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Trade Talks Resume at Pivotal Moment in U.S.-China Relations

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WASHINGTON—Senior U.S. and Chinese officials will square off for trade talks Thursday at a pivotal moment in the countries’ relationship, with higher tariffs looming if negotiators fail to break a five-month stalemate.

The backdrop for the talks has become more complicated. What started as a U.S. assault on Chinese trading practices has become muddied by other issues, from China’s repression of its Muslim minorities to the possible impeachment of President Trump.

“I don’t have high expectations for these talks,” said

Sen. Marco Rubio,

a Florida Republican who has urged a tough approach to Beijing. “What we’re going through here is not just a trade dispute but a much-needed rebalancing in our relationship.”

U.S. business leaders are worried about the long-term implications of an unending trade war. Large companies fear losing access to China, the world’s largest consumer market, while small businesses in particular are chafing under 25% U.S. tariffs on many Chinese imports.

“These tariffs have been a major, major challenge for us,” said

Deepa Gandhi,

chief operating officer of the New York-based handbag company Dagne Dover. “It would be great if we could focus on growing and building our business instead of mitigating tariffs.”

Wall Street is on edge, with markets moving on news that could affect trade talks, such as the U.S. blacklisting this week of Chinese companies and entities linked to the Muslim crackdown.

There are troubling economic signs. An index of U.S. manufacturing showed the lowest reading in more than 10 years for September.

Few believe the U.S. and China will agree to a comprehensive trade accord this week. “It’s unrealistic to think we’re going to solve all the issues in one go—we have too many issues,” said

Craig Allen,

president of the U.S.-China Business Council.

Yet Mr. Allen is hopeful for a “cessation of hostilities,” including halting new U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods—which are paid by U.S. importers and consumers—and the start of serious negotiations toward an accord.

Most Democrats back a tough approach to China, but many have criticized Mr. Trump’s tactics and reliance on tariffs.

Sen. Maria Cantwell

(D., Wash.) said it is “clear from the latest report on U.S. manufacturing that the tariff-first approach on trade is hurting the United States.”

China has been stepping up purchases of American soybeans, buying 1.5 million metric tons in the last week of September alone. Business groups hope farm purchases will give the Trump administration at least one reason to delay new tariffs.

The high-level talks are scheduled for Thursday and Friday, with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and other senior Beijing officials squaring off against U.S. trade representative

Robert Lighthizer

and Treasury Secretary

Steven Mnuchin.

Lower-level officials have been meeting this week to lay the groundwork, and the Chinese delegation is working to secure a meeting between Mr. Liu and President Trump, according to one person briefed on the situation. Opponents of tariffs hope the officials can find ways that Mr. Trump and Chinese President

Xi Jinping

can ratchet back tensions at an expected meeting next month at a summit of world leaders in Chile.

Last weekend, U.S.-China relations were further strained by a tweet from the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team supporting the Hong Kong democracy movement, leading to the cancellation of NBA events in China this week.

China is looking to narrow the scope of its negotiations with the U.S. to trade matters only and put thornier issues—such as U.S. national security concerns over Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co.—on a separate track in a bid to break the deadlock.

Chen Wenling,

chief economist at Beijing-based think tank China Center for International Economic Exchanges, said that because the Chinese market needs agricultural products Beijing is willing to buy from the U.S., although she doesn’t think purchases will return to pre-trade-war levels unless the U.S. removes all its tariffs.

She described Beijing’s hope for a “phased deal” under which the two sides agree on some things in the short term.

“To achieve a phased deal, the U.S. needs at least to take away some tariffs,” she said.

For its part, China is buying farm products, opening up its financial sector and cracking down on fentanyl trafficking in the hopes these actions will appease Washington, she said.

But Mr. Trump has insisted the deal must include long-term measures aimed at leveling the playing field between U.S. and Chinese companies, including limiting the forced transfer of technology and curbing subsidies by the Chinese government and advantages enjoyed by government-controlled businesses.

The trade war with China is putting a strain on the U.S. agriculture industry. WSJ’s Jason Bellini sat down with a group of farmers from the corn, beef, soybean, and dairy industries to hear how tariffs are affecting their businesses.

The president’s hardball tactics, including escalating tariffs and the blacklisting of Chinese companies, have led to pressure from Republican political donors and lawmakers close to businesses and farmers who have suffered retaliation from China.

Business groups want Mr. Trump abandon plans to raise tariffs to 30%, which is set to happen Oct. 15. They also want him to drop plans to impose new tariffs of 15% on $156 billion in smartphones, apparel and other consumer goods starting Dec. 15.

Some of Mr. Trump’s supporters are pushing for a resolution. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has pointedly noted how the trade war has been “very tough” on American farmers—a key Republican constituency—and GOP megadonor

Sheldon Adelson

called Mr. Trump in August to warn about the China conflict’s impact on the economy and his election prospects.

Economists worry that the tariffs and uncertainty about the trade war could trigger or exacerbate an economic contraction in the U.S. as global growth slows.

“The public wants a deal,”

Sen. Chuck Grassley

(R., Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Wednesday. “Taking some of this uncertainty out is necessary to move us along on the agreement and to keep the economy strong, which is the bulwark of his re-election.”

Some business groups are pushing for a partial agreement to halt tariffs, but Mr. Grassley said U.S. negotiators appear to be aiming for a grand bargain that requires structural changes to China’s economy, although such a pact may fail to rein in Beijing’s subsidies for Chinese companies.

“I hope we don’t settle for some bad deal, some short-term thing in which we agree to some smaller items in exchange for going back to where it was,” Mr. Rubio said in an interview.

Asked Monday if the administration was heading toward a partial deal with China, Mr. Trump said, “I think it’s not what we prefer at all.”

Previous attempts to clinch a limited deal failed after criticism from Democratic politicians as well as hawkish GOP voices in Mr. Trump’s camp.

The potential impeachment of Mr. Trump has also clouded prospects for a pact, with observers saying the possible removal of Mr. Trump from office might give China an incentive to bide its time.

Mr. Trump dragged China into the impeachment debate last week by asking Beijing to investigate Democratic presidential candidate

Joe Biden

and his son—an awkward request that could call into question the merits of any trade deal reached with China.

“Very few expected a comprehensive deal, but with the additional scrutiny, it would frame any sort of deal involving concessions as politically motivated,” said

Jason Miller,

a former Trump communications aide who now advises companies.

China has presented the trade war as a long-term confrontation that must be endured, at least for now.

“The America side seems very interested in a deal, and yet is demanding a good, strong deal,” said the U.S.-China Business Council’s Mr. Allen. “The Chinese side seems to be strengthening their position, and they are prepared for a long-term economic disagreement with the United States.”

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AI, digital marketing key skills to boost growth, IT News, ET CIO

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New Delhi, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), digital marketing and design thinking are the top skills that organisations will need to focus on to drive future growth, according to a new study.

Despite the increased awareness around upskilling, the survey by ed-tech company Great Learning found that 47 per cent of the companies surveyed have still not assigned budgets for upskilling their workforce.

“The technology skill gap among employees is one of the biggest challenges that organisations in India are beset with,” Hari Krishnan Nair, Co-founder, Great Learning, said in a statement.

“Skilled employees will continue to be the biggest asset for any organization going ahead and while options like lateral hiring and outsourcing may help in the short term, from a cost and effectiveness point of view, upskilling is the best way to stay competitive in the long run,” Nair said.

As per the survey, that involved more than 300 companies ranging from small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) to large organisations, 25 per cent of all companies believe AI and ML are the most crucial skills needed to ensure an organisation’s future growth.

Digital marketing emerged second with 19 per cent finding it most crucial. It was followed by design thinking, which 10 per cent of companies indicated as most important.

Apart from these, skills related to Internet of Things (IoT), robotic process automation (RPA), and natural language processing/generation (NLP/NLG) emerged as important skills in responses from the surveyed organisations.





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Despite low Duke student debt, students have mixed feelings for financial aid

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Duke was recently ranked third on the list of universities with the lowest student debt by US News & World Report, but several students expressed varying opinions with their financial aid experiences.

Duke students graduate with a median average debt of $9,200, a smaller figure than the average nationwide debt of $30,000 for class of 2017 graduates. The majority of borrowers at all colleges owe less than $50,000, and the financial aid office aims to cap loans for Duke students at around $20,000. Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, noted in an email to The Chronicle that it is important to ensure that students are able to fund their education in a sustainable way.

“Our Karsh Office of [Undergraduate] Financial Support is heavily focused on addressing students’ needs, both in the development of financial aid packages [and] also when ad hoc challenges emerge,” Bennett wrote.

The Office of Undergraduate Education is working with DukeLIFE, an organization for low-income and first-generation students, to ensure that the University is meeting student needs and helping them identify avenues for support. The collaboration is led by Dean of Academic Affairs John Blackshear, who is also assistant vice provost of undergraduate education. 

The office also aims to provide accessible programming for all students regardless of financial need, according to Sloan Talbot, Trinity ‘19, Nowicki fellow for student engagement.

“My wife and I worked hard and sacrificed greatly to pay down the loan debt she accumulated as a Duke undergraduate,” Bennett wrote. “Duke’s financial support is considerably better today, but we administrators are focused on this issue because we appreciate the need to do more.”

As a result of the debt crisis, more universities are developing no-loan or reduced-loan aid policies to ease the financial burden on students. Duke has implemented the latter—students receive limited loans from the University, and all other need is presumed to be covered by other forms of aid.

“All students can apply for need-based aid, which provides assistance to students by calculating a family contribution and then meeting any remaining cost with a maximum loan of $5,000 per student,” wrote Alison Rabil, assistant vice provost and director of the office of undergraduate financial aid.

Duke’s financial aid policies have been criticized in the past, particularly for a decision—which was reversed after backlash—that would have stopped covering health insurance for students who do not have a parent contribution of $0. This could have placed students unable to cover the costs of insurance in a precarious situation.

Numerous students have benefited from financial aid at Duke—junior Omolola Sanusi, a writer for Recess, is one of them. Shortly after being accepted to Duke, she contacted the financial aid office to request assistance in paying for her education. 

“They’re really responsive,” Sanusi said. “I feel very comfortable studying abroad or trying to find an internship because, even if it’s not directly from the financial aid office, there are methods to receive funding.”

Senior Hadeel Abdelhy is in her ninth semester at Duke after taking medical leave in Spring 2019, and she is receiving financial aid for her final two semesters. However, she noted that she wasn’t even aware funding was available after the eighth semester.

“It’s not really made clear that this funding is available, and it would have been nice to know that,” she said. 

Although Abdelhy had a positive experience receiving aid for the academic year, she said that receiving financial support during her leave from the University was more complicated.

She attempted to request funds for summer 2019, but was told that she could not receive funding because she was on leave. Leave of absence policies state that students on medical leave “are not eligible for the benefits afforded to active Duke undergraduates” but do not explicitly mention financial support. 

Rabil explained in an email to The Chronicle that the financial aid office cannot provide aid to students who are not enrolled, but that the Career Center could help students with employment opportunities regardless of enrollment status. After further explaining her financial situation, Abdelhy was able to receive assistance for the summer. 

Abdelhy added that financial aid provides funds to students to cover medical and therapeutic appointments, but it usually comes as a reimbursement after the student has already paid the bill. She spoke of incidents where students could not cover rideshare fees to get to appointments or pay for treatment in the first place.

“I know people who were hospitalized because they just couldn’t afford the copays or transportation,” she said.

This would not be the first time Duke reimbursed students for incurred expenses: first-year Alexia Bryan wrote in an email to The Chronicle that she was reimbursed by financial aid three weeks after paying the $3,535 insurance fee out-of-pocket.

“As long as you’re on top of financial aid, they will help,” Bryan wrote.

It’s not out of the ordinary for students to assume responsibility for their expenses—in fact, it’s expected of them.

All Duke first-years have a minimum $2,600 student contribution to cover expenses they may incur during the academic year. This contribution is not directly paid to the bursar, so students on financial aid usually do not receive grants to cover it. However, if students take summer courses or partake in other approved programs, part or all of this contribution is meant to be waived and reimbursed to the student. 

“If a student is participating in Duke Engage, Bass Connections and summer term enrollments for a maximum of 2 summer terms [they] can receive partial or full waivers of the summer earnings requirement,” Rabil wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “If students are in other programs, the summer earning expectation (otherwise known as the student contribution) is not waived.”

However, junior Resilience Williamson did not receive this reimbursement after participating in both 2019 summer sessions, which was the first of multiple challenges with financial aid. They wrote a statement to a Women’s Center employee in early September, and this statement was shared with The Chronicle.

“I am a Rubenstein Scholar, which [means] I qualify for full grant aid with no loans, but that wasn’t being reflected in my package,” they wrote in the statement.

Due to the delay in reimbursement, Williamson had to work multiple jobs and find other ways to make ends meet during the summer term. They were provided with meal cards to eat at the Brodhead Center but still dealt with food insecurity.

Until Williamson met with a campus personal finance adviser to determine how to budget their money if they didn’t get their refund, financial aid did not release the money to them. 

Williamson also found discrepancies between their financial need and estimated aid for the Fall semester. They alerted their financial aid counselor, only to be told that the extra charges were from their summer bill, which they had already paid off, and that they were at a financial aid cap for the semester.

The ordeal took a significant toll on Williamson’s mental and physical health, to the point where they reached out to Counseling and Psychological Services, DukeReach and the Women’s Center to alleviate their financial anxiety. They stated that DukeReach advised them to contact Rabil, but they had been previously advised to stop contacting Rabil and to contact their financial aid counselor instead. 

Williamson eventually received an aid package reflecting the true costs of the semester.

Rabil wrote in an email concerning financial aid that every situation is different and students are encouraged to speak to their assigned counselors.

“Even if you don’t have any aid, you have a financial aid counselor,” she wrote, “so we would encourage anyone needing assistance for any reason to reach out.”





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Lack of affordable housing is keenly felt by Boston-area businesses

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As a member of Boston’s business community for 24 years, I have been excited to see our state’s transformation into a hub for innovation that has attracted top-tier companies and workers from around the globe. While I remain optimistic about our economy’s future, I join many in being concerned about our ability to sustain its growth. What Shirley Leung says in her recent column (“More. Faster.” Business, Oct. 17) is true: “Like transportation, the housing crisis has also reached a tipping point.” Businesses across the Commonwealth are already being hurt by the lack of affordable housing, and if we don’t address the crisis, we’ll jeopardize our state’s bright future.

Massachusetts is ranked regularly as one of the most expensive states to live in, and our astronomically high rents and home prices are driving away the workforce our growing economy depends on to succeed. Businesses in both rural and urban communities are losing out on top talent — recent graduates and longtime employees alike — who are getting priced out of living here and taking jobs in neighboring states with lower living costs. Traffic congestion, already a drag on our economy, is only being exacerbated by the increased number of workers forced to endure lengthy commutes because they can’t afford to live where they work.

For the sake of our economy and the workers who advance it, we need to remove the barriers to creating new and affordable housing options. Changing the zoning laws to make it easier for communities to move ahead with new projects would be a critical step in those efforts.

David Gasson

Charlestown

The writer is a vice president at Boston Capital.



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