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North Korea Accuses US of Imposing ‘Economic Blockade’

North Korea’s U.N. ambassador accused the United States on Tuesday of imposing “an economic blockade” on his country and deploying nuclear assets on the Korean Peninsula aimed at toppling leader Kim Jong Un.

Ja Song Nam said the U.S. push for countries to implement what he called “illegal and unjustifiable” U.N. sanctions on North Korea is part of America’s “frantic attempt to completely block our peaceful economy for people’s everyday lives and humanitarian cooperation.”

“The U.S. is clinging to unprecedented nuclear threats and blackmail, economic sanctions and blockade to deny our rights to existence and development, but they only result in our sharper vigilance and greater courage,” he told the General Assembly committee that deals with economic and financial issues.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed its toughest sanctions ever on North Korea in response to its continuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests, with the aim of pressuring Kim’s government into returning to negotiations on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

The measures include a ban on countries importing North Korean coal, iron ore and textiles and new limits on its crucial oil and petroleum product imports. But the economic pressure has had no visible impact on Kim’s government, which appears to be accelerating toward what it says is its goal: putting the entire United States within range of its nuclear weapons.

A week ago, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters that U.S. President Donald Trump had “declared the war on our country” by tweeting that North Korea’s leadership “won’t be around much longer.” Hours later, the White House pushed back, saying: “We have not declared war on North Korea.”

No regime change

The Trump administration, referring to the tweet, stressed that the U.S. was not seeking to overthrow North Korea’s government. U.S. Cabinet officials, particularly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have insisted that the U.S.-led campaign of diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea is focused on eliminating its nuclear weapons program, not its totalitarian government.

North Korea’s ambassador told the assembly committee that “our people will continue to uphold the line of simultaneous development of the state nuclear force and the economy.”

Ja said the country is committed to implementing U.N. goals to end poverty and preserve the environment by 2030 and said Trump’s announced intention to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement “illustrates the negative stand of the U.S. towards the sustainable development goals.”

To achieve these goals, Ja said, “we should immediately obliterate the high-handed measures of the U.S., including the sanctions imposed on the developing countries.”

And clearly aiming at the United States and other economic powers, he said the “monopolistic position” of countries that control the monetary and trade system should be destroyed at the same time.

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UN Says Recovery of Eastern Caribbean Could Cost $1 Billion

The recovery of eastern Caribbean islands hardest hit by recent hurricanes, including Dominica, Barbuda, Turks and Caicos, the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, could cost up to $1 billion, a senior U.N. official said Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a large-scale rebuilding effort that will take time,” said Stephen O’Malley, the U.N. resident coordinator for Barbados and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, “and it will be important to do that right.”

 

He told U.N. correspondents in a phone briefing from Dominica that “we don’t have exact figures yet,” but for the worst-affected islands the recovery bill will be “half a billion to a billion dollars.”

O’Malley said the United Nations, World Bank and Antigua government have conducted a post-disaster needs assessment for Barbuda, whose 1,800 residents were evacuated to Antigua before Hurricane Irma damaged 95 percent of its structures on Sept. 14. And he said a similar assessment will be done in Dominca, which was ravaged on Sept. 18 by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, probably in about three weeks.

“They want to build back better and they take that very, very seriously — to make sure that that can be done,” O’Malley said.

Making plans for future

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said he wants to have the world’s first “climate-resilient nation.”

 

He made an impassioned case for the world to do more to help vulnerable countries cope with the effects of global warming and urged the U.N. General Assembly 10 days ago to “let these extraordinary events elicit extraordinary efforts to rebuild nations sustainably.”

O’Malley said the effects of climate change are evident in the Caribbean, where the sea is heating up.

“The fact that the Caribbean Sea heats up, it intensifies the strengths of hurricanes; it doesn’t necessarily make them more frequent but it intensifies” the storm, he said.

O’Malley said the challenge for the islands in rebuilding is: “How do you protect yourself against that? How do you ensure that you have a resilient state and a resilient economy if you know that the risk factors are going to be elevating in this next period of time?”

Immediate disaster relief critical

As for immediate disaster relief following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, he said, regional efforts and military assistance from outside the region have been critical.

He singled out the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency which sent a ship from Barbados to Dominica with initial aid workers the day after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

When he landed at the airport in Dominica on Tuesday, he said there were policemen from St. Kitts, soldiers from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago securing the airport and other sites.

“That has helped the government set itself back up — that regional solidarity,” O’Malley said.

Some ‘green’ returning to Dominica

He said Dominica has also benefited from timely military support, especially helicopters and water desalination plants on naval vessels that produced water that could be taken inland and distributed.

 

He singled out military help to Dominica from Venezuela, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France and the Netherlands.

Compared with the situation a week ago, O’Malley said he could already see some green returning to the almost totally brown island, streets were clear, roads were opening up, power and water supplies were being restored and the port was open. Now, he said, power and water need to be restored to everyone on Dominica and the economy needs to start operating quickly.

 

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EU Says Brexit Talks Still Stuck on Question of UK Exit Bill

The European Union insisted Tuesday that Brexit negotiations with Britain will not move on to the question of future relations until enough progress has been made on divorce issues, such as how much the country’s exit bill should be.

Britain desperately wants talks to move on to future trade and security arrangements but EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that more needs to be done on the withdrawal issues first.

Juncker told the European Parliament that “we have not made the sufficient progress needed” and the legislators backed him, approving a resolution underscoring the same point with a vote of 557 to 92 with 29 abstentions. It further underscored the unity of the 27 EU nations as they face off with Britain in the talks.

The EU wants London to commit to guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens already in Britain, making sure border posts do not reappear between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and Ireland itself and pay up for everything it had agreed to while it was a member.

Juncker said “the taxpayers in the EU 27 should not pay for the British decision” to leave, while the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said “serious differences remain” on how many bills the U.K. still has to settle. Estimates vary widely from 20 billion euros ($27 billion) to over three times that amount.

“Serious rifts remain, especially on the financial settlement,” Barnier said. “We will not pay at 27 what has been decided at 28, it is simple as that.”

The parliamentary resolution called for postponing any move to widen the talks with Britain unless “a major breakthrough” takes place during the fifth round of negotiations in Brussels next week.

Observers said decisive progress was highly unlikely. Tuesday’s moves further dampened hopes that the EU leaders might give the green light to an expansion in the talks at a summit on Oct 19-20.

Many lawmakers were also dismissive of Britain’s Conservative government, which is widely seen as insecure and bumbling.

The head of the biggest party group in the European Parliament called for the sacking of British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for stoking confusion over the Brexit talks.

The European People’s Party chairman, Manfred Weber, appealed to Prime Minister Theresa May: “Please sack Johnson, because we need a clear answer who is responsible for the British position.”

Weber turned Henry Kissinger’s famous observation about the many leaders in the EU onto Britain: “Who shall I call in London? Who speaks for the government? Theresa May, Boris Johnson, or even (Brexit negotiator) David Davis?”

Others are speculating that Britain might actually be stalling to make sure that the member states that trade heavily with the U.K. would buckle and concede at the last moment, sowing discord among the 27.

EPP member Tom Vandenkendelaere said the strong backing of the resolution proved differently. “If the Brits they can play their old divide-and-rule game, they’d better think again,” he said.

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India’s Economy Hits Bump, Grows at Slowest Pace in 3 Years

After several years of struggling to make a living doing odd jobs in and around his village, 26-year-old Pushkar Singh came to New Delhi from the northern Uttarakhand state three months ago to hunt for a job.

The high school dropout is willing to do anything — cook, work as a security guard, a peon in an office. But not only has he failed to secure a job, he has not even got an interview so far.

“It’s a huge worry, not having work,” said a despondent Singh as he wondered how long he can continue staying with his relatives.

The hopes of young people like Singh had been fueled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of creating millions of jobs for the country’s huge young population when he took power in 2014. Optimism rose after India won the tag of the world’s fastest growing economy. 

But the Indian economy has hit a sharp slowdown, leaving tens of thousands of people struggling to find work in mega cities like New Delhi, which are magnets for migrant labor.

The economy clocked a growth rate of 5.7 percent in the April to June quarter, its most sluggish pace in three years.

The bleak number has set alarm bells ringing and raised fears that India could struggle to return to a high growth path.

“It is a cause for concern, the economy has slowed down much more than most had expected,” said D.K. Joshi, Chief Economist at rating agency Crisil in Mumbai.

Reasons for the slowdown

The slowdown has prompted critics to accuse Modi’s government of economic mismanagement.

Most attention has turned to two major measures that have disrupted the economy in the last year. Critics have slammed the government for imposing a currency change last November to flush out illegal cash, saying it slowed down businesses amid massive currency shortages and gave an unnecessary shock to a cash dependent economy.

In July, India implemented a long overdue and widely welcomed tax reform — a goods and services tax (GST) meant to clean up a complex tax regime and make it easier to do business.

But many worry that faulty implementation and multiple tax rates have created confusion for businesses struggling with the new system.

Economists point out that the currency change and GST, coming within months of each other, have made the slowdown sharper and deeper for virtually all sectors of the economy, which had already started losing pace last year.

The impact is evident in the markets of the Indian capital, which are usually the most crowded at this time of the year. It is India’s main festive season, when consumer spending hits a high. But shop owners are disappointed because customers are not opening their wallets easily.

A usually buzzing upmarket area in New Delhi wears a deserted look. Manu Talwar, the owner of a shop selling high-end mobile phones, has been struggling to make a sale in a country counted as the world’s fastest growing smart phone market, where a new device is coveted by an aspirational generation. 

“You can see the market, it does not look like Diwali, the market is so down. Mobiles, accessories, people were crazy about it. As of now, iPhone 8 has launched, but there is no market,” said Talwar.

The government says it is looking for ways to rev up the economy — according to reports, it is considering spending billions of dollars to give investment a push.

Prime Minister Modi, seen as a business-friendly, reformist leader, recently announced the formation of a five-member panel to advise him on economic issues.

At the heart of the challenge is the need for jobs in a country where about 10 million enter the workforce every year. Modi had hoped to give manufacturing a push to create jobs for low-skill labor, but a flagship “Make in India’ program he launched to woo foreign investors has yet to show significant results. And a slowing economy means that jobs are even being lost in several sectors.

“To think of an overall manufacturing push of the kind China gave, or many East Asian economies that we observed in those economies, that does not seem to be a reality in India. There is a lot of ground to cover to reach that level,” said economist Joshi.

Officials are striking an optimistic note, calling the slowdown transitory, but economists warn recovery will be gradual.

That means Pushkar Singh’s hunt for a job and shop owner Manu Talwar’s hopes of the market picking up may not happen anytime soon.

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To Get Customers Back In Stores, NYC Pop-Up Shop Goes Digital

With more and more consumers shopping online, do brick-and-mortar stores stand a chance? At a pop-up shop in New York City, the future of retail is about embracing digital trends rather than resisting them. VOA reporter Tina Trinh explains.

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GM to Offer 2 More Electric Vehicles in Next 18 Months

Even though gasoline-powered SUVs are what people are buying now, General Motors is betting that electric vehicles will be all the rage in the not-to-distant future.

The Detroit automaker is promising two new EVs on Chevrolet Bolt underpinnings in the next 1 ½ years and more than 20 electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2023. The company sees its entire model lineup running on electricity in the future, whether the source is a big battery or a tank full of hydrogen.

“We are far along in our plan to lead the way into that future world,” product development chief Mark Reuss said Monday at a news conference at the GM technical center north of Detroit.

The event was billed as a “sneak peak” into GM’s electric future. The company also pledged to start producing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for commercial or military use in 2020. And it promised an increase in the number of electric fast-charging stations in the U.S., which now total 1,100 from companies and governments, taking a shot at electric competitor Tesla Inc. by saying the system would not be “walled off” from electric vehicles made by other manufacturers.

Tesla has 951 fast-charging stations globally that can only be used by Tesla owners.

The hastily called event was short on specifics, and it came just a day before the CEO of Ford Motor Co., GM’s prime competitor, was to announce its business plan that likely will include electric and autonomous vehicles as priorities.

The two new GM electrics in the immediate future likely will be SUVs or a sportier car designed to compete with Tesla’s upcoming Model 3 sedan, Reuss said. The Model 3, which is now in the early stages of production, will go hood-to-hood with the Bolt, starting around $35,000 (excluding a $7,500 federal tax credit) with a range of over 200 miles. The Bolt starts at $37,495 excluding the credit.

Behind Reuss and other executives were nine vehicles covered with tarps that the company said were among the 20 to be unveiled by 2023. GM pulled away the tarps on three of them, clay models of low-slung Buick and Cadillac SUVs and a futuristic version of the Bolt that looked like half of an airport control tower glued to the top of a car body. The rest remained covered.

The company wouldn’t allow photographs of the vehicles, and it wouldn’t say if any of the vehicles it showed were the ones coming in the next 18 months.

Reuss said the new vehicles that aren’t built on the Bolt platform will have GM’s next-generation electric architecture, which he said will be more efficient with longer range than the Bolt’s 238 miles. Through August, GM has sold 11,670 Bolts, which is less than 1 percent of GM’s total U.S. sales so far this year.

Reuss promised that the new vehicles will be profitable as people become more accustomed to the advancing technology. “We can’t just flip a switch and make the world go all-electric,” he said.

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US Manufacturing Activity Hits 13-year High

U.S. factory activity surged to a more than 13-year high in September amid strong gains in new orders and raw material prices, pointing to underlying strength in the economy even as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are expected to dent growth in the third quarter.

The economic outlook was also bolstered by other data on Monday showing a rebound in construction spending in August. The acceleration in manufacturing activity and the accompanying increase in prices could harden expectations that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in December.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity surged to a reading of 60.8 last month, the highest reading since May 2004, from 58.8 in August.

A reading above 50 in the ISM index indicates an expansion in manufacturing, which accounts for about 12 percent of the U.S. economy. The ISM said Harvey and Irma had caused supply chain and pricing issues in the chemical products sector. There were also concerns about the disruptive impact of the storms in the food, beverage and tobacco products industries.

The hurricanes are expected to chop off as much as six-tenths of a percentage point from gross domestic product growth in the third quarter. Harvey, which pummeled Texas at the end of August, has undercut consumer spending and weighed on industrial production, homebuilding and home sales.

Further weakness is likely after Irma struck Florida in early September, causing widespread power cuts. Manufacturing outside the areas affected by the hurricanes remained strong in September. The ISM survey’s production sub-index rose 1.2 points to a reading of 62.2 in September.

A gauge of new orders jumped to 64.6 in September from 60.3 in August. Factories reported paying more for raw materials, with the survey’s prices paid index surging 9.5 point to 71.5, the highest reading since May 2011.

The dollar rose against the euro after the data. Prices for U.S. Treasuries were trading higher as were stocks on Wall Street.

Construction spending rises

In separate report Monday, the Commerce Department said construction spending rose 0.5 percent to $1.21 trillion. July’s construction outlays were revised sharply down to show a 1.2 percent plunge instead of the previously reported 0.6 percent drop. Construction spending increased 2.5 percent on a year-on-year basis.

The government said Harvey and Irma did not appear to have impacted the construction spending data as the responses from the Texas and Florida areas affected by the storms were “not significantly lower than normal.”

In August, spending on private residential projects increased 0.4 percent, rising for a fourth straight month.

Spending on nonresidential structures increased 0.5 percent, snapping two straight monthly declines.

In the wake of Harvey and Irma, nonresidential construction spending could fall in September. According to the Commerce Department, Texas and Florida accounted for 22 percent of U.S. private nonresidential construction spending in 2016.

Investment in nonresidential structures such as oil and gas wells has been slowing as the boost from recovering oil prices fizzles. Private construction projects spending increased 0.4 percent in August.

Outlays on public construction projects rebounded 0.7 percent in August after slumping 3.3 percent in July. Spending on state and local government construction projects increased 1.1 percent in August. Gains in September are likely to be curbed by the hurricanes.

Texas and Florida accounted for 15 percent of U.S. state-and-locally owned construction spending in 2016, according to the Commerce Department.

Federal government construction spending tumbled 4.7 percent to its lowest level since April 2007.

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US Supreme Court Rejects Samsung Appeal in Warranty Dispute

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider a bid by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. to force customers who have filed proposed class-action lawsuits against the company to arbitrate their claims instead of bringing them to court.

The justices left intact a lower court’s ruling that purchasers of certain Galaxy smartphones made by the South Korean electronics company were not bound by a warranty provision that compelled arbitration of customer complaints.

Warranties with arbitration clauses have become common in consumer electronics and other industries. Courts and regulatory agencies increasingly are scrutinizing arbitration agreements that seek to limit options for resolution of future disputes.

The Samsung case involves two smartphone buyers from California who separately filed proposed class-action lawsuits in 2014 over concerns about the products’ performance and resale value.

Neither Daniel Norcia, who owned an Galaxy S4 device, nor Hoai Dang, who owned an SIII, saw the arbitration provisions when they bought the phone because the language was placed deep inside the warranty booklet and not mentioned on the box, according to their legal papers.

The agreement states that all disputes must be resolved through arbitration, and specifically rules out class actions.

Samsung tried to force the customers to arbitrate their claims, but a unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied the request in January. The court said Samsung did not provide proper notice of the arbitration provision and neither customer had expressly consented to be bound by it.

Appealing to the Supreme Court, Samsung noted that the 9th Circuit decided that the warranty was valid except for the arbitration provision. Samsung argued that the 9th Circuit ruling violated a U.S. law called the Federal Arbitration Act that requires arbitration agreements to be treated equally with other contracts.

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Despite Typhoons, Macau Casino Revenue up 16 Percent in One Month

Casinos in the world’s biggest casino hub of Macau extended a 14-month winning streak in September with revenue up 16.1 percent, priming for a bumper national holiday week, which is expected to see strong visitor traffic in the southern Chinese territory.

Macau, a former Portuguese colony and now special administrative region, is the only place in the country where casino gambling is legal.

Government data Sunday showed monthly gambling revenue was 21.4 billion patacas ($2.66 billion) in September, within analyst expectations of growth between 11-17 percent.

Two typhoons

September saw the tail end impact from two typhoons in August, which caused massive destruction and unprecedented flooding.

Many casinos shut down for several days and had problems accessing fresh water and power, but big resorts on Macau’s Las Vegas style Cotai strip were left relatively unscathed.

Macau’s government this week will release a 15-year plan to boost tourism with key objectives including rebranding Macau into a multiday destination and managing local tourism capacity.

Typically during national holidays, Macau’s tiny peninsula and adjoining islands are inundated with swarms of visitors putting pressure on creaking infrastructure and transport. 

Casino executives have said that hotels are fully booked for the official holiday period, Oct. 1-8.

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China Manufacturing Expands at Fastest Pace in 5 Years

An official survey released Saturday said that China’s factory activity expanded in September at the fastest pace in five years, as the country’s vital manufacturing sector stepped up production to meet strong demand.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index rose to 52.4 in September, up from 51.7 in the previous month and the highest level since April 2012.

The report by the Federation of Logistics & Purchasing said production, new export orders and overall new orders grew at a faster pace for the month.

“The manufacturing sector continues to maintain a steady development trend and the pace is accelerating,” said Zhao Qinghe, senior statistician at the National Bureau of Statistics, which released the data. Zhao noted that the report found both domestic and global demand have improved.

However, in a separate report, the private Caixin/Markit manufacturing PMI slipped to 51.0 from 51.6, as factories reported that production and new orders expanded at slower rates last month.

Both indexes are based on a 100-point scale with 50 dividing expansion from contraction. But the federation’s report is focused more on large, state-owned enterprises while the Caixin survey is weighted to smaller, private companies.

Another official index covering non-manufacturing activity rebounded after two months of contraction, rising to 55.4 last month from 53.4 in August. That indicates momentum is picking up again in China’s service sector.

The reports come ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress set for next month, where top leaders will be reshuffled and authorities will outline economic policies.

Earlier this month, rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded China’s credit rating on government borrowing, citing rising debt levels that raise financial risks and could drag on economic growth.