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US and Chinese officials to meet in Washington Friday

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U.S. and Chinese officials are set to meet in Washington on Friday to discuss trade disputes between the world’s two largest economies ahead of a pending visit by China’s top economic official, a U.S. Treasury official said.

The official described the meeting as a follow-up to last week’s high-level trade talks in Beijing and in preparation for Chinese Vice Premier Liu He’s visit to Washington. However, the official declined to provide details of the Friday meetings, or specify the precise timing of Liu’s visit.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday Liu, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top-ranking economic adviser, would come to Washington next week “to continue discussions with the president’s economic team.”

Trade talks in Beijing last week, led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Liu, failed to produce any breakthroughs to stave off U.S. tariff threats on up to $150 billion worth of Chinese goods, and China’s threats to retaliate in kind.

U.S. officials presented a lengthy list of trade demands, including reducing China’s trade surplus by $200 billion a year.

A source familiar with planning for the visit said a lower level delegation would likely head to Washington first and that might delay the Liu visit slightly.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC the timing of the Liu’s arrival was unclear and “there’s a chance it’s not next week.”

Ross also told a CNBC-sponsored event he thought the Chinese officials at the Beijing meetings “agreed to the concept of a trade deficit reduction — the questions are how much and how do you get there?”

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U.S. to remain a WHO member and join Covid vaccine plan

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Patrick Semansky | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The U.S. will remain a member of the World Health Organization under President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday, and intends to join a global alliance that aims to deliver coronavirus vaccines to low-income countries.

Speaking from Washington by videoconference one day after Biden was sworn into office, U.S. Chief Medical Advisor Fauci told the WHO’s executive board: “President Biden will issue a directive later today which will include the intent of the United States to join COVAX and support the ACT-Accelerator to advance multilateral efforts for Covid-19 vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic distribution, equitable access, and research and development.”

The U.S. will also remain a member of the WHO, the United Nations health agency, and “fulfill its financial obligations,” Fauci said. It comes after former President Donald Trump announced in May that the U.S. would withdraw from the WHO, but the process wasn’t expected to be finalized until this July.

Fauci said the Biden administration planned to work with the other 193 member states to help reform the group.

“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We are all glad that the United States of America is staying with the family,” Tedros said via Twitter.

WHO delegates “warmly welcomed” the decision, with many underlining their appreciation that the new administration would now seek to reengage with the international aid group amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, accepted Biden’s offer to join his administration and serve as chief medical advisor last month. He will lead a U.S. delegation at the WHO’s annual meetings throughout the week.

Trump vs. WHO

Trump had repeatedly criticized the WHO for being what he perceived to be too “China-centric,” and denounced the amount of funding the U.S. allocated to the health agency in comparison to other countries.

The U.S. was the largest single donor to the Geneva-based aid group in 2019. It reportedly contributed more than $400 million, accounting for roughly 15% of the WHO’s budget.

The WHO is funded by a combination of members’ fees based on wealth and population and voluntary contributions.

The WHO’s Tedros said in August that he hoped the U.S. would reconsider its decision to leave the organization. The problem was “not about the money,” he said, but rather about the lack of cooperation in the midst of the pandemic.

— CNBC’s Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.

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Unilever strategy to tackle inequality includes training young people

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The coronavirus pandemic has both shone a light on and exacerbated social inequalities, and consumer goods giant Unilever says it wants to tackle these to help build a more equitable society. 

Unilever announced on Thursday a strategy on how it plans do so, setting out a list of commitments that aim to raise living standards across its value chain, promote inclusivity, and prepare people for the future of work. 

Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, told CNBC’s Julianna Tatelbaum in an interview recorded ahead of the announcement, that the company was aiming to be a “positive force in tackling the persistent and worsening issue of social inequality” with its new strategy. He added that this goal had “never been more relevant than what we’ve seen with the crises of the last year — the pandemic, the social and racial justice crises.” 

One of the goals on Unilever’s list is to “help equip 10 million young people with essential skills that they will need for the types of job opportunities that will be around in 2030 and which will be very different from today,” explained Jope. 

Unilever plans to train up this number of young people by 2030, partly by working with youth employability platform LevelUp, giving them access to training, volunteering and work experience. 

Young people have been disproportionately affected by job and income losses, as well as disruption to education and training, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. A report by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization in August found 42% of young people around the world had lost income due to the pandemic. 

Living wages, diversity and inclusivity 

Another of Unilever’s commitments is to ensure that everyone who directly provides goods and services to the consumer goods giant earns at least a living wage or income, by 2030. Jope said that this target was about “ensuring millions of people around the world have a standard of living that allows them to feed, clothe, house, educate, provide health care for them and their families.”

While Unilever already pays its employees at least a living wage, it wanted to extend this further down the supply chain, “specifically focusing on the most vulnerable workers in manufacturing and agriculture,” the company said in a statement Thursday.

Another report by the United Nations University, published last year, forecasted that the coronavirus pandemic could push around half a billion more people into poverty globally. 

Alongside its living wage goal, Unilever also plans to “help 5 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in our retail value chain grow their business through access to skills, finance and technology, by 2025.”

As part of its efforts to drive equality and inclusivity, Unilever plans to spend 2 billion euros ($2.42 billion) a year with suppliers owned and managed by people from under-represented groups, by 2025.

These suppliers will be SMEs owned and managed by women, under-represented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities and LGBTQI+.

In addition, Unilever said it will increase the diversity of people appearing and working behind the camera on its advertisements.

Last year, Unilever also took steps to make its business more sustainable, including using geolocation data and satellite imagery to check for deforestation in its supply chain.

Asked about balancing changing consumer preferences and environmental priorities, with investor impatience for returns, Jope told CNBC that he believed “one of the most dangerous mindsets in business, is that it’s a tradeoff between responsible business and strong financial performance.”

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Jeremy Grantham says market is in a bubble amid ‘investor euphoria’

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