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US-China trade, Huawei, currencies and oil in focus

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Markets overnight on Wall Street were tepid, as investors considered the possibility of a trade deal being struck between the U.S. and China. Officials from Washington and Beijing will continue talks this week with a focus on intellectual property.

Axios reported on Sunday, citing two administration officials, that U.S. President Donald Trump’s advisors have informally discussed holding a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month at the Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Florida. That meeting could take place as soon as mid-March, the report said.

That report comes after Trump said last week that a meeting between him and Xi would not happen before an early March deadline. If a trade deal is not reached before the deadline, additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods will take effect. That deadline could be moved, however, a White House official told CNBC last week.

“I think the most likely scenario is a deal with no more tariffs being imposed going forward,” David Cui, head of China equity strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Tuesday.

“There’s a possibility they keep existing tariffs imposed last year for a while to monitor performance, but I think (it is) highly unlikely there will be more tariffs imposed. It’s also possible to delay the negotiation for a couple of more months to nail down some of the details. I think the least likely scenario is a … complete breakdown of the negotiation,” he added.

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Venezuela skirts U.S. sanctions by funneling oil sales via Russia

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President Nicolas Maduro is funneling cash flow from Venezuelan oil sales through Russian state energy giant Rosneft as he seeks to evade U.S. sanctions designed to oust him from power, according to sources and documents reviewed by Reuters.

The sales are the latest sign of the growing dependence of Venezuela’s cash-strapped government on Russia as the United States tightens a financial noose around Maduro, who it describes as a dictator.

With its economy reeling from years of recession and a sharp decline in oil production, Venezuela was already struggling to finance imports and government spending before Washington imposed tough restrictions on state oil company PDVSA in January.

Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of exports from the OPEC nation and the lion’s share of government revenues. Maduro has accused U.S. President Donald Trump of waging economic war against Venezuela.

Since January, Maduro’s administration has been in talks with allies in Moscow about ways to circumvent a ban on clients paying PDVSA in dollars, the sources said. Russia has publicly said the U.S. sanctions are illegal and it would work with Venezuela to weather them.

Under the scheme uncovered by Reuters, Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has started passing invoices from its oil sales to Rosneft.

The Russian energy giant pays PDVSA immediately at a discount to the sale price avoiding the usual 30-to-90 day timeframe for completing oil transactions and collects the full amount later from the buyer, according to the documents and sources.

“PDVSA is delivering its accounts receivable to Rosneft,” said a source at the Venezuelan state firm with knowledge of the deals, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Major energy companies such as India’s Reliance Industries – PDVSA’s largest cash-paying client – have been asked to participate in the scheme by paying Rosneft for Venezuelan oil, the documents show.

Rosneft, which has heavily invested in Venezuela under President Vladimir Putin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Venezuela’s oil ministry, its information ministry, which handles media for the government, and PDVSA did not respond to questions.

Asked about the transactions, a spokesperson for Reliance said it had made payments to Russia and Chinese companies for Venezuelan oil. The spokesperson said the payments were deducted from money owed by Venezuela to those countries, but did not provide further details.

“We are in active dialogue with the U.S. Department of State on our dealings on Venezuelan oil to remain compliant with U.S. sanctions,” the spokesperson said.

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Toyota shows off electric vehicle concept Rhombus

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Toyota brought a crop of hybrid and fully electric vehicles to the Shanghai Auto Show this year.

The Rhombus, pictured above, is a concept car for a battery-powered electric vehicle targeted at consumers born after 1990, according to a release. The vehicle was developed by TMEC, the company’s research and development base in China.

A single swivel seat at the front replaces the typical two-seat driver’s row, while two seats in the back make up a lounge-like area.

Toyota said it plans to roll out more than 10 battery electric vehicle models globally in the next five or six years, with a sales target of more than 5.5 million electrified vehicles worldwide by 2030.

The C-HR and IZOA battery electric models that premiered in Shanghai will be the first such vehicles to launch in China under the Japanese automaker’s brand. Sales are expected to begin next year.

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Russia Stable Runet law will further separate country from internet

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The new Stable Runet law would give the Russian communications regulator, known as Roskomnadzor, broader powers to monitor network traffic and potentially provide a “kill switch” to disconnect Russia from the wider internet in the event of cyberattack. Essentially, the law is meant to help create a digital drawbridge between Russia and the rest of the world that the country can raise in an emergency.

While the Kremlin says the law is meant to increase security, many observers, especially human rights groups, have speculated it will further increase censorship initiatives from Putin’s government.

That’s because the law was proposed by the same group of lawmakers in Russia who recently passed a law criminalizing the spread of online news that disrespects the government, said Aleksandr Yampolskiy, CEO of network security rating company SecurityScorecard.

“First, they made the language very broad. If you operate a network in Russia, you are required to create a way to have government oversight of that information,” he said.

The law also lacks specifics, Yampolskiy said, an indication the Kremlin is building in some wiggle room for how exactly it will be enforced.

“The language is deliberately vague and broad, so that will also be something for [business] to consider, since it’s unclear what you are going to have to do to comply,” he said.

But it will probably become another tool to enforce positive messaging about Putin’s government, Yampolskiy said.

The law also doesn’t provide much information as to how it will be accomplished technologically, said Natalia Gulyaeva, head of the Moscow intellectual property, media and technology practice group for law firm Hogan Lovells.

“Theoretically, the law encompasses installing new equipment on data transfer points in order to secure functionality of [the] Russian part of Internet in case of any global shutdowns,” she said. “The authors of the law have not provided any comments on the technical side of the law.”

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