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Huawei looms large over U.S.-China trade talks – National

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WASHINGTON — A Canadian reader of U.S. news reports about last week’s trade talks with China could be forgiven for wondering: what the heck happened to Huawei?


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Donald Trump to meet Xi Jinping to hammer out a trade deal, U.S. president says

After all, the week began with the U.S. Department of Justice unsealing two damning indictments against the Chinese tech giant, including one that names chief financial officer and telecom scion Meng Wanzhou, whose arrest in Vancouver two months ago dragged Canada into an escalating battle of ideologies between the two largest economies in the world.

WATCHTrump optimistic on trade deal with China






And yet two days later, as President Donald Trump and Vice Premier Liu He sat across from each other in the Oval Office after two days of high-level, high-stakes trade talks, the eyebrow-raising U.S. allegations of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice against one of the world’s fastest-growing telecommunications firms elicited barely a mention.


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“We haven’t discussed that yet,” Trump said Thursday when asked if Huawei had come up during the talks. “It will be, but it hasn’t been discussed yet.

“That, actually — as big as it might seem — is very small compared to the overall deal.”

Geopolitical observers and trade analysts alike aren’t buying it.

WATCH: U.S., China launch high level trade talks






When Trump talks trade, America’s transactional, deal-hungry president tends to be less focused on bigger-picture issues than the messages he can sell to his supporters. Thursday’s Oval Office exercise, for instance, was all about radiating mutual goodwill — like when Liu disclosed, seemingly to the surprise of Trump’s aides, that China would buy five million tons of American soybeans.


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“Wow,” said Trump, visibly impressed. “That’s a lot of soybeans.”

Not really; China used to buy six times that every year from the U.S., which produced about 138 million tons of soybeans in 2018. Tariffs changed all that. But the president is in dire need of a political win in short order on trade with China, which he won’t get by talking publicly about what’s really going on — a broader, multi-pronged, long-term American effort to blunt its economic, geopolitical and military might.

WATCH: China demands Canada ‘immediately release’ Huawei CFO






“There’s a lot of tension within the U.S. administration about China policy,” said David Dollar, a senior fellow in foreign policy, global economy and development at the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center in Washington.

READ MORE: U.S. hits Huawei and CFO Meng with 23 criminal charges. Here’s what you need to know

“One school of thought is, ‘This is a Communist dictatorship, it’s a potential threat to the U.S., we can’t get along with this country’ — ‘decouple’ is the word they use. To the extent they’re gaining ascendancy, then you don’t want a trade deal. You just want to slap on big tariffs, you want to penalize Chinese companies, Chinese citizens, and reduce the economic relationship.

WATCH: Trudeau says China trying to interfere with Canada’s judiciary by asking for release of Huawei CFO






“Then there are other members of the administration who — I think correctly — understand there’s a lot of benefit in U.S.-China economic exchange, and they would like to improve the terms of that and in some sense deal with these security issues, but ringfence them so that other economic exchange can go on.”

Canada shares that latter approach, a delicate high-wire act made all the more awkward by the swirling diplomatic updrafts of Meng’s Dec. 1 arrest and former ambassador John McCallum’s public assessments of her chances in court.

READ MORE: Feds ink $40M research deal on 5G technology with Nokia — Huawei’s competitor

It would be “naive in the extreme” to think that the Huawei controversy can be divorced from the U.S.-China trade discussion, said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor who specializes in matters of national security and foreign relations.

“Huawei has been made exhibit No. 1 in a China-U.S. trade war and struggle for technological supremacy, and the criminal indictments are just kind of on the ground floor,” he said.

WATCH: Chinese executive at centre of multi-national legal battle makes court appearance






China is determined to diminish U.S. influence and extend its own economic, political and military reach around the world with “a distinctly Chinese fusion of strongman autocracy and a form of Western-style capitalism,” Dan Coats, the U.S. director of national intelligence, warned last week in a briefing with the Senate intelligence committee.

Trump’s trade and economic emissaries will resume talks in Beijing later this month, and the president himself will sit down with counterpart Xi Jinping before March 1, when U.S. tariffs on some $200-billion worth of Chinese goods are scheduled to jump to 25 per cent. It will be during those presidential talks where Huawei returns to the agenda, observers say.


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Trump used the all-caps word “comprehensive” in a string of tweets last week about his high hopes for a trade deal with China — a sentiment he repeated Sunday in an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation.

“No two leaders of this country and China have ever been closer than I am with President Xi,” the president said. “We have a good chance to make a deal … and if there is a deal, it’s going to be a real deal. It’s not going to be a stopgap.”

That means Huawei and help with North Korea more than it does more soybeans, said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer and Canada-U.S. specialist with Dickinson Wright in Columbus, Ohio.

WATCH: Pressure mounting to exclude Huawei from 5G






“Huawei is what it’s all about at the end of the day,” Ujczo said. “That’s what comprehensive means. The meeting between the two leaders — trade will just be one of the three major components, with Huawei being probably at the top of the list and North Korea right after.”

Trade, Huawei and the world’s broader concerns about China’s at-all-costs global ambitions are closely intertwined components of the U.S. strategy, said Wark. Whether that strategy will work is another question.

“I think it’s a very aggressive American policy that has to be rooted in an assumption that it’s possible to change Chinese behaviour through force. That critical assumption — that you can force, in a relatively short time frame, a change in Chinese behaviour through these tactics — that’s the critical thing that we should be speculating about: is this a good policy?

“Many people would argue it doesn’t have a chance in hell. But lots of voices need to weigh in on that one.”

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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