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    Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has won a thumping majority of seats in Britain's Parliament — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union next month. With 649 of the 650 results declared on Friday, the Conservatives had 364 seats and the main opposition Labour Party 203. “We did it — we pulled it off, didn't we?'' a jubilant Johnson told supporters. 'We broke the gridlock, we ended the deadlock, we smashed the roadblock!' A few hours later, Johnson was whisked to Buckingham Palace to meet with Queen Elizabeth II as part of the constitutional ritual of forming a new government. He is the 14th prime minister to be asked by the monarch to form a government. Johnson's victory paves the way for Britain's departure from the European Union by Jan. 31. The victory makes Johnson the most electorally successful Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher, another politician who was loved and loathed in almost equal measure. It was a disaster for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced calls for his resignation even as the results rolled in. U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Johnson on Twitter, and said that 'Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new trade deal after Brexit.” Corbyn called the result “very disappointing” for his party and said he would not lead Labour into another election, though he said he would lead a period of 'reflection'' rather than quit immediately. Results poured in early Friday showing a substantial shift in support to the Conservatives from Labour. In the last election in 2017, the Conservatives won 318 seats and Labour 262. The result this time delivered the biggest Tory majority since Thatcher's 1980s heyday, and Labour’s lowest number of seats since 1935. The Scottish National Party won almost 50 of Scotland's 59 seats, up from 35 in 2017, a result that will embolden its demands for a new referendum on Scottish independence. The centrist, pro-EU Liberal Democrats took only about a dozen seats. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson stepped down after losing in her own Scottish constituency. The Conservatives took a swath of seats in post-industrial northern England towns that were long Labour strongholds. Labour’s vote held up better in London, where the party managed to grab the Putney seat from the Conservatives. The decisive Conservative showing vindicates Johnson’s decision to press for Thursday’s early election, which was held nearly two years ahead of schedule. He said that if the Conservatives won a majority, he would get Parliament to ratify his Brexit divorce deal and take the U.K. out of the EU by the current Jan. 31 deadline. Speaking at the election count in his Uxbridge constituency in suburban London, Johnson said the “historic” election “gives us now, in this new government, the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people to change this country for the better and to unleash the potential of the entire people of this country.” That message appears to have had strong appeal for Brexit-supporting voters, who turned away from Labour in the party’s traditional heartlands and embraced Johnson’s promise that the Conservatives would “get Brexit done.” “I think Brexit has dominated, it has dominated everything by the looks of it,” said Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell. “We thought other issues could cut through and there would be a wider debate. From this evidence there clearly wasn't.” The prospect of Brexit finally happening more than three years after Britons narrowly voted to leave the EU marks a momentous shift for both the U.K. and the bloc. No country has ever left the union, which was created in the decades after World War II to bring unity to a shattered continent. But a decisive Conservative victory would also provide some relief to the EU, which has grown tired of Britain's Brexit indecision. Britain's departure will start a new phase of negotiations on future relations between Britain and the 27 remaining EU members. EU Council President Charles Michel promised that EU leaders meeting Friday would send a “strong message” to the next British government and parliament about next steps. “We are ready to negotiate,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. The pound surged when an exit poll forecast the Tory win, jumping over two cents against the dollar, to $1.3445, the highest in more than a year and a half. Many investors hope the Conservative win will speed up the Brexit process and ease, at least in the short term, some of the uncertainty that has corroded business confidence since the 2016 vote. Many voters casting ballots on Thursday hoped the election might finally find a way out of the Brexit stalemate in this deeply divided nation. Three and a half years after the U.K. voted by 52%-48% to leave the EU, Britons remain split over whether to leave the 28-nation bloc, and lawmakers have proved incapable of agreeing on departure terms. Opinion polls had given the Conservatives a steady lead, but the result was considered hard to predict, because the issue of Brexit cuts across traditional party loyalties. Johnson campaigned relentlessly on a promise to “Get Brexit done” by getting Parliament to ratify his “oven-ready” divorce deal with the EU and take Britain out of the bloc as scheduled on Jan. 31. The Conservatives focused much of their energy on trying to win in a “red wall” of working-class towns in central and northern England that have elected Labour lawmakers for decades but also voted strongly in 2016 to leave the EU. That effort got a boost when the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage decided at the last minute not to contest 317 Conservative-held seats to avoid splitting the pro-Brexit vote. Labour, which is largely but ambiguously pro-EU, faced competition for anti-Brexit voters from the centrist Liberal Democrats, Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties, and the Greens. But on the whole Labour tried to focus the campaign away from Brexit and onto its radical domestic agenda, vowing to tax the rich, nationalize industries such as railroads and water companies and give everyone in the country free internet access. It campaigned heavily on the future of the National Health Service, a deeply respected institution that has struggled to meet rising demand after nine years of austerity under Conservative-led governments. Senior Johnson aide Dominic Cummings said that the opponents of the Conservatives just weren't listening to the public outside London. “After the shock of the referendum, MPs and journalists should have taken a deep breath and had a lot of self-reflection of why they misunderstood what was going on in the country, but instead a lot of people just doubled down on their own ideas,” Cummings told Press Association. “That's why something like this happens against expectations.” Defeat will likely spell the end for Corbyn, a veteran socialist who moved his party sharply to the left after taking the helm in 2015, but who now looks to have led his left-of-center party to two electoral defeats since 2017. The 70-year-old left-winger was also accused of allowing anti-Semitism to spread within the party. “It's Corbyn,” said former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Johnson, when asked about the poor result. “We knew he was incapable of leading, we knew he was worse than useless at all the qualities you need to lead a political party.” For many voters, the election offered an unpalatable choice. Both Johnson and Corbyn have personal approval ratings in negative territory, and both have been dogged by questions about their character. Johnson has been confronted with past broken promises, untruths and offensive statements, from calling the children of single mothers “ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” to comparing Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes.” Yet, his energy and determination proved persuasive to many voters. “It’s a big relief, looking at the exit polls as they are now, we’ve finally got that majority a working majority that we have not had for 3 1/2 years,' said Conservative-supporting writer Jack Rydeheard. 'We’ve got the opportunity to get Brexit done and get everything else that we promised as well. That’s investment in the NHS, schools, hospitals you name it — it’s finally a chance to break that deadlock in Parliament.' ___ Gregory Katz, Sheila Norman-Culp and Jo Kearney in London, and Angela Charlton, Raf Casert and Adam Pemble in Brussels contributed to this report. ___ Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
  • Norway's biggest wireless carrier, Telenor, on Friday chose Sweden's Ericsson to supply part of its new 5G network, ending its cooperation with Chinese tech giant Huawei after a decade. The company signaled it would gradually remove Huawei equipment as it upgrades radio gear for the next generation of mobile networks, in a move likely to please the U.S., which has been lobbying European allies to sideline the Chinese company over cyberespionage concerns. The company “carried out an extensive security evaluation' in its selection process, alongside considering factors such as technical quality, commercial terms and the ability to innovate and modernize, Telenor Group CEO Sigve Brekke said. “Based on the comprehensive and holistic evaluation, we have decided to introduce a new partner for this important technology shift in Norway,” Brekke said. Telenor, which is moving away from Huawei a decade after they started collaborating, said it will continue to use its existing equipment from the Chinese company as it transitions to the new network over the next four to five years. It has already chosen Ericsson and Finland's Nokia to build the 5G network's core. European mobile phone companies are facing tough business decisions as they find themselves caught in the middle of a geopolitical battle over Huawei. Wireless companies often prefer Huawei because of its reputation for cheap, reliable gear but U.S. officials are warning allies that the company can be used to facilitate spying by China's communist leaders - allegations the company has consistently denied. Superfast 5G networks and the new innovations they promise to bring, such as telemedicine and automated factories, will run heavily on software in the network “core,” which the U.S. says exposes them to greater security vulnerabilities. In a win for Huawei, German carrier Telefonica Deutschland said this week that it chose Huawei and Finland's Nokia to jointly supply equipment for the less-sensitive 5G radio network, with a decision on suppliers for the core due next year. Telefonica Deutschland made its decision even though the German government may tighten up its 5G security guidelines. The company added a caveat that Huawei's participation was “subject to the successful safety certification of the technology and the companies” in accordance with German legal provisions.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has led his Conservative Party to a landslide victory in Britain’s election that was dominated by Brexit. Here are five takeaways from the British election: BREXIT IS HAPPENING Johnson’s campaign was built around his pledge to — finally — complete Brexit. With his whopping majority, Johnson now has the political clout to do just that. Expect him to rush through legislation clearing the way for Britain to leave the European Union by the Jan. 31 deadline. More than three years of wrangling in Britain’s Parliament and in Brussels are set to come to an end with Britain’s departure, although very little will change right away as the Brexit deal with Brussels ushers in a transition period until the end of next year while negotiators attempt to hammer out a comprehensive trade deal between Britain and the bloc. Many analysts believe that time frame is too tight to complete the trade pact. CONSERVATIVES’ CLEAR MESSAGE Johnson has a reputation for ill-advised, off-the-cuff comments landing him into hot water. But throughout the five-week election campaign, he rarely strayed from three simple words: “Get Brexit Done.” The easily digested message was clearly designed to woo voters from both sides of the political spectrum who have grown weary and disillusioned by the squabbling over Britain’s divorce from the European Union. Johnson refused a face-to-face interview with BBC interviewer Andrew Neil during the campaign and opponents even accused him of ducking into a refrigerated milk storeroom to avoid another interview. That bobbing and weaving to dodge tough questioning drew criticism in the media, but clearly didn't hurt him with voters. LABOUR’S WOES While Johnson stayed on message, embattled opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was widely portrayed as sitting on the fence on Brexit and faced unprecedented criticism during the campaign for his failure to decisively tackle allegations of deep-rooted anti-Semitism in his party. That overshadowed his attempts to highlight his raft of big-ticket socialist reforms. In a damaging phone conversation leaked to a right-wing website late in the campaign, Labour health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth summed up his party’s problem, saying voters in central and northern England “can’t stand Corbyn and they think Labour’s blocked Brexit.” And as the dust settled on the historic defeat, former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson called Corbyn “a disaster on the doorstep. Everyone knew that he couldn't lead the working class out of a paper bag.' Corbyn resisted calls to quit immediately, but said he wouldn't lead his party into another election. FRAYING UNION The Conservatives weren’t the only big winners at the election. The Scottish National Party was also celebrating new-found strength on Friday morning after gaining 13 seats to boost its holding to 48. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the nationalists, said the electoral success gave her a “renewed, refreshed and strengthened mandate' to push for a second vote on Scottish independence. Five years ago, Scots voted in a referendum to remain in the United Kingdom but at the 2016 Brexit referendum Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Johnson has ruled out approving a second independence vote in Scotland, setting the stage for a possibly bruising battle on the issue between two leaders emboldened by their strong showing. Meanwhile, in another sign of fraying of the ties that bind the United Kingdom, the pro-Britain Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland lost two of its 10 seats. The party’s leader, Arlene Foster, blamed Irish nationalist parties for ganging up against the unionists. The only ray of light for Johnson was in Wales, where his party gained six seats while Labour’s share of the vote slumped. BREXIT PARTY CRASHED The election may have been all about Brexit, but that didn’t help veteran euroskeptic Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party. It didn’t secure a single seat Thursday, just months after winning Britain’s European Parliament elections in May with nearly 31% of the vote. Farage helped Johnson into the saddle by deciding not to contest 317 Conservative-held seats to avoid splitting the pro-Brexit vote. That cleared the way for the prime minister to push through his Brexit deal — which Farage believes gives too many concessions to Europe. “But I would prefer that to a second referendum,” he told the BBC. ___ Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
  • The British election result is a boost to the economy and financial markets in the short term as it will ease some of the uncertainty over Brexit that has hobbled business confidence during the past three years. In the longer term, it remains unclear how the Conservatives of Prime Minister Boris Johnson will steer the economy, particularly since so much of Britain's future trade relations remain to be negotiated once it has left the European Union, as scheduled, on Jan. 31. “Today’s result of a Conservative majority means that Brexit is likely to occur quite quickly,' said Sarah Carlson, senior vice president at credit ratings agency Moody's. 'However, Brexit-related uncertainty is unlikely to abate for more than a few months,' The pound and British stocks jumped higher on the outcome of the vote. The currency rose 2 cents against the dollar to $1.3450 late Thursday, when the first exit polls were made public, and has held onto its gains. The FTSE 100 of top British shares rose 1 .8% on Friday. While Britain's departure from the EU has long been considered damaging for businesses - particularly in Britain but also in neighboring EU countries like Ireland and the Netherlands - the delay in carrying out the exit itself have arguably proved as painful. Over the three and half years since the referendum to leave the EU, businesses in Britain have reined in investment and hiring as they awaited clarity on the terms of Britain's departure, or whether it would leave at all. A sudden, non-negotiated break away would result in immediate tariffs on trade, checks on borders and limits on immigration. As part of the EU, goods, money and people have full freedom of movement. A negotiated exit - which Johnson secured this year - would be less disruptive but how it affects the economy will depend on more detailed negotiations on future trade relations. The prime minister has signaled that he wants looser economic ties with the EU, Britain's biggest trading partner, in order to have the freedom to pursue commercial deals with faster-growing economies further afield - from the United States to countries in Asia. That approach could hurt British businesses that depend on supply chains that snake across EU countries and on easily hiring EU workers - both highly skilled professionals as well as seasonal workers in agriculture, for example. Johnson's plan is to bring Britain out of the EU by the end of January on the basis of his Brexit divorce deal. After that, the outlook remains unclear. Now that he has a strong majority, Johnson could approach those talks with the EU on future trade ties with a greater willingness to keep close ties. Until this election, he had depended heavily on the support in parliament of a fringe of the Conservative party that has long demanded a sharp break away from the EU. But Johnson is still likely to find it difficult to provide longer-term clarity for the economy, analysts say. If Britain leaves on Jan. 31, it would have a “transition period” until the end of 2020, whereby it will remain in the EU's tariff-free single market and customs union. That means Johnson's government needs to secure in just a few months a free trade deal that would typically take years to secure. Given the size of his majority in the 650-seat Parliament - currently at 78 - he may have the power to extend that transition period for another two years to facilitate trade talks with the EU. “This is the beginning of the reality of Brexit rather than the end,” said Ross Denton, a trade expert at law firm Baker McKenzie. The talks with the EU could prove tricky as Britain will go into them as a more isolated nation on the world stage. The other 27 countries in the EU are Britain’s largest trading partner, accounting for almost half its international trade. For the rest of the EU, Britain accounts for less than a fifth German business groups on Friday said they were relieved that the U.K. election result might ease some uncertainty hurting trade. Germany, which is Europe's largest economy and depends heavily on trade and manufacturing, only just managed to dodge a recession this year as it suffers from jitters over Brexit and broader concerns, like U.S.-led tariffs disputes, that have hurt manufacturing. One German business group noted how Britain has slipped from being the country's No. 5 trading partner to No. 7 since it voted to leave the EU in 2016. Some Conservatives have said Britain can refocus on trade with the United States, but there, too, the country will be at a disadvantage in talks. U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a tough approach to trade, viewing it as a zero-sum battle to burnish nationalist pride rather than a way to build alliances. As with the EU, Britain's relationship is uneven: the U.S. is Britain's second-biggest export market. For the U.S., Britain is the fifth-largest. Domestically in Britain, big companies seem relieved also at the decisive defeat for the opposition Labour Party, which wanted to nationalize some industries and raise business taxes. The Confederation of British Industry congratulated Johnson and the Conservatives in a statement and urged them to “break the cycle of uncertainty.” Johnson will face pressure to deliver on his campaign promises to increase public spending on sectors like healthcare, after almost a decade of budget cuts that have eroded public services, worsened wealth inequality and stymied the economy. Together with an expected pick-up in private investment, that could help the economy next year. “While the U.K. still faces serious risks and uncertainty from the upcoming U.K.-EU negotiations on the future relationship, the election result could be the first step towards a sustained economic and political recovery,” said Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg bank. ___ Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
  • European Union leaders on Friday debated Britain’s departure from the bloc amid some relief that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has secured a parliamentary majority that should allow him to push the long-stalled Brexit divorce deal through parliament. With or without an agreement, Britain is scheduled to leave on Jan. 31. It’s the first time that a country will leave the world’s biggest trading bloc. Though many EU leaders are relieved that the Brexit saga is finally coming to an end, more than three years after Britons voted to leave, just as many are saddened at the departure of such a heavyweight member state. The sense of relief was evident among European business groups too, though it was tinged with some regret. The uncertainty over Britain's future was a concern among businesses and some have shifted operations out of the U.K. There are still questions over the future relationship after Brexit and whether tariff-free trade between the U.K. and the EU will continue after a standstill transition period expires at the end of 2020. “I deeply regret that the United Kingdom, our friends, are leaving the European Union,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters in Brussels. However, he conceded that “it’s always easier for us to be able to negotiate with a partner who has a strong personal mandate and can control a majority in their parliament.” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said: “I still regret the outcome of the referendum but I respect it. I’m happy that it will be finally now over with this situation where we are able to agree here but in London they are not able to agree. So, finished, this situation, and that’s good for all of us.' Joachim Lang, chief executive of the Federation of German Industries, said Friday that no German company wants Brexit but “our companies are breathing a sigh of relief that there is finally a mandate to accept the withdrawal agreement.” When Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016, there were fears that it could lead to other departures. However, those fears have dissipated as the process has been so politically divisive — two U.K. elections were held over it — and expensive. Though the pathway to Britain's departure by Jan. 31 is reasonably clear, the future relationship between the country and the EU is not. Discussions on that can only begin after Britain formally leaves. The EU has already said that its main Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will lead those discussions. After congratulating Johnson on his victory, new EU Council President Charles Michel said that “we expect as soon as possible the vote by the British parliament on the withdrawal agreement.” “We are ready,' he told reporters as he arrived to chair the meeting of Britain's 27 EU partner countries. “The European Union will negotiate in order to have close cooperation in the future with the U.K.” Fabian Zuleeg, Chief Executive at the European Policy Center think-tank said that for the EU the election outcome is “positive' as it means the first stage of Brexit can be concluded. “There will not be a re-negotiation, there will not be a further delay,” he said. “Of course the big question is what comes after that.” Ultimately, the Brexit divorce negotiations may yet prove to be the easy part. If Britain does leave at the end of next month, it will have less than a year to negotiate a new trade agreement with its partners and get it endorsed in all their parliaments. Most trade pacts take several years to agree. First thing though, the EU member countries will have to agree on a new negotiating mandate for Barnier. “We are all set,” said new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, whose powerful executive arm negotiates trade deals on behalf of EU member countries. The commission also supervised the Brexit talks. “We have the structures internally. We are ready to negotiate whatever is necessary,” she said. Asked whether it is possible to seal a trade deal in under a year, Michel said: “it is not my intention to predict based on the experience of the past.” Varadkar said that “striking a trade deal by the end of 2020 is tremendously ambitious, but we’re determined to try.' The Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry said that Britain has slipped from Germany’s No. 5 trading partner to No. 7 since it voted to leave the EU in 2016. Its chairman, Eric Schweitzer, said German companies in Britain are “restrained in their investment and employment plans” because of uncertainty over the future. ___ Angela Charlton and Daniela Berretta in Brussels, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
  • The British pound edged higher Friday as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party claimed a robust majority in Parliament, while talk of China-U.S. trade deal buoyed share prices in Asia. The British pound rose to $1.3470 from $1.3385 late Thursday but then fell back to a much less enthusiastic $1.3403 as results showed the Conservatives winning at least 363 seats in Parliament with 648 out of 650 results declared. The benchmark FTSE 100 jumped 1.5% to 7,381.34, while in Paris the CAC 40 rose 1.1% to 5,947.82. Germany's DAX advanced 1.3% to 13,397.52. U.S. shares also looked set for gains, with the future contracts for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average both up 0.4%. The resounding victory for Johnson should clear the way for him to carry out his plan to take the U.K. out of the 28-nation European Union by the end of January. That's a mixed outcome for investors who loathe uncertainty but will be grappling with the repercussions of Brexit for years to come. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index jumped 2.6% to 24,023.10 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng surged 2.6% to 27,687.76. The Shanghai Composite index advanced 1.8% to 2,967.68 and South Korea's Kospi climbed 1.5% to 2,170.25. Australia's S&P ASX 200 picked up 0.5% to 6,739.70, while the Sensex in India added 1.0% to 40,994.58. Shares also rose in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq set new highs on Thursday after President Donald Trump said the U.S. was getting close to a “big deal” with China. Traders were also encouraged by a Wall Street Journal report saying Washington has offered to slash existing tariffs and cancel new ones set to kick in on Sunday in exchange for more agricultural purchases and intellectual property protection. Markets have been quick to react to headlines and remarks out of the Trump administration about the 17-month trade war. China's Foreign Ministry did not confirm a deal was almost ready. Officials in Beijing instead highlighted how far apart the two sides still are. “Negotiations must be based on the principles of equality and mutual respect,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, repeating Beijing’s long-held position. “The deal must be mutually beneficial, a win-win.” Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Wang Yi complained at a separate government-organized forum in Beijing that Washington is unfairly attacking China. “The U.S. side has successively imposed unjustified restrictions and crackdowns on China in economy and trade, science and technology and personnel exchanges,” Wang said. “As far as China is concerned, what we are pursuing is our justified rights of development.” Uncertainty over trade has been the biggest wildcard for stocks this year, hurting manufacturing around the world and causing U.S. businesses to hold back on making investments. The saving grace for the U.S. economy has been a strong job market and consumer spending. Speculation that the world’s two biggest economies could be close to reaching an interim “Phase 1” trade agreement spurred investors on Thursday to move money into technology, industrial and other stock sectors that tend to do well when the economy is growing. On Thursday, the S&P 500 climbed 0.9% to 3,168.57, about 0.5% above its last all-time closing high, on Nov. 27. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.8% to 28,132.05, while the Nasdaq gained 0.7% to 8,717.32. The index, which is heavily weighted with technology stocks, is about 0.1% higher than its record set on Nov. 27. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks climbed 0.8% to 1,644.81. Investors will get a look at new Commerce Department data Friday on U.S. retail sales in November. Economists expect retail sales rose last month. The measure gives more insight into consumer spending, which has been among the brighter spots in the economy helping to push growth. Benchmark crude oil picked up 44 cents to $59.62 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 42 cents to settle at $59.18 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, gained 60 cents to $64.80 a barrel. The dollar rose to 109.64 Japanese yen from 109.32 yen on Thursday. The euro strengthened to $1.1173 from $1.1155.
  • The Latest on Britain's Brexit election (all times local): 1 p.m. The leader of the Scottish National Party, which made strong gains in the British election, says Prime Minister Boris Johnson has “no right” to stand in the way of a fresh independence referendum for Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon, who is Scotland's first minister, said she will next week publish plans for a second independence vote. The SNP won another 13 seats in the House of Commons in Thursday's election, taking the party's tally up to 48 of the total of 59 in Scotland. Sturgeon says she will not be asking for Johnson’s permission to hold another vote. She says it is an assertion of the democratic right of the Scots to decide their future. Addressing her remarks to Johnson, she says “it is the right of the people of Scotland - and you as the leader of a defeated party in Scotland have no right to stand in the way.” Following his convincing victory, Johnson has said Britain will leave the European Union on the scheduled departure date of Jan. 31. In the Brexit referendum of June 2016, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. The wider U.K. voted 52-48 in favor of Brexit. Five years ago, Scottish voters rejected independence by a margin of around 10 percentage points in what was billed as a once-in-a-generation referendum. Sturgeon says the Brexit vote across the whole of the U.K. means Scotland will be leaving the EU against its will and as a result it has the right to have another independence referendum. ___ 12:45 p.m. The head of the European Commission says the one-year time frame for striking a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain is “challenging” but wants the new relationship to be “as close as possible.” Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels on Friday that the EU expects Britain to leave the European Union on Jan. 31. After the victory of Boris Johnson’s Conservative party in the British election, von der Leyen said, “We are ready to move to the next phase.” Leaders of the remaining 27 EU member states discussed next steps at their summit Friday, which had no British prime minister present. 11:45 a.m. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has arrived back at 10 Downing Street after meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Johnson met the queen as part of a constitutional ritual, whereby the monarch asks the winner of an election to form a government. Johnson's Conservative Party won Thursday's election convincingly, in the process securing the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher's third straight victory in 1987. With one constituency result to be announced, the Conservatives have won 364 seats in the 650-member House of Commons. ___ 11 a.m. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has arrived at Buckingham Palace for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II to form a new government in the wake of his Conservative Party's emphatic election victory. Johnson travelled to Buckingham Palace for the constitutional ritual after securing the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher's third straight victory in 1987. Johnson's victory paves the way for Britain departure from the European Union by Jan. 31. With one constituency result to be announced, the Conservatives have won 364 seats in the 650-member House of Commons. ___ 10:45 a.m. German business groups are relieved that Britain’s election has lifted uncertainty over when and whether the U.K. will leave the European Union. But they’re warning that its departure isn’t the end of the story. Joachim Lang, the chief executive of the Federation of German Industries, said no German company wants Brexit but “our companies are breathing a sigh of relief that there is finally a mandate to accept the withdrawal agreement.” Lang said there needs to be a clear course in London not just on Britain’s actual departure but on the terms of its future relationship with the EU. The Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry said that Britain has slipped from Germany’s No. 5 trading partner to No. 7 since it voted to leave the EU in 2016. Its chairman, Eric Schweitzer, said that German companies in Britain are “restrained in their investment and employment plans” because of uncertainty over the future relationship. ___ 10 a.m. Prominent European center-left politicians are lamenting the opposition Labour Party’s defeat in the British election, though one is suggesting that the party’s ambiguous stance on Brexit was to blame. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said during the campaign that he would be neutral in any future referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union — a stance that caused much confusion. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in Brussels at a summit of EU leaders that “to me as a Social Democrat, it's sad. But that's how it is.” Germany’s minister for Europe, Michael Roth, had a blunter verdict on Labour’s campaign. In a tweet addressed to “our British friends,” he wrote that social democrats “should never be neutral” when it comes to Europe. He added: “Progressives are & remain Internationalists & passionate Europeans. If you don't get it, you will go down. Really sorry!” With all but one of the U.K. constituency results in, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives have won 364 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, ensuring it will form a majority government. That's up 47 on the 2017 election. Meanwhile, Labour lost 59 seats and has 203, its worst showing since 1935. ___ 9:40 a.m. U.K. markets have reacted positively to the British election results that have handed Boris Johnson's Conservatives a majority in Parliament. The prevailing view among investors is that the results have eased, if not quite erased, some of the uncertainty that has been hobbling the British economy ever since the country voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. Johnson's main message during the campaign was “get Brexit done.” The majority will allow him to get Britain out of the EU by the scheduled departure date by Jan. 31. The pound and British stocks jumped higher . The currency spiked 2 cents against the dollar to $1.3450 late Thursday, when the first exit polls were made public, and held onto its gains. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares rose 1.6% upon opening on Friday. Longer term, it still remains unclear how Johnson will steer the economy, particularly since so much of Britain's future trade relations remain to be negotiated once it has left the EU. Sarah Carlson, senior vice president at credit ratings agency Moody's, says 'Brexit-related uncertainty is unlikely to abate for more than a few months.' ___ 8:35 a.m. EU leaders are gathering to discuss Britain's departure from the bloc amid some relief that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a clear majority in Parliament to drive his Brexit divorce deal through. While many leaders are saddened to see the U.K. leave, most appear to be breathing a sigh of relief that they can now get on with European business. Britain is due to leave the EU by Jan. 31 and talks can then commence over the future trading arrangements. After Brexit, Britain will remain in the EU's tariff-free single market until the end of 2020. After congratulating Johnson on his victory, new EU Council President Charles Michel said that “we expect as soon as possible the vote by the British parliament on the withdrawal agreement.” Regarding the future relationship, Michel said the EU is ready to negotiate 'close cooperation in the future with the U.K.” ___ 7:35 a.m. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the largest Conservative majority since the 1980s shows that getting Brexit done has now proved to be the will of the British people. In a jubilant speech to party supporters, Johnson stressed that Britain will leave the European Union by Jan. 31. “We will get Brexit done on time by Jan 31,” he said. 'No ifs, no buts, no maybes.” Johnson also said that his government has to represent all corners of the United Kingdom. The Conservatives won a number of seats that had voted for the main opposition Labour Party for decades. Results pouring in early Friday showed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives easily winning at least 363 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, ensuring it will form a majority government. ___ 7 a.m. The leader of Britain’s centrist Liberal Democrats has stepped down after losing her own seat on a disappointing election night for the party. The pro-EU party had hoped that its staunch opposition to Brexit would help it build on the 20 seats it held before Thursday's general election but in the end only won about a dozen of the 650 seats in Parliament. Leader Jo Swinson called the result “hugely disappointing” and stepped down. The Liberal Democrats say lawmakers Ed Davey and Sal Brinton, a Liberal Democrat in the House of Lords, would become joint chiefs of the party until a leadership contest is held next year. Results pouring in early Friday showed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives easily winning at least 360 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, ensuring it will form a majority government. ___ 6:40 a.m. The American president has taken to Twitter — where else? — to congratulate British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on “his great WIN” in the U.K.'s general election. Donald Trump also wrote that “Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT.” Trump claimed that such a trade deal “has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative' than any trade deal with the European Union. Right now, however, the 28-nation bloc is Britain's largest trading partner. Results pouring in early Friday showed Johnson's Conservatives easily winning at least 358 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, ensuring it will form a majority government. ___ 5:30 a.m. Britain's election was a flat-out disaster for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced calls for his resignation. Results pouring in early Friday showed a substantial shift in support to the Conservatives from Labour. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives easily won more than 326 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, ensuring it will form a majority government. Labour looked set to win around 200 seats, in what could be their worst showing since 1935. In the last election in 2017, the Conservatives won 318 seats and Labour 262. Corbyn called the result “very disappointing” for his party. He said he would not lead Labour into another election but would stay on as the party reflected on what went wrong. ___ 5:10 a.m. Britain’s Conservative Party has reached a total of 326 seats in the House of Commons, ensuring it will form a majority government. Counts by broadcasters BBC, ITV and Sky News say the party has reached the threshold, with results from dozens of seats still to come. Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the election “historic.” He ran on a promise to take Britain out of the European Union by Jan. 31 if he won a majority. The opposition Labour Party looks set for its worst result in decades, winning roughly 200 seats. The Conservatives’ “Get Brexit done” message helped them win previously Labour-held seats in parts of the country that voted in 2016 to leave the EU. ___ 4:30 a.m. The leader of the Scottish National Party says her party’s gains in the British election give her a “renewed, refreshed, strengthened mandate” to push for a new referendum on Scottish independence. Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC in early Friday that despite Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party being on course to win a solid majority in Parliament, he has “no right” to take Scotland out of the European Union. Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit in the 2016 referendum. Sturgeon said Johnson can't block the Scottish people from “choosing their own future.” She conceded that Johnson now has “a mandate to take England out of the EU but he must accept that I have a mandate to give Scotland a choice for an alternative future.' Scotland voted against independence five years ago in what was billed as a once-in-a-generation referendum. ___ 4 a.m. The leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, has lost her seat in Parliament, while her party is struggling to make election gains. Swinson was narrowly defeated in her Dunbartonshire East constituency by the Scottish National Party. The pro-EU Liberal Democrats had high hopes of gaining new seats in Britain’s election because of its strongly pro-EU stance. But so far it looks likely to only win a dozen or so of the 650 House of Commons seats -- fewer than it held before the election. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are on course to capture a solid majority in Thursday's vote. Swinson said many people in Britain would feel “dread and dismay” at the election outcome, but that the Liberal Democrats would continue to “stand up for hope.” ___ 3:50 a.m. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it looks like his Conservative Party has won “a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done” in the country’s general election. He says the work of delivering Brexit will begin as soon as all the results are in from Thursday's vote. Johnson called the election “historic” as he was announced the winner of his Uxbridge constituency in suburban London. The Conservatives appear to be on course to win a solid majority of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. His main rival, the opposition Labour Party, looked to be facing a notably heavy defeat, losing dozens of seats. ___ Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
  • Reports rolled in with escalating urgency — pills seized by the truckload, pills swallowed by schoolchildren, pills in the pockets of dead terrorists. These pills, the world has been told, are safer than the OxyContins, the Vicodins, the fentanyls that have wreaked so much devastation. But now they are the root of what the United Nations named “the other opioid crisis” — an epidemic featured in fewer headlines than the American one, as it rages through the planet's most vulnerable countries. Mass abuse of the opioid tramadol spans continents, from India to Africa to the Middle East, creating international havoc some experts blame on a loophole in narcotics regulation and a miscalculation of the drug’s danger. The man-made opioid was touted as a way to relieve pain with little risk of abuse. Unlike other opioids, tramadol flowed freely around the world, unburdened by international controls that track most dangerous drugs. But abuse is now so rampant that some countries are asking international authorities to intervene. ___ This story was produced with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. ___ Grunenthal, the German company that originally made the drug, is campaigning for the status quo, arguing that it's largely illicit counterfeit pills causing problems. International regulations make narcotics difficult to get in countries with disorganized health systems, the company says, and adding tramadol to the list would deprive suffering patients access to any opioid at all. “This is a huge public health dilemma,” said Dr. Gilles Forte, the secretary of the World Health Organization’s committee that recommends how drugs should be regulated. Tramadol is available in war zones and impoverished nations because it is unregulated. But it is widely abused for the same exact reason. “It’s a really very complicated balance to strike.” Tramadol has not been as deadly as other opioids, and the crisis isn't killing with the ferocity of America's struggle with the drugs. Still, individual governments from the U.S. to Egypt to Ukraine have realized the drug’s dangers are greater than was believed and have worked to rein in the tramadol trade. The north Indian state of Punjab, the center of India’s opioid epidemic, was the latest to crack down. The pills were everywhere, as legitimate medication sold in pharmacies, but also illicit counterfeits hawked by street vendors. This year, authorities seized hundreds of thousands of tablets, banned most pharmacy sales and shut down pill factories, pushing the price from 35 cents for a 10-pack to $14. The government opened a network of treatment centers, fearing those who had become opioid addicted would resort to heroin out of desperation. Hordes of people rushed in, seeking help in managing excruciating withdrawal. For some, tramadol had become as essential as food. “Like if you don’t eat, you start to feel hungry. Similar is the case with not taking it,” said auto shop welder Deepak Arora, a gaunt 30-year-old who took 15 tablets day, so much he had to steal from his family to pay for pills. “You are like a dead person.” ___ Jeffery Bawa, an officer with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, realized what was happening in 2016, when he traveled to Mali in western Africa, one of the world’s poorest countries, gripped by civil war and terrorism. They asked people for their most pressing concerns. Most did not say hunger or violence. They said tramadol. One woman said children stumble down the streets, high on the opioid; parents add it to tea to dull the ache of hunger. Nigerian officials said at a United Nations meeting on tramadol trafficking that the number of people there living with addiction is now far higher than the number with AIDS or HIV. Tramadol is so pervasive in Cameroon scientists a few years ago believed they’d discovered a natural version in tree roots. But it was not natural at all: Farmers bought pills and fed them to their cattle to ward off the effects of debilitating heat. Their waste contaminated the soil, and the chemical seeped into the trees. Police began finding pills on terrorists, who traffic it to fund their networks and take it to bolster their capacity for violence, Bawa said. Most of it was coming from India. The country’s sprawling pharmaceutical industry is fueled by cheap generics. Pill factories produce knock-offs and ship them in bulk around the world, in doses far exceeding medical limits. In 2017, law enforcement reported that $75 million worth of tramadol from India was confiscated en route to the Islamic State terror group. Authorities intercepted 600,000 tablets headed for Boko Haram. Another 3 million were found in a pickup truck in Niger, in boxes disguised with U.N. logos. The agency warned that tramadol was playing “a direct role in the destabilization of the region.” “We cannot let the situation get any further out of control,” that alert read. Grunenthal maintains that tramadol has a low risk of abuse; most of the pills causing trouble are knock-offs, not legitimate pharmaceuticals, and American surveys have shown lower levels of abuse than other prescription painkillers. The company submitted a report to the WHO in 2014, saying that the abuse evident in “a limited number of countries,” should be viewed “in the context of the political and social instabilities in the region.” But some wealthy countries worried about increasing abuse also have acted to contain the drug. The United Kingdom and United States both regulated it in 2014. Tramadol was uncontrolled in Denmark until 2017, when journalists asked doctors to review studies submitted to regulators to support the claim that it has a low risk for addiction, said Dr. Karsten Juhl Jorgensen, acting director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre and one of the physicians who analyzed the materials. They all agreed that the documents did not prove it's safer. “We know that opioids are some of the most addictive drugs on the face of the planet, so the claim that you’ve developed one that’s not addictive, that’s an extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims require evidence. And it just wasn’t there,” said Jorgensen. “We’ve all been cheated, and people are angry about that.' Jorgensen compares claims that tramadol is low risk to those made by American companies now facing thousands of lawsuits alleging misleading campaigns touting the safety of opioids unleashed the U.S. addiction epidemic. Stefano Berterame, a chief at the International Narcotics Control Board, said there is a critical difference: The crisis is not as deadly as the American one, which began with prescription opioids and transitioned to heroin and fentanyl. Tramadol does not as routinely cause the respiratory depression that leads to overdose death. But it is mostly afflicting poor nations, where overdose statistics are erratic, he said, so the true toll of tramadol is unknown. ___ The United Nations established the International Narcotics Control Board in 1961 to spare the world the “serious evil” of addiction. It has since tracked most opioids. Tramadol’s exemption means authorization isn’t required as the drug moves across borders. Its easy availability also leads to confusion about what tramadol even is, experts say. In many countries, it is thought to be a mood enhancer or treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress. Some take it to improve sexual stamina or endure grueling labor. Grunenthal synthesized tramadol in the 1960s, as the company was embroiled in scandal over its marketing of the sedative thalidomide, which caused extreme birth defects in thousands of babies whose mothers took it. Tramadol was initially believed to have a low risk of abuse because initial trials studied injected tramadol, the most potent route for most opioids. But researchers later found that tramadol releases a far more powerful dose taken orally because of how it is metabolized by the liver. Tramadol’s worldwide market quickly expanded in the 1990s. In 2000, the WHO, which assesses medications and recommends scheduling, noted reports of dependence. A committee has reviewed the drug numerous times since, recommended it remain under surveillance but declined to add international regulation. There is no alternative to tramadol, said Forte, the committee’s secretary. It is the only opioid available in some of the world’s most desperate places; relief organizations rely on it in war zones and natural disasters. It is used extensively not because it is a particularly good medication, he said. The most effective opioid is morphine, but morphine is strictly controlled and countries in crisis fear abuse. Tramadol became the default precisely because it’s uncontrolled. The WHO is analyzing whether any other drug could take its place but have so far found none. Meanwhile, Forte said, the agency is working with battered nations to ferret out counterfeits. Legitimate tramadol remains a lucrative business: market research estimates the global market amounts to around $1.4 billion, according to Grunenthal. The medication long ago lost its patent protection. It is now manufactured by many companies and sold under some 500 brand names. Grunenthal markets it as Tramal as well as Zaldiar, tramadol combined with paracetamol. In 2018, those products brought in 174 million euros ($191 million), according to the company’s annual report. “Our purpose at Grunenthal is to develop and deliver medicines and solutions which address the unmet needs of patients with the goal of improving their quality of life,' the company wrote in a statement that said it acknowledges opioids pose a risk of abuse and addiction. “”We do so with the highest ethical standards.” Grunenthal also sells other opioids and is expanding around the world. The Associated Press this year revealed executives were swept up in an Italian corruption case alleging they illegally paid a doctor to promote the use of opioids. The company has campaigned to keep tramadol unregulated. It funded surveys that found regulation would impede pain treatment and paid consultants to travel to the WHO to make their case that it’s safer that other opioids. Spokesman Stepan Kracala said regulation would not necessarily curtail illicit trade and could backfire: Some desperate pain patients turn to the black market if no legal options exist. Egypt’s long struggle with tramadol abuse is an example, he said. The country enacted strict regulation in 2012 and a later survey found some suffering from cancer using counterfeit tramadol for relief. Kracala also pointed to regulatory decisions as proof of tramadol’s comparable safety: The U.S. in 2014 added tramadol to its list of controlled substances but included it in a lesser category than opioids like oxycodone or morphine, signaling it is less risky. There are growing calls to change that. The Mayo Clinic hospital in Minnesota worked to reduce opioids prescribed post-surgery as the American epidemic escalated, said surgeon Cornelius Thiels. Doctors there started shifting patients to tramadol because it was billed as safer. But Thiels and his colleagues analyzed prescription data and were surprised to find patients prescribed tramadol were just as likely to move on to long-term use. They published their findings this year to alert authorities, he said: “There is no safe opioid. Tramadol is not a safe alternative. It’s a mistake that we didn’t figure it out sooner. It’s unfortunate that it took us this long. There’s a lot more that we need to learn about it, but I think we know enough that we also can’t wait around to act on this.” ___ Indian regulators knew the massive quantities manufactured in the country were spilling over domestically and countless Indians were addicted. But S.K. Jha, responsible for the northern region of India’s Narcotics Control Bureau, said he was shocked to learn in 2018 that tramadol from India was ravaging African nations. They realized then they needed to act, he said. India regulated tramadol in April 2018. Regulators say exports overseas and abuse at home came down. But they acknowledge that the vastness of the pharmaceutical industry and the ingenuity of traffickers makes curtailing abuse and illegal exports all but impossible. Tramadol is still easy to find. Jyoti Rani stood on her front steps and pointed to house after house where she said tramadol is still sold in her neighborhood of narrow roads and open drains, where school-aged boys sit hunched over the street in the middle of a weekday. Rani’s addiction began with heroin. When her 14-year-old son died, she fell into depression. “I wanted to kill myself, but I ended up becoming an addict,” she cried. A doctor prescribed tramadol to help kick the habit — instead, she formed a new one. She locked herself in her room, not eating or taking care of her two children. Rani used tramadol until she ran out of money and entered treatment. Now her family tells her she’s her old self again. The crackdown on tramadol coincided with the opening of dozens of addiction clinics that administer medicine and counseling to more than 30,000 each day. “We are trying our level best,” Jha said, “but it’s a challenge for all of us.” Countries’ efforts to control tramadol on their own often fail, particularly in places where addiction has taken hold, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. India has twice the global average of illicit opiate consumption. Researchers estimate 4 million Indians use heroin or other opioids, and a quarter of them live in the Punjab, India’s agricultural heartland bordering Pakistan, where some of the most vulnerable are driven to drugs out of desperation. Amandeep Kaur was pregnant when her husband died of a heart attack. She turned to the sex trade to make ends meet. She wanted not to feel, and a fellow sex worker suggested tramadol. She had no idea she’d get addicted, but eventually needed three pills to get through the day. “If I didn’t have it I felt lifeless, my body ached as if I was going to die,” she said, and joined the line stretching from the addiction clinic’s doors. ___ The Global Opioids project can be seen here. https://www.apnews.com/GlobalOpioids ___ Associated Press journalist Rishi Lekhi contributed to this report.
  • Expectations for a U.S.-Chinese trade truce rose Friday, though Beijing accused Washington of unfairly attacking its economy and said a settlement to their costly, 17-month-old conflict must be “mutually beneficial.” A senior Trump administration official said an announcement regarding China would take place Friday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning. A 'deal is close,'' said Myron Brilliant, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's head of international affairs, who was briefed by both sides. Brilliant said the Trump administration agreed to suspend a planned tariff increase on $160 billion of Chinese imports due to take effect Sunday and to reduce existing tariffs, though it wasn't clear by how much. In return, Beijing would buy more U.S. farm products, increase Americans companies' access to the Chinese market and tighten protection for intellectual property rights. The interim “Phase 1” deal, which doesn't appear to cover major U.S.-Chinese disputes, awaits final approval from President Donald Trump. Trump did not comment to reporters on the talks late Thursday when returning to the White House. Trump declared on Twitter early Thursday: “Getting VERY close to a BIG DEAL with China. They want it, and so do we!' Chinese officials gave no confirmation of a possible deal in comments that highlighted how far apart the two sides still are. There is no indication the “Phase 1” agreement extends to major disputes including U.S. complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. “Negotiations must be based on the principles of equality and mutual respect,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, repeating Beijing’s long-held position. “The deal must be mutually beneficial, a win-win.” Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Wang Yi complained at a separate government-organized forum in Beijing that Washington is unfairly attacking China. “The U.S. side has successively imposed unjustified restrictions and crackdowns on China in economy and trade, science and technology and personnel exchanges,” Wang said. “As far as China is concerned, what we are pursuing is our justified rights of development.” Trump's comments triggered a rally on Wall Street that carried over to Asian trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 220 points, or 0.8% on Thursday. In Friday trading, Japan's Nikkei 225 index jumped 2.6% while the Shanghai Composite index advanced 1.5%. Beijing has threatened to retaliate if Sunday's tariff hike goes ahead. Trump announced the “Phase 1” agreement following talks in Washington in October but neither side has disclosed details. Three Democratic senators — Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio — sent a letter to the White House on Thursday, urging Trump to 'stand firm'' in the negotiations with China. They called on the president to hold out for “commitments from the Chinese government to enact substantive, enforceable and permanent structural reform.'' The administration accuses Beijing of cheating in its drive to develop advanced technologies as driverless cars and artificial intelligence. The administration alleges — and independent analysts generally agree — that China steals technology, forces foreign companies to hand over trade secrets, unfairly subsidizes its own firms and throws up bureaucratic hurdles for foreign rivals. Beijing rejects the accusations and contends that Washington is simply trying to suppress a rising competitor in international trade. Despite the plans for an announcement, it's not a done deal, noted Jeffrey Halley of Oanda. “After such an interminable wait and having being led to water before, I would like to see something official in writing officially. Further to that point, although the in-principle agreement may have been agreed, the legally binding text has yet to be drawn up,' he said. Since July 2018, the Trump administration has imposed import taxes on $360 billion in Chinese products. Beijing has retaliated by taxing $120 billion in U.S. exports, including soybeans and other farm products that are vital to many of Trump's supporters in rural America. On Sunday, the administration was set to start taxing an additional $160 billion in Chinese imports, a move that would extend the sanctions to just about everything China ships to the United States. Repeated rounds of negotiations had failed to achieve even a preliminary agreement. The prolonged uncertainty over Trump's trade policies has curtailed U.S. business investment and likely held back economic growth. Many corporations have slowed or suspended investment plans until they know when, how or even whether the trade standoff will end. A far-reaching agreement on China's technology policies will likely prove difficult. It would require Beijing to scale back its drive to become a global powerhouse in industrial high technology, something it sees as a path to prosperity and international influence. Efforts to acquire foreign technology are a theme that runs through Chinese law and government. Security researchers have asserted that Beijing operates a network of research institutes and business parks to turn stolen foreign technology into commercial products. The Trump administration has been seeking a way to enforce any significant trade agreement with China, reflecting its contention that Beijing has violated past promises. One way to do is to retain some tariffs as leverage. __ Wiseman reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.
  • Customers searching for the perfect Christmas tree typically glance at Sandy Parsons’ limited offerings, then keep walking. Parsons never got her order for 350 trees from a North Carolina farm. Supplies were short, she was told. Instead, she was shipped some smaller ones for her lot at the Capitol Market in Charleston. Those paled in comparison to the much taller beauties at a competitor’s lot next door. “This has been the worst season,” Parsons said. “We lost a lot of money by that. It sets you back two or three years.” Christmas tree supplies are tight again this year across the United States, depending upon location and seller. The industry is still bouncing back from the Great Recession and trying to win people back from a shift toward artificial trees when times were especially tough. Industry officials say not to worry: Everyone who wants a last-minute tree should be able to find one. It just might take a little more searching, especially if customers want a specific type, and you might have to pay a little more. The best advice, said Amy Start, executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, is simple: “Shop early.” Parsons has been in business for 42 years as a seasonal seller of flowers, produce, pumpkins — and this year, just 32 Christmas trees. “I can tell you how many I didn’t buy: 350,” said Parsons, whose disappointment has been tempered by robust wreath sales. In the next lot, Robert Cole was having a jolly ole time preparing an abundance of trees for loading onto customers’ vehicles. The difference? Cole’s lot, French Creek Farms of Buckhannon, grows its own trees. “We’ve been busier than we’ve ever been before,” Cole said. Gesturing toward the lots of Parsons and another competitor, he explained his brisk business in the simplest economic terms: “Because there’s been no trees here and no trees over there.” An oversupply of trees about a decade ago caused a domino effect nationwide. Subsequently, fewer trees were cut down, which meant not as many seedlings were planted to replace them. Hot, dry weather also took its toll, forcing many growers to close. Larry Smith, who has been selling Fraser firs from the same lot in Lenoir, North Carolina, for 40 years, and second-generation Christmas tree farmer Mike Rood of Hermann, Missouri, said some farmers’ adult children aren’t as eager to take over the family business, leading to a labor shortage. “A lot of the farmers have gotten older and their kids realize there’s an easier way to life,” Smith said. Despite such challenges, Smith isn't looking for other ways to make a living. “I hope they find me fell over dead in the tree patch,” he said. “That’s the way I really want to go.” Smith’s trees have graced homes across the North Carolina foothills and up to the White House. He said he’s having his best year ever and doesn’t foresee running out. When his supply dwindles, his team heads up the mountain to harvest more. In Missouri, Rood buys precut trees not native to the state to supplement the short supply. This year, his farm couldn’t buy as many taller trees as it wanted. “The bigger trees in particular at this stage in the game are going to be harder to find,” Rood said. “So they need to be aware that if they’re really looking for a big tree, they need to go out and find it pretty quickly.” Missouri Christmas Tree Association President Steve Meier said that by late December, 'there’s still going to be Christmas trees left that haven’t been chosen.” The supply issue goes all the way up the chain. Oregon has the highest annual production of Christmas trees, followed by North Carolina and Michigan. In Oregon, where some tree farms comprise thousands of acres, Kirchem Farm owner Cher Tollefson in Oregon City closed her 100-acre business this holiday season for the first time in nearly three decades, citing a lack of trees. “Our trees need a year to grow,” Tollefson said. The number of Christmas tree farms nationwide fell 3% between 2012 and 2017, the latest year available, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, a real tree last year cost $78 on average, up $3 from 2017. At the Charleston market, customer Bob Atkins of Madison noticed not only that prices are higher but “there’s not as many as usual.” He was near the point of settling for an artificial tree when he and his wife, Jane, found the right tree after about 20 minutes on Cole’s lot. “I do not want an artificial tree,” Jane Atkins said with a smile. “We will fight over that!” Artificial Christmas trees now represent 70% of all trees in U.S. homes. The Denver-based National Christmas Tree Association is trying to change that, mainly by appealing to a sense of tradition among millennials. “Young families are our bread and butter,” said Doug Hundley, the group’s spokesman. “It’s important to that group of adults to have that real tree experience.” ___ Associated Press Writers Sarah Blake Morgan in Lenoir, North Carolina, Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Mike Householder in Detroit contributed to this report.