Most Asia shares inch up as signals on trade talks awaited

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares edged up on Thursday on a weaker dollar and hopes of more economic stimulus in China, but many stocks seesawed as markets awaited some details on this week’s U.S.-China trade talks amid hopes an all-out trade war can be averted.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.2 percent, hovering at a near four-week high, helped by a fall for the dollar.

Japan’s Nikkei closed 1.3 percent lower.

European stocks are expected to open lower. Spread-betters looked for Britain’s FTSE to be 0.2 percent lower, France’s CAC off 0.5 percent and Germany’s DAX down 0.4 percent.

Wall Street’s S&P 500 rose 0.41 percent on Wednesday, extending its gains from 20-month lows touched around Christmas to more than 10 percent.(Asian stock markets: tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4)

But E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 were down half a percent.

Weak Chinese inflation data raised the prospect of further government stimulus but China’s blue-chip CSI 300 went back into the red, losing 0.2 percent, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng struggled to maintain a small gain.

Delegations from China and the United States ended three days of trade talks in Beijing on Wednesday in the first face-to-face negotiations since both sides agreed to a 90-day truce in their trade war.

China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday the talks were extensive, and helped establish a foundation for the resolution of each others’ concerns.

However, there were few concrete details on the meetings, which were not at a ministerial level, so were not expected to produce a deal to end the trade war.

Risk assets extended a days-long rally overnight after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s December meeting showed that many policymakers believed they could be patient about future U.S. monetary tightening, while a few did not support the central bank’s rate increase last month.

WEAK CHINA DATA

Figures out of China on Thursday showed the country’s consumer prices and factory-gate inflation both increased less than expected in December, with the latter rising at the slowest pace in over two years.

The pace of month-on-month increases in factory-gate inflation declined for a second straight time.

“If this trend persists, it may turn negative on year-on-year terms this year and more radical stimulus measures, such as benchmark interest rate cuts, may become possible,” said Betty Wang, senior China economist at ANZ Research.

Oil also caught investors’ attention after U.S. crude and Brent jumped overnight, helped by optimism that Sino-U.S. trade tensions are easing, while OPEC-led crude output cuts also provided support.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures on Wednesday gained almost 5.2 percent, while Brent crude futures rose more than 4.6 percent, extending a rally that has pushed futures up about 14 percent this year.

Both benchmarks gave up some of their recent gains on Thursday. U.S. crude was last trading 59 cents lower at $51.76 a barrel, down 1.15 percent. Brent lost 57 cents to $60.87, off 0.93 percent.

Chris Weston, Melbourne-based head of research at foreign exchange brokerage Pepperstone, said he viewed more gains in oil prices as a key driver for any further rise in risk appetite.

If U.S. crude futures can break through the $55 level, “you’re going to see real yields probably lower. That’s really good for the cost of money and taking some further headwinds out of the U.S. dollar,” he said.

U.S. Treasury yields last stood at 2.699 percent, down from 2.710 percent at the U.S. close on Wednesday.

The dollar remained on the defensive after hitting its lowest level since mid-October amid the signs Fed policymakers are becoming more cautious about future rate hikes and as investors unwound safe-haven bets due to optimism over the trade talks.

The yuan strengthened, breaching the key 6.8 per dollar level for the first time since August in both onshore and offshore trade.

The greenback was down a tenth of a percent against the euro at $1.1556. The single currency gained 0.9 percent against the dollar during the previous session, its biggest one-day gain since late June.

Against a basket of six major rivals, the dollar briefly dipped to 95.029, its lowest since Oct. 16, and was last down 0.1 percent.

The dollar lost 0.2 percent against the yen, a safe-haven currency that’s often preferred by traders during times of market and economic stress.

The Canadian dollar retreated in line with oil prices, and last traded down 0.2 percent at C$1.3232. It had risen to a five-week high during the previous session.

The Bank of Canada held interest rates steady as expected on Wednesday but said more increases would be necessary even though low oil prices and a weak housing market will harm the economy in the short term.

In commodity markets, spot gold was 0.2 percent higher at $1,296.40, edging towards a near seven-month peak of $1.298,60 scaled on Friday.

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Smurfit Jnr’s Gan in US expansion with PaddyPower Betfair’s FanDuel

Dermot Smurfit Jr’s Gan has entered a “material” long-term deal with the FanDuel Group.

FanDuel is PaddyPower Betfair’s enlarged US business.

Under the deal, Gan will provide FanDuel’s platform for its “rapid” deployment of internet casino and account services for internet sports betting in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

This is in addition to the existing services provided by Gan to FanDuel in New Jersey.

As part of the five year contract expansion FanDuel has agreed to license Gan’s US patent.

Gan’s technology allows land-based casino patrons enrolled in on-property loyalty programs to link existing loyalty cards to internet gambling accounts and receive loyalty points in exchange for online gambling.

The expanded contract represents a material increase in the value of the partnership to Gan across revenue share, professional services and patent licensing fees, a statement from Mr Smurfit’s group said.

“The contract extension combined with US patent licensing represents a significant milestone in Gan’s US evolution and reinforces our view that in the heavily regulated US online gambling market, effective and compliant ‘platforms’ are a premium component of the supply chain rather than a commodity,” Mr Smurfit said.

“Gan is therefore very well placed to capitalise on the growth in US online gambling markets in terms of new operator clients, new States and underlying growth momentum,” he added.

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M&S and Debenhams suffer sales fall over crucial Christmas period

While both retailers blamed heavy discounting, Black Friday and a challenging November for a decline in sales – supermarket giant Tesco and department store chain John Lewis Partnership had a bumper festive trading period.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said retailers have had the worst Christmas in a decade, as retail sales growth flatlined in December. The latest batch of trading numbers from M&S, Debenhams, Tesco and John Lewis show the high street has clear winners and losers.

Debenhams chief executive Sergio Bucher said it was the “best possible outcome” in an uncertain time.

“We responded to a significant increase in promotional activity in the market, particularly in key seasonal categories, in order to remain competitive for our customer,” Mr Bucher said.

“We have taken decisive steps to maintain rigorous cost and capital discipline, and I am grateful to my colleagues for their hard work as we maintain a rapid pace of change.”

Debenhams saw gross transactions fall 3.8% in the six weeks to January 5. Comparable sales in the UK were 3.6% lower than last year due to weak store footfall.

Marks & Spencer, in the midst of closing stores, said it was seeing “encouraging early signs” despite further falls in clothing and food sales over its Christmas quarter.

The retail bellwether said like-for-like clothing and home sales dropped 2.4% over the 13 weeks to 29 December, while comparable food sales fell 2.1%.

M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said: “Against the backdrop of well-publicised difficult market conditions, our performance remained steady across the period.

“Our food business traded successfully over Christmas as customers responded to improved value.

“Our transformation programme remains on track.”

However, Tesco posted a 2.2% rise in UK like-for-like sales over the festive period – beating expectations.

Its the last and biggest supermarket chain to deliver its trading update and unlike smaller rival Sainsbury’s, which saw its sales decline amid “cautious customer spending”, said it outperformed the market in food, clothing and general merchandise. The fourth biggest supermarket Morrisons reported a 0.6% rise in sales.

Aldi, together with fellow discounter Lidl, which have shaken up the sector said on Monday it has enjoyed its best ever festive period with sales of nearly £1bn.

And the John Lewis Partnership, Britain’s biggest department store operator, said sales rose 1.4% to £2.2bn in the seven weeks to 5 January.

Although it had a strong Christmas, the retailer warned profits would be “substantially” lower this year.

“We continue to expect full year total Partnership profits to be substantially lower this year, driven by slower sales growth over the year and margin pressure in John Lewis & Partners along with higher costs,” the company said.

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Fiat Chrysler to pay more than $700 million over U.S. diesel emissions claims: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCHA.MI) will pay more than $700 million to resolve lawsuits from the U.S. Justice Department and diesel owners over claims it used illegal software to allow 104,000 diesel vehicles to emit excess emissions, three people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.

Fiat Chrysler will pay $311 million in penalties to the Justice Department, at least $75 million to states investigating the excess emissions and additional funds to offset excess emissions. It will also pay $280 million to settle a lawsuit by owners, the sources said.

Fiat Chrysler has denied any wrongdoing and previously said there was never an attempt to create software to cheat emissions rules. In October, the company set aside 713 million euros ($815 million) to cover potential costs related to the case.

Separately, Robert Bosch GmbH [ROBG.UL], a German auto supplier that made some components for the Fiat Chrysler diesel engines, is expected to announce it will settle suits from U.S. owners for $30 million, one source said.

The settlements are set to be announced on Thursday at the Justice Department. Fiat Chrysler, Bosch and the Justice Department declined to comment.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a media advisory Wednesday that said it would make an “announcement of a significant civil action to address cheating on federal auto-emissions tests.”

The Justice Department sued Fiat Chrysler in May 2017, accusing the company of illegally using software that led to excess emissions in 104,000 U.S. diesel vehicles from the 2014-2016 model years.

Fiat Chrysler won approval from U.S. regulators in July 2017 to sell diesel vehicles with updated software. The company has repeatedly said it hoped to use that software to address agencies’ concerns over the 2014-2016 vehicles.

Owners of those vehicles are expected to get up to around $3,000 each for completing the software updates, the sources said.

The Justice Department in 2017 said Fiat Chrysler used auxiliary emissions controls in diesel vehicles that led to “substantially” higher than allowable levels of nitrogen oxide, or NOx pollution, which is linked to smog formation and respiratory problems.

U.S. and California regulators stepped up scrutiny of diesel vehicles after Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) admitted in 2015 to illegally installing software in U.S. vehicles for years to evade emissions standards.

VW has agreed to pay more than $25 billion in the United States for claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers. U.S. regulators have also been probing diesel emissions in Daimler AG’s (DAIGn.DE) U.S. Mercedes Benz vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler still faces an ongoing criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

Fiat Chrysler sells two U.S. diesel models and plans to add two new Jeep SUV diesel models by 2020.

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In Beijing talks, U.S. seeks details on Chinese goods purchases, trade promises

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials used three days of trade talks in Beijing to demand more details on China’s pledge to make big purchases of American goods, as well as to push for ways to hold China to any commitments on changes to industrial policies.

The meetings in China were the first face-to-face negotiations since U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Buenos Aires in December and agreed a 90-day truce in a trade war that has disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods.

Washington has presented Beijing with a long list of demands that would rewrite the terms of trade between the world’s two largest economies. They include changes to China’s policies on intellectual property protection, technology transfers, industrial subsidies and other non-tariff barriers to trade.

Some 40 days into the 90-day truce, there were few concrete details on progress made so far. The meetings in Beijing were not at a ministerial level, so were not expected to produce a deal to end the trade war.

U.S. and Chinese officials discussed “ways to achieve fairness, reciprocity and balance in trade relations,” the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said in a statement.

“The talks also focused on China’s pledge to purchase a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured, and other products and services from the United States,” the USTR said.

China made that pledge after the Xi-Trump meeting in Buenos Aires, when U.S. officials said China would start buying immediately. But aside from some soybean purchases, there has been little sign of big-ticket acquisitions.

In December, top Trump administration officials had said the trade commitments amounted to $1.2 trillion, but did not specify the composition or time period.

Those purchases would help meet another key demand from Trump: that China take action to reduce the massive U.S. trade deficit with its biggest economic rival.

Related Coverage

  • China says trade talks with U.S. were deep, extensiveChina says trade talks with U.S. were deep, extensive

Big spending on commodities and goods would send a positive signal on China’s intent to work with the United States, but would do nothing to resolve the U.S. demands that require difficult structural change from China.

It is unclear how much progress on those issues negotiators can make in 90 days, nor how much progress Trump would want to see to stop him from further escalating the trade war. The issues at play have soured the wider U.S.-China relationship for years.

At stake are scheduled U.S. tariff increase on $200 billion in Chinese imports. Trump has said he would increase those duties to 25 percent from 10 percent currently if no deal is reached by March 2, and has threatened to tax all imports from China if Beijing fails to cede to U.S. demands.

Beijing has said it will not give up ground on issues it conceives as core. China will not make any “unreasonable concessions” and any agreement must involve compromise on both sides, the China Daily, a state newspaper, said on Wednesday.

The paper said in an editorial that the dispute harms both countries and disrupts the international trade order and supply chains.

NOTHING IN THE DIARY

No schedule for further face-to-face negotiations was released after the talks, and USTR said the American delegation was returning to Washington to report on the meetings and “to receive guidance on the next steps,” USTR said.

One of the biggest challenges to any deal would be to ensure that China enforces whatever is agreed to stop technology transfers, intellectual property theft and hacking of U.S. computer networks.

The USTR said officials broached those topics and discussed the need for any agreement to include “complete implementation subject to ongoing verification and effective enforcement.”

U.S. officials have long complained that China has failed to live up to trade promises, often citing Beijing’s pledges to resume imports of American beef that took more than a decade to implement.

Derek Scissors, a China scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, said there was still time for a deal to be struck, but it will largely be based on American acceptance of Chinese promises for changes to its economic model, with little evidence of action.

“What really matters here is what enforcements will the U.S. have when the Chinese don’t follow through,” Scissors said, adding that this would need to entail a threat to reimpose tariffs by a certain date.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox Business Network the administration expects the ongoing negotiations to prove fruitful and that the administration’s complaints about Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property were “top of mind” in the negotiations with Beijing.

Stocks rallied globally on the positive tone of the talks and optimism that Washington and Beijing can avert an all-out trade war. [MKTS/GLOB]

Companies in both the United States and China are feeling the pain from the effects of the U.S.-China trade dispute. Apple Inc (AAPL.O) rattled global markets last week when it cut its sales outlook, blaming weak demand in China.

China’s Commerce Ministry, the lead agency on its side of the table, was silent after the conclusion of the talks, but was expected to address outcomes at its regular weekly news briefing on Thursday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, speaking to reporters before the talks ended, confirmed that talks were extended for an unscheduled third day, saying this “shows that the two sides were indeed very serious in conducting the consultations.”

Speaking after the conclusion of the talks, Ted McKinney, the U.S. under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, told reporters in Beijing that he thought they “went just fine.” He added: “It’s been a good one for us.”

TARIFF REMOVAL

The U.S. China Business Council, a group representing American companies doing business in China, applauded the “substantive discussions” over the past three days, but urged the two governments to make tangible progress on achieving equal treatment of foreign companies in China and changes to policies aimed at technology transfer.

The group also urged the removal of U.S. tariffs when China delivers on its promises.

“Removal of these tariffs must be a priority, to address the damage that has been done to American companies that depend on trade with China, and to the U.S. economy as a whole,” the group said.

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Leonie Gardens seeks to go en bloc again at $800m

Leonie Gardens joins a growing list of die-hard sellers trying their luck to go en bloc in the new year.

The prime District 9 condominium in Leonie Hill, whose collective sales agreement expires in May, relaunched its tender for a second time at the same reserve price of $800 million last month. The tender closes on Jan 22 at 3pm.

The 138-unit condo first launched for sale in May last year, and that tender closed without a bid on June 21.

“We held off relaunching until December because of a lack of interest after the July 6 cooling measures. But since then, developers have had time to see how the new launches fared and how prices are holding up,” said Mr Vijay Chopra, chairman of the Leonie Gardens collective sale committee.

Asked why the condo was relaunched at the same price, he said: “The owners are willing to accept a lower price but we don’t know what that price should be. We don’t want to go through the process of lowering the reserve price without knowing first what the developers are willing to offer.”

At the guide price of $800 million, each owner stands to get between $4.3 million and $10.2 million.

The reserve price translates to $2,104 per square foot based on existing gross floor area, or $2,021 per sq ft per plot ratio if a 10 per cent balcony space is included, subject to approval.

Leonie Gardens has 70-plus years remaining on its 99-year lease, according to marketing agent Huttons Asia. The project sits on a total strata area of 324,972.90 sq ft and has a gross floor area of 410,431.80 sq ft.

ENOUGH TIME FOR PRIVATE TREATY

Even if we don’t get bids this time round, we still have time to do a private treaty.

MR VIJAY CHOPRA, chairman of the Leonie Gardens collective sale committee.

As the site is located within the Central Area, it is not subject to an average unit size of 85 sq m, which will allow the developer to build smaller units and keep the quantum palatable for potential buyers.

Huttons says it can be developed into 544 condominium units of about 70 sq m each, or 380 condominium units of about 100 sq m each.

The site is zoned residential, with a plot ratio of 2.8. Subject to approval, it is possible to have a 10 per cent balcony space added, increasing the area to 449,031.63 sq ft.

No development charge is payable as its existing baseline is above the current plot ratio of 2.8. But a development charge of about $44 million will be levied if the additional 10 per cent balcony space is utilised.

Other developments in the same district that have been put up for collective sale include the 211-unit, 99-year leasehold Horizon Towers in Leonie Hill Road, which relaunched its collective sale tender at a $1.1 billion reserve price, unchanged from its attempt last July.

That round closed in September without any bids. Its new tender closes on Jan 28 at 3pm.

Other sites in District 9 that were put up for collective sale last year, and for which there were no takers, include The Regalia in River Valley and Elizabeth Tower in Mount Elizabeth.

“Even if we don’t get bids this time round, we still have time to do a private treaty,” said Mr Vijay, who owns more than one unit at Leonie Gardens, including a penthouse.

“We are located at the highest point in the Orchard area, and near the upcoming Great World MRT and Orchard Boulevard MRT (stations). We are ideal for any developer who wants exposure to the prime district,” he added.

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GM workers protest at Oshawa plant in Canada, interrupting output

TORONTO (Reuters) – Workers at General Motors Co assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario staged a sit-down protest that interrupted production for about two hours on Wednesday morning, a union spokeswoman said, following a similar protest late on Tuesday.

The action came after Unifor, the union representing the autoworkers, failed to win GM’s support for its proposals to save the plant. Unifor, which has vowed to block GM’s plan to close Oshawa by the end of 2019, met with GM officials in Detroit on Tuesday.

“Workers are now returning to the line with production expected to resume shortly,” Unifor spokeswoman Kathleen O’Keefe said. While production was affected for approximately two hours, a full shut-down was intermittent.

On Tuesday night, production stopped for nearly five hours after workers downed their tools, the union said.

It was unclear if a second shift on Wednesday would interrupt production and what impact the protests had on output.

The Oshawa plant closure, which GM has said would affect 2,973 assembly-line jobs, was announced in November as part of a broad restructuring aimed at cutting costs as investments increase in electric and autonomous vehicles.

GM has also not allocated new products for four U.S. plants, raising the possibility of their closure and the elimination of a total of about 15,000 jobs in North America.

Oshawa, which produces GM’s Chevrolet Impala, Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, has the capacity to produce 310,000 vehicles, but its 2018 utilization was just 22 percent, according to LMC Automotive.

“We understand our union’s frustration, but need to now work together to deliver supports, transition and training for our employees,” said GM spokesman David Paterson.

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Stocks boosted by U.S.-China trade hope, oil prices soar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stocks around the world extended recent gains and oil prices jumped on Wednesday on optimism the United States and China may be inching toward a trade deal, soothing fears of an all-out trade war and its possible impact on global growth.

Heightened risk appetite boosted U.S. Treasury yields to the highest this year, while the U.S. dollar extended losses after minutes from a Dec. 18-19 Federal Reserve policy meeting showed many Fed policymakers said the central bank could be patient on future rate hikes.

Delegations from China and the U.S. ended talks in Beijing on Wednesday amid signs of progress on issues including purchases of U.S. farm and energy commodities and increased access to China’s markets.

China has pledged to purchase “a substantial amount” of agricultural, energy and manufactured goods and services from the United States, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said on Wednesday.

MSCI’s all-country index .MIWD00000PUS climbed 1.03 percent for a fourth day of gains.

That added to advances since last week in equity markets around the world, following a strong U.S. employment report and comments from the Federal Reserve chief that calmed worries U.S. interest rate hikes would hurt growth.

A range of Fed policymakers said last month they could be patient about future interest rate increases and a few did not support the central bank’s rate increase that month, minutes from their Dec. 18-19 policy meeting showed.

On Wednesday, a clutch of Fed officials said they would be cautious about any further increases in interest rates so the central bank could assess growing risks to an otherwise-solid U.S. economic outlook.

The U.S. stock market was supported by advances by technology and other trade-sensitive sectors. The benchmark S&P 500 .SPX index is up by about 10 percent from 20-month lows hit around Christmas.

“If you want to gauge how investors are viewing the trade talks, just watch tech, and semiconductors in particular,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Wealth Advisors in Chicago.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 91.67 points, or 0.39 percent, to close at 23,879.12, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 10.55 points, or 0.41 percent, to end at 2,584.96 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 60.08 points, or 0.87 percent, to finish at 6,957.08.

The pan-European STOXX 600 benchmark closed up 0.53 percent, its highest close in nearly four weeks.

Oil prices jumped, helped by the hopes of easing trade tensions between China and the U.S., while OPEC-led crude output cuts also provided support.

Brent crude LCOc1 futures rose $2.72 to settle at $61.44 a barrel, a 4.6 percent gain. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures rose $2.58 to settle at $52.36 a barrel, a 5.2 percent gain.

The dollar tumbled to its lowest level since October after the Fed expressed caution about future rate hikes, and as investors reduced safe-haven bets due to optimism about U.S.-China trade talks.

“It will probably be mid-year before the Fed excites hike prospects again,” said Joseph Trevisani, senior analyst at FXStreet.com in New York.

U.S. Treasury yields climbed to the highest this year, helped by improved risk appetite, but retreated following dovish commentary from Fed speakers and a strong 10-year note auction.

Benchmark 10-year notes US10YT=RR were last down 2/32 in price to yield 2.7225 percent after earlier rising to 2.747 percent, the highest since Dec. 28.

Gold prices rose on Wednesday, with spot gold XAU= up 0.68 percent to $1,293.65 per ounce.

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May's Brexit deal is 'dead' – says DUP's Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Mrs May’s Brexit deal is “dead”.

She told the BBC: “We would prefer if the backstop disappeared, what we’ve been presented with is a narrative and doesn’t add anything.”

Ms Foster added: “We told Theresa May to stop wasting time last November, she is still not listening and she is going to put a plan to Parliament that is dead.”

The SUP leader spoke as it was reported today that the Northern Ireland Assembly would have the power to veto new EU rules if the so-called backstop came into effect post-Brexit under proposals published by the British government.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is desperately seeking to build support for her Brexit deal ahead of a Westminster vote on the Withdrawal Agreement next week.

The backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland is the main sticking point with Brexit-supporting MPs fearing it would lock the UK into EU rules indefinitely.

The proposals published today are designed to allay concerns over the backstop but they were rejected early by Northern Ireland’s DUP, who Mrs May’s government relies on to stay in power.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson dismissed the document as “window-dressing” and a “meaningless piece of paper” insisting the backstop “has to go”.

Earlier British Cabinet Office minister David Lidington Mrs May’s de facto deputy said the measures in the document “make clear the continuing place of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market”

He added that the proposals “give the Northern Ireland Assembly – when, as we all hope, it is reconstituted and working again – a veto over introducing any new areas of law and policy into that backstop”.

Under the British government’s plans the Assembly – which collapsed almost two years ago amid a row between the DUP and Sinn Féin – would have a “strong role” if the backstop is ever triggered.

If a comprehensive EU/UK trade deal is not sealed by the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020, there would be a legally-binding commitment to “consult” with Stormont before deciding to either enter the backstop or ask for an extension of the Implementation Period.

The view of the Northern Ireland Assembly would then be presented to Parliament in Westminster before MPs took a final decision on the issue.

If the backstop does come into effect, the British Government said the Stormont Assembly and Executive would then be given a strong oversight role in its operation.

If the EU proposed changing any laws that impacted the operating of the backstop, the UK would have to consent to such a measure applying to Northern Ireland and the British Government has now committed to seek the agreement of the Assembly before signing off on any such change.

There was a cautious response to the proposals.

Leo Varadkar has said it would not be acceptable for Northern Ireland to have a veto over conditions attached to the backstop.

Speaking in Ethiopia, Mr Varadkar said he had not been fully briefed on the position paper published by the British government today which indicated Stormont would be given a veto over new EU laws if the so-called backstop is triggered.

“The existing Irish protocol does provide for an input by the Northern Ireland Assembly already but I don’t think we could have a situation whereby the Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly had a veto power because that would essentially give one of the two communities a veto power over the other and that would create a difficulty,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the people of Northern Ireland want to avoid a hard border which the current agreement provides for and said ratification for that deal is being sought now.

He said he did not have prior sight of the document before it was published but was given an indication some commitments would be made.

“They did indicate to us some weeks or months ago that they may make some unilateral commitments to Northern Ireland that would not contravene the Withdrawal Agreement but I didn’t have prior sight of what was published today,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he was supportive of an amendment proposed in the House of Commons today that would give the Uk parliament a chance to vote on triggering the backstop or extending the transition period if a trade deal has not been reached by 2020.

He said Ireland was happy with the proposal and had previously discussed it with the UK government.

“We are happy with parliament making that decision because either way it means there will be no hard border and that’s fundamentally the red line that we stand over,” he said.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and wife MacKenzie to divorce

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, and wife MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing after 25 years of marriage, the couple said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Jeff Bezos, 54, has a fortune that has soared as high as $160 billion thanks to his stake in Amazon, which again became Wall Street’s most valuable company this week, surpassing Microsoft Inc.

Bezos has credited MacKenzie, 48, for her support when he uprooted the young couple from New York to Seattle so he could launch the online bookseller that grew into one of the world’s largest retailers. MacKenzie, a Princeton graduate who is now a novelist, did accounting for Amazon for its first year after it was founded in 1994.

The couple decided to divorce after a long period of “loving exploration” and trial separation, and expect to continue as partners in joint ventures and projects, according to the joint statement.

Reuters was unable to determine any further financial details of the planned divorce.

Amazon did not immediately return requests for comment about the status of the Bezos ownership stake or what impact the divorce might have on the company.

MacKenzie Bezos met her husband when interviewing for a job at a New York hedge fund, according to a 2013 profile in Vogue. The two were engaged after three months of dating and married three months after that, according to the magazine. The pair have four children.

Speaking at an event in Berlin last April, Jeff Bezos said MacKenzie’s support was instrumental when he founded Amazon in 1994, and that she did the accounting for the company in its first year.

“When you have loving and supportive people in your life, like MacKenzie, my parents, my grandfather, my grandmother, you end up being able to take risks,” he said at the event.

Jeff Bezos in September committed $2 billion through the Bezos Day One Fund to helping homeless families and starting pre-schools for low-income communities. He had solicited ideas on Twitter in 2017 for ways to donate some of his wealth.

Last January, the couple donated $33 million to fund college scholarships for U.S. high schoolers with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, an Obama-era program protecting young immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents.

In 2012, they donated $2.5 million to a Washington state campaign to legalize same-sex nuptials there.

Amazon shares were down 0.2 percent in midday trading on Wednesday. The divorce should have no material impact on the company and its shares, said Thomas Forte, an analyst at DA Davidson & Co.

From modest beginnings, Amazon branched out into almost every product category, taking on established retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Under Bezos, Amazon launched the Kindle e-reader and revolutionized the way books are distributed and read. The company has also been a pioneer in cloud computing.

In November, Amazon picked America’s financial and political capitals for massive new offices, branching out from its home base in Seattle with plans to create more than 25,000 jobs in both New York City and just outside Washington, D.C.

Jeff Bezos also founded space company Blue Origin in 2000, and is funneling $1 billion a year of his own fortune into pulling it out of start-up mode and into production.

He also owns the Washington Post, which has been a target of criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump.

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