Xi Taps Harvard-Educated Adviser to Tighten Grip on China’s Economy

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China is grappling with a surge in debt that has begun to threaten its growth. The International Monetary Fund has warned about the problem, and two credit rating firms downgraded China’s rating last year. But global growth has picked up, offering Chinese officials a window of opportunity to lower debt without slowing the economy too much.

With his background, Mr. Liu, 66, seems to respect market forces, while also sharing Mr. Xi’s goal of maintaining the Communist Party’s grip on Chinese society, and particularly the economy. He also appears to see the dangers of failing to act to tackle the long-festering debt problem. He has studied the long-term risks to China’s economic ascent and oversaw a study about the lessons of the Great Depression and the global financial crisis of 2008.

He is widely regarded as the anonymous “authoritative person” who gave an interview in 2016 to People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper, which accused unnamed officials of trying to spend their way out of economic doldrums, rather than shutting down debt-loaded, inefficient “zombie enterprises.”

Yi Gang, China’s newly appointed central bank chief, on Monday. Mr. Yi is expected to work with Mr. Liu to help manage the country’s runaway debt. Credit Fred Dufour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said that Mr. Liu “wants market liberalization with Chinese characteristics.”

“He’s an architect in a system that has more than one view,” said Mr. Brilliant, who has met Mr. Liu. “He is driven in part by his learnings from Harvard — he certainly understands the value of the market and private sector.”

That understanding was apparent during the current session of the National People’s Congress, when Mr. Liu lectured officials from the northern province of Shanxi, which has struggled with a slowdown and corruption, to spur growth by better protecting the property rights of investors.

“It’s crucial for a business environment to have good protection of property rights under transparent rule of law,” Mr. Liu said, according to Chinese news reports. “This is a fundamental issue.”

Ultimately, Mr. Liu’s ability to reduce financial risk may depend on Mr. Xi and how much of an appetite the Chinese leader has for a painful overhaul that could slow growth.

Mr. Xi has made moves toward such changes, promising to open China’s economy even further. Last month, China’s Banking Regulatory Commission announced it had cut red tape for foreign banks, after a government announcement in November that it would relax and possibly remove limits on foreign ownership of Chinese banks.

But those expecting a sweeping opening of China’s economy are likely to be disappointed, some experts warn. While Mr. Liu is considered an able policymaker, his main mission will be to implement Mr. Xi’s vision of an economy that serves the interest of the party and the Chinese state, and not the other way around.

Mr. Liu is “a steady pair of hands who has apparently managed many economic issues competently over the past couple of years,” said Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Gavekal Dragonomics, an independent economic research firm.

But, Mr. Kroeber added, “the direction of economic policy under Xi has become quite clear over the past few years: state capitalism, with a large role for strengthened or consolidated state-owned enterprises, co-optation of private companies to serve state agendas.”

Mr. Liu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January. Credit Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

Mr. Liu’s appointment helps advance a push by Mr. Xi to consolidate the regulatory bodies that oversee the world’s No. 2 economy. This goal was apparent last week, when the congress approved a sweeping reshuffling of government that merged many separate agencies into a smaller number of superministries.

A failure by a tangle of competing regulatory agencies to communicate is widely blamed for causing a 2015 crash by China’s stock markets.

In addition to his promotion, Mr. Liu is likely to remain office director of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs, the Communist Party’s back-room committee for steering policy. Spanning the key government and party posts may help Mr. Liu to better calibrate and communicate policy and avoid stumbles like in 2015.

His promotion also threatens to marginalize China’s prime minister and Mr. Liu’s nominal superior, Li Keqiang. Previous occupants of that job have claimed a big say over the economy, but Mr. Li may be overshadowed by Mr. Liu, who has closer ties to the real center of policy, Mr. Xi.

Mr. Liu will work with Yi Gang, China’s newly appointed central bank chief who succeeds Zhou Xiaochuan. Mr. Yi, also American educated, will play a big role in the economy, ensuring that the credit taps are open just enough to help the economy without allowing runaway borrowing.

Mr. Liu’s promotion will thrust him into international prominence after a career mostly spent whispering advice into the ears of China’s leaders. Mr. Liu also drafted economic policies for Mr. Xi’s two predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.

Mr. Liu spent years in the United States as a student and is a confident English speaker. He studied business at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and went on to receive a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Even before his promotion on Monday, Mr. Liu has been taking a higher profile. In January, he traveled to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland with a message that China would surprise the world with moves that would make China’s economy more open.

Mr. Xi has so much confidence in Mr. Liu that he sent him to Washington in February on a mission to ease trade tensions with the Trump administration. During the trip, Mr. Liu also met with Wall Street executives including Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Laurence D. Fink of BlackRock and David M. Solomon of Goldman Sachs.

But Wall Street may not find Mr. Liu all to its liking.

“What we’re seeing now is a pretty decisive turn away from Western-style market liberalization,” said Andrew Gilholm, director of analysis for China and North Asia at Control Risks, a consulting firm. “Now what we’re seeing is that centralization and rule by directives. Discipline inspection is being seen as the cure-all.”

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Push to Settle McDonald’s Case, a Threat to Franchise Model

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A central question in the trial is whether McDonald’s is a so-called joint employer of workers directly employed by its franchisees. A parent company is considered a joint employer if it controls their working conditions, although the legal criteria for determining control in this context has shifted in recent years.

A finding that McDonald’s is a joint employer would make the company liable for labor-law violations committed by its franchisees, and would require it to bargain with restaurant workers who unionize.

The workers in the case asserted that their bosses at McDonald’s restaurants disciplined them, retaliated against them and in some cases fired them for taking part in protests beginning in 2012 in which they demanded a $15 hourly wage and a union. Roughly two dozen could be owed a monetary settlement, according to a lawyer involved.

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, at the time an appointee of President Barack Obama, investigated their charges and issued complaints against McDonald’s and its franchisees in 2014. A trial began in 2015 and continued through this year.

But in January, the labor board’s new general counsel, appointed by President Trump, was granted a 60-day stay in the case — expiring Monday — to pursue settlement talks.

The general counsel, Peter B. Robb, argued that two labor board decisions in December, one of which changed the legal standard for determining joint employment, might have weakened aspects of the case against McDonald’s and made a settlement more likely.

In his request for a stay, Mr. Robb said a settlement could “facilitate far more prompt and immediate remedial relief for the employees impacted by the alleged unfair labor practices.”

Before the December decision by the board, a parent company like McDonald’s could be considered a joint employer under federal labor law if it exerted indirect control over workers at a franchisee, or if it had the right to exercise control over workers that it nonetheless did not exercise.

After the board’s decision in December, an employer had to have direct and immediate control over workers to be considered a joint employer.

At the time he sought a stay, labor groups argued that Mr. Robb’s logic was specious because the board’s case against McDonald’s did not hinge on which definition of joint employment applied.

Lawyers for the Service Employees International Union and affiliated groups, which helped make the case against McDonald’s and have advocated for the workers, argued that even if the general counsel preferred to seek a settlement, it made no sense to stop the trial, which was only days from concluding, in order to do so.

In a court filing, they argued that stopping the trial would give McDonald’s an advantage by preventing union lawyers from cross-examining a key witness, and that it fostered “a game of hide-the-ball.”

Then, last month, one of Mr. Robb’s primary arguments for a pause in the trial abruptly deserted him when the labor board, on a procedural question, reversed its December decision narrowing the definition of a joint employer. At that point, the joint employer definition reverted to what it had been earlier in the trial.

Several Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, stated in a March 7 letter to Mr. Robb that the board’s reversal “eliminates whatever support may have existed for your efforts to settle the McDonald’s case so near to the trial’s close,” and urged Mr. Robb to “swiftly resume and finish the trial.”

But Mr. Robb’s office pressed ahead with its efforts to reach a settlement before the stay expired. Last week, lawyers from the labor board’s regional offices abruptly reached out to several former McDonald’s workers involved in the case. In one instance, according to an email to a labor board lawyer from Micah Wissinger, a lawyer advocating the workers’ cause on behalf of the union, a labor board lawyer called a worker and asked if she “was ok with $50k” for back pay as part of the settlement. The offer was conditional on her waiving her right to be reinstated in her old job.

Mr. Wissinger said that the calls created the impression that workers needed to accept the offers before they consulted with him or his colleagues or anyone else, and that at least two did.

“It was a done deal by the time we found out,” Mr. Wissinger said. “They were completely cutting us out of the process.”

Bloomberg reported on the aggressive settlement efforts over the weekend.

Jennifer Abruzzo, who served as deputy general counsel of the labor board until 2017, said settlement discussions that exclude lawyers who back the workers were a break with custom.

“That’s unusual,” Ms. Abruzzo said. “The charging party is the one that the regions typically go to. And the charging party in this instance is the S.E.I.U.”

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A Tax on Tech Titans, an I.P.O. for Dropbox and a Tariff Deadline

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Federal Reserve policymakers will meet this week to discuss interest rates, the first such session with Jerome H. Powell as the central bank’s new chairman. Credit Erin Schaff for The New York Times

Here’s what to expect in the week ahead:


Europe to proceed with tech tax.

The European Commission is expected this week to unveil a plan for revamping how technology companies are taxed on their digital revenue. The proposal is the latest push in a campaign by Brussels to more strongly regulate the titans of the tech industry — particularly dominant players like Amazon and Apple that have drawn scrutiny for their efforts to maximize profits by recording earnings in lower tax jurisdictions like Ireland and Luxembourg. The move comes as criticism persists that the European Union unfairly focuses on American companies, an accusation that Brussels denies. Prashant S. Rao


Drop it like a stock.

Investors will be watching to see whether the online file storage company Dropbox successfully goes public this week. If it does, they’ll want to see what Wall Street’s response says about the prospects for other so-called unicorns, the start-ups valued at more than $1 billion by the private investors that have so far financed their growth. Although privately valued at $10 billion, Dropbox recently set an initial price range for its shares at $16 to $18, for a value of $7 billion to $7.9 billion. One question is whether Dropbox, and others that may follow it to market, can avoid the fate of Snap, the company behind the Snapchat app, which has struggled to stay above its $17-a-share offering price since going public a year ago, and the meal-delivery start-up Blue Apron, which went public at $10 a share last June and is now trading well below that.


Jerome Powell’s first meeting as Fed chairman.

Federal Reserve policymakers are set to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss interest rates, the first such session with Jerome H. Powell as the central bank’s new chairman. With the job market tight and inflation picking up only gradually, the Fed is widely expected to raise rates by a quarter of a percentage point in what is likely to be the first of three rate increases this year. After the meeting, Mr. Powell will hold his first news conference in his new role, where observers will be listening closely for any suggestion that the Fed might depart from its anticipated path, and, if so, why.


Deadline looms for duties on imported metals.

The steep tariffs ordered by President Trump on imported aluminum and steel are to take effect on Friday. Like much else coming out of the White House these days, how strict that deadline is — and to which countries the tariffs will apply — is a somewhat open question. Mexico and Canada have already been given exemptions from the duties while negotiations continue over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the Trump administration wants to alter significantly. Mr. Trump has hinted that Australia and other nations with close ties to the United States could also get a reprieve, setting off a rush by other nations as well as foreign companies and their American partners, for similar treatment. Those favorable arrangements could be worth billions of dollars.

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Harassment and Tipping in Restaurants: Your Stories

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Lewd comments. Groping. Requests for dates and propositions for sex. We talked to more than 60 restaurant servers about their experiences with sexual harassment from customers, and pulled it together for a project that examined the way servers balance the abusive behavior they endure against their need for tips.

Then we heard from you. When we published the article last Monday, we asked readers to tell us their own experiences in restaurants, either as diners or servers. More than 1,200 people responded in a little more than 24 hours.

“You numb yourself because dealing with inappropriate behavior from customers is just part of the job — that’s the way it feels, at least.”

Emma Andrews, Boulder, Colo.

We heard from a woman whose customer offered to pay her college tuition if she would have an affair with him, and a senior in high school who told of men hitting on her in front of their children as she waited on them.

And of course there was the story about the server who poured a strawberry daiquiri over a customer’s head after he kept running his hand up her skirt.

But we’ll get back to that.

As we combed through the responses, we were struck by the sheer number of readers who had their own harrowing stories of mistreatment while working as servers or bartenders. Just like the scores of workers we interviewed for the article, many described the pressure to tolerate bad behavior in order to earn tips.

Especially telling: Many of you said the money made it worthwhile.

“I’ve had countless men use predatory language, grab me inappropriately and suggest that I sleep with them. If I play along and smile, they always tip well, and they always come back. As emotionally draining as it is, the trade-off is worth it because I don’t have to deal with these men outside of work, and their money allows me to pay for my education and save for my future.”

Caitlyn Collins, New York City

“Part of being a server is developing thick skin. The other part is knowing that if you smile and go along with diners’ jokes, you’ll make more money. So sometimes I let snide comments — “Oh look at this little Spanish mami” — slide by. The trade-off was bringing home money so I could survive.”

Ruby De Santiago, Rogers, Ark.

Some respondents urged their fellow servers to stand up for themselves, even if it meant losing out financially.

“Rewarding bad behavior is equal to consent and not speaking up for yourself and others perpetuates that cycle of abuse and control.’’

Bobby, San Francisco, a tipped worker for 20 years

But a few current or former servers questioned the severity of the problem, saying they had always worked in restaurants that did not tolerate misconduct from customers. And one reader, Ella Watson, a college student who works in a bar and grill near her campus in Norman, Okla., embraced the practice of flirting for tips.

“I flirt. I give out my number (the vast majority of times a fake one). I tell fraternity members that I ‘love their house’ and ‘will definitely come to their next party!’ This behavior gets me tips, and good ones. I am grateful for my job. I make more than enough to pay for my bills and live comfortably while going to school. To suggest that sexist power imbalances are at play, or that I am a victim of a tipping culture, is demeaning.’’

Ella Watson, Norman, Okla.

Some male readers also felt exploited sexually (hugging a customer at a gay club in West Hollywood could mean the difference between a big tip and an insulting one, a bartender said), but other men wrote in about harassment that was humiliating even though it was not sexual.

“There are a lot of people out there who really hold your tip over your head and don’t seem to understand that you are their equal. Serving is one of the hardest things I have done in my life. I’m about to graduate with my mechanical engineering degree and nothing I have done in my schooling had compared to a rough night of work at the restaurant.”

Anthony, Santa Fe, N.M.

Diners weighed in too, with many expressing the need to respect the fact that servers were at work by keeping interactions professional. A few told of debating with themselves whether it would be appropriate to leave a business card or invite a server on a date. Some decided against it, but one reader said he was glad he decided to speak up.

“She said yes the second time, maybe a tad reluctantly. We were married for almost 45 years, so maybe it wasn’t so inappropriate after all.’’

Dave Carroll, Atlantic Highlands, N.J.

One man flipped the equation, expressing annoyance at being on the receiving end of servers trying to engage him too much in an effort to extract tips.

“It’s obvious when servers are trying too hard to get a tip. I wish I could tell servers that I’m always going to tip 20 percent so please don’t feel you need to engage me in a conversation I don’t want to have.”

Fred Turatti, Potomac, Md.

Like Mr. Turatti, many diners said they always tipped at least 20 percent, though some set the baseline at 15 percent. Former servers said they often left more. “I’ve been there,” was a sentiment we heard again and again.

Other readers questioned why tipping existed at all and suggested that everyone — diner and employees — would be better off without it. This was an issue our article explored, looking at restaurants that had adopted no-tipping policies. But the experiences were mixed, and many of the servers we interviewed were against eliminating tipping because they were convinced it would hurt their bottom line. Many of the reader responses echoed that reasoning.

“The only reason I don’t accept a full-time management role or move to a more ‘traditional’ industry is because I would be taking a pay cut to do so.”

Dani D., Nashville

Diners also told poignant stories about realizing how much their tips meant to servers. One reader, Sheri Albrecht of Walford, Iowa, recounted a time when she and her husband had dined with another couple, who picked up the check but left a paltry tip.

“My husband returned to the restaurant the next day, found the waitress, apologized for our friend’s poor tip (she remembered it) and handed her enough cash to make 20 percent. She stared at the money for a few seconds, stunned, then threw her arms around my husband’s neck and started to cry. THAT’S how much tips mean to servers.’’

Sheri Albrecht, Walford, Iowa

Now about that strawberry daiquiri.

It was poured in a bar in eastern Oregon in 1982. The server, Kelly Andersson, had been delivering drinks to a corner booth with about six people in it, and one of the men ran his hand up her leg and under her skirt.

“First time I just gave him the death glare,’’ she wrote. “Second time I told him (a bit loudly) that if he put his hand under my skirt again I’d pour a drink over his head. Next trip back, OF COURSE, he does it. I plucked a strawberry daiquiri from my tray and dumped it gracefully on top of his head and smirked as it ran down onto his nice cream-colored turtleneck sweater.’’

Kelly Andersson, Sutherlin, Oregon

She said his friends started piling cash onto her tray to reward her, then had a better idea: they started grabbing the perpetrator’s money. She made about $125 from that one episode, she estimated.

There’s a postscript to her story.

“About 20 years later I happened to drive through that town (it’s on the interstate) and stopped at that bar for an afternoon beer. Got to chatting with an old guy at the bar.”

The episode, it turned out, had become legend. And the old man recounted it to Ms. Andersson, telling her about the time a jerk had been doused with a margarita.

“I told him, ‘Yeah, I remember that. It was a strawberry daiquiri.’”

Catrin Einhorn reports and produces narrative-driven work in a variety of media, including print, audio, video and interactive pieces.  She was previously a public radio reporter and a Fulbright scholar in anthropology.



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‘World Upside Down’: As Trump Pushes Tariffs, Latin America Links Up

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Members of Mercosur — the trade bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — have jump-started trade negotiations with the European Union, which officials say are closer than ever to a breakthrough after languishing for years.

Canada, which is worried about the potential unraveling of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has begun negotiating a free trade deal with Mercosur.

“There’s never been a better time to diversify,” said François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of international trade. “It would mean opening a market of some 300 million people, a rising middle class, an economic powerhouse in this part of the world.”

Chile hosted the signing of a trade agreement this month that 11 Pacific nations, including Mexico, Peru and Canada, salvaged after the Trump administration walked away from the agreement, originally known the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Pacific Alliance, another free trade bloc that Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico formed in 2011, is aiming to expand. Its members are negotiating a partnership with Mercosur and are considering admitting Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore as associate members.

For all of the recent advancements, economists and government officials say that significant obstacles stand in the way of substantive commercial integration in the Americas. These include competition among exporters of the same commodities and poor infrastructure that makes cross-border value chains impractical. Despite recent moves to lower trade barriers, protectionist policies remain entrenched in some of the largest countries, including Brazil and Argentina.

And voters in several of the region’s largest economies, including Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, will elect new leaders this year, which could diminish the appetite for free trade and integration in some corners.

But Mr. Trump’s imposition of new tariffs on steel and aluminum this month, and his appearing to relish the prospect of initiating a trade war, makes him an outlier in the region.

“I think the region as a whole — but especially Brazil and Argentina — has learned to recognize that protectionism is a lose-lose strategy,” said Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Countries saw perverse effects of trade barriers play out in their own economies, and will now get a chance to observe what they are likely to do to the most important economy on the planet.”

In 2002, Brazil was among the key naysayers to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the deal intended to span two continents, which was championed by the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

The Brazilian president at the time, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist former union leader, argued that the initiative would amount to “annexation” by the United States. But since Mr. da Silva’s successor and ally, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in 2016, the country has embarked on a radically different course.

Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh of Vietnam, left, shook hands with Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico’s economy minister, at the trade pact signing ceremony as Peru’s minister of foreign commerce, Eduardo Ferreyros, looked on. Credit Esteban Felix/Associated Press

This month, President Michel Temer’s government issued a blueprint for economic growth that made the case that sustained growth would require lowering tariffs and retraining workers to steer them away from occupations that have become obsolete or less competitive.

The shift comes as Brazil emerges from a crippling, yearslong recession.

In recent months the government has sought to build good will with the Trump administration, including by opening its oil industry to foreign investment.

As Brazilian officials have scrambled to seek exemptions from the steel tariffs, they find themselves, uncharacteristically, preaching the gospel of free trade.

“Our vision is the opposite of what is happening in the United States,” said Marcos Jorge de Lima, Brazil’s minister of industry and foreign trade. “We want more and more trade openings.”

Jorge Arbache, the secretary for international affairs at Brazil’s Planning Ministry, said Mr. Trump’s threat of a trade war could deal a blow to Brazil and Argentina in the short term. But he added that it has the potential to accelerate the region’s economic integration with Asia.

“This recent wave of protectionism has several adverse impacts but it may have a positive impact, not only for Latin America, but on Asia and other regions,” he said.

While Brazil’s economy remains among the world’s most tightly controlled, Mr. Arbache said the government had taken significant steps away from protectionism. For instance, it recently began allowing companies from Mercosur countries and Peru to bid for government procurement contracts, a step that he said “would have been considered unthinkable until recently.”

While government officials across Latin America are largely rueful and contemptuous of the American administration in private, Washington’s traditional allies have sought to make the best of the Trump era, recognizing that foreign investment from, and trade with, the United States remains paramount for economic growth.

Perhaps none has worked harder to charm and cajole the White House than President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, who was among the first Latin American leaders to get an Oval Office meeting. Mr. Trump said during that encounter with Mr. Macri, whom he knew from real estate dealings between the two families, that the two nations would be “great friends, better than ever before.”

Yet nearly a year later, the United States has imposed prohibitive tariffs on biodiesel, which was once Argentina’s chief export to the United States, and a vow by Washington to open its market for Argentine lemons has not been fulfilled.

“The United States has bludgeoned Argentina in trade matters in a way that is utterly inconsistent with the diplomatic approach to the government,” said Benjamin Gedan, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center who worked on policy toward South America in the Obama administration.

Mr. Macri was elected in 2015 after promising to open up Argentina to the world following more than a decade of center-left governments. Now, the viability of his reform agenda, which includes unpopular pension, labor and tax overhauls, hangs on the government’s ability to get the economy on a solid footing and raise wages. The prospect of aluminum and steel tariffs could deal a significant setback to Mr. Macri, who called Mr. Trump this month to plead for an exemption.

“These blows to the Argentine economy are coming at a moment of great fragility, both politically for Mr. Macri and economically for the region as a whole,” Mr. Gedan said.

As they have sought to fend off American tariffs, officials from several South American countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, have impressed upon their counterparts in Washington that the United States has a trade surplus with the region.

But that argument has so far carried little weight in Washington, where, according to analysts and government officials, the Commerce Department is forcefully defending the interests of local industries without the traditional pushback about strategic interests that the State Department has exerted in the past. This stands to benefit China, Latin American leaders say, which in recent years displaced the United States as the top trading partner in Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile.

“I think that with this attitude the United States is leaving a void, and that void may be filled by China,” President Sebastián Piñera of Chile said in a recent interview, adding that he was startled by the messages that the Chinese and American leaders presented at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“The president of the United States was defending protectionism, and the president of China was defending free trade,” Mr. Piñera said. “It felt a little like the world upside down.”

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‘Tomb Raider’ Can’t Topple ‘Black Panther’ at Box Office

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Daniel Wu, left, and Alicia Vikander in “Tomb Raider,” which placed second at the box office in its first weekend. Credit Ilze Kitshoff/Warner Bros. Pictures, via Associated Press

The return of a blockbuster action franchise couldn’t bump “Black Panther” from the top of the box office this week. The Marvel movie earned another $27 million for its fifth straight week at No. 1, leaving “Tomb Raider” to settle for second place.

“Black Panther” has now made $605 million domestically, making it the second-fastest movie to reach $600 million behind “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Globally, it has made $1.2 billion and sits in 14th place all time. But ticket sales fell steeply in its second weekend in China, where audiences complained about “political correctness.”

The rebooted “Tomb Raider” earned $23.5 million in its first weekend, according to comScore, which compiles box office data. The Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie, which cost about $94 million to make, stars the Oscar-winning Alicia Vikander as the grim and acrobatic action hero Lara Croft. It barely performed better at the box office than 2003’s “Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life,” which starred Angelina Jolie and closed that era of the franchise. The reboot received tepid reviews and a B grade from ticket buyers in CinemaScore exit polls.

The surprise hit of the week was Roadside Attractions’ “I Can Only Imagine,” which opened to a strong $17 million in just 1,629 locations (compared to 3,854 for “Black Panther”), easily making back its budget. The film stars Dennis Quaid and depicts the back story behind the song of the same name by the Christian band MercyMe. The marketing team made a strong push on Christian radio and at church events, resulting in a large audience driven by women and moviegoers over 35; the film received an A+ CinemaScore grade, suggesting it may continue to thrive from word of mouth.

“Love, Simon,” a teen movie from Fox with a gay protagonist, performed decently with $11.7 million. The film also received an A+ from CinemaScore.

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FedEx Follows Amazon Into the Robotic Future

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But most of the work in this facility still requires human dexterity. Modern robots are not nimble enough to unload a truck filled with randomly sized boxes or pack those boxes onto a truck at the other end of the hub.

“People are remarkably good at handling lots of different shapes and amazingly good at fitting those things into tight spaces,” said Dave Clark, who oversees robotics work at Amazon. “Machines, today, can’t keep pace.”

These companies, however, will continue to automate as much of the process as they can. The online retail and shipping markets continue to grow, and with Amazon setting new standards for fast and inexpensive delivery, everyone else has to keep up. That means more shipping centers and more workers — both machines and humans.

The need for automation is particularly acute in areas with low unemployment. RK Logistics, a small company that runs a shipping warehouse in Livermore, Calif., — with the help of three mobile robots — has had trouble hiring. The pool of available workers is low — the local unemployment rate is around 2.7 percent — and it is hard to keep up with the salaries Amazon is paying in nearby Tracy. “We have 30 positions open at any given time,” said Rock Magnan, the company’s president.

And the desire of companies to rely on robots isn’t abating. FedEx is already exploring the use of robotics in the concrete yards outside its hubs, where workers move freight with forklifts and other vehicles, Mr. Dengel said. On the second floor of the North Carolina hub, where most packages race down conveyor belts, the company is preparing to install a system that can automatically recognize packages that need special handling. In the past, that also required a paid worker.

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Uber’s New Rival in Australia: An Indian Upstart

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India is home to a raft of start-ups in e-commerce, mobile apps and other consumer internet businesses. But few of them have ventured beyond their home market successfully. Zomato, a restaurant review site similar to Yelp of the United States, expanded aggressively overseas a few years ago, only to scale back and focus more on India and a few countries like the United Arab Emirates. Paytm, India’s leading digital-payments company, has targeted its services to Indian immigrants in Canada, primarily as an experiment geared toward learning how to operate in developed countries.

For Ola, Australia could be a compelling international opportunity.

For starters, the country offers room to grow. Fewer than one in five Australians who regularly buy things online used a ride-hailing service in the past year, according to June survey data analyzed by eMarketer, an American research firm. And the typical fares are much higher than in India, meaning Ola could potentially make more money per ride.

“In the ride-sharing market currently, there are no real enemies,” said Satish Meena, a senior forecast analyst with Forrester, a technology research firm. “Everyone is willing to share the pie.”

Australian laws also make it generally easy to set up a ride-share business. Taxify, an Estonian company, arrived in December.

“We welcome competition because it keeps us focused on delivering the very best product,” said David Rohrsheim, Uber’s general manager for Australia and New Zealand.

Experts say that Uber has another incentive: Australia has tough labor laws that could require the company to treat drivers as employees deserving of retirement and other benefits. If its drivers also drive for other services, Uber could more easily argue that they are free agents instead.

Ola is mostly trying to win drivers over with a better deal.

The company takes only 7.5 percent of drivers’ fares, with plans to increase that figure to 15 percent. Uber collects 20 to 25 percent. Drivers said that with Ola they could make 50 Australian dollars, or $39, an hour compared with only $30 Australian an hour with Uber.

“It’s a dramatic difference,” said Cheri Gristwood, an Uber driver in Perth, who was an early adopter of Ola. “I work my butt off, and with Ola I come home with a lot more.”

Mr. Rohrsheim said that Uber had added incentives of its own last year, including paid wait time and a “no thanks” button that lets drivers refuse up to three rides in a row.

“Uber isn’t Uber without driver partners,” he said, “and our success depends on their success.”

Ola’s discounted commission has helped the company sign up 7,000 drivers so far. That is nowhere near the roughly 82,000 who drive for Uber, but more than double what Taxify started with in Sydney in December. Taxify did not respond to requests for comment.

An Uber driver’s phone shows the company’s surge pricing in effect one day this month. Drivers who work for Ola and Uber said the Indian company’s prices made it appealing to riders when Uber is in surge mode. Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Times

Many of the new Ola drivers help spread the word about the company. Cecilia Cornu, an Ola customer in Perth, first heard about the service when she asked an Uber driver about the two cellphones he had. One, he said, was for Ola.

“He told me my ride would have been cheaper if I had booked it through Ola, as they were running a promotion with free rides,” she said.

“As soon as I got to work,” she added, “I downloaded the Ola app.”

Ola has not explicitly marketed itself to drivers or riders of Indian origin, but the company does expect that the awareness of its brand among Indians will help. About 1.9 percent of Australia’s population of 24 million was born in India, according to 2016 census data; many more are the children of Indian immigrants.

The Ola app still signals that connection: India sometimes shows up as the default country when someone in Australia signs up and adds his mobile phone number.

Ola’s effort to shift from local to global remains imperfect. Some customers have reported problems with the app continuing to calculate rides after trips have ended. Mr. Ward, one of the Ola drivers in Sydney, said the company’s registration process was less streamlined than Uber’s.

Ola’s expansion into Australia may also have a strategic goal beyond higher fares: protection against an unwanted takeover.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, in New Delhi last month. Before Ola’s arrival, Uber had long had the Australian market to itself. Credit Rebecca Conway for The New York Times

The Japanese conglomerate SoftBank is Ola’s largest outside shareholder, and one of the largest shareholders in Uber. It has also invested in other ride-hailing companies around the world.

SoftBank executives have made it clear that they would like to see Uber’s operations in some developing countries merge with local players to avoid a competitive blood bath, allowing the company to focus more intensively on higher-profit, developed markets.

Ola recently changed its articles of incorporation to defend against any large investor from forcing a sale of the company. Bhavish Aggarwal, a founder of Ola and its chief executive, is busy trying to raise money from other investors to reduce SoftBank’s influence over his company’s destiny.

Mr. Aggarwal declined several interview requests. “We are very excited about launching Ola in Australia and see immense potential for the ride-sharing ecosystem in a country which embraces new technology and innovation,” he said in a statement.

At times, Uber has been a seller. It has left the ride-hailing business in China and Russia, selling its operations in those countries in exchange for stakes in the dominant local competitors.

Mr. Meena predicted that Ola and Uber would eventually reach a similar arrangement in India, with the Australian operations of each company possibly added to the mix. Developing a robust Australian business could give Ola a bargaining chip in negotiations.

“Everyone is looking at capturing market share,” he said, “and then doing a deal with Uber.”

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Air France Reminds Travelers What Their Flight Could Be Like

anastasios pallis

“We are quite convinced that most of the low-cost carrier’s clients don’t know that they pay nearly the same price when they travel with the low-cost company because when they have the luggage, the meal, the drinks, the entertainment, at the end of the day it’s very similar to the all-included price they could pay with Air France,” Ms. Wood said. “As we have the image of a quite premium airline, it’s not obvious for them to understand that.”

The Air France campaign will mostly be a digital one, but visitors to the Grove mall in Los Angeles on Saturday can win pairs of round-trip economy tickets. The Sudoku puzzle tape, gummies and scratch-and-sniff patches will also be given away, and will be available in an online sweepstakes.

American low-cost airlines don’t directly compete with Air France, but they use some of the same advertising techniques that its less-expensive international competitors do.

“Obviously, we promote our low fares heavily — it’s the price point that will be successful at getting attention,” Tyri Squyres, the vice president of marketing at Frontier Airlines, said in an email. “And then we educate customers on all the options they have with us.”

She added: “Our goal is to simply let people get off the couch and go. Our low fares enable more people to travel and do it more often.”

Fare-based advertising has been a popular tactic for decades, but as travelers have become more price conscious, in part because researching cheap tickets has never been easier, they sometimes gloss over the fine print. Many ultra-low-cost carriers charge extra fees for services like selecting a seat before departure, checking a bag, and receiving onboard drinks and snacks.

A late-1960s print ad from United Airlines’ ”Fly the Friendly Skies” campaign.

This, Ms. Squyres said, is where the company’s branding becomes even more important.

“The last thing we want to do is have a customer surprised at the airport,” she said. “We have invested heavily in all of our touch points to ensure customers understand our product and all of their options.”

Frontier’s website recently had an overhaul, which emphasized making the fee structure more clear.

Henry Harteveldt, the founder of Atmosphere Research Group and a former marketer at a number of airlines, said Air France’s and Frontier’s marketing strategies were both good examples of how airline advertising has changed over the decades.

“Airlines don’t do a lot of advertising anymore,” Mr. Harteveldt said. “They focus a substantial amount of their media investment now in search engine optimization.”

He noted that American carriers were some of the least likely to advertise. “When you have four very large airlines, they don’t have to market as aggressively as they once did,” he added.

That’s a big change from a few decades ago. From T.W.A.’s “Up, Up and Away” to United’s “Friendly Skies,” commercial branding was central to an airline’s image.

One of Mr. Harteveldt’s favorite ads was British Airways’ “Manhattan” commercial, which emphasized how each year the company flew more people across the Atlantic than the population of Manhattan.

British Airways’ “Manhattan” commercial from 1983.

While that kind of creativity can still be fun to see in retrospect, it’s no longer necessarily the best way to attract customers.

“The challenge is that an airline today, with its advertising, needs to think beyond just the media portion of it,” Mr. Harteveldt said. “Will they be running the ads on price comparison sites and on social media? Those are critical now — to reach travelers of all ages, frankly — when people are in that phase of dreaming of travel before they have selected an airline.”

And when carriers do choose to advertise more traditionally, they have to pick their message carefully. “Airlines have to strike the balance between image-based advertising and very hard-hitting retail or tactical advertising,” Mr. Harteveldt said.

But it makes sense, he said, for Air France to be investing more in advertising in the United States than some of its American competitors.

“The foreign-flag airlines tend to be more aggressive in advertising because they’re not as well known and in many cases are promoting destinations beyond their home market,” he said.

The “take a chance or fly Air France” campaign stands out because of its emphasis on in-flight service.

“As airlines have unbundled their product, they almost don’t want to remind you of what it’s like to fly them,” Mr. Harteveldt said. “What Air France is doing is a smart marketing move, but it’s also a brave marketing move.”

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