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US Economy Expands at 3 Percent Rate in Third Quarter

The U.S. economy expanded at a three percent annual pace in July, August and September, about the same pace as the prior quarter.

Friday’s Commerce Department data surprised economists, who thought damage from two hurricanes would cut growth to a lower level. The data show the world’s largest economy is now about 2.3 percent larger than it was at this time last year.

Stuart Hoffman of PNC bank says the “solid” growth data is likely to help corporate profits and reinforce the U.S. central bank’s determination to raise interest rates in December. Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute says the figures “overstate” growth, and he notes inflation is still below the Fed’s two percent target, making an interest rate hike unnecessary at this time.

Officials raise rates to fend off high inflation by cooling economic activity. Rates were slashed during the recession to bolster growth and employment. 

Federal Reserve leaders gather Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington to debate interest rate policy. Most economists predict they will not raise rates until their next meeting in mid-December.

Next Friday, government experts will publish unemployment data for October. September’s rate was a low 4.2 percent.

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Who Will Be the Next Fed Chief?

President Trump says he is “very close” to picking a person for the most important economic post in the country: the head of the US Federal Reserve. Current Chair Janet Yellen, whose term expires early next year, is one of at least five candidates under consideration. Regardless of the president’s choice, most analysts who spoke with VOA don’t expect big changes in US monetary policy. But as Mil Arcega reports, others say, sooner or later the next Fed Chief could face a slowing economy.

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Greater Scrutiny Set for Nonimmigrant Work Visa Renewals

The United States has announced changes to its nonimmigrant work visa policies that are expected to make renewals more difficult.

In the past, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would generally approve the renewals unless the visa holder had committed a crime. Now, renewals will face the same scrutiny as the original applications.

“USCIS officers are at the front lines of the administration’s efforts to enhance the integrity of the immigration system,” USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said, according to the announcement posted on USCIS’ website this week. “This updated guidance provides clear direction to help advance policies that protect the interests of U.S. workers.”

The new regulations could affect more than 100,000 people holding at least eight different types of work visas who fill out the I-129 form for renewals.

Sam Adair, a partner at the Graham Adair business immigration law firm in California and Texas, said that for the most part, he expected visa holders would most likely face lengthier adjudication periods in their renewal processes, as opposed to increased numbers of denials.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big shift for us,” Adair told VOA. “But I think what we’ll see is just an increase in the number of requests for evidence, an increase in the delays on the adjudication of these petitions, and really it’s going to just result in more costs for the employers who are filing these petitions.”

‘High-skilled’ workers

Of all visa holders affected by this policy, those in the United States on an H-1B, a visa for “high-skilled” workers, are the biggest group. Of 109,537 people who had to submit I-129 forms in fiscal 2017, 95,485 were H-1B holders, according to data sent to VOA by USCIS.

H-1B visas have been threatened in the past, most recently by a bill proposed this year that would have raised the minimum salary requirement for workers brought in on the visa. While advocates of the program argued that it would keep workers from being exploited, many H-1B holders feared that businesses would be less willing to hire them or keep them on board.

But some Americans support the new regulations, saying that nonimmigrant work visas hurt American workers.

“It’s prudent to make sure that the people that receive those visas are in complete compliance with all of the requirements,” Joe Guzzardi, national media director of Californians for Population Stabilization, told VOA.

“It just isn’t possible to think that there aren’t American workers that couldn’t fill these jobs,” he said, noting that while the regulations might hurt businesses, they would help Americans looking for work.

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Trump Ponders New Head for Federal Reserve

President Donald Trump says he is “very close” to picking a person for the most important economic post in the United States, the head of the Federal Reserve. Current Chair Janet Yellen’s term expires early next year and she is one of at least five candidates for the job.

Besides Yellen, the candidates include Fed board member Jerome Powell, former Fed governor Kevin Warsh, Stanford University economist John Taylor and Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn.

Moody’s Analytics economist Ryan Sweet says a new Fed chief is likely to continue current policy at least for a while because “rocking the boat” could rattle financial markets.

The Fed’s job is to manage the world’s largest economy in ways that maximize employment and maintain stable prices. During recessions, the bank cuts interest rates in a bid to boost economic growth and create more jobs.To cope with the most recent recession, the U.S. central bank slashed interest rates nearly to zero.

The jobless rate fell from 10 percent to the current 4.2 percent, and the economy stopped shrinking and began growing slowly.

Critics of the record-low interest rates said keeping rates too low for too long could spark strong inflation and damage the economy. However, the inflation rate has been below the two percent level that many experts say is best for the economy.

As a member of the Fed’s board and later as Chair, Yellen supported low interest rates and a slow, cautious return to “normal” rates. Experts also say she improved communication between the Fed and financial markets, which reduced uncertainty and reassured investors.

Trump criticized Yellen during the campaign, but then as president, praised her work. Analysts Tom Buerkle of “Reuters Breaking Views” gives the Fed credit for taking effective action during a crisis when Congress was reluctant to act.

Another candidate is former investment banker Gary Cohn, who now heads the National Economic Council at the White House. He has reportedly been working on efforts to reform taxes and boost spending on U.S. infrastructure.

Fed Board member Jerome Powell is also a candidate. He is a Republican with a background in private equity who served in a top Treasury Department post. Powell supported Yellen’s approach of slashing interest rates during the crisis, and returning them to historic levels as the economy recovers.

When rates were cut to nearly zero, Fed officials took the further step of buying huge quantities of bonds in an effort to push down long-term interest rates to give additional economic stimulus. The complex procedure is called “quantitative easing.”

“Ryan Sweet of Moody’s Analytics says when the next recession appears, Powell will be more willing to use tools like quantitative easing than more conservative candidates like Kevin Warsh and John Taylor.

Warsh is a former member of the Fed’s board, a lawyer, and a former executive of a major financial firm with experience at the president’s National Economic Council.

John Taylor of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution is an eminent economist who has served on advisory councils for presidents and congress and written books on economic topics. Taylor came up with an equation, called the “Taylor Rule,” that considers inflation as well as slack in the economy as a way to set interest rates. Some conservatives say the Taylor Rule would improve policymaking.

Critics say the economy is too complex to be managed by a computer, and the Taylor Rule would make the Fed less independent and effective.

Tara Sinclair of Indeed.com says independence is a “key part” of having an effective monetary policy. She says the interest rate-setting process and other decisions need to be separate from Congress and the administration so interest rates and other policies are based on long-run economic needs.

The president is expected to announce his choice in early November.

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N. Korean Debt to Sweden Remains Unpaid After Four Decades

More than four decades after selling 1,000 Volvos to North Korea, Sweden is still trying to get paid for the cars.

The vehicles were part of a $131 million trade package delivered to North Korea in 1974, during a period of openness. But Pyongyang never paid anything on the deal, leaving a debt that has now accumulated with interest to $328 million, according to the Swedish Foreign Ministry.

North Korea owes millions elsewhere in Europe from purchases made during the early 1970s, when Pyongyang was expanding economic relations with the West.

“Volvo Car Corporation sold approximately 1,000 of our 144 sedan(s) to North Korea in 1974,” said Per-Åke Fröberg of Volvo Heritage in the company’s press office in Sweden, who added that he did not know what else was included in the deal. The Swedish government was also unable to say what else was included.

Fröberg said the sale of the Volvos was insured through the Swedish Export Credit Agency, or EKN. “When North Korea failed to pay for the cars, EKN stepped in, meaning that Volvo Cars did not suffer financially,” he said. “The deal was closed from our point of view.”

But not for EKN, which twice a year reminds North Korea of its outstanding balance.

“For the most part, we get no response,” Carina Kemp, the EKN press manager, told VOA’s Korean service. However, “EKN’s position is that claims will be recovered.”

Many of the Volvos remain in service, as shown by an October 2016 tweet from the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang describing “one of the Volvo’s from yr 1974 still unpaid for by DPRK.”

Sweden and North Korea have a long-standing relationship. It was the first Western European nation to establish diplomatic relations with Pyongyang; two years later, in 1975, it was the first to set up an embassy in Pyongyang.

Expanding relations

At the time, North Korea was expanding economic relations with the West. “In 1972-1973, before the global oil crisis, the prices of gold, silver, lead, zinc and other export items of North Korea were rising and Pyongyang must have been confident of its payment capabilities,” said Yang Moon-soo, professor of North Korean economy at the University of North Korea Studies, in the March 2012 issue of the KDI Review of the North Korea Economy, which is published by the Korea Development Institute, a think tank run by the South Korean government.

North Korea, after noting South Korea’s economic development through introduction of Western technologies, decided “to spur development with large-scale buildup of manufacturing plants with Western equipment and financing,” he said.

Of the 16 countries that owe a total of $729 billion to Sweden, North Korea’s share accounts for 45 percent, according to the EKN Annual Report 2016. Cuba, which is the next largest debtor, owes $225 billion as of December 2016 and began making payments that year, the EKN report shows.

Experts on sovereign debt told VOA there aren’t many ways for nations to recover what they are owed by cash-strapped North Korea.

“No payment has been made since 1989,” Katarina Byrenius Roslund, deputy director of the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s press office, told VOA in an email.

“This is the largest claim that Sweden has on a single country,” Roslund wrote. “Responsibility for the claim now lies with the Swedish Export Credits Guarantee Board, which sends a reminder to North Korea every six months.”

Roslund said the Volvos “are no longer a common sight on Pyongyang’s streets, but the odd Volvo 144 is still rolling down the country roads, often as a taxi.”

Paths to spare parts

Volvo’s Fröberg said he did not know whether the original deal included spare parts for the cars. But because the model purchased in bulk by North Korea, the 144, “was sold all over the world, they might have had their ways to get hold of parts through various channels.”

North Korea owes money elsewhere in Europe. The Swiss government reports it has claims for $241 million as of December 2016. North Korea owes Finland and private Finnish businesses more than $35 million, according to a YLE Uutiset report. Pyongyang “ordered paper machines and other assorted equipment” in the 1970s, according to YLE.

Isabel Herkommer, media spokeswoman at Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), told VOA via email that “Swiss Export Risk Insurance (SERV) has an agreement with North Korea, which exempts the country from payment at the moment.”

According to the SERV Annual Report 2016, the agency signed a new restructuring agreement with North Korea in October 2011. Herkommer wrote that “there has not been a debt settlement with North Korea,” and when asked whether the Swiss government considered waiving all or part of the debt owed by North Korea as Russia recently did, she said, “No, this has not been considered.”

Outi Homanen of Finnvera, Finland’s export credit agency, said “that although the debts were not paid [on] original due dates, there are no defaulted receivables at the moment.”

However, experts on sovereign debt and the international monetary system say that there aren’t many ways for countries to recover their claims from North Korea. In 2014, Russia forgave 90 percent of the nearly $11 billion in debt that it and the Soviet Union before it was owed by North Korea.

“International debt is typically thought of as having two enforcing mechanisms. The first is that if a country wants to be able to borrow more, it has to be repaying or have repaid its previous debts,” said Dane Rowlands, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, Ontario. “Since North Korea seems happy not to engage officially with the international community and capital market, cutting them off is not a useful enforcement tool.”

Asset seizure

He added that seizing exposed assets is another option for lenders but one that would not be effective against North Korea.

Hamid Zangeneh is an economics professor at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. An expert in the debt of economically developing nations, he said that in North Korea’s case, “it really doesn’t matter because it is not part of the international monetary system.”

Rowlands speculated that Switzerland and North Korea might have made a deal when they signed the debt restructuring agreement in 2011.

“Given the relatively few channels of international finances that North Korea has access to, I could see them doing a deal with Switzerland saying we [North Korea] will pay back a portion of the debt. … What that would end up doing is Switzerland forgives the rest of the debt and they don’t have claim on seizing North Korean deposits for example,” he said.

According to the SERV 2016 report, the Swiss agency had claims of 179.1 million Swiss Francs ($210 million) with North Korea as of the end of 2016. However, the report says the claims have been reduced to 17.9 million Swiss Francs ($21 million), or about 10 percent of the original claim.

SECO’s Herkommer said, “There has not been any debt cancellation. We cannot make any further comment.”

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A Tale of Tesla Seats Hints at Why So Few Cars Built

Elon Musk was fed up.

The seats on Tesla Inc’s new Model X SUV were a mess. An outside contractor was having trouble executing the complicated design, spurring frustration and finger-pointing between Tesla and its supplier.

How would Tesla ever pull off mass production of the upcoming Model 3, the car intended to catapult the niche automaker into the big leagues, if it could not deliver on something as fundamental as a seat?

Musk made a decision: Tesla would build the seats itself. 

But industry experts say Musk’s insistence on performing much of the work in-house is among the reasons Tesla is nowhere close to its stated goal of building 500,000 vehicles annually by next year, most of them Model 3s.

Missed target

The automaker this month revealed it built 260 of the vehicles between July and September, badly missing its target of 1,500 Model 3s in the third quarter. In a statement, Tesla blamed manufacturing “bottlenecks.” It declined to elaborate, but assured investors “there are no fundamental issues with the Model 3 production or supply chain.”

Tesla has demonstrated a commitment to vertical integration not seen in the auto industry for decades.

The company has so far sunk $2 billion into a sprawling Nevada factory to manufacture its vehicles’ batteries. In-house programmers design the bulk of the complex software that runs the Model 3, which Musk has described as a “computer on wheels.”

Tesla controls its own retail chain, selling its cars directly to customers and bypassing dealers.

But it is Tesla’s 2015 decision to build its own seats that has some industry veterans scratching their heads. Seat making is a low-margin, labor-intensive enterprise that big automakers generally farm out to specialists. Tesla is operating its own seat assembly line inside its factory, and it is hiring engineers and technicians to figure out a way to fully automate the process.

“Is that really the core competency of an auto company? It is not,” said analyst Maryann Keller, who has been tracking the car industry since the early 1970s. “Why would you want to do that?”

Tesla declined requests from Reuters to discuss its seat assembly efforts. The company is expected to reveal more about its production issues Nov. 1, when it announces third-quarter results. There is no indication that the “bottlenecks” mentioned previously by the company are associated with seat production.

Analyst Keller and others suspect Tesla eventually will be forced to farm out seat assembly to suppliers as the company transitions from a niche producer of pricey, hand-built luxury cars to a mass manufacturer. Seat makers including Germany’s ZF Friedrichshafen AG, France’s Faurecia SA and Detroit-based Lear Corp already are trying to win that business.

A lot is riding on Tesla’s ability to scale up operations quickly. Starting at $35,000, the Model 3 is Tesla’s attempt to bring its electric technology to a wider audience. 

More than a half-million customers have put down deposits.

Tesla has never turned an annual profit and it is burning through cash. Yet investors are betting big on its future. It is now the second most valuable U.S. automaker, behind General Motors Co. Tesla shares on Wednesday closed at $325.84, down 3.4 percent.

From stop-gap to strategy

Musk has defended Tesla’s hands-on approach as the way to ensure reliability, as well as an opportunity to rethink industry norms. It is also a reflection of the entrepreneur’s obsession with detail.

“One of the hardest things to design is a good seat,” Musk said at the September 2015 launch of the Model X in Fremont.

Problems first surfaced with the flagship Model S sedan in 2012. Musk complained that the seats made by its contract manufacturer, Australia-based Futuris Group, were not comfortable nor of the quality expected for a car whose price tag started at around $57,400, according to a former Tesla executive who described Musk’s thinking to Reuters.

Troubles accelerated with the Model X, leading Tesla to wrest assembly from Futuris just after the vehicle’s release in late 2015. If seats could be entirely redesigned from the ground up, Musk reasoned, maybe their assembly could be automated in preparation for the high volumes anticipated for the Model 3.

“He saw the opportunity to do it differently and better,” the former Tesla executive said. “The short term was a stop gap, but the long-term idea was to rethink the design of how a seat works to include how a seat is built.”

Futuris did not respond to requests for comment. It continues to supply seat parts to Tesla. Detroit-based seating supplier Adient PLC acquired Futuris for $360 million last month.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s seat woes continue. In all, the automaker has issued four seating-related recalls since 2013. The latest came this month with the recall of 11,000 Model Xs manufactured between Oct. 28, 2016 and Aug. 16, 2017.

Suppliers circling

Making car seats is a complex business. Choosing materials, dying and cutting, shaping foam and metal frames, and adding heaters, recliners and other gadgets can involve nearly a dozen suppliers for top models. Final assembly requires lots of labor.

That’s why most automakers opted decades ago to outsource seats for their lower-cost models to specialty seatmakers whose market is expected to reach $79 billion by 2022, according to market researcher Lucintel.

Although Musk’s philosophy has always been “build it right and then figure out how to get the cost down” later, according to the ex-Tesla executive, observers say Tesla can ill afford more production headaches. 

Philippe Houchois, an auto analyst, wrote in a September note to clients that “scalability” was now the main challenge at Tesla, whose manufacturing prowess is still unproven when it comes to building large numbers of vehicles.

Despite Tesla’s previous battles with Futuris, seat suppliers smell opportunity. ZF Friedrichshafen and Faurecia have opened Silicon Valley labs, in part to woo Tesla.

Lear, which cuts and sews material for Tesla, is likewise pressing to get the automaker’s seat manufacturing business, according to Matthew Simoncini, the company’s chief executive. “In general Tesla has a philosophy: ‘We’ll do it ourselves. We’ll change the mold,’” Simoncini said. “(Outsourcing) is a much more efficient use of capital. That would allow them to focus on what they do best.”

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Ivanka Trump Promotes Expansion of Child Tax Credit at Capitol

Ivanka Trump teamed up Wednesday with Republican legislators to try to ensure the tax overhaul package under construction on Capitol Hill includes an expansion of the child tax credit.

The White House adviser and presidential daughter, appearing at a Capitol Hill news conference with GOP lawmakers, framed the tax credit as crucial for working families.

“It is a priority of this administration and it is a legislative priority to ensure that American families can thrive,” she said.

Also attending were Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia and Dean Heller of Nevada; and GOP Representatives Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Kevin Yoder of Kansas, Claudia Tenney of New York and Martha Roby of Alabama.

Rubio and Lee have worked closely with Ivanka Trump on the issue. Details are still being worked out, but Rubio and Lee would like to see the $1,000 credit doubled and made fully refundable.

The GOP tax plan would cut the corporate tax rate from 36 percent to 20 percent, reduce taxes for most individuals and repeal inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates. The standard deduction would be nearly doubled, to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for families; the number of tax brackets would shrink from seven and the child tax credit would be increased.

Democrats and liberal family advocacy groups say the overall plan would provide limited benefits to low-income families while offering major cuts to the wealthy — and they say that any boost to the child tax credit must be viewed in that context.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Rubio expressed optimism about the child tax proposal, saying the provision is needed because without it, people could “see a tax increase, which nobody around here is prepared to justify, because you can’t.”

Rubio praised Ivanka Trump, saying that “having the White House making it a priority of theirs has strengthened our chances.”

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Austerity to Hit Jordan as Debt Spikes, Economy Slows

Jordan’s high and rising public debt has worried the International Monetary Fund and prompted a downgrade from Standard & Poor’s. So the government is planning a blast of austerity by year-end.

Tax hikes and subsidy cuts —- likely to be highly unpopular —- are on the agenda as the country’s debt to GDP ratio has reached a record 95 percent, from 71 percent in 2011.

“Postponing problems might increase the popularity of the government but would be a crime against the nation,” Prime Minister Hani Mulki told a group of parliamentarians this week.

After an IMF standby arrangement that brought some fiscal stability, Jordan agreed last year to a more ambitious three-year program of long-delayed structural reforms to cut public debt to 77 percent of GDP by 2021.

The debt is at least in part due to successive governments adopting an expansionist fiscal policy characterized by job creation in the bloated public sector, and by lavish subsidies for bread and other staple goods.

It also hiked spending on welfare and public sector pay in a move to ensure stability in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” protests in the region in 2011. But the economy has slowed, battered by the turmoil in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The economic strains reduced local revenue and foreign aid, forcing Jordan to borrow heavily externally and also resort to more domestic financing.

Although there has been some progress this year with improving remittances, tourism and some rebound in exports, there has been no pickup in growth since 2015 — with the officials forecasting 2 percent growth this year from an earlier IMF 2.3 percent target.

“This year we are at a crossroads. Everything I am trying to do is to stop the hemorrhage and start breathing,” Mulki was quoted as saying at another meeting to garner support.

The rising debt accentuated by the protracted regional conflicts on Jordan’s borders was the main reason Standard and Poor last week downgraded its sovereign rating to B+.

Subsidy risk

Economists said Jordan’s ability to maintain a costly subsidy system and a large state bureaucracy was increasingly untenable in the absence of large foreign capital inflows or infusions of foreign aid, which have dwindled as the Syrian crisis has gone on.

Jordanian officials say they expect less donor support next year than any time since the crisis began. They are also concerned that Gulf states, hit by lower oil prices, have so far not committed any support funds given after the “Arab Spring” to be renewed.

Politicians and economists say the government’s fiscal consolidation plan envisages a doubling of bread prices and raising sales taxes on basic food and fuel items.

This should cut into the estimated 850 million dinars ($1.2 billion) the government pays in annual subsidies from bread to electricity to water.

But economists reckon subsidy cuts are bound to worsen the plight of poorer Jordanians, a majority of the country’s population, and removing subsidies has triggered civil unrest in the past.

As well as debt, the IMF has also pointed to the unemployment rate, which has risen sharply in the last two years to 16 percent, and to low tax collection.

The IMF says Jordan stands out among countries in the region with among the lowest tax collections. Personal taxes constituting only 0.4 percent of GDP, with nearly 95 percent of the population not subject to income tax.

Critics say any hikes would extract more from the segment of salaried employees that already pays while leaving influential business tycoons outside the tax net.

“The tax burden in comparison with countries of the region except the oil producers is low… there is big generosity in exemptions,” said Jihad Azour, the IMF’s director of the Middle East and Central Asia department during a recent visit to Jordan.

Economists fear that the IMF’s tax recommendations endorsed by the government that range from expanding corporate income tax to dividends and tougher sanctions for tax evaders will hurt business sentiment in a country whose political stability has turned it a safe haven.

“It’s important to activate growth to bolster stability and ensure a faster drop in debt,” said the IMF’s Azour adding that tackling Jordan debt problem was crucial for its future prosperity in a turbulent region.

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China Turning Pakistan Port Into Regional Giant

An unprecedented Chinese financial and construction effort is rapidly developing Pakistan’s strategically located Arabian Sea port of Gwadar into one of the world’s largest transit and transshipment cargo facilities.

The deep water port lies at the convergence of three of the most commercially important regions of the world, the oil-rich Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia.

Beijing is developing Gwadar as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, known as CPEC. The two countries launched the 15-year joint mega project in 2015 when President Xi Jinping visited Islamabad.

Under the cooperation deal construction or improvement of highways, railways, pipelines, power plants, communications and industrial zones is underway in Pakistan with an initially estimated Chinese investment of $46 billion.

The aim is to link Gwadar to landlocked western China, including its Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, giving it access to a shorter and secure route through Pakistan to global trade. The port will also provide the shortest route to landlocked Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, through transit trade and offering transshipment facilities.

Chinese fuel imports and trading cargo will be loaded on trucks and ferried to and from Xinjiang through the Karakoram Highway, snaking past snow-caped peaks in northern Pakistan.

‘Qualitative change’

Gwadar will be able to handle about one million tons of cargo annually by the end of the year. Officials anticipate that with expansion plans under way, the port will become South Asia’s biggest shipping center within five years, with a yearly capacity of handling 13-million tons of cargo. And by 2030, they say, it will be capable of handling up to 400-million tons of cargo annually.

China has in recent months begun calling CPEC  the flagship project of its global Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI. The “qualitative change” from an experimental project to flagship project underscores the importance Beijing attaches to CPEC, said Zhao Lijian, the deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Islamabad.

Out of 39 “early harvest” projects under CPEC, 19 have since been completed or are under construction with a Chinese investment of about $18.5 billion, Lijian told VOA. The progress makes it the fastest developing of all of at least six BRI’s corridors China plans to establish, added the Chinese diplomat.

Gwadar is a “symbol of regional peace and prosperity” because it will connect countries around Pakistan to serve their trading interests, said port Chairman Dostain Khan Jamaldini.

Jamaldini dismissed as “not true” concerns that skilled Chinese laborers, engineers and businesses will flood Pakistan, hurting domestic industries. About 65 percent of the labor force on construction and other projects at Gwadar is Pakistani, and the number of Chinese is currently just over 300, he added.

Security concerns and India’s claims over some of the territory crossed by the massive project remain key challenges for Gwadar and CPEC in general. Pakistani and Chinese officials dismiss reported assertions that Beijing is expanding its presence at Gwadar to be able to handle naval ships and military transport planes.

The collaboration has “no strategic or political” aims against a third country, insisted Lijian. He went on to assert that the purpose of CPEC” is to help our iron brother Pakistan” to improve its economy and to strengthen the bilateral relationship.

Pakistani officials have trained and deployed about 15,000 troops and paramilitary forces to guard CPEC-related projects and the Chinese working on them. Islamabad alleges that the Indian intelligence agency has been tasked to plot subversive acts to derail CPEC.

Sleepy fishing town

Gwadar, with a population of around 100,000, mostly fishermen and boat makers, is often referred to as a sleepy fishing town.

The costal city’s poverty-stricken residents are hoping new employment opportunities will be created for them in the wake of the massive development underway in Gwadar.

But their immediate challenges are shortages of clean drinking water and hours long daily power blackouts.

“We are happy Chinese are building port, hospitals, schools and roads but right now we out of power during most of the day and limited water availability,” said fisherman Khalil Ahmed.

The family, like other fishermen in Gwadar, has been plying unspoiled crystal blue waters of the Arabian Sea for decades with age-old fishing techniques and barely surviving on limited income because financial resources do not allow them to buy modern fishing tools.

However, ongoing massive economic activity will “qualitatively” change the lives of its poverty-stricken residents for the better, says Mushahid Hussain, who chairs a parliamentary committee on CPEC.

He says a fisheries processing plant is being installed at the port and arrangements are being planned to train and equip fishermen to improve and export local fish to other parts of Pakistan and China.

Senator Hussain believes economic projects under construction in Gwadar will help its people and address long-running grievances of the province of Baluchistan, where the port is situated.

The poverty-stricken largest Pakistani province has long been in the grip of a low-level Baluchistan separatist insurgency, which mainly stems from demands from the federal government for local control over Baluchistan’s vast natural resources.

Gwadar’s existing 50-bed government hospital is being extended to 300 beds, a technical and vocational institute is being constructed, a 300-megawatts coal-based power plant and a desalination plant are being installed, a new international airport and a six-lane international standard expressway are being built to connect Gwadar port with the rest of Pakistan and neighboring countries, including Iran and Afghanistan.

Local officials say most of the projects, including the new airport, are being built with Chinese financial grants. The rest of the projects in Gwadar and elsewhere in Pakistan under CPEC are being built with “interest-free” and “soft-loans” from China.


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US Workforce to Add 11.5 Million Jobs by 2026

The U.S. economy is expected add another 11.5 million jobs by 2026, as an aging population and longer life spans raise the need for health care providers. The total U.S. workforce is expected to grow to 167.6 million people.

Tuesday’s projections come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says job growth will accelerate slightly from its current pace, but it will not return to the brisk gains seen the over previous decades. The BLS updates its job outlook every two years as new information becomes available.

The percentage of the workforce over age 55 will rise to nearly one-quarter in 2026, a sharp increase from the less than 17 percent back in 2006. People in their 50s and 60s may retire, which is one reason experts expect workforce participation rates (the percentage of working age people who have jobs or are seeking work) to decline.

Over the decade, nine out of 10 new jobs will be in the services sector, particularly health care. Employment by companies that produce goods is expected to grow at a meager one-tenth of one percent a year, with a gain of just 219,000 jobs by 2026.

The workforce is expected to become more diverse as Asian and Hispanic parts of the U.S. population grow more quickly than average. Whoever is in the workforce will find additional education important, as two out of three jobs in the fastest-growing areas require at least some post-secondary education and training.

And the whole economy is predicted to expand at a two percent annual rate. That is faster than the current growth rate, but below the gains seen in previous decades.