Scott Morrison plays down report US planning tariffs on Australian aluminium

Trump administration reportedly considered taxing imports of the metal over concerns they had grown too quickly

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison has downplayed – but not denied – speculation the United States considered placing trade tariffs on Australian aluminium imports last week.

The New York Times reported that the Trump administration had discussed placing tariffs on Australian aluminium, which, under a deal struck by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, remains exempt from tariffs Donald Trump placed on metal imports to the US in 2018.

Related: Donald Trump is lashing out at Mexico but his real fight is at home | Phillip Inman

Related: Trump’s banning of Huawei could be the beginning of the biggest trade war ever | John Naughton

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Escobar Warns: It’s Far From Quiet On The US Vs Russia-China Front

Authored by Pepe Escobar via The Saker blog,

Let’s start in mid-May, when Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, hosted the third Russia-Kazakhstan Expert Forum, jointly organized by premier think tank Valdai Club and the Kazakhstan Council on International Relations.

The ongoing, laborious and crucial interconnection of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasia Economic Union was at the center of the debates. Kazakhstan is a pivotal member of both the BRI and EAEU.

As Valdai Club top analyst Yaroslav Lissovolik told me, there was much discussion “on the state of play in emerging markets in light of the developments associated with the US-China trade stand-off.” What emerged was the necessity of embracing “open regionalism” as a factor to neutralize “the negative protectionist trends in the global economy.”

This translates as regional blocks along a vast South-South axis harnessing their huge potential “to counter protections pressures”, with “different forms of economic integration other than trade liberalization” having preeminence. Enter “connectivity” – BRI’s premier focus.

The EAEU, celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, is fully into the open regionalism paradigm, according to Lissovolik, with memoranda of understanding signed with Mercosur, ASEAN, and more free-trade agreements coming up later this year, including Serbia and Singapore.

Sessions at the Russia-Kazakhstan forum produced wonderful insights on the triangular Russia-China-Central Asia relationship and further South-South collaboration. Special attention should focus on the concept of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) 2.0. If a new bipolarity is emerging, pitting the US against China, NAM 2.0 rules that vast sectors of the Global South should profit by remaining neutral.

On the complex Russia-China strategic partnership, featuring myriad layers, by now it’s established that Beijing considers Moscow a sort of strategic rearguard in its ascent to superpower status. Yet doubts persist across sectors of “pivot to the East” Moscow elites on how to handle Beijing.

It’s fascinating to watch how neutral Kazakh analysts see it. They tend to interpret negative perceptions about a possible “Chinese threat” as impressed upon Russia, including Russia media, by its notorious Western “partners” – and “from there proceed to Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet countries.”

Kazakhs stress that the development of the EAEU is always under tremendous pressure by the West, and are very worried that the US-China trade war will have serious consequences for the development of Eurasian integration. They dread the possibility of another front of the US-China fight opening in strategically positioned Kazakhstan. Still, they hope the EAEU will expand, mostly because of Russia.

Andrei Sushentsov, program director of the Valdai Discussion Club, had a more lenient explanation. He reads the current chaos not as a Cold War, but rather a “Phony Cold War” – with no pronounced aggressor, no ideological component in the confrontation, and even “a desire to relieve tension.”

NAM 2.0 or Eurasia integration?

In a crucial speech to the Valdai Club, President Putin made it clear, once again, that the BRI-EAEU interconnection is an absolute priority. And the only road map ahead is for Eurasian integration.

That interlinks with the advance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose annual summit is next month, in Kyrgyzstan. One of the key goals of the SCO, since it was founded in 2001, is to create an evolving Russia-China-Central Asia synergy.

It’s not far-fetched to consider that what happens next may include a clash between the inbuilt logic of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) 2.0 and the massive Eurasian integration drive. Moscow, for instance, would be in an intractable position if it came to either align with Beijing or NAM 2.0.

Putin has had a crack on how to solve the problem.

“Historical experience shows that the Soviet Union had quite trust-based and constructive relations with many countries of the Non-Aligned Movement. It is also clear that if pursued in a too radical and uncompromising way, the logic of the ‘new non-aligned movement’ can become a challenge to the consolidation and unity of Eurasia, which is the top priority for the SCO and other projects.”

Putin has arguably dedicated a lot of thought to “the case of a new rupture in Russia-China relations, toward which many are pushing us.”

He recognizes that “quite a large part of Russian society will receive it as a quite natural and even positive development. Therefore, to avoid this scenario (to reiterate, consolidation and unity of Greater Eurasia is the key value of the SCO and the EAEU-BRI association), not only diplomatic work outside of Russia is required… but also a lot of work inside the country. In this case, the work needs to be done less with elites by way of expert papers, than directly with the people in entirely different media formats (which, by the way, not all traditional experts can do).”

The ultimate target though remains set in stone – to “achieve the purported goal of consolidating Greater Eurasia.”

The US three-war front

Maximum pressure from ‘Exceptionalistan’ won’t relent. For instance, CAATSA – the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act – now in overdrive after the adoption of a European Recapitalization Incentive Program, will continue to economically punish nations that purchase Russian and Chinese weapons.

The logic of this extreme “military diplomacy” is stark; if you don’t weaponize the American way, you will suffer. Key targets feature, among others, India and Turkey, two still theoretical poles of Eurasian integration.

In parallel, from US Think Tankland, comes the latest RAND Corporation report on – what else – how to wage Cold War 2.0 against Russia, complete with scores of strategic bombers and new intermediate-range nuclear missiles stationed in Europe to counter “Russian aggression”. Santa Monica’s RAND arguably qualifies as the top Deep State think tank.

So, it’s no wonder the road ahead is fraught with Desperation Row scenarios. The US economic war on China – at least for now – is not as hardcore as the US economic war on Russia, which is not as hardcore as the US economic siege or blockade of Iran. Yet all three wars carry the potential to degenerate in a flash. And we’re not even counting the strong possibility of an extra Trump administration economic war on the EU.

It’s no accident that the current economic wars target the three key nodes of Eurasian integration. The war against the EU may not happen because the main beneficiaries would be the Russia-China-Iran triumvirate.

Obviously, no illusions remain in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran’s corridors of power. Frantic diplomacy prevails. After the BRI forum in Beijing, Presidents Putin and Xi meet again in early June at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum – where discussion of BRI-EAEU interconnection will be paramount, alongside containment of the US in Central Asia.

Then Russia and China meet again at the SCO summit in Bishkek. The head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, went on the record stating that as many as 5,000 ISIS/Daesh-linked jihadis fresh from their “moderate rebel” Syrian stint are now massed in Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with the possibility of crossing to Pakistan and China.

That’s a major security threat to all SCO members – and it will be discussed in detail in Bishkek, alongside the necessity of including Iran as a new permanent member.

Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan is visiting Pakistan, which is a key BRI member with the CPEC corridor, and after will visit the Netherlands and Germany. Beijing wants to diversify its complex global investment strategy. 

Meanwhile, from Istanbul to Vladivostok, the key question remains: how to make NAM 2.0 work to the benefit of Eurasian integration.

Trash Wars Part Deux: Philippines Now Shipping Barge Of Illegal Trash Back To Canada

While the world has been focused on the ongoing U.S./China (and now U.S./Mexico) trade war, the final chapter in an ongoing, yet little covered garbage war between the Philippines and Canada looks to have begun. 

A shipment of trash that has been causing strain between the two countries is finally heading back to Canada, 6 years after it arrived in the Philippines, according to Gulf News

Wilma Eisma, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chair said: “Finally, the containers of garbage transported from Canada and stored at the Subic Bay Freeport for several years now have been pulled out as of today, May 31, 2019,” 

69 total containers filled with trash were loaded onto the MV Bavaria, pictured below, and sent back to North America. The shipment was commissioned by Canada to take the cargo back to its point of origin. 

“This is one proud moment for all Filipinos,” Eisma continued.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said: “The garbage is gone, good riddance. I am not interested in what the world thinks … Canada pulled all stops on this: seamless cooperation.”

Senator Panfilo Lacson said: “…we will await further developments on future garbage return expeditions to Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong and God knows where else.”

President Rodrigo Duterte had previously prohibited Philippine officials from travelling to Canada as a result of the disagreement over the trash. He had also downgraded the country’s diplomatic presence in Canada. When the trash left port for Canada, Locsin withdrew an order for the recall of the Filipino ambassador and consuls to Canada.

“To our recalled posts, get your flights back. Thanks and sorry for the trouble you went through to drive home a point,” Locsin said.

Recall, earlier this month we highlighted the ongoing war between Duterte and Canada.

Canada had previously agreed to take the trash back, but was slow in making arrangements for its return. Duterte threatened to leave the trash in Canadian waters if Ottawa refused to take it back, according to Salvador Panelo, spokesman for the President.

Quoted by RT, Panelo had said Duterte was “upset” by Ottawa’s “inordinate delay” in shipping the garbage back after they missed a May 15 deadline to do so. Officials in the Philippines were even looking to hire a private shipping company to move the waste back to Canada, with Manilla bearing the expenses. 

Duterte warned Canada to “prepare a grand reception” for the trash and said he didn’t care what Canada did with it. He even suggested that Canadians could “eat it” if they wanted to.

Panelo said earlier this month: “Obviously, Canada is not taking this issue nor our country seriously.” He continued, saying that the trash would be dumped in Canada’s territorial waters, or 12 miles from the country’s shore. 

“The Philippines is an independent sovereign nation [and] must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations. We hope this message resonates well with other countries of the world,” Panelo concluded.

The containers had previously been listed as containing plastics intended for recycling, however, upon delivery, the shipment was found to contain newspapers, water bottles, diapers and other trash. Back in April, Duterte had said of the argument: “They have been sending their trash to us. Well, not this time. We will quarrel with each other. So what if we quarrel with Canada? We’ll declare war against them, we can beat them.”

    Jatras: Make No Mistake, Democrats Are ‘Shooting To Kill’ With Impeachment

    Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

    In the wake of Robert Mueller’s calculated handoff of the “Get Trump” portfolio to the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, two things are evident.

    First, President Donald J. Trump is virtually certain to be impeached. That’s manifest despite doddering House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s playing cute for now, seeking to ensure first that “we do want to make such a compelling case, such an ironclad case that even the Republican Senate, which at the time seems to be not an objective jury, will be convinced.” Translation: We don’t have the goods yet, but we expect to.

    Second, like generals proverbially fighting the last war – namely, Republicans’ failed 1998 effort to oust Bill Clinton – many in the GOP have convinced themselves that a Trump impeachment will be unsuccessful and will only hurt the Democrats. Put another way, the Stupid Party once again rises to the occasion. Cue Karl Rove:

    ‘Knowing what they know today, if House Democrats move forward on the impeachment of President Trump, five things will happen.

    ‘First, swing voters will conclude the Democrats are conducting a highly partisan exercise.

    ‘Second, impeachment talk will largely or completely obscure anything else House Democrats will do legislatively. Voters could decide the Democrats are a do-nothing bunch.

    ‘Third, impeachment will play a much larger role in the Democratic presidential primary. The issue of impeachment will obscure the other messages of the Democratic presidential hopefuls and raise the prospect of a backlash against candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who have yet to embrace impeachment.

    Fourth, the Republican Senate will quickly dismiss any impeachment resolution passed by the House, killing the issue.

    ‘And finally, any of the dozens of vulnerable House Democrats in Republican-leaning districts who back impeachment will have given their GOP opponents a big issue.’ [Emphasis added]

    Make no mistake, while the Democrats hope to wound Trump even if the attempt to remove him fails, they are deadly serious that they have a realistic shot at finishing him off. Moreover, they know that removing him by impeachment is a better prospect than beating him at the polls.

    The Democrats are not at all sure about winning in 2020, not least because of the pathetic gaggle of so-called candidates they’ve got to offer. Thus their main goal in pursuing impeachment will not be to weaken Trump for 2020, it is – still – to get him out of the White House.

    That’s because, as was the case in 2016, Trump’s the only GOP candidate who has a shot at winning. The Democrats want a sure thing. Having underestimated him in 2016 they don’t want to roll the dice again. Even though Trump has not turned out to be the transformative president that many of his supporters might have hoped for, he certainly will be the lesser of evils compared to whoever ends up the Democratic nominee. (Spoiler alert: it won’t be Tulsi Gabbard.) Worse from their point of view, he remains a toxic avatar of the old America they thought well and truly laid to rest once and for all. They can’t breathe easy while he remains in office lest he, however unlikely in view of his failures of performance, serve as a catalyst for revival of the historic American nation facing extinction at the hands of certified victim classes.

    Rove refers to the Democrats’ “knowing what they know today,” but Pelosi has made it clear that they intend to know a lot more before they pull the trigger. All the fluff over “obstruction” is just to keep the pot boiling while they get to the real meat and potatoes. Let House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and House Intelligence [sic] Committee Adam Schiff yammer about obstruction while multiple committees and New York state and city prosecutors keep digging: taxes, business skullduggery in New York real estatebabesracism. Remember, they don’t need to find a crime, only something that will give enough Republicans in the Senate an excuse to give Trump the heave-ho.

    Rove says the “Republican Senate will quickly dismiss any impeachment resolution passed by the House.” That’s nonsense, and Rove knows it. The relevant analogue to the upcoming Trump impeachment isn’t Clinton 1998, it’s Richard Nixon 1974. Bill Clinton literally could have raped Juanita Broaddrick in the middle of Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and the Democrats still would have circled the wagons to defend him, as they in fact did, without a single Democratic vote to convict. As it hardly needs be added, the media unanimously supported them.

    Nixon, however, was done in by his own party when Senate GOP leaders told Tricky Dick (loathed by most of his party, as Trump is) that he had to resign or they would vote to remove him. That’s because Republicans are not only the Stupid Party, they’re the Cowardly Party. Depending on what the Democrats dig up on Trump, Republicans can be counted on to see scary editorials in the Washington Post and New York Times and run away in panic: “I’ve always been supportive of the president, but I can’t defend that. So I have no choice but to …”

    Add in the fact that between a quarter and a third of GOP Senators would jump at the chance to put a knife in Trump’s back if they got the opportunity, with prospective Brutus and sanctimonious warmonger Mitt Romney at the front of the line. At the appropriate time, establishment Republican poobahs like Rove will join them, basking in media praise for “putting country above party.”

    Note that this is not a prediction that Trump will be removed, only that his impeachment will not be necessarily the futile exercise some claim because of the GOP majority in the Senate. It’s possible Trump will survive. The Democrats might come up empty on the required dirt. They may fall short of the number of Republicans they need to give him the “Nixon talk.” Even if Trump is given an ultimatum, he may decide, unlike Nixon, to fight – and he might actually win. But don’t take it as a given that impeachment won’t be a serious attempt to remove Trump that will only backfire on the Democrats. It might succeed.

    If it doesn’t, with the advantages of incumbency Trump’s chances of winning reelection are better than even, though the landscape has become less favorable than it was in 2016. His base remains strong (most of his Deplorables think he’s actually delivering on his promises, because he says so in tweets and at his rallies. Look at that big, beautiful invisible nonexistent Wall! Winning!). On the other hand, failure to control our border means the demographic shift against Republicans has continued unabated, coupled with zero efforts to police voting by non-citizens and (notably in Florida) letting felons vote. If Trump loses either Florida or Pennsylvania, it’s probably all over even with a lousy Democratic opponent. That’s aside from whatever economic hiccup might occur between now and next fall. Or if Trump gets us into a war somewhere.

    Finally, let’s note what was the most important substantive message from Mueller’s swan song: Russia! Russia! Russia! Mueller both began and ended his ramble with a denunciation of Russia’s supposed attack on the United States in 2016. Citing Mueller, Ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence [sic] Committee Mark Warner has called for redoubled efforts to pass “legislation that enhances election security, increases social media transparency”: a dog-whistle for the real threat to honest elections: using “Russian bots” and “hate speech” as justification for tech companies’ clampdown on dissent.

    Whatever happens to Trump, our dangerous enmity with Russia is permanent – and possibly passing the point of no return – while erosion of Americans’ freedoms will continue apace.