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Dubai Plans $1.7 Billion Tourist Project on New Artificial Islands

Dubai plans to develop a 6.3 billion dirham ($1.7 billion) tourist resort on two man-made islands it will build on either side of the Burj Al Arab, its luxury sail-shaped hotel.

It is the latest development planned by the emirate as it aims to attract 20 million visitors a year by 2020 when Dubai will host the World Expo 2020 exhibition.

Spanning 4 million square feet, Marsa Al Arab will be made up of two islands, one dedicated to entertainment and family tourism and the other featuring luxury villas and a private marina, state news agency WAM reported Monday.

Dubai is already one of the world’s most visited cities, although its hotels, shopping malls and state-owned airline, Emirates, have been buffeted by a strong U.S. dollar which has made the emirate pricier for many overseas visitors. The United Arab Emirates pegs its dirham to the dollar.

Around 4.6 million tourists visited Dubai during the first quarter, up by 11 percent compared to the same period of last year, according to Dubai Tourism data.

Marsa Al Arab will feature 140 villas, a marine and water park, and a theatre with capacity for 1,700 people to host Cirque du Soleil, local media reported. Work on the project will break ground in June and be completed by late 2020, WAM said.

The agency did not mention how the project would be funded.

Dubai is working on several big projects due for completion in the next few years and being funded by debt.

It is building the World Expo 2020 exhibition site, an extension to Dubai’s Metro system and Al Maktoum International Airport, a new airport being developed on the edge of Dubai, which will serve up to 146 million passengers by 2025.

Marsa Al Arab will add 2.2 km (1.4 miles) of beach to the emirate’s coastline, WAM said.

Dubai’s most famous artificial island, Palm Jumeriah, is home to several hotels, villas and apartments. But other islands it planned to develop were stalled or scaled back after the emirate’s 2009 debt crisis.

Palm Jebel Ali, which began construction in 2002, has yet to be completed, while plans for Palm Deira have been reworked to create a scaled-down project called Deira Islands.

Another man-made archipelago, The World, a 300-island chain laid out in the shape of the world’s continents, has only been partially developed.

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Gingerly, Deals Start Taking Shape Between Rivals China and Vietnam

Historic rivals China and Vietnam are working on substantive agreements that could cover trade, investment and maritime resource sharing despite a bitter sovereignty dispute that had snarled relations less than a year ago.

The Communist neighbors are inching toward new trade and investment ties that analysts say would help shore up overall relations. Some believe the two might later approach stickier topics such as joint use of disputed waters or humane treatment of each other’s fishermen. The two countries still contest sovereignty over tracts of the vast, resource-rich South China Sea east of Vietnam and southwest of Hong Kong.

Prospects of some kind of agreement came into focus during Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang’s visit to China, which ends Monday. He suggested the two sides work on complementing each other’s trade and investment advantages with a view toward improving overall relations, state media from Hanoi said.

“President Quang is in China, and China promised a lot,” said Yun Sun, senior associate with the East Asia Program under Washington-based think tank the Stimson Center. “From an economic point of view, it is certainly practical and beneficial for Vietnam to have some sort of deal, but then again I think this still relatively early to tell.”

In a meeting with Quang Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for more cross-border economic cooperation zones and joint infrastructure building, according to  China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported. China pledged to “mitigate” its trade deficit with Vietnam and increase direct investment, Sun said.

“Talking probably does help lower tensions and improve the odds of things happening,” said Alaistair Chan, an economist covering China for Moody’s Analytics.

The Vietnamese president suggested China finalize rules on opening the Chinese market for farm products, dairy and seafood, media outlet vietnamnet.vn said. He also called on China to make more “preferential loans” and urged a working group to develop renewable energy investment projects that play on China’s strengths and demand in Vietnam, the Vietnamese news report said.

On Friday companies from both countries signed agreements on milk distribution, tourism and rice processing.

China is the largest trade partner of Vietnam, with imports and exports worth about $72 billion last year. Vietnam also calls China one of the top 10 investors in the country.

But both countries are likely to hedge on letting outsiders invest in infrastructure, a possible source of direct investment, Chan said. “If they can get there purely on trade and stay away from investment, a touchy subject in both countries, I think that’s probably where they can get their quickest gain,” he said.

China and Vietnam stepped up dialogue after July 2016, when a world arbitration court ruled that Beijing lacked a legal basis to claim more than 90 percent of the sea, a boon to rival claimants in Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. China responded to the ruling by seeking one-on-one dialogue with each country. Vietnam was one of the most hostile toward China before the court ruling.

Beijing and Hanoi dispute sovereignty over much of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea, including two chains of tiny islets. Beijing’s go-ahead for a Chinese oil rig in contested waters set off a clash in 2014. The two countries also still face distrust fanned by centuries of political rivalry as well as a border war in 1979.

Both countries stake their fast-growing economies on export manufacturing. Vietnamese companies resent China for using their larger production scales to sell goods in bulk at relatively low prices.

Relations got a lift in September when the Chinese premier and Vietnamese prime minister agreed to manage maritime differences. Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong visited China in January to help smooth relations.

Another boost came as China emerged last year as the top single-country source of tourism for Vietnam. About 2.2 million Chinese visited Vietnam from January to October. Chinese tourists have reshaped the economies of Hong Kong and Taiwan over the past decade.

Agreements on managing disputed tracts of the South China Sea may come later if the two sides keep getting along, experts say.

Vietnam and China have agreed to an “informal” median line in the tract of sea where their claims overlap, said Carl Thayer, Southeast Asia-specialized emeritus professor of politics at The University of New South Wales in Australia. They might eventually work on expanding joint exploration for oil under the seabed and a way to ensure “humane” treatment of fishermen, he said.

“It’s to stop the ramming, boarding, seizing fish catches and radio equipment and in the old days taking them hostages for money,” Thayer said. Under a human treatment agreement, he said, “If you find them, you report them to the other side and return them rather than bash them up and take everything.”

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Mnuchin Says G-7 Nations More Comfortable With New US Economic Approach

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Saturday after meeting with officials from the world’s other industrialized democracies that he thought they were more at ease with Donald Trump’s economic policies.

“People are more comfortable today, now that they’ve had the opportunity to spend time with me and listen to the president and hear our economic message,” Mnuchin said after a two-day meeting in Bari, Italy, with members of the Group of Seven, industrialized nations commonly known as the G-7.

Officials from the G-7 countries hoped to learn more about the U.S. president’s plans, which they feared would revive protectionist policies and result in a global regression on issues such as banking reform and climate change.

After the meeting, officials from Japan and member European countries remained concerned about the economic shift in Washington, particularly after Mnuchin said the U.S. reserved the right to be protectionist if it thought trade was not free or fair.

“All the six others … said explicitly, and some very directly, to the representatives of the U.S. administration that it is absolutely necessary to continue with the same spirit of international cooperation,” said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin.

Don’t ‘backpedal’ on free trade

Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau said continued uncertainty about U.S. policy could dampen optimism within the G-7 about the global economy’s gradual recovery from the financial crisis that began nearly a decade ago.

De Galhau echoed the sentiments of Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, who said, “We must not backpedal on free trade, as it has contributed to economic prosperity.”

European officials complained that the U.S. meaning of “fair trade” remained unclear and that the only way to establish fairness was to abide by the multilateral framework developed by the World Trade Organization.

A senior Japanese Finance Ministry official said the most significant question pertained to Trump’s U.S. tax cut proposal that could fuel America’s economic recovery.

Trump has proposed slashing the U.S. corporate income tax rate and offer multinational businesses a steep tax break on overseas profits brought back to the U.S.

The G-7 is composed of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S.

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Companies Affected by Global Cyber Attack

A global cyber attack on Friday affected British hospitals, government agencies and companies in 99 countries, with Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan the top targets, security software maker Avast said.

Hacking tools widely believed by researchers to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency that were leaked online last month appear to have been leveraged to launch the attacks.

Around 1,000 computers at the Russian Interior Ministry were affected by the cyber attack, a spokeswoman for the ministry told Interfax.

Some of the companies affected:

FedEx Corp

Telefonica SA

Portugal Telecom

Telefonica Argentina

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By the Numbers: China’s Chase of ‘Golden Visa’ Abroad

From the United States and Canada to small islands in Europe and the Caribbean, Chinese are spending billions on new passports and visas to move their families away from their homeland.

China’s middle and upper classes are demanding better schools, cleaner air and a more secure life for their children. And as China gets wealthier, millions of families have the means to purchase a new life elsewhere.

 

Their demand has transformed a once obscure market for immigration by investment. To study China’s impact, the Associated Press collected statistics from 13 countries that offer citizenship or permanent residency for a price.

Here’s a look at AP’s analysis of the market, by the numbers.

China’s favorite programs

Consulting firms in China’s biggest cities hawk investor visa programs in weekly sessions at hotels and on social media. The market leader is the United States, as urban Chinese are widely familiar with American schools and culture.

 

Here are the five countries in the AP’s analysis with the most visas issued to Chinese investors and their families in the last decade:

— 43,448: the United States’ investment visa program, known as EB-5.

— 35,278: Canada’s investment bond programs, including a program offered by the province of Quebec.

— 7,875: Portugal’s “golden visa” program for real estate investors.

 

— 6,405: Hungary’s residence bond program, recently suspended by the government.

— 4,640: Australia’s program for high-dollar “significant investors.”

 

What they buy

Depending on the country, Chinese investors looking for a second home can join business projects, invest in bonds or make an outright payment to the government. Currency conversions are as of May 11.

 

— $250,000: the minimum price of citizenship in Antigua & Barbuda for an investor who donates to the island government’s development fund and pays a $50,000 government fee.

 

— $380,000 (350,000 euro): the minimum value of real estate investors must purchase in Portugal’s “golden visa” program.

 

— $500,000: the minimum business investment in the United States’ EB-5 program, with a “green card” given to investors whose money creates or saves 10 jobs.

 

— $584,000 (800,000 Canadian dollars): the minimum amount of interest-free investment to be made or financed for residence in the Canadian province of Quebec. (Canada closed a similar national program in 2014.)

 

— $3.7 million (5 million Australian dollars): the required investment in Australia’s Significant Investor Visa program in a mix of developing businesses and funds as defined by the government. Australia’s program is by far the most expensive in the AP survey.

 

What they spent

To understand how China has changed the global investor migration market, the AP estimated how much Chinese families have invested at a minimum in foreign countries for a visa or passport. The AP multiplied the number of investors, excluding family members, by the minimum investment level for each year, in each program for the last decade. In some cases, the AP estimated the number of investors with the help of government data or experts on investment migration.  

 

The figures below are an undercount because some investors put in more than what’s required. Investment amounts for each year were converted to U.S. dollars based on the average exchange rate that year. The figures have not been adjusted for inflation.

 

— $7.7 billion: estimated minimum investment in the United States through the EB-5 program.

 

— $6 billion: estimated minimum investment in Australia through its Significant Investor Visa program.

— $4.3 billion: estimated minimum investment in Canada, including Quebec, through its immigrant investor programs.

— $1.96 billion: estimated minimum investment in the United Kingdom through its Tier 1 investor program.

— $1.71 billion: estimated minimum investment in New Zealand through its investor and entrepreneur programs.

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US to Attend China’s Belt and Road Forum

In a move that is likely to give a boost to China’s Belt and Road Forum, the United States has announced that it will participate in meetings on the initiative beginning this weekend in Beijing.

The decision to attend is part of a 100-day plan and new deal between Washington and Beijing that was initially hammered out when President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping met early last month in Florida.

The interagency delegation from Washington will be led by Matthew Pottinger, a top adviser to the Trump administration and National Security Council senior director for East Asia. China is pleased with the decision.

“We welcome all countries to attend. And we welcome the United States’ attendance as the world’s largest economy in the relevant activities of the Belt and Road initiative,” said Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao.

Fact and fiction

China has long been playing up the global benefits of its ambitious trade project, but analysts note that the plan is opaque and vague. Besides, the economic benefits for developed nations such as the United States are still unclear.

For many, the project still seems largely China-centric. It boasts six economic corridors, all of which are to enhance links with China through connectivity and trade infrastructure. Those include connections between China and Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

“It’s about making China great again — in Trumpian terms — and making China great on the international stage,” said Tom Miller, author of China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road.

Domestically, China’s leaders present the project as part of their attempt at the grand rejuvenation of the Chinese people. Internationally, Beijing is trying to convince the world that it is a cooperative win-win plan that will equally benefit all participants.

So far the response has been mixed, but Beijing hopes that its forum on Sunday and Monday, which will include heads of state from 29 countries and official delegations from several other countries, will bring more clarity.

For starters, there is no official map of the grand plan, and the scope of the project continues to balloon. Beijing is entirely in the driver’s seat and the direction of the initiative is fuzzy at best, analysts said.

“What actually gets built will depend on what deals Chinese companies make with other countries abroad or on the deals that Chinese government makes with other governments abroad, and no one knows exactly what those are going to be,” Miller said.

Bumps on China road

There are also the geopolitical implications of the project.

Many developing countries along the route will obviously welcome and be eager and open to receive Chinese investment, infrastructure and development, said Paul Haenle, director of the Beijing-based Tsinghua-Carnegie Center for Global Policy.

In addition to communicating with developing countries, China needs to proactively engage with developed nations such as the United States and others as well.

China “should explain fully what the objectives are for the initiatives,” Hanele says. “And if it doesn’t do a very good job, I think then China risks these nations projecting their worst fears onto the Belt and Road initiative.”

While China-backed infrastructure projects could bring many benefits to developing countries, they could also make them reliant on Beijing’s largesse.

“The more power that China gains economically, [the more] it will have a geopolitical impact,” Miller said. “And in that sense, you can say that it does equate to a double win for China.”

Critical eye

Having developed countries such as the United States, Germany and Britain participate in the meeting could help make it more transparent.

Other developed European countries and the United States are right to look at Chinese behavior that is opaque and poorly defined with a critical eye, Haenle said.

He added Washington’s decision to attend and not shun the gathering, as it did during China’s formation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) two years ago, is a better approach.

The United States would do well “to ask about what the rules will be and what the purpose is behind this, but at the end of the day, the U.S. should not have a hostile attitude,” Haenle said.

Friday’s last-minute announcement has raised questions about whether the United States may reverse former President Barack Obama’s decision to stay away from the AIIB and join. The bank is hosting a special press conference on Saturday to announce new members.

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Six Months After India Currency Ban, Poor Still Feel Effects

Like thousands of other small-business entrepreneurs in India, Charanjit Yadav saw his sales of generator sets and batteries plummet in the weeks after the government’s surprising move to scrap 86 percent of the country’s currency last November.

Six months on, as business booms, Yadav only recalls the currency ban when he looks at the crisp new notes that have replaced the old ones. “Everything is back to normal. It is absolutely OK for my work,” he said, glancing at the orders placed on another busy day.

But less than a kilometer from the bustling market where his shop is located in the business hub of Gurugram, near New Delhi, the massive cash crunch that India faced for more than two months has left its mark.

Braving sizzling summer temperatures of 44 degrees C (111 degrees F), a group of construction laborers had waited since dawn at a junction where contractors normally come to hire daily wage workers.

Fewer opportunities

Dhani Ram left for his village in January after work dwindled as cash shortages stopped many real estate projects. He returned a month ago, hoping that finding work would be easier. That has not happened.

“I hardly get work for 15 days in a month,” he said. “Earlier, I used to get work for about 25 days a month.”

Unable to eke out a living from his tiny farm in Uttar Pradesh state, Gajinder Singh and 11 others in his village came to the city with a contractor who promised them work. But after four days, he had not been placed anywhere.

“I sleep at night under the rail station, I don’t know what to do,” he said in despair.

Six months after India’s fast-growing economy was disrupted by the radical currency ban, growth is back on track in most sectors and stock markets are surging. But many poor people still scramble to find work as the country’s vast informal sector continues to struggle.  

Growth last year is estimated to have been around 7 percent — less than the 7.9 percent recorded in the previous year, but not as severely dented as many economists had feared. Indian officials say these numbers give the lie to grim warnings that the drastic move, meant to flush out untaxed money, would put a grinding brake on the economy.   

“It was clearly not doomsday. Looks like it was a blip, a banknote blip,” said chief economist D.K. Joshi at Crisil research and consultancy in Mumbai.

Auto sales jump

Many indicators support that. Automobile sales have jumped in recent months as serpentine lines outside banks to exchange old notes vanished. Automakers have lined up new launches as shoppers again open their purses.

Projections that the economy is poised for stronger growth has led stock markets to hit a record high in the past week. The rally has drawn tens of thousands of new middle-class investors into the market amid optimism that growth is rebounding.

Economists say most sectors of the economy are back to normal except those that depend heavily on cash transactions, such as real estate.

N.R. Bhanumurthy at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in New Delhi said it would take more time to assess the full impact of the currency ban on the economy. But he said he was optimistic it did not erode confidence as was widely feared.

He pointed to India’s strengthening currency — the rupee is at a nearly two-year high and has gained about 5 percent against the dollar in recent months.

“While other currencies in the world are depreciating because of the strengthening of the U.S. dollar, ours is the only major currency that is appreciating. So that shows that the foreign investor seems to be betting heavily on the Indian growth story,” he said.

‘Devastating’ for many

However, while it is largely business as usual for the middle class and formal sectors, economists say the impact on tens of millions of people who depend on the informal sector — hawkers, vegetable sellers and laborers in cities and small farmers in remote villages — has been much harder. India’s informal sector accounts for 40 percent of gross domestic product but employs as much as 75 percent of the country’s workforce.

Calling the move “devastating” for the informal sector, economist Kaushik Basu wrote this week in the Indian Express newspaper that “the brunt of the pain of demonetization has been shouldered by the poor and the lower middle class.”

While the full impact on them may not yet have been reflected in statistics, the mood of despondency among those waiting for work in Gurugram gave support to such assessments.

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China to Get American Beef and Gas Under Trade Agreement

A sweeping trade agreement, ranging from banking to beef, has been reached between Washington and Beijing, the U.S. Commerce Department announced on Thursday.

“It was pretty much a Herculean accomplishment to get this done,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “This is more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade.”

The breakthrough results from an agreement U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping made during their meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6.

Trump “was briefed more or less every single day” as negotiations progressed since then, Ross said.

Beef imports

Following one more round of “technical consultations,” China has agreed to allow U.S. beef imports no later than July 16, consistent with international food and animal safety standards, Ross told reporters at the White House.

The United States Cattlemen’s Association applauded the agreement, saying market access to China is crucial for its members.

“Success in this arena will drive the U.S. cattle market and increase demand for U.S. beef” in China, association president Kenny Graner told VOA.

In exchange, Washington and Beijing are to resolve outstanding issues that would allow imports to the U.S. of cooked poultry from China “as soon as possible,” according to the Commerce Department.

Another significant breakthrough will see American liquefied natural gas (LNG) going to China. Under the agreement Chinese companies will be permitted “at any time to negotiate all types of contractual arrangement with U.S. LNG exporters, including long term contracts,” according to the Commerce Department.

This is “a very big change,” said Ross, noting China is trying to wean itself off coal at a time “it doesn’t produce enough natural gas to meet its needs.”

Financial, other business services

Among other action listed in the 100-Day Action Plan:

* China is to allow, by July 16, “wholly foreign-owned financial services firms” to provide credit ratings services and to begin licensing procedures for credit investigation.

* U.S.-owned suppliers of electronic payment services (EPS) will be able to apply for licensing in China under new guidelines.

* China is to issue bond underwriting and settlement licenses to two qualified U.S. financial institutions by July 16.

* China’s National Biosafety Committee is to meet by the end of this month to conduct science-based evaluations of all eight pending U.S. biotechnology product applications “to assess the safety of the products for their intended use.” Those that pass the tests are to get certificates within 20 working days.

The outcome of the joint dialogue will also see a United States delegation attending China’s Belt and Road Forum in Beijing next week.

A U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue will be held this summer, according to the Commerce Department, to deepen engagement on these and other issues.

“There are probably 500 items you could potentially discuss” in the wider one-year plan for bilateral trade, Ross added.

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Cash and Chemicals: For Laos, Chinese Banana Boom a Blessing and Curse

Kongkaew Vonusak smiles when he recalls the arrival of Chinese investors in his tranquil village in northern Laos in 2014. With them came easy money, he said.

The Chinese offered villagers up to $720 per hectare to rent their land, much of it fallow for years, said Kongkaew, 59, the village chief. They wanted to grow bananas on it.

In impoverished Laos, the offer was generous. “They told us the price and asked us if we were happy. We said okay.”

Elsewhere, riverside land with good access roads fetched at least double that sum.

Three years later, the Chinese-driven banana boom has left few locals untouched, but not everyone is smiling.

Experts say the Chinese have brought jobs and higher wages to northern Laos, but have also drenched plantations with pesticides and other chemicals.

Last year, the Lao government banned the opening of new banana plantations after a state-backed institute reported that the intensive use of chemicals had sickened workers and polluted water sources.

China has extolled the benefits of its vision of a modern-day “Silk Road” linking it to the rest of the world – it holds a major summit in Beijing on May 14-15 to promote it.

The banana boom pre-dated the concept, which was announced in 2013, although China now regards agricultural developments in Laos as among the initiative’s projects.

Under the “Belt and Road” plan, China has sought to persuade neighbors to open their markets to Chinese investors. For villagers like Kongkaew, that meant a trade-off.

“Chinese investment has given us a better quality of life. We eat better, we live better,” Kongkaew said.

But neither he nor his neighbors will work on the plantations, or venture near them during spraying. They have stopped fishing in the nearby river, fearing it is polluted by chemical run-off from the nearby banana plantation.

Chinese frustration

Several Chinese plantation owners and managers expressed frustration at the government ban, which forbids them from growing bananas after their leases expire.

They said the use of chemicals was necessary, and disagreed that workers were falling ill because of them.

“If you want to farm, you have to use fertilizers and pesticides,” said Wu Yaqiang, a site manager at a plantation owned by Jiangong Agriculture, one of the largest Chinese banana growers in Laos.

“If we don’t come here to develop, this place would just be bare mountains,” he added, as he watched workers carrying 30-kg bunches of bananas up steep hillsides to a rudimentary packing station.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was not aware of the specific issues surrounding Chinese banana growers in Laos, and did not believe they should be linked directly to the Belt and Road initiative.

“In principle we always require Chinese companies, when investing and operating abroad, to comply with local laws and regulations, fulfil their social responsibility and protect the local environment,” he told a regular briefing on Thursday.

Laos’ Ministry of Agriculture did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment for this article.

China is the biggest foreign investor in Laos, a landlocked country of 6.5 million people, with over 760 projects valued at about $6.7 billion, according to Chinese state-run media.

This influence is not only keenly felt in the capital Vientiane, where Chinese build shopping complexes and run some of the city’s fanciest hotels. It also extends deep into rural areas that have remained largely unchanged for decades.

Banana rush

Lao people say Chinese banana investors began streaming across the border around 2010, driven by land shortages at home.

Many headed to Bokeo, the country’s smallest and least populous province.

In the ensuing years, Lao banana exports jumped ten-fold to become the country’s largest export earner. Nearly all of the fruit is sent to China.

For ethnic Lao like Kongkaew, Chinese planters paid them more for the land than they could earn from farming it.

For impoverished, hill-dwelling minorities such as the Hmong or Khmu, the banana rush meant better wages.

At harvest time, they can earn the equivalent of at least $10 a day and sometimes double that, a princely sum in a country where the average annual income was $1,740 in 2015, according to the World Bank.

They are also most exposed to the chemicals.

Most Chinese planters grow the Cavendish variety of banana which is favoured by consumers but susceptible to disease.

Hmong and Khmu workers douse the growing plants with pesticides and kill weeds with herbicides such as paraquat. Paraquat is banned by the European Union and other countries including Laos, and it has been phased out in China.

The bananas are also dunked in fungicides to preserve them for their journey to China.

Switching crops

Some banana workers grow weak and thin or develop rashes, said Phonesai Manivongxai, director of the Community Association for Mobilizing Knowledge in Development (CAMKID), a non-profit group based in northern Laos.

Part of CAMKID’s work includes educating workers about the dangers of chemical use. “All we can do is make them more aware,” she said.

This is an uphill struggle. Most pesticides come from China or Thailand and bear instructions and warnings in those countries’ languages, Reuters learned. Even if the labeling was Lao, some Hmong and Khmu are illiterate and can’t understand it.

Another problem, said Phonesai, was that workers lived in close proximity to the chemicals, which contaminated the water they wash in or drink.

In a Lao market, Reuters found Thai-made paraquat openly on sale.

However, some workers Reuters spoke to said they accepted the trade-off. While they were concerned about chemicals, higher wages allowed them to send children to school or afford better food.

There is no guarantee the government’s crackdown on pesticide use in banana production will lead to potentially harmful chemicals being phased out altogether.

As banana prices fell following a surge in output, some Chinese investors began to plant other crops on the land, including chemically intensive ones like watermelon.

Zhang Jianjun, 46, co-owner of the Lei Lin banana plantation, estimated that as much as 20 percent of Bokeo’s banana plantations had been cleared, and said some of his competitors had decamped to Myanmar and Cambodia.

But he has no plans to leave. The environmental impact on Laos was a “road that every underdeveloped country must walk” and local people should thank the Chinese, he said.

“They don’t think, ‘Why have our lives improved?’ They think it’s something that heaven has given them, that life just naturally gets better.”

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Americans Rush to Trademark Catchy Phrases

Ideas were flying at a brainstorming session to create a slogan for a group of North Carolina Democrats when Catherine Cloud blurted out a phrase that made a colleague’s eyes light up: “Because this is America.”

The words were quickly scrawled on a notepad, and the New Hanover County Democratic Party in Wilmington began its scramble to own the phrase. It applied days later for a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

From President Donald Trump’s dash to own “Keep America Great” for his 2020 re-election campaign — even before he took office — to a rush by a foundation for the victims of the September 11 attacks to claim “Let’s Roll” just days after New York’s Twin Towers were reduced to rubble, Americans are rushing to trademark catchy phrases.

There were 391,837 trademark applications filed last year, with the number growing an average of 5 percent annually, government reports show. The USPTO does not break out how many of those applications were for phrases.

‘That’s Hot’

The surge is the result of headline-grabbing cases like socialite Paris Hilton’s winning settlement of a lawsuit over her trademarked catchphrase “That’s Hot” from her former television reality show, said trademark attorney Howard Hogan of Washington.

“It can’t help but inspire others,” Hogan said. “It feels good to get recognition of something you feel you have created.”

Trademarks can mean cash from everything from bumper stickers to thongs printed with the protected phrase. More important for some, however, is claiming ownership of a powerful message.

” ‘Because this is America’ is a rallying cry that focuses on what we have in common, rather than what divides us,” Cloud said.

The phrase is the tagline in a commercial that was set for online release Thursday about the New Hanover Democrats’ key issues: “Clean water. Because this is America,” “Quality education for every child. Because this is America,” and “No matter your ethnicity, you are welcome here. Because this is America.”

Mindful that the slogan that could easily be employed by rival Republicans, the county Democratic committee filed to trademark it just 18 days after Cloud said it.

Trump looks ahead

Two days before Trump’s inauguration on January 20, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. applied to trademark the phrase he said he intends to use for his 2020 re-election campaign: “Keep America Great,” both with and without an exclamation point. The campaign committee already owns the trademark for Trump’s 2016 slogan: “Make America Great Again.”

Just 15 days after Todd Beamer inspired fellow airline passengers to overwhelm hijackers above a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001, the Todd M. Beamer Memorial Foundation applied to trademark his rallying cry, “Let’s Roll.”

Three days after “Nasty Woman” grabbed headlines when Trump used it to describe his opponent Hillary Clinton in an October 19, 2016, debate, entrepreneurs across America started filing trademark applications for the phrase. There are at least 11 applications pending to trademark “Nasty Woman” for the sale of products as wide-ranging as pillows, wine, firearms, scented body spray, mugs, backpacks and jewelry.

Typically it takes about 18 months for the Patent Office to grant a trademark.

But it can take much longer, as cartoonist Bob Mankoff of The New Yorker learned when he tried to trademark the caption to a 1993 cartoon. Two decades passed before he was allowed to register it on January 19, 2016.

Ironically, the phrase aptly describes Mankoff’s anticipated payday from the sale of merchandise, bearing the words that first appeared under his cartoon of a businessman trying to schedule a meeting: “How about never — is never good for you?”