014. Productivity has risen 2.4% over the past four quarters, the best performance since a 2.7% four-quarter gain in 2010.


Productivity gains over the past decade have been lackluster, averaging just 1.3% annually from 2007 through 2018. That was less than half the 2.7% gains seen from 2000 to 2007, a period when the economy was benefiting from technology improvements in computers and the internet. From 1947 through 2018, annual productivity gains averaged 2.1%.


Economists see the slowdown in productivity over the past decade as one of the country’s biggest economic challenges. But recent signs indicate that may be turning around. The economy’s potential to grow is governed by two major factors, growth of the labor force and growth in productivity.


For all of 2018, GDP growth was 2.9%. The Trump administration has projected sustained GDP gains of 3% or better over the next decade, well above the 2.2% average GDP gains seen since the current expansion began in June 2009.


In a separate report Thursday, the Labor Department said that applications for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, held steady at 218,000 last week. That is a low level that indicates a strong job market. The government will release its May jobs report on Friday.



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World Bank: Iran Likely to Suffer Worse Recession Than Previously Thought

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This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

WASHINGTON —The World Bank says Iran is likely to experience an even worse recession this year than previously thought, as U.S. sanctions largely choke off oil exports that have been Tehran’s main revenue source.

In its latest Global Economic Prospects report published Wednesday, the Washington-based institution that provides loans to countries said it expects Iran’s Gross Domestic Product to shrink by 4.5% this year, a steeper contraction than its earlier estimate of negative 3.6% GDP growth for 2019.

“The oil industry is an important part of Iran’s economy, and its oil production is clearly going to drop because of the new U.S. sanctions,” said Patrick Clawson, research director for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in a VOA Persian interview on Wednesday.

The Trump administration imposed a total, unilateral ban on Iranian oil exports on May 2 as part of its campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran to negotiate an end to its perceived malign behaviors. It had issued sanctions waivers to eight of Iran’s oil customers in November to allow them to keep importing Iranian crude for six months, but later said it would not renew those waivers and would require those customers to reduce such imports to zero.

U.S. economist Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore told VOA Persian in another Wednesday interview that Iran’s internal economic problems also are to blame for its worsening recession. “Iran is very corrupt, has very little economic freedom, and it’s hard to start a business there because Iran is not really a free market or liberal economy,” Hanke said.

Transparency International, a Berlin-based civil society organization that monitors global corruption, has ranked Iran 138 out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index.

Iran’s other low global economic rankings include 155 out of 180 nations in the Economic Freedom Index of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy institute, and 128 out of 190 governments in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index.

The World Bank’s new report also said Iran’s year-on-year inflation rate has risen sharply from about 10% in the middle of last year to about 52% in April. It said the depreciation of Iran’s rial since May 2018, when the U.S. announced it would re-impose sanctions on Iran, has contributed to the rising inflation. The rial’s slump versus the dollar in Iran’s unofficial currency market has made dollar-denominated imports more expensive for Iranians.

Clawson said Iran’s inflation is high primarily because it is relying on printing money to finance its spending. “The Iranian government is not bringing in enough revenue to pay for its expenses, so it is borrowing money from the banking system to cover the difference, and that is driving inflation,” he said.

Hanke, who says he is the only economist outside Iran to measure its inflation with high frequency, told VOA Persian that he calculated Iran’s actual inflation rate to be 113% on Wednesday, much higher than the World Bank’s latest reading.

The World Bank’s projection of a 4.5% contraction in Iran’s GDP this year is not as bad as the 6% contraction predicted by the International Monetary Fund, another global lending agency, in its latest report from April. The World Bank also said it expects economic growth in Iran to return next year “as the impact of U.S. sanctions tapers off and as inflation stabilizes.” It projected a 0.9% rise in Iran’s GDP for 2020.

Hanke declined to make his own predictions for Iran’s economic performance, saying any forecasts for a nation such as Iran are problematic because they rely on guesswork.

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How Vietnam Will Avoid Currency ‘Manipulator’ Label, Save its Economy

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Vietnam is likely to make concessions to the United States so it can escape a U.S. watch list of possible currency manipulators and head off a hit to its fast-growing economy led by exchange rate-sensitive exports, analysts who follow the country say.

The Southeast Asian country, they forecast, will probably talk to the U.S. side over the next six to nine months, consider approving fewer changes in its foreign exchange rate and accept more high-value American imports.

Those measures would help Vietnam get off the U.S. Treasury’s list of nine countries that Washington will examine further for whether those states are currency “manipulators.” Manipulation implies deliberate state-driven currency rate changes that favor a country’s own exporters and make trade more costly for importers. The U.S. list released in late May added Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

The policy changes might place a speed bump in the economy, which has grown around 6% every year since 2012, but a “manipulator” label could lead to tariffs on Vietnamese goods shipped to the United States and choke economic expansion.

“I think they’ll definitely (take action), because they’re extremely worried about this matter, so they’ll carry out some necessary communications and make some adjustments,” said Tai Wan-ping, Southeast Asia-specialized international business professor at Cheng Shiu University in Taiwan. “If they keep going, to be on this list is disadvantageous for Vietnam.”

Exports and the local currency

Vietnam, a growing manufacturing powerhouse that reels in factory investors from around Asia for its lost costs, posted a $39.5 billion surplus in trade with the United States last year and a $13.5 billion surplus in the first quarter this year.

The same country also adjusts its dong currency exchange rate within a band but trending toward weakness versus the U.S. dollar. That trend favors exporters, a majority of the $238 billion Vietnamese economy.

“The reality is, it’s what we call in economics a dirty float currency. It’s not grossly manipulated — it basically reflects market rate for the dong,” said Adam McCarty, chief economist with Mekong Economics in Hanoi. 

“But it’s sort of controlled to stop big fluctuations, so that the change in the exchange rate month to month is rather small, but it’s always been slowly and steadily in the direction of depreciation of the Vietnamese dong,” McCarty said.

​Inflows of “hot money” into Vietnam, which could hurt exports eventually, sometimes require the country to adjust its foreign exchange rate, Tai said.

Measures to get off the list

Vietnam’s limiting of any further fluctuations would put the U.S. government more at ease, said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the market research firm IHS Markit.

“The U.S. Treasury did say that Vietnam should reduce its intervention in the exchange rate and let the currency move in line with economic fundamentals,” Biswas said. “If you’re not intervening in your currency, that automatically reduces the risk of being named a currency manipulator.”

But Vietnamese net purchases of foreign currency last year came to just 1.7% of GDP, below the 2% that Washington uses to define “persistent one-sided intervention in the foreign exchange market,” Hanoi-based SSI Research said in a note Monday. Governments can adjust exchange rates by buying or selling foreign currency.

Vietnam, where many of the top companies are state-invested, could reduce the trade balance by buying more “capital intensive equipment” and aerospace goods such as aircraft from the United States, Biswas said.

India left the U.S. list in May after easing a trade surplus, though China – in the thick of a trade dispute with Washington – was kept on it.

There are few other “policy levers” Vietnam can use to answer the U.S. Treasury concerns, said Gene Fang, an associate managing director with Moody’s Investors Service in Singapore.

Negotiations with Washington

Vietnam will probably remain on the U.S. list over at least the next half a year, when the document is due for an update, analysts believe. The two sides are likely to discuss the currency rate and the trade imbalance as Vietnam deliberates its response measures, they say.

Eventually the U.S. government could seek negotiations with Vietnam and place tariffs on Vietnamese exports if it sees fit, Fang said.

“I guess one of the things we could see as a result would be that the U.S. places higher tariffs on Vietnamese exports to the U.S., and that would be certainly negative from a growth perspective,” he said.

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US Report Urges Steps to Reduce Reliance on Foreign Critical Minerals

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The U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday recommended urgent steps to boost domestic production of rare earths and other critical minerals, warning that a halt in Chinese or Russian exports could cause “significant shocks” in global supply chains.

The report includes 61 specific recommendations — including low-interest loans and “Buy American” requirements for defense companies — to boost domestic production of minerals essential for the manufacture of mobile phones and a host of other consumer goods, as well as fighter jets.

It also called for closer cooperation with allies such as Japan, Australia and the European Union, and directed reviews of government permitting processes to speed up domestic mining.

U.S. reliance on foreign minerals has worried U.S. officials since 2010, when China embargoed exports of so-called rare earth minerals to Japan during a diplomatic row. The issue took on new urgency in recent weeks after Chinese officials suggested rare earths and other critical minerals could be used as leverage in the trade war between the world’s largest economic powers.

“The United States is heavily dependent on foreign sources of critical minerals and on foreign supply chains resulting in the potential for strategic vulnerabilities to both our economy and military,” the Commerce Department said in a long-awaited report outlining a new federal strategy on critical minerals.

“If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period — similar to China’s rare earths embargo in 2010 — an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks throughout U.S. and foreign critical mineral supply chains,” the report said.

Boosting trade with other countries could reduce U.S. reliance on sources of critical minerals that could be disrupted, and robust enforcement of U.S. trade laws and international agreements could also help address adverse impacts of market-distorting foreign trade measures, it said.

The report was cheered by U.S. miners, including MP Materials, which owns California’s Mountain Pass mine, the only current rare earths facility in the United States.

For now, it must pay a 25 percent tariff to ship its rare earths to China for processing, collateral damage in the U.S.-China trade war.

“We welcome this report and hope that the Commerce Department’s ‘Call to Action’ results in some real action from Washington,” said James Litinsky, co-chairman of MP Materials.


The report called for a combination of short-term measures, such as stockpiling, and longer-term moves to catalyze exploration, design and construction of new mines, as well as re-establishing domestic downstream manufacturing supply chains.

It recommended several measures for the Interior Department and its subagencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, to remove obstacles to critical mineral development and make it easier to get permits.

It said the BLM and Forest Service should review all areas that are currently “withdrawn” — or protected — from development and assess whether those restrictions should be lifted or reduced to allow for critical mineral development.

Commerce also proposed altering how the Interior Department and its agencies review mining projects under the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act, urging expedited environmental studies and identifying minerals which can be excluded from environmental reviews.

The report drew immediate fire from Democrats who said the new strategy would harm the environment and amounted to fresh concessions to multinational corporations.

“This administration has set shameful new records for industry giveaways, and this is one of the worst,” said Raul Grijalva, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee.

The industry applauded the report, however.

“The steps outlined in this report will go a long way in unlocking the value of all our domestic mineral resources while continuing strict environmental protections,” said Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association.

The Buy American recommendation, which would require defense weapons and related products be built with domestically-sourced rare earths, could make it easier to secure financing if investors knew there would be a guaranteed revenue source for new projects, prospective U.S. rare earth miners said.

“I would encourage the federal government to move as quickly as possible, and ‘buy American’ is one way to do that,” said Anthony Marchese, chairman of Texas Mineral Resources Corp, which is seeking $300 million to develop the Round Top rare earth deposit in Texas.

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Uber Says IRS Probing its 2013-14 Tax Returns

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The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is auditing Uber Technologies’s taxes for 2013 and 2014 and the ride-hailing company expects unrecognized tax benefits to be reduced within the next year by at least $141 million.

In its full quarterly report on Tuesday, Uber said various state and foreign tax authorities were also looking into its taxes and that it was currently unable to put a definite timeline or estimate on the overall adjustments that might result.

The $141 million amount related only to its transfer pricing positions, which refers to the common multinational practice of charging for services between wholly-owned businesses in different countries or jurisdictions to reduce the tax it pays.

Earlier this year, the company had said in a regulatory filing that it expected unrecognized tax benefits related to the audit to be reduced within the next year by at least $127 million.

Industry experts characterize transfer pricing as a relatively risky strategy, which typically is among multinationals’ top tax concerns and has been used by authorities in the past to go after Apple and Amazon.

“Although the timing of the resolution and/or closure of the audits is highly uncertain, it is reasonably possible that the balance of gross unrecognized tax benefits could significantly change in the next 12 months,” the company said.

The announcement came on a day when at least 11 of the brokerages, whose underwriting arms backed Uber’s Wall Street debut last month, weighed in with “buy” recommendations on the company’s shares as a statutory embargo lifted. Citi, however, initiated coverage with a “neutral” rating.

Uber shares gained 2.8% in afternoon trading as the technology sector bounced back from a sell-off on Monday.

The company’s stock has struggled since its market debut on May 10 and is trading below its IPO price of $45.

Still, the shares have outperformed rival Lyft, which have fallen by a third in value since its own debut in March, and analysts from Deutsche Bank said Uber’s stock remained the best internet IPO for investors since Facebook’s launch in 2012.

“Uber should trade at a premium to LYFT given Uber’s larger global scale and reach, cross product growth opportunity and larger ability for long-term leverage,” said analysts at Morgan Stanley. “It is still in the early innings in its core and emerging opportunities.”

In its first quarterly report as a public company last week, Uber reported a $1 billion loss as it spent heavily to build up its food delivery and freight businesses.

But many of the analysts covering the stock on Tuesday said they believed Uber had the scale and time to develop into another powerful U.S. global tech player.

RBC analysts believe the market under-appreciates Uber’s profit potential while analysts at Mizuho Securities expect the intense competition to rationalize over the next few years due to continued consolidation and listings of private peers.

“…Uber has ample room to gain operating leverage from economies of scale,” analysts at Mizuho said.

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Mexico Warns US Tariff Would Hurt Both Nations

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Michael Bowman contributed to this report.

Mexico warned Monday that President Donald Trump’s threatened new tariff on its exports to the United States would hurt both countries’ economies and cause even more Central American migrants to travel through Mexico to reach the United States.

At the start of talks in Washington, Mexican officials said they could only go so far in meeting Trump’s demand to block migrants’ passage through Mexico to avert Trump’s imposition of a 5% tariff next week. The officials specifically ruled out a “third safe country” agreement requiring U.S. asylum-seekers to first apply for refuge in Mexico.

​”There is a clear limit to what we can negotiate, and the limit is Mexican dignity,” Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Martha Barcena, said.

Barcena added that U.S. tariffs “could cause financial and economic instability,” reducing Mexico’s capacity to address the flow of migrants and “offer alternatives” to people fleeing Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Mexican officials contended that an additional quarter million migrants could try to reach the U.S. if the tariff is imposed, on top of the tens of thousands already reaching the southern U.S. border each month.

Trump showed no sign of softening his demand as he tweeted during a visit to London.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador remained confident the two sides would reach an agreement, telling reporters Monday that he was optimistic.

He said his government would not engage in confrontation, and would always defend those who migrate out of necessity due to violence or a lack of food or job opportunities. He also remained positive that no matter what happens in the dispute with the United States, Mexico has “exception, extraordinary,” people and can push through any adversity.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard are due to hold further talks about the dispute on Wednesday.

U.S. lawmakers returning to Washington after a weeklong congressional recess sharply criticized Trump’s latest tariff tactic aimed at a major U.S. trading partner.

“This (tariffs) is not a popular concept,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn said of public opinion in Texas, which he represents. “Mexico is our biggest export market.”

Another Republican, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, expressed concerns that trade friction could harm a newly negotiated free trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“I’m not a big advocate of tariffs, and I’d like to get the USMCA agreement approved,” Blunt told VOA. “I don’t see how the addition of a tariff (on Mexican goods) right now helps make that happen.”

“Mexico is a critical trading partner of the United States,” Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said. “You put up barriers, it’s going to end up costing us jobs, and it’s going to cost consumers.”

Cardin added that Trump’s threatened tariff “would be counterproductive,” as far as boosting U.S. border security.

“If we need cooperation on the southern border, they (Mexican officials) are not going to give us cooperation. Why bother if we’re going to have an antagonistic relationship?” Cardin said.

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Officials Warn Tariffs on Mexico Would Not Reduce Migration

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U.S. and Mexican officials warn that raising tariffs on Mexican goods to get Mexico to stem the influx of Central American migrants on the way to the U.S. border would hurt the economics of both countries. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to apply tariffs of 5% on all Mexican goods starting June 10, and increase the rate in coming months to up to 25% if Mexico does not substantially halt the migrants heading to the U.S. border. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

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Pompeo Renews Warning to European Allies to Not Use Huawei for 5G

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The United States is again calling on European allies to be careful of what it says are security risks posed by Chinese telecommunication company Huawei, as countries build out their 5G networks.

“We’ve been clear: our ask is that our allies and our partners and our friends don’t do anything that would endanger our shared security interests or restrict our ability to share sensitive information,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday after meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok in The Hague.

The top U.S. diplomat’s remarks come amid the Dutch intelligence agency’s investigation over alleged hidden backdoors in the software that could have given Huawei unauthorized access to users’ data.

Huawei’s CEO Ren Zhengfei has maintained his company would not share confidential user information and Huawei denies it is controlled by Beijing. The company also says it does not work with the Chinese government, an assertion Pompeo and other U.S. officials have rejected.

Blok said while his government wants to align policies with allies, the Dutch will make its own security decisions as it prepares to auction off new 5G internet rights.

“There is a specialist committee working now to decide on what criteria to add to the 5G option and somewhere this summer those criteria will be published,” said the Dutch foreign minister.

Pompeo and Blok met on the sidelines of a three-day Global Entrepreneurship Summit co-hosted by the U.S. and the Netherlands in The Hague.


This preeminent annual gathering convenes entrepreneurs, investors, and their supporters from more than 120 countries.


Eyeing China, Pompeo said the United States is seeking terms for fair trade practices.

“Authoritarian states can steal ideas and prop up their own business enterprises, but they’ll never match the entrepreneurship and innovation found in free societies,” said Pompeo, stressing the importance of intellectual property rights protection, the rule of law, as well as a predictable and consistent legal system.

Friday, Pompeo warned German authorities that the U.S. could withhold national security information if Germany adopts 5G networks run by Huawei because “it is not possible to mitigate” the security risks.


The White House has effectively blacklisted Huawei, making it harder to continue doing business with American companies.


In response, China says it plans to target organizations or individuals that deemed to damage Chinese companies’ interests in a so-called “unreliable foreigners list.”


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