US to Proceed With Mexico Trade Pact, Keep Talking to Canada

U.S. President Donald Trump notified Congress on Friday of his intent to sign a trade agreement with Mexico after talks with Canada broke up earlier in the day with no immediate deal to revamp the tri-nation North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said U.S. officials would resume talks with their Canadian counterparts next Wednesday with the aim of getting a deal all three nations could sign.

All three countries have stressed the importance of NAFTA, which governs billions of dollars in regional trade, and a bilateral deal announced by the United States and Mexico on Monday paved the way for Canada to rejoin the talks this week.

But by Friday the mood had soured, partly on Trump’s off-the-record remarks made to Bloomberg News that any trade deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.” He later confirmed the comments, which the Toronto Star first reported.

“At least Canada knows where I stand,” he later said on Twitter.

Ottawa has stood firm against signing “just any deal.” 

​’Making progress’

But at a news conference Friday afternoon, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed confidence that Canada could reach agreement with the United States on a renegotiated NAFTA trade pact if there was “goodwill and flexibility on all sides.”

“We continue to work very hard and we are making progress. We’re not there yet,” Freeland told reporters.

“We know that a win-win-win agreement is within reach,” she added. “With goodwill and flexibility on all sides, I know we can get there.”

The Canadian dollar weakened to C$1.3081 to the U.S. dollar after The Wall Street Journal first reported that the talks had ended Friday with no agreement. Canadian stocks remained 0.5 percent lower.

Global equities were also down following the hawkish turn in Trump’s comments on trade.

Lighthizer has refused to budge despite repeated efforts by Freeland to offer some dairy concessions to maintain the Chapter 19 independent trade dispute resolution mechanism in NAFTA, The Globe and Mail reported Friday.

However, a spokeswoman for USTR said Canada had made no concessions on agriculture, which includes dairy, but added that negotiations continued.

The United States wants to eliminate Chapter 19, the mechanism that has hindered it from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to cut the mechanism. For Ottawa, Chapter 19 is a red line.

Trump argues Canada’s hefty dairy tariffs are hurting U.S. farmers, an important political base for his Republican Party.

But dairy farmers have great political clout in Canada too, and concessions could hurt the ruling Liberals ahead of a 2019 federal election.

At a speech in North Carolina on Friday, Trump took another swipe at Canada. “I love Canada, but they’ve taken advantage of our country for many years,” he said.

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Trump Says Canada Not Needed in NAFTA Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday there was no need to keep Canada in the North American Free Trade Agreement and warned Congress not to meddle with the trade negotiations or he would terminate the trilateral trade pact altogether.

“There is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal. If we don’t make a fair deal for the U.S. after decades of abuse, Canada will be out,” Trump said on Twitter.

“Congress should not interfere w/ these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely & we will be far better off,” he added.

Trump on Friday notified Congress of his intent to sign a bilateral deal with Mexico, after contentious talks with Canada ended on Friday without a deal to revamp NAFTA. Trump had unveiled a deal with Mexico on Monday.

Lawmakers on Friday warned that a deal with Mexico could struggle to win approval from Congress unless Canada was also included. Support from Democrats would be needed to pass a purely bilateral deal, they said.

Trump on Monday threatened to slap tariffs on Canadian-made cars if Canada did not join the talks to revamp NAFTA, which he has repeatedly criticized. Trump on Saturday, in his Twitter posts, reprised his attacks that NAFTA has resulted in a loss of U.S. jobs and business.

 

 

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Fake, Low Quality Drugs Come at High Cost

About one in eight essential medicines in low- and middle-income countries may be fake or contain dangerous mixes of ingredients that put patients’ lives at risk, a research review suggests.

Researchers examined data from more 350 previous studies that tested more 400,000 drug samples in low- and middle-income countries. Overall, roughly 14 percent of medicines were counterfeit, expired or otherwise low quality and unlikely to be as safe or effective as patients might expect.

“Low-quality medicines can have no or little active pharmaceutical ingredient [and] can prolong illness, lead to treatment failure and contribute to drug resistance,” said lead study author Sachiko Ozawa of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Or it may have too much active ingredient and cause a drug overdose,” Ozawa said by email. “If it is contaminated or has other active ingredients, then the medication could cause poisoning, adverse drug interactions or avertable deaths.”

Much of the research to date on counterfeit or otherwise unsafe medicines has focused on Africa, and about half of the studies in the current analysis were done there.

Almost one in five medications tested in Africa were fake or otherwise potentially unsafe, researchers report in JAMA Network Open.

Another third of the studies were done in Asia, where about 14 percent of medicines tested were found to be counterfeit or otherwise unsafe.

Antibiotics and antimalarials were the most tested drugs in the analysis. Overall, about 19 percent of antimalarials and 12 percent of antibiotics were falsified or otherwise unsafe.

While fake or improperly made medicines undoubtedly harm patients, the current analysis couldn’t tell how many people suffered serious side effects or died as a result of falsified drugs.

Researchers did try to assess the economic impact of counterfeit or improperly made medicines and found the annual cost might run anywhere from $10 billion to $200 billion.

While the study didn’t examine high-income countries, drug quality concerns are by no means limited to less affluent nations, Ozawa said.

“Even in high-income countries, purchasing cheaper medicines from illegitimate sources online could result in obtaining substandard or falsified medicines,” Ozawa said. “Verify the source before you buy medications, and make policymakers aware of the problem so they can work to improve the global supply chain of medicines.”

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how counterfeit or poorly made medicines directly harm patients, however. And economic impact was difficult to assess from smaller studies that often didn’t include detailed methodology for calculating the financial toll.

The report “provides important validation of what is largely already known,” Tim Mackey of the Global Health Policy Institute in La Jolla, California, writes in an accompanying editorial.

“It is important to note that although the study is comprehensive, its narrow scope means it only provides a snapshot of the entire problem, as it is limited to studies conducted in low- and middle-income countries and to those

medicines classified as essential by the World Health Organization.”

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Coca-Cola Hopes for Caffeine Hit as It Buys Costa Coffee Chain

Coca-Cola is hoping for a caffeine-fueled boost with the acquisition of British coffee chain Costa.

Costa is Britain’s biggest coffee company, with over 2,400 coffee shops in the U.K. and another 1,400 in more than 30 countries, including around 460 in China, its second-biggest market. Coca-Cola said Friday it will buy the Costa brand from Whitbread for 3.9 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) in cash.

The deal, expected to close in the first half of 2019, comes on the heels of Coca-Cola’s announcement earlier in August that it was buying a minority ownership stake in sports drink maker BodyArmor for an undisclosed amount. Coca-Cola’s other investments in recent years have included milk that is strained to have more protein and a push into sparkling water.

The move is Coca-Cola’s latest diversification as health-conscious consumers, at least in America, move away from traditional soda.

Rival PepsiCo, meanwhile, recently bought carbonated drink maker SodaStream, which produces machines that allow people to make fizzy drinks in their own homes.

Coca-Cola already owns the Georgia and Gold Peak coffee brands, which make bottled and canned drinks, but the purchase of Costa could allow it to compete with brands like Starbucks.

Coffee is growing by 6 percent a year, making it one of the fastest-growing beverage categories in the world, said James Quincey, Coca-Cola president & CEO.

“Hot beverages is one of the few remaining segments of the total beverage landscape where Coca-Cola does not have a global brand,” he said.

Coca-Cola has over 500 brands in its stable including Fanta, innocent smoothies and Powerade sports drinks. In 2017, it generated operating income of $9.7 billion on revenues of $35.4 billion.

Without being specific about expansion plans, Quincey said in a video posted on Coca-Cola’s website that the company would “over time” look to take Costa “to more people in more places.”

Costa doesn’t currently have a presence in North or South America, but Quincey indicated that one potential early expansion route would be to use Costa’s vending operation and grow the company’s ready-to-drink products. In addition to its shops, Costa has self-serve coffee machines in grocery stores and gas stations.

Whitbread bought Costa for 19 million pounds in 1995, when it had just 39 shops. In recent years, Whitbread has invested heavily in Costa’s expansion overseas, but had been looking to siphon off the business to generate funds for the expansion and for its other business, the budget hotel chain Premier Inn.

Then Coca-Cola got in touch with what Whitbread said was a “highly compelling” offer. The Whitbread board unanimously backed the deal.

Whitbread will use a “significant majority” of the net cash proceeds — around 3.8 billion pounds after taking into account such things as transaction costs — returning cash to shareholders. Some will be used to pay down debt and to make a contribution to the pension fund.

Doing so, Whitbread said, would “provide headroom” to further expand the Premier Inn budget hotel chain in Britain and Germany.

Whitbread’s share price soared 17 percent in early afternoon trading in London.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at London-based stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, said Costa will get “lots of care and attention” from Coca-Cola.

“Its global reach should turbo-charge growth in the years to come, and hot drinks are one of the few areas of the wider beverages sector where the soft drinks giant doesn’t have a killer brand,” he said.

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US Ports Fear Tariffs Could Reduce Ship Traffic, Jobs

Ports and ground terminals in nearly every state handle goods that are now or will likely soon be covered by import tariffs. Port executives worry that this could mean a slowdown in shipping that would have ripple effects on truckers and others whose jobs depend on trade.

The Associated Press analyzed government data and found that from the West Coast to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, at least 10 percent of imports at many ports could face new tariffs if President Donald Trump’s proposals take full effect.

Since March, the U.S. has applied new tariffs of up to 25 percent on nearly $85 billion worth of steel and aluminum and various Chinese products, mostly goods used in manufacturing.

Trump said in a recent tweet, “Tariffs are working big time.” He has argued that the tariffs will help protect American workers and force U.S. trading partners to change rules that the president insists are unfair to the United States.

In New Orleans, port officials say a tariff-related drop in shipments is real, not merely a forecast. Steel imports there have declined more than 25 percent from a year ago, according to the port’s chief commercial officer, Robert Landry.

The port is scouting for other commodities it can import. But expectations appear to be low.

“In our business, steel is the ideal commodity,” Landry said. “It’s big, it’s heavy, we charge by the ton so it pays well. You never find anything that pays as well as steel does.”

The port of Milwaukee imports steel from Europe and ships out agricultural products from the Midwest. Steel imports haven’t dropped yet because they are under long-term contracts, said the port director, Adam Schlicht. But there has been “an almost immediate halt” in outbound shipments of corn because of retaliatory duties imposed by the European Union on American products.

Much of the corn, he said, “is just staying in silos. They are filled to the brim.”

Many other ports have been humming along and even enjoyed an unexpected bump in imports during June and July as U.S. businesses moved up orders to ship before the new tariffs took effect. That started with manufacturing goods and is now spreading to retail items for back-to-school and Christmas.

“Some of my retail customers are forward-shipping the best they can to offset proposed tariffs,” says Peter Schneider, executive vice president of T.G.S. Transportation, a trucking company in Fresno, California.

Port officials were encouraged by this week’s announcement that the United States and Mexico had reached a preliminary agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, hoping it might lead to reduced trade barriers. Canada’s participation in any new deal to replace NAFTA, though, remains a major question mark.

The port officials continue to worry, though, that Trump will make good on a plan to expand tariffs to an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports — a list that includes fish and other foods, furniture, carpets, tires, rain jackets and hundreds of additional items. Tariffs would make those items costlier in the United States. And if Americans buy fewer of those goods, it would likely lead to fewer container ships steaming into U.S. ports.

The impact will be felt keenly at West Coast ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, relying on information from his port officials, said his port — the biggest in the United States — could suffer a 20 percent drop in volume if the additional $200 billion in tariffs are imposed against Chinese goods.

Jock O’Connell, an economist in California who studies trade, said he doubts a downturn would be so severe — that would match the slump that accompanied the global recession of 2008 — “but we will see a definite impact.”

Here are some of the key findings from the AP analysis:

–  U.S. tariffs will cover goods that are imported at more than 250 seaports, airports and ground terminals in 48 states.

  • At 18 of 43 customs districts — including those representing ports around Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans and Houston — at least 10 percent of their total import value could be covered by new tariffs if all Trump’s proposals take effect.

  • Retaliatory duties by China and other countries cover $27 billion in U.S. exports.

Eugene Seroka, executive director of the Los Angeles port, worries that “if tariffs make it too expensive to import, there will be an impact on jobs.”

Seroka and others don’t expect layoffs on the docks. Union longshoremen — whose average pay last year on the West Coast was $163,000, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, which negotiates for the ports — often have contract provisions ensuring that they are paid even if there’s no work. And there are fewer of them than there were a few decades ago because the advent of shipping containers has reduced the need for people on the docks.

Dwayne Boudreaux, an International Longshoremen’s Association official in Louisiana, said, though, that his stevedores are handling about 10 percent less steel from Japan because of the new tariffs.

“We don’t think it’s going to [get] worse,” he said. But, he added, “who knows — that could change from the next press conference.”

The impact might be greater on truck drivers and warehouse workers. Fewer will be needed, according to O’Connell.

Many drivers who deliver shipping containers from the dock to warehouses are independents contracted by trucking companies, and they don’t get paid if there is nothing to haul. Some might leave the profession, said Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association in Long Beach, California.

“It’s hard to retain drivers,” he said. “If we don’t have work for those drivers, we’re worried they will leave for some other segment of the trucking business or go into another business, like construction.”

Less shipping means less revenue for the ports — something that could limit their ability to pay for expansion and improvement projects, according to Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities. He said U.S. ports are in the midst of a planned $155 billion in infrastructure spending from 2016 through 2020.

The current trade war was foreshadowed in January by steep U.S. tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines. It exploded with the U.S. tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Then came two rounds of duties targeting about $50 billion in imports from China — punishment against that country for pressuring U.S. companies to transfer technology and intellectual property to Chinese companies.

Along the way, China, the European Union, Turkey, Canada and Mexico imposed retaliatory duties on U.S. goods including farm products and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

This week, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office finished six days of hearings on a plan to hit another $200 billion in Chinese imports with 10 percent duties. Trump has said that if China continues to retaliate he could eventually add tariffs on $450 billion in Chinese goods, nearly 90 percent of that country’s 2017 exports to the U.S.

Trade wars are usually temporary. President George W. Bush abandoned his steel tariffs after less than two years.

Milwaukee’s port director worries, however, that damage from the current trade dispute could linger. Canada is increasing corn exports to Europe, and Brazil is trying to pick up the slack in soybean exports to China.

“Others are already picking up that business,” Schlicht said.

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Canada, US Push Toward NAFTA Deal by Friday

Top NAFTA negotiators from Canada and the United States increased the pace of their negotiations Thursday to resolve final differences to meet a Friday deadline, with their Mexican counterpart on standby to rejoin the talks soon.

Despite some contentious issues still on the table, the increasingly positive tone contrasted with U.S. President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of Canada in recent weeks, raising hopes that the year-long talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement will conclude soon with a trilateral deal.

“Canada’s going to make a deal at some point. It may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time,” U.S. President Donald Trump told Bloomberg Television. “I think we’re close to a deal.”

Trilateral talks were already underway at the technical level and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo was expected to soon rejoin talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, possibly later on Thursday, people familiar with the process said.

Trump said in a Bloomberg interview: “Canada’s going to make a deal at some point. It may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time,” Trump said. “I think we’re close to a deal.”

Negotiations entered a crucial phase this week after the United States and Mexico announced a bilateral deal on Monday, paving the way for Canada to rejoin talks to modernize the 24-year-old accord that underpins over $1 trillion in annual trade.

The NAFTA deal that is taking shape would likely strengthen North America as a manufacturing base by making it more costly for automakers to import a large share of vehicle parts from outside the region. The automotive content provisions, the most contentious topic, could accelerate a shift of parts-making away from China.

A new chapter governing the digital economy, along with stronger intellectual property, labor and environmental standards could also work to the benefit of U.S. companies, helping Trump to fulfill his campaign promise of creating more American jobs.

Trump has set a Friday deadline for the three countries to reach an agreement, which would allow Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign it before he leaves office at the end of November. Under U.S. law, Trump must wait 90 days before signing the pact.

The U.S. president has warned he could try to proceed with a deal with Mexico alone and levy tariffs on Canadian-made cars if Ottawa does not come on board, although U.S. lawmakers have said ratifying a bilateral deal would not be easy.

Dairy, dispute settlement

One sticking point for Canada is the U.S. effort to dump the Chapter 19 dispute-resolution mechanism that hinders the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to eliminate the mechanism.

Trump also wants a NAFTA deal that eliminates dairy tariffs of up to 300 percent that he argues are hurting U.S. farmers, an important political base for Republicans.

But any concessions to Washington by Ottawa is likely to upset Canadian dairy farmers, who have an outsized influence in Canadian politics, with their concentration in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

 “Ultimately, we’ve got huge issues that are still to be resolved,” said Jerry Dias, head of Canada’s influential Unifor labor union. “Either we’re going to be trading partners or we’re going to fight.”

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Microsoft to Contractors: Give New Parents Paid Leave

Microsoft will begin requiring its contractors to offer their U.S. employees paid leave to care for a new child.

It’s common for tech firms to offer generous family leave benefits for their own software engineers and other full-time staff, but paid leave advocates say it’s still rare to require similar benefits for contracted workers such as janitors, landscapers, cafeteria crews and software consultants.

“Given its size and its reach, this is a unique and hopefully trailblazing offering,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families.

The details

The new policy affects businesses with at least 50 U.S.-based employees that do substantial work with Microsoft that involves access to its buildings or its computing network. It doesn’t affect suppliers of goods. Contractors would have to offer at least 12 weeks of leave to those working with the Redmond, Washington-based software giant; the policy wouldn’t affect the contractors’ arrangements with other companies. Leave-takers would get 66 percent of regular pay, up to $1,000 weekly.

The policy announced Thursday rolls out over the next year as the company amends its contracts with those vendors. That may mean some of Microsoft’s costs will rise to cover the new benefits, said Dev Stahlkopf, the company’s corporate vice president and general counsel.

“That’s just fine and we think it’s well worth the price,” she said.

Microsoft doesn’t disclose how many contracted workers it uses, but it’s in the thousands.

The new policy expands on Microsoft’s 2015 policy requiring contractors to offer paid sick days and vacation.

Facebook

Other companies such as Facebook have also committed to improve contractor benefits amid unionization efforts by shuttle drivers, security guards and other contract workers trying to get by in expensive, tech-fueled regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area and around Washington’s Puget Sound.

Facebook doesn’t guarantee that contract workers receive paid parental leave, but provides a $4,000 new child benefit for new parents who don’t get leave. A much smaller California tech company, SurveyMonkey, announced a paid family leave plan for its contract workers earlier this year.

Washington state law

Microsoft said its new policy is partially inspired by a Washington state law taking effect in 2020 guaranteeing eligible workers 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The state policy, signed into law last year, follows California and a handful of other states in allowing new parents to tap into a fund that all workers pay into. Washington will also require employers to help foot the bill, and will start collecting payroll deductions next January.

A federal paid parental leave plan proposed by President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, could rely on a similar model but has gained little traction.

“Compared to what employers are doing, the government is way behind the private sector,” said Isabel Sawhill, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has urged the White House and Congress to adopt a national policy.

Sawhill said it is “very unusual and very notable” that Microsoft is extending family leave benefits to its contract workers. Microsoft already offers more generous family leave benefits to its own employees, including up to 20 weeks fully paid leave for a birth mother.

Pushing the feds

Microsoft’s push to spread its employee benefits to a broader workforce “sends a message that something has to happen more systematically at the federal level,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Until then, she said, it’s helpful that Microsoft seems willing to pay contracting firms more to guarantee their workers’ better benefits.

“Paid family leave is expensive and they acknowledge that,” Hegewisch said. Otherwise, she said, contractors with many employees of child-bearing age could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those with older workforces.

Republican state Sen. Joe Fain, the prime sponsor of the measure that passed last year, said Microsoft’s decision was “a really powerful step forward.”

By applying the plan to contractors and vendors around the country, “it really creates a pressure for those state legislatures to make a similar decision that Washington made.”

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Republican US Senator Asks FTC to Examine Google Ads

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch on Thursday added to the growing push in Washington to have the Federal Trade Commission rekindle an antitrust investigation of Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons recounting several news reports that identified complaints about Google’s anti-competitive conduct and privacy practices.

Alphabet shares were little changed after the release of the letter. The company declined to comment.

Lawmakers from both major parties and Google’s rivals have said this year they see an opening for increased regulation of large technology companies under the FTC’s new slate of commissioners.

Google’s critics say that ongoing European antitrust action against the web search leader and this year’s data privacy scandal involving Facebook Inc and political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica demonstrate their concerns about the unchecked power of the tech heavyweights. About 90 percent of search engine queries in the United States flow through Google.

Facebook and Twitter executives are expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on September 5 about their  efforts to deter foreign campaigns from spreading misinformation online ahead November’s midterm elections. Lawmakers have criticized Alphabet for not scheduling a top executive, such as Chief Executive Larry Page, for the hearings.

In 2013, the FTC closed a lengthy investigation of Google after finding insufficient evidence that consumers were harmed by how the company displayed search results from rivals. President Donald Trump accused Google’s search engine on Tuesday of promoting negative news articles and hiding “fair media” coverage of him.

Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, later said the White House was “taking a look” at Google, and that the administration would do “some investigation and some analysis,” without providing further details.

Earlier this year, Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat, and Representative Todd Rokita, a Republican, sent separate letters asking the FTC to probe Google.

Simon, the new Republican chairman of the FTC, said in July the agency would keep a close eye on big tech companies that dominate the internet.

An FTC representative was not immediately available for comment.

Hatch, at event hosted by reviews website and Google rival Yelp Inc in May, said moves made by “an entrenched monopolist” deserve extra skepticism.

“They may well be used, not to further consumer welfare, but to foreclose competitors,” he said, according to prepared remarks.

Yelp, a local-search service, said in a statement that Hatch’s letter was “heartening to see” as it underscored the bipartisan plea for FTC scrutiny of Google.

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Sexually Transmitted Diseases Seeing Record Increases, CDC Says

The number of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States is hitting record highs, according to latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in 2017, says the CDC. This is the fourth year of increases in STDs and the figures broke 2016’s record by more than 200,000 cases.  

Chlamydia remained the most common condition reported to the CDC. More than 1.7 million cases were diagnosed in 2017, with 45 percent among 15- to 24-year-old females. 

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis often go undiagnosed and untreated, leading to conditions including infertility, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants, and increased HIV risk. 

“We are sliding backward,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, in a news release. “It is evident the systems that identify, treat and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to [a] near-breaking point.

“Diagnosed cases of gonorrhea increased 67 percent from 333,004 to 555,608 cases, and nearly doubled among men, from 169,130 cases to 322,169 in preliminary data for 2017. Diagnosed cases among women increased for the third year in a row from 197,499 to 232,587.

Syphilis diagnoses increased 76 percent, from 17,375 to 30,644 cases. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men made up almost 70 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases where the gender of the sex partner is known in 2017. Primary and secondary syphilis are the most infectious stages of the disease.

Researchers say the increases in STDs can be attributed to socioeconomic factors like poverty, stigma, discrimination, and drug use.

While most of the diseases are curable with antibiotics, gonorrhea continues to be resistant to nearly every class of antibiotics used to treat it, with the exception of ceftriaxone. 

In 2015, the drug azithromycin was added to treatment for gonorrhea to help delay resistance to ceftriaxone. New CDC findings show that emerging resistance to azithromycin is on the rise in laboratory testing.

“We expect gonorrhea will eventually wear down our last highly effective antibiotic, and additional treatment options are urgently needed,” said Gail Bolan, M.D., director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention in a press release. “We can’t let our defenses down — we must continue reinforcing efforts to rapidly detect and prevent resistance as long as possible.”

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Cholera Outbreak Stirs Panic in Algeria

Algerian health authorities claim the situation is under control after a cholera epidemic in at least four provinces caused more than 60 confirmed cases of the disease, with several deaths reported.

Residents in a village of Tipaza province are drinking water from a spring government officials claim is infected with the cholera virus. But residents counter the spring is safe to drink from and that the government analysis is mistaken.

Cholera outbreaks have been confirmed in Tipaza, Blida, Algiers, and Bouira provinces.   More than 130 people have been hospitalized with suspected cases of cholera this month and more than 60 cases were confirmed.  At least three people have died, according to Algerian media.

Algeria’s health minister, Mokhtar Hazblawi, recently said health officials have been doing their best to keep on top of the situation.

He says since the disease surfaced, the health ministry has devised a strategy to control it and stop it from spreading.

Issam Eddin Bouyoucef of the El Hadi Flici Hospital Center, which treats infectious diseases in Algiers, told Al Hurra TV hundreds of people have come to the hospital fearing they were suffering from cholera.  

He said patients must be quarantined and the disease isolated. He stressed his hospital has set up a specialized isolated wing to treat patients while they recover, once the disease has been confirmed.

Bouyoucef said many people have been panicking, mistaking stomach ailments for cholera. Local media report consumers are buying up large quantities of mineral water.

An elderly resident of capital Algiers told Al Hurra TV he was afraid of the potentially deadly disease and thinks that a large number of people who live in his area have been sickened.

Physician Mohammed Gamary complained to a local TV station the media uncovered the cholera epidemic before the government did. He said doctors in Khazrouna, where the disease was first detected, should have sounded the alarm when they noticed the unusual number diarrhea cases.

Pharmacies in Algiers have been selling large quantities of salts to treat diarrhea, while many people have been avoiding fruit and vegetables, which they fear may be contaminated with the cholera virus.

 

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WHO: Africans Living Longer, Healthier Lives

The World Health Organization says Africans are living longer and healthier lives.  But the WHO warns that that millions on the continent still face the challenge of chronic diseases.  

News of the uptick came in Dakar this week where WHO representatives met with officials from 47 African countries.

Healthy life expectancy on the continent rose from 44.4 years at the turn of the century to 53.8 years in 2015. Overall life expectancy climbed from 50.8 years to 61.2.

 

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said that two factors were mostly responsible for the change.

 

“What produced this result is a huge increase in access to treatment [of] HIV-AIDS, and in the better prevention and management of malaria,” Moeti said.

But the WHO says the type of disease that most commonly affects Africans is also changing.  

While the number of deaths from diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, and HIV is falling, chronic conditions – such as cancer and heart disease – are claiming more lives.

Death rates from non-communicable diseases have remained steady since 2000 while the other top ten causes of mortality in Africa have fallen by 40 percent.

The WHO says health services in Africa have been slow to adapt to the new health challenges.

Humphrey Karamagi, sustainable development goal coordinator for the WHO, says the health needs of African youth are too often overlooked.

“The kind of health challenges that adolescents face are quite different from what we have been used to responding to – drug use, adolescent obesity and so on.”

Many African health officials and experts point to a lack of funding, but Stanley Okolo, head of the West African Health Organization, says that is overly simplistic.

“There is health, which is an issue in terms of investment and health funding. But there is also an issue in terms of health systems and how you can deliver better value for the money you have. And both have to be tackled simultaneously,” Okolo said.

African nations spend an average 40 percent of their health budgets on medical products, while barely a fifth goes to medical staff and infrastructure.

Health officials from Kenya, Nigeria and Cabo Verde say they are responding to the rise in non-communicable diseases by focusing on prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles.

 

 

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Vice Premier: Chinese Enforcers Should be "Realistic" in Pollution

Chinese authorities should not arbitrarily shut down firms that meet emission standards during environmental cleanup campaigns, Vice Premier Han Zheng said on Wednesday.

Beijing has made reducing pollution one of its highest national priorities, but the drive has been criticized as poorly planned at the local level, with across-the-board closures of industrial plants in some regions ensnaring even compliant companies.

Xinhua news agency quoted Han as saying that measures in the battle against pollution should be realistic and sustainable, though environmental protection policies should be strictly enforced to deter companies that violate the rules.

He was speaking at a meeting on a plan to tackle pollution in and around the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region during the winter, when smog often blankets northern China.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment said in May that China would end a “one size fits all” approach to fighting pollution as it tries to devise more nuanced policies that match local conditions and minimize economic disruption.

A plan to switch millions of households and thousands of businesses from coal to natural gas in north China last winter backfired as severe gas shortages hit the region. “Steadily promote clean winter heating in North China, and ensure people are safe and warm,” Han said.

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Trump OKs Tariff Relief for Three Countries

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed proclamations permitting targeted relief from steel and aluminum quotas from some countries, the U.S. Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

Trump, who put in place tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March, signed proclamations allowing relief from the quotas on steel from South Korea, Brazil and Argentina and on aluminum from Argentina, the department said in a statement.

“Companies can apply for product exclusions based on insufficient quantity or quality available from U.S. steel or aluminum producers,” the statement said. “In such cases, an exclusion from the quota may be granted and no tariff would be owed.”

Trump, citing national security concerns, placed tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports.

The tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico took effect June 1, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said May 31 that arrangements had been made with some countries to have non-tariff limits on their exports of the two metals to the United States.

Ross said the arrangement with South Korea was for a quota of 70 percent of average steel exports to the United States in the years 2015 to 2017.

The Brazilian government said at the time the U.S. quotas and tariffs on Brazil’s steel and aluminum exports were unjustified but that it remained open to negotiate a solution.

Brazilian semi-finished steel exports to the United States are subject to quotas based on the average for the three years from 2015-2017, while finished steel products will be limited to a quota of 70 percent of the average for those years.

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Trump, Trudeau Upbeat About Prospects for NAFTA Deal by Friday

The leaders of the United States and Canada expressed optimism on Wednesday that they could reach new NAFTA deal by a Friday deadline as negotiators prepared to talk through the night, although Canada warned that a number of tricky issues remained.

Under pressure, Canada rejoined the talks to modernize the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement after Mexico and the United States announced a bilateral deal on Monday. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said late on Wednesday that talks were at “a very intense moment” but said there was “a lot of good will” between Canadian and U.S. negotiators.

“Our officials are meeting now and will be meeting until very late tonight. Possibly they’ll be meeting all night long,” Freeland said. She and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had agreed to review progress early on Thursday.

U.S. President Donald Trump has set a Friday deadline for the three countries to reach an in-principle agreement, which would allow Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign it before he leaves office at the end of November. Under U.S. law, Trump must wait 90 days before signing the pact.

Trump has warned he could try to proceed with a deal with Mexico alone and levy tariffs on Canadian-made cars if Ottawa does not come on board, although U.S. lawmakers have said ratifying a bilateral deal would not be easy.

“They (Canada) want to be part of the deal, and we gave until Friday and I think we’re probably on track. We’ll see what happens, but in any event, things are working out very well.” Trump told reporters at the White House.

The upbeat tone contrasted with Trump’s harsh criticism of Canada in recent weeks, railing on Twitter against Canada’s high dairy tariffs that he said were “killing our Agriculture!”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he thought the Friday deadline could be met.

“We recognize that there is a possibility of getting there by Friday, but it is only a possibility, because it will hinge on whether or not there is ultimately a good deal for Canada,” he said at a news conference in northern Ontario on Wednesday.

“No NAFTA deal is better than a bad NAFTA deal.”

 Freeland, who is Canada’s lead negotiator, was sidelined from the talks for more than two months, and will be under pressure to accept the terms the United States and Mexico worked out.

She declined comment on the issues still in play, but said on Tuesday that Mexico’s concessions on auto rules of origin and labor rights had been a breakthrough.

Ottawa is also ready to make concessions on Canada’s protected dairy market in a bid to save a dispute-settlement system, The Globe and Mail reported late on Tuesday.

Sticking points

One of the issues for Canada in the revised deal is the U.S. effort to dump the Chapter 19 dispute resolution mechanism that hinders the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to eliminate the mechanism.

To save that mechanism, Ottawa plans to change one rule that effectively blocked American farmers from exporting ultra-filtered milk, an ingredient in cheesemaking, to Canada, the Globe and Mail reported, citing sources.

Trudeau repeated on Wednesday that he will defend Canada’s dairy industry.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Trump administration’s own anti-dumping duties on Canadian paper, used in books and newsprint, were thrown out by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The independent panel ruled that about $1.21 billion in such paper imports from Canada were not harming U.S. producers.

Other hurdles to a NAFTA deal include intellectual property rights and extensions of copyright protections to 75 years from 50, a higher threshold than Canada has previously supported.

Some see the tight time-frame as a challenge.

“There’s nothing here that is not doable for Canada,” said Brian Kingston, vice president for international affairs at The Business Council of Canada.

“We’ve got the best negotiators in the world, but they can only stay awake so many hours of every day.”

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Germany, Seeking Independence From US, Pushes Cybersecurity Research

Germany announced a new agency on Wednesday to fund research on cybersecurity and to end its reliance on digital technologies from the United States, China and other countries.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters that Germany needed new tools to become a top player in cybersecurity and shore up European security and independence.

“It is our joint goal for Germany to take a leading role in cybersecurity on an international level,” Seehofer told a news conference with Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “We have to acknowledge we’re lagging behind, and when one is lagging, one needs completely new approaches.”

The agency is a joint interior and defense ministry project.

Germany, like many other countries, faces a daily barrage of cyberattacks on its government and industry computer networks.

However, the opposition Greens criticized the project. “This agency wouldn’t increase our information technology security, but further endanger it,” said Greens lawmaker Konstantin von Notz.

The agency’s work on offensive capabilities would undermine Germany’s diplomatic efforts to limit the use of cyberweapons internationally, he said. “As a state based on the rule of law, we can only lose a cyberpolitics arms race with states like China, North Korea or Russia,” he added, calling for “scarce resources” to be focused on hardening vulnerable systems.

Germany and other European countries also worry about their dependence on U.S. technologies. This follows revelations in 2012 by U.S. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden of a massive spying network, as well as the U.S. Patriot Act which gave the U.S. government broad powers to compel companies to provide data.

“As a federal government we cannot stand idly by when the use of sensitive technology with high security relevance are controlled by other governments. We must secure and expand such key technologies of our digital infrastructure,” Seehofer said.

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Iraq Sees Spike in Water-Borne Illnesses

Iraqi health officials say that a health crisis stemming from water pollution and a shortage of clean drinking water has worsened in recent days, as hospitals in the southern port city of Basra treat more than 1,000 cases of intestinal infections on a daily basis. The problem was exacerbated several months ago when Turkey cut back on water distributed to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

 

A crowd of young men took to the streets on in the southern port city of Basra Tuesday, demanding the central government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi increase the quantity of clean drinking water allotted to their province. Abadi vowed to increase spending on infrastructure for the province during a visit to Basra in July.

A young man, whose friend was killed during a rally several weeks ago, broke down and sobbed over the protesters’ inability to force Iraqi leaders to improve the condition of public services in Basra, especially the region’s worn-out water infrastructure and insufficient quantities of drinking water allotted by the central government.

Some health officials in Basra warn that a cholera outbreak is possible due to water pollution and water-borne parasites that have made thousands of people sick in recent days. The director general of the Basra Health department, Riad Abdul Amir, told Al Hurra TV the situation continues to worsen.

He says more than 17,500 cases of intestinal ailments, resulting from contaminated drinking water, have been treated by Basra hospitals during the past two weeks, alone.

Abdul Amir says the problem stems from insufficient fresh water supplies coming into the city via canals and water pipes from the north.

“Salty water [which has infiltrated the water network],” he asserts, “is known to reduce the efficacy of chlorine used to treat and kill bacteria in drinking water,” he said.

Safaa Kazem, a docotor who has been treating dozens of cases of intestinal problems and diarrhea in Basra’s Sadr Teaching Hospital each day, says water from the city’s supply is not safe to drink.

She says the degree of water sterilization is minimal and that Basra’s water is very salty and has an extremely high level of microbes in it, along with a high degree of chemical pollution.

Basra Governor Assad al Edani told Al Hurra TV that his province has been suffering from numerous infrastructure problems for a long time.

He says the water network in Basra hasn’t been updated in at least 30 years and the old pipes often break, mixing drinking water with sewage.

Edani says “not enough fresh water is arriving via the region’s only canal from Thi Qar province to the north.” He thinks a “strong current of fresh water will flush out salty water seeping into the water network from the sea.”

Edani adds that the population of Basra has “more than doubled since the water network was last updated in the early 1990s.”

Iraq’s individual provinces have been fighting for water, amid a general shortage, since Turkey in early June severely curtailed the number of cubic meters of water it funnels into both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

 

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