The World Today for March 17, 2017


Mutti Goes to Washington

German Chancellor Angela Merkel flies to Washington Friday to meet with US President Donald Trump for the first time since he took office in January.

The stoic chancellor and the outspoken president may have their personal differences.

But when the two leaders meet today, one thing’s for certain: Mutti (mommy), as the chancellor is called back home, means business.

Chancellor Merkel is hoping to piece back together economic relations between Berlin and Washington amid Trump’s threats of border taxes that could bruise Europe’s largest economy.

The German economy is an export powerhouse that relies on the US. Americans spend roughly twice as much on German products than on those from Japan, Russia and Mexico combined, Politico reported.

But Trump has criticized Germany’s roughly $70 billion trade surplus with the US, saying Germany enjoys an unfair advantage with the “grossly undervalued” euro, CNNMoney reported.

Merkel must therefore convince the American president of her commitment to closer ties with Washington, which she’s supported numerous times publicly since he took office.

“The United States of America is a key trading partner for Germany and for the entire European Union,” Merkel said to business leaders in Munich on Monday. “Trade is advantageous for both sides and I’m looking forward to the chance to speak to the newly elected American president about these issues.”

To get that point across, Merkel is calling in reinforcements – the chief executives of BMW, Siemens and auto-parts giant Schaeffler are slated to attend meetings with Trump.

They’ll likely stress the hundreds of billions of dollars Germany has directly invested in the United States, generating almost 670,000 US jobs. BMW’s largest factory is located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for example.

But the chancellor’s game plan has some soft spots.

Trump has been adamant in calling on Germany to boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024. While Germany heeded those calls and recently announced new measures to bolster its military, the Trump administration is still unimpressed.

“The President of the United States expects our allies to keep their word, to fulfill this commitment,” said Vice President Mike Pence at the Munich Security Conference last month. “For most, that means the time has come to do more.”

It’s not clear Merkel will heed that plea.

She has refused to challenge thrifty Germans to spend more rather than save so obsessively, a dynamic that has created economic imbalances throughout Europe over the resistance of other leaders on the continent, for example.

Similarly, there’s little evidence she’ll increase military spending to suit American leaders if Germans aren’t on board.

Merkel wants to preserve good relations with the White House. But she also needs to curry favor with German voters.

If her calculations are correct in September when she’s up for reelection, she and Trump could be seeing much more of one another whether or not their chat goes well today.


How to Win Friends and Influence China

Saudi Arabia and China inked economic and trade deals worth as much as $65 billion, as King Salman met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

The deals spanned everything from energy to space, with more than 20 oil and renewable energy pacts in the mix, Foreign Policy reported. China also discussed taking a stake in state-owned oil company Aramco.

Those agreements fit neatly into the Vision 2030 plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy – which the IMF projects will grow only 0.4 percent this year. Perhaps more intriguingly, however, the leaders also “dropped hints” that China may take a more active diplomatic role in the Middle East – where US-backed Saudi Arabia is vying with Iran for influence.

“Saudi Arabia is willing to work hard with China to promote global and regional peace, security and prosperity,” the magazine quoted King Salman as saying.

Meanwhile, Xi stressed Beijing would continue its longstanding policy of non-interference. But the magazine noted that China has taken sides in both Syria and Yemen.

Brazilian Bounce?

After a long drought, investors are expecting a burst of initial public offerings by companies in once-booming Brazil this year.

An e-commerce company called Netshoes that is partly owned by Tiger Global Management and an airline called Azul that was started by the founder of Jet Blue both filed for IPOs recently after being forced to abandon earlier attempts, the New York Times reported. Car rental company Movida and the health care company Instituto Hermes Pardini have already debuted, raising a combined $425 million for the year through Tuesday, and some expect more than a dozen such deals to be filed in 2017.

The activity hints that the measures undertaken by President Michel Temer after he replaced Dilma Rousseff have sparked some optimism in the finance sector even though he is still deeply unpopular. In other signs of life, Brazil’s inflation has fallen, its currency has gained value, and the Central Bank has cut interest rates multiple times over the past several months.

Busting the Bakers

Venezuela arrested four bakers this week as part of President Nicolas Maduro’s crackdown on brownies and other pastries.

They weren’t marijuana brownies. Maduro sent inspectors and soldiers into more than 700 bakeries around Caracas this week to enforce a rule that 90 percent of wheat must be used for bread rather than more expensive pastries and cakes, amid a disastrous economic crisis that has resulted in nationwide food shortages, Reuters reported.

Two men were arrested for using too much wheat in sweet bread, ham-filled croissants and other products, while two others were detained for making brownies with out-of-date wheat, the agency said.

During the oil boom, price controls and other policies enacted by Maduro’s Socialist Party under his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, prompted a steady decline in food production in Venezuela, leaving the country in a desperate situation when oil prices plunged.

Now, the Socialist Party says pro-opposition businessmen are sabotaging Maduro’s efforts to stop the bleeding by hoarding products and hiking prices in what Maduro has called a “bread war.” But critics blame him for persisting with price and currency controls.


A Festive Exception

St. Patrick’s Day comes laden with myriad traditions for celebrators: green beer, green clothes, green milkshakes and more green beer.

But Catholics and meatpackers around the United States worried that the timing of this year’s celebrations might interfere with another holiday staple: the corned beef dinner.

The holiday falls this year on a Friday during Lent, the six-week period of fasting and repentance for Christians. For Catholics, Fridays are meat-free during the period of abstention.

Faced with a conundrum, Catholic leaders took action, issuing exemptions in 80 of the nearly 200 US Catholic dioceses.

US meat packers also exhaled a sigh of relief. Demand for the salted, slow-roasted beef in the month of March keeps the beef industry afloat for the rest of the year.

St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July claim the top spots among holidays for beef consumption in the US – in March, corned beef sales see an 8 percent spike, Reuters reported.

But not everyone is getting off scot-free. In Omaha, Nebraska, the archbishop declared that Catholics in the area could eat beef on the holiday as long as they abstained the next day.

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a new, regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Risks and Release

The murder of newspaper columnist Joaquin Briones in the Philippines with four shots to the back, and freelance journalist Mohamed Abazied’s death covering an airstrike in the southwestern Syrian city of Daraa last week are a reminder of the risks journalists take to cover a story.

To help mitigate one of those risks, CPJ on March 6 issued a safety advisory in response to reports that civilians, including women and children, had been treated for suspected exposure to a blistering chemical agent following an Islamic State attack on East Mosul. CPJ’s safety advisories are issued by the Emergency Response Team, which provides support to journalists around the world through safety and security information and rapid response assistance to journalists at risk.

Still, not all the news was grim: In Ethiopia, a country that is consistently among the worst jailers of journalists, authorities released Anania Sorri, who posts critical commentary on a Facebook page with some 11,000 followers. After Seyoum Teshome and Befekadu Hailu, Anania was the third Ethiopian journalist to be released since Dec. 1, 2016, when CPJ last conducted its annual census of journalists jailed around the world.

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