EU-US trade row looms over NATO defence meet

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday he was battling to stop the increasingly bitter row between Europe and the US spilling over into the alliance, warning of "serious disagreements" among member countries.

European countries are at loggerheads with Washington over punishing new US tariffs on steel and aluminium as well as President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.

NATO defence ministers will meet in Brussels on Thursday to approve plans to beef up the alliance's ability to mobilise forces quickly in the event of a crisis, as concern about the threat from Russia shows no sign of abating.

They will also sign off on two new command centres -- one to protect Atlantic shipping lanes, based in Norfolk, Virginia, and another to coordinate troop movements around Europe, located in the southern German city of Ulm.

But the meeting, just five weeks out from a full summit of NATO leaders, looks set to be overshadowed by the spat between European countries and their longtime ally across the Atlantic.

"There are now serious disagreements with NATO allies on serious issues," Stoltenberg told reporters, saying he was working hard to minimise the fallout for the alliance.

"As long as they're not solved I have to be focused on how to reduce, limit the negative consequences for NATO."

- 'Strong together' -

Stoltenberg, who held talks with Trump in Washington last month, insisted the "transatlantic bond" remained strong and pointed to the way NATO survived major differences among members over the Iraq war in 2003 and the Suez crisis of 1956.

"What we have seen again and again is that we have been able to unite around NATO's core task, to protect and defend each other despite those differences," he said.

The US ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, insisted "the strength of our alliance is not in jeopardy".

"We are strong together, we will have disagreements on other issues but we will not have disagreement about the strength of NATO and the importance of deterrence and defence for NATO and for North America," she told reporters.

The leaders of all 29 NATO members will meet in Brussels for the summit in July when all eyes will be on Trump, who has repeatedly attacked European countries for not pulling their weight in the alliance.

Germany, Europe's largest economy, has suffered the worst of Trump's wrath for its failure to live up to a pledge by all NATO countries to try to spend at least two percent of gross domestic product on defence.

- 'Four 30s' plan -

NATO is modernising its command structure and beefing up its defences in response to growing fears about Russia, following Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Thousands of NATO troops are already stationed on standby in the Baltic states and Poland as deterrent and on Thursday defence ministers will give the go-ahead to a new US initiative called "30-30-30-30" or "four 30s".

Under the plan, by 2020 NATO will have 30 batallions, 30 air squadrons and 30 warships ready to be used within 30 days to back up existing rapid response forces.

"This is about establishing a culture of readiness and we need that because we have a more unpredictable security environment, we have to be prepared for the unforeseen," Stoltenberg said.

Credit Suisse to pay $47mn to settle US probe into China nepotism
Zurich (AFP) June 6, 2018 - Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse said Wednesday it would pay a $47-million penalty to avoid prosecution following a vast US probe into big banks' hiring the children of powerful Chinese officials.

US authorities began investigating hiring practices at the Asian branches of large banks in 2013 amid suspicion they were giving jobs to well-connected youth in exchange for other business in China, including with government-controlled corporations.

Such a quid-pro-quo could run foul of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a US anti-bribery law.

Credit Suisse said Wednesday it was "pleased to have reached a resolution in a non-prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice to resolve their investigation" into its hiring practices in Asia between 2007 and 2013.

"No criminal charges have been brought," it stressed, adding that it would pay a penalty of $47 million (40.1 million euros).

The amount, it said, "has been substantially provided for in prior periods" and would therefore not have any "material impact" on its second-quarter earnings, which will be announced next month.

Credit Suisse said it had "implemented numerous enhancements to its compliance and controls function", and stressed that it remained "committed to upholding the highest standards of integrity and fair business practices in every jurisdiction in which it operates."

At least six other banks were caught up in the US investigation: JPMorgan, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and UBS.

In 2016, US bank JPMorgan also reached a deal with US authorities to end the probe, dishing out $264 million in penalties.

Among the well-connected Chinese youth whose hiring by big western banks reportedly troubled US regulators was Wen Ruchun, the daughter of former Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao

She worked for Credit Suisse from 1999 to 2001 and she and her firm Fullmark Consultants Limited were later employed by JPMorgan, sources familiar with the probe told AFP in 2015.

JPMorgan also recruited Gao Jue, the son of former Chinese commerce minister Gao Hucheng, who had the authority to approve and block mergers.

The grand-daughter of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Jiang Zhicheng, meanwhile reportedly worked at Goldman Sachs, while Tang Xiaoning, the son of the president of the China Everbright Group, a state-controlled financial company, worked at JPMorgan, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

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China 'regrets' EU challenge at WTO
Beijing (AFP) June 4, 2018
China voiced regret over the European Union's decision to lodge an intellectual property rights complaint at the World Trade Organization, just as Beijing is embroiled in a similar dispute with Washington. The EU brought the challenge to the WTO on Friday, accusing Beijing of unfairly requiring foreign firms to hand over their technology to Chinese companies in order to do business in China. "China expresses regret over the EU launching the complaint and will properly handle it according to the ... read more

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