- - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TRADE

Lawmaker: Deal held “hostage

Republicans should stop “holding hostage” a beneficial free-trade agreement with South Korea they are using as a bargaining tool to pass other trade deals with Colombia and Panama, a top House Democrat said Tuesday.

The South Korean trade deal would help level the playing field, said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means committee. The U.S. trade deficit with South Korea is consistently more than $10 billion, he said, because many Korean companies have “open access” to the U.S. market, but their American counterparts are “shut out” there.

In the auto industry, for instance, South Korean companies ship about 500,000 vehicles to the U.S. each year, but American automakers ship 1 percent of that sum to South Korea, Mr. Levin said. It’s a “one-way street” that a trade agreement could fix.

“Unless Republicans stop stalling, our companies will be disadvantaged,” he said.

The bill, which Mr. Levin would like passed before Memorial Day, likely will receive bi-partisian support. But it faces delays because Republicans also want the Colombia and Panama deals passed, while the White House and some Democrats, including Mr. Levin, say they need more work.

MICHIGAN

Toyota restricts auto parts orders

Toyota Motor Corp. wants its U.S. car dealers to stop ordering replacement parts made in Japan because it is worried about running out of them.

Toyota has given its dealers a list of 233 replacement parts that shouldn’t be ordered unless a customer needs one for a repair.

Toyota says its parts inventory is adequate despite production that was disrupted by the earthquake in Japan. But it has restricted orders of some components made by suppliers to make sure they remain available.

Dealers say the parts include brake rotors, body panels and shock absorbers, primarily for the Prius gas-electric hybrid and hybrid versions of the Highlander SUV and the Camry midsize sedan.

Toyota currently has more than 300,000 replacement parts.

ENERGY

Farmers cash in on ethanol subsidies

Midwestern corn growers are profiting from government biofuel subsidies and mandates to the tune of some $1 million per crop farmer, a former top federal budget expert argues in a new book.

Ken Glozer, who served in the White House Office of Management and Budget under four presidents beginning with President Richard Nixon, told a gathering at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Tuesday that corn ethanol subsidies represent among the worst government market-support programs, transferring wealth from consumers to well-off farmers while failing to meet projected environment and energy independence goals.

Some 90 environmental, livestock and food interest groups recently appealed to Congress to end biofuel subsidies, which benefit from strong political backing from Midwestern lawmakers from both parties. U.S. corn production has soared in recent years in response to the new subsidies and mandates.

Federal subsidies for ethanol amount to about $6 billion annually, and ethanol constitutes about 10 percent of the fuel used to power American cars each year.

Mr. Glozer is president of OMB Professionals Inc., an energy consulting firm. His just-released book is entitled “Corn Ethanol: Who Pays? Who Benefits?”

NEW YORK

Toy company settles charges

NEW YORK | The Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday that Toys R Us, the largest U.S. toy retailer, agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle civil charges that it violated an agency order barring it from discussing its discount-chain competitors with its suppliers.

The FTC said that from 1999 to 2010, Toys R Us violated the order by complaining via its Babies R Us subsidiary to several suppliers about the discounts other retailers were giving on baby products and requesting information about how companies supplied products to discounters.

The FTC said Toys R Us also deleted some emails of employees who left the company that it was required to keep.

The 1998 order came about after the FTC found that Toys R Us used its position as the top U.S. toy retailer to stop toy makers from selling some toys to warehouse clubs.

That has not happened since, but the FTC said that Toys R Us did not comply with other parts of the 1998 order.

“Although we did not find evidence that Toys R Us entered into agreements with the suppliers that violated the order, the penalty here underscores the importance of parties complying fully with all of their order obligations,” said Richard A. Feinstein, director of the FTC Bureau of Competition.

“We are pleased that this matter is fully resolved and is now behind us,” said Kathleen Waugh, spokeswoman for privately held Toys R Us, based in Wayne, N.J.

DELAWARE

Amtrak to tweet about delays

WILMINGTON | Amtrak introduced a pilot program to notify Northeast Corridor passengers about major service disruptions via Twitter.

The program using the @AmtrakNEC handle began Tuesday.

Amtrak says Twitter users who choose to follow @AmtrakNEC will be notified of service disruptions resulting in major delays or stoppage of all rail traffic due to equipment problems, weather, police activity or other causes.

Disruptions that affect only a single train will not result in a tweet.

Amtrak says it will review the number of followers and retweets of the messages to determine if the pilot program should be modified, made permanent or expanded to other corridors.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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