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The Russo-British Chamber of Commerce celebrates its 100th anniversary

This is an exclusive interview for The Duran with Trevor Barton, Executive Director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce.

Haneul Na'avi

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I have the pleasure of interviewing Trevor Barton, Executive Director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce located in London, England. We discuss the history of the organisation and the scope of its operations, as well as address the current economic developments between Russia and the United Kingdom.

Haneul: Can you tell us a little about the RBCC and your role in the organisation?

Trevor: The Russo-British Chamber of Commerce was founded 100 years ago, in 1916, which, when you think of history, was quite an interesting time for a group of business people to decide that it would be useful to have a Chamber of Commerce between Britain and Russia. The Chamber has stayed pretty true to its original aims, which were to encourage and promote trade and investment in both directions between Great Britain and Russia.

That has survived through quite a number of political and other circumstances in both countries — including two global wars —and the Chamber did not fold or stop operating, although there were periodically some contractions in the amount of business being done.

Those who have kept the Chamber going all those years have managed to do so throughout those difficult times. We’re very proud that we’ve been around for a century and that we continue to operate in a bilateral fashion. We encourage Russian businesses to come to the UK to the same extent that we encourage British businesses to go into Russia.

We’ve got somewhere between 300-400 members, and it is a strong, enthusiastic membership. Regarding my role, I am the Executive Director, the most senior role in the executive among approximately 14 staff across our three offices in London, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Although we have offices in these key centres, we also reach out to regions throughout UK and Russia.

Recently, I’ve travelled to Manchester, Liverpool, Aberdeen, Peterborough, and Ipswich to speak to groups of large companies and SMEs who are looking for new export markets for their goods, and we try to enthuse them with the idea of considering going into Russia, while pointing out the realities of doing business there. 

So much of what we say is very positive, but we are also realistic. My colleagues in Russia do a similar job of talking to Russian companies. My job as the Executive Director is to make sure all this works effectively and our members get value for their membership. Before I took this job, I was actually on the Chamber’s non-executive board for about 9 years, so I know the RBCC very well.

Haneul: Can you give us a few examples of events that you have hosted? What were some of the key focal points of your discussions and who attended?

Trevor: We ran a Christmas cocktail event a few days ago, and for events like these we always have a discussion panel beforehand. We hosted Sergey Cheremin from the Moscow City Government, in addition to a senior representative from the organisation London and Partners that works with the Mayor’s office in London, as well as representatives from the London Stock Exchange and the London Chamber of Commerce. I moderated that discussion and I think that there were a lot of positive feelings within it.

Everyone is very conscious of the negative publicity that Russia attracts, and what we do, in terms of talking to companies at our events and individually, is give balance to the perception of Russia by emphasising the business opportunities that still exist. It’s very well known that there are sanctions between the EU-US and Russia, and there have been counter-sanctions imposed by the Russian government.

Our message to people is that they should certainly consider doing business or investing in Russia and, as part of that, check whether or not their businesses will be sanctioned. Generally, there is a good chance that the sanctions, which are quite narrowly focused, will not apply.

People on that panel emphasised a rather positive stance regarding the Russian economy going forward. The Russian economy has been in tough financial straits for 2-3 years now. Sanctions have had an effect, but oil prices more so. The value of the ruble has affected ruble-earning Russians’ buying power. However, the picture shared by the panel and ourselves is quite positive in the medium term.

Mr Cheremin pointed out a lot of interesting investment projects in Moscow. The London Stock Exchange was also quite optimistic about Russian companies raising funds in London again in due course. Certainly, London & Partners and the London Chamber of Commerce also reflected positively as well as realistically about the flow of trade and investment in both directions.

Haneul: Have they been facilitating this with Special Investment Contracts (SICs)? I remember that they began doing so in 2015…

Trevor: Yes, but initiatives such as these are only one small part of the picture. I think that SICs have been successful to a certain extent, but what’s more important is the big, overall picture. It is important that Russia is seen as investor-friendly in a more general sense, and we try to make people aware of the opportunities, for example, in the regions.

There is a perception that Russia is only Moscow and St. Petersburg, but although they are very important centres for industry, population, and for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), Russia in fact has some fifteen key cities with a million or more population. These are very significant places, which are a bit more difficult for companies and investors to reach, but exporters and investors will not face the competition in those cities that they would find in Moscow or St. Petersburg, so they bring more opportunities.

Equally, as to Russians coming in this direction, we’re starting to see some of Russia’s high-tech companies and entrepreneurs show real interest in setting up subsidiaries and investments in the UK. UK banks can provide loan capital for SMEs to boost their businesses, which may not be available in the same way in Russia. So, now we’re not just seeing wealthy Russians buy houses and educate their children in UK, but Russians also starting to use the UK as a favourable base outside Russia for their international operations.

Haneul: In the post-Brexit era, how will Russian and British businesses deepen their ties, and what will occur once Britain ventures onward to new opportunities around the world?

Trevor: This is, of course, crystal ball gazing, and I can’t predict how Russo-British trade will develop post-Brexit; also of course nobody knows yet quite when Brexit will actually happen. However, there has naturally been a lot of talk at our events about its potential implications. I think generally it is perceived that it will encourage British companies to look for new export markets and in that way open up opportunities. Certainly, Russia should very much promote itself as a good market for the export of goods if and when EU markets become perhaps somewhat less attractive for British companies.

That’s not the only dynamic that’s happening because at the same time, Russia itself continues to develop as an increasingly lucrative market for British goods. The Russian middle class has good buying power, despite some issues with the value of the rouble in recent years. Furthermore, Russia is developing its infrastructure services, roads, rails, and warehousing networks, and there is a huge rise in E-commerce in Russia. 

The UK has great expertise and experience in these areas.  So, as some markets will perhaps become less attractive to UK exports, we hope that regional markets across Russia will become more accessible and attractive and that more opportunities will emerge. I think that the two elements will come together and that there is a good chance that Brexit will play into a wider picture of Great Britain and Russia doing more business together.

An increase in trade and investment in both directions is certainly something that we at the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce would like to see. 

For more information on the activities of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, kindly visit: www.rbcc.com

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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