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Trump demands funding to end border ‘crisis’ in US TV address

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Written by Maritime First

…While Markets buoyed as US-China trade talks extended amid signs of progress***

US President Donald Trump has made his first TV address to the nation from the Oval Office, escalating a stand-off with Congress that has led to an 18-day partial government shutdown.

Mr Trump insisted on funding for his long-promised US-Mexico border wall.

However, he did not declare an emergency that would enable him to bypass the lower house of Congress now controlled by the opposition Democrats.

Democratic leaders accused him of holding the American people hostage.

The Republican president wants $5.7bn (£4.5bn) to build a steel barrier, which would deliver on his signature campaign pledge.

But Democrats – who recently took control of the House of Representatives – are adamantly opposed to giving him the funds.

The ongoing closure of a quarter of federal agencies is the second-longest in history, leaving hundreds of thousands of government workers unpaid.

What did President Trump say?

In an eight-minute address on Tuesday night carried live by all the major US television networks, Mr Trump said the federal government remained shut because of the Democrats.

He said of the situation at the border: “This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.”

Mr Trump said an as-yet-unratified revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement would pay for the wall, a claim previously disputed by economists.

The president also said that 90% of heroin sold in the US came from Mexico, though US government figures make clear all but a small percentage is smuggled through legal points of entry.

Mr Trump correctly pointed out that Democrats have in the past supported a physical barrier.

In 2006, senators Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden voted in favour of 700 miles (1,120km) of fencing on the nearly 2,000-mile border under the Secure Fence Act.

Mr Trump cited cases of American citizens “savagely murdered in cold blood” by undocumented immigrants.

“How much more American blood will be shed before Congress does its job?” he asked.

On Wednesday, he will seek to stiffen the resolve of fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill before hosting congressional leaders for talks at the White House.

Mr Trump heads to the south-western border on Thursday.

How did Democrats respond?

In a brief rebuttal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer demanded that Mr Trump end the shutdown.

Mrs Pelosi said: “The fact is the women and children at the border are not a security threat, they are a humanitarian challenge.”

The California congresswoman added: “And the fact is President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.”

Mr Schumer accused Mr Trump of trying to “govern by temper tantrum”.

“President Trump has appealed to fear, not facts. Division, not unity,” the New York senator said.

He concluded: “The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.”

Democrats argue that maintenance of existing border fencing, hi-tech tools to scan vehicles crossing at ports of entry, and hiring more personnel would be cheaper and more effective than a wall.

In the meantime, the United States and China continued trade talks in Beijing for an unscheduled third day amid signs of progress on issues including purchases of US farm and energy commodities and increased access to China’s markets.

The talks went “just fine” said Ted McKinney, US under secretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, without giving further details. The US delegation heads home on Wednesday night.

McKinney’s upbeat assessment comes after US president Donald Trumptweeted on Tuesday evening that “Talks with China are going very well!”

People familiar with the talks said the world’s two largest economies remained divided on Chinese structural reforms the Trump administration was demanding in order to stop alleged theft and forced transfer of US technology and on how to hold Beijing to its promises.

Hopes that the US and China would strike a deal, ending their months-long trade deal led to an index of world stocks rising on Tuesday, while the dollar, which hit an 11-week low on Monday, rebounded as the euro weakened on concerns about a slowdown in the euro zone economy.

This week’s meetings are the first face-to-face talks since Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping agreed in December to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has roiled global financial markets.

If no deal is reached by 2 March, Trump has said he will proceed with raising tariffs to 25% from 10% on $200bn worth of Chinese imports at a time when China’s economy is slowing significantly.

Trade and concerns over slowing economic growth triggered a selloff at the end of 2018 that culminated in Wall Street posting its worst monthly performance in about a decade in December, driving down earnings estimates and stock valuations.

The editor-in-chief of China’s state-run Global Times tabloid, Hu Xijin, said on Twitter earlier that the extension of the talks, originally scheduled for two days, “sends a signal. The two sides are in serious talks and working hard to solve the disagreements between them.”

In what is widely seen as a goodwill gesture, China on Tuesday issued long-awaited approvals for the import of five genetically modified crops, which could boost its purchases of US grains as farmers decide which crops to plant in the spring.

On Monday, Chinese importers made another large purchase of US soybeans, their third in the past month.

Increased purchases by China of US soybeans, oil, liquefied natural gas and financial services are viewed as easier to achieve than major changes to China’s industrial policies aimed at transferring US technology to Chinese firms.

“Overall the talks have been constructive. Our sense is that there’s good progress on the purchase piece,” said one person familiar with the talks. The person added that it was more difficult to determine how to hold China to its commitments to better protect intellectual property.

Scott Kennedy, director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the two sides for the first time were discussing topics that matter most to the Trump administration. These include expanded Chinese purchases of American products, greater protections for US intellectual property, constraints on Chinese industrial policy, and enforcement and verification of follow-through by China.

“The minimum baseline for judging whether this week is a success is whether they can have an in-depth conversation on those areas,” Kennedy said, adding that an announcement of another round of talks would be a positive outcome.

BBC with additional report from Guardian UK

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Maritime First