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Shoppers Could Soon Have Difficulty Finding Meat’s Origin

The Gilmer Free Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Shoppers could soon have a harder time finding out where their red meat comes from.

The World Trade Organization ruled Monday that the U.S. “country of origin” labels put Canadian and Mexican livestock at a disadvantage. The current labels say where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered.

The Obama administration has already revised the labels once to try to comply with previous WTO rulings in favor of Canada and Mexico. Since those efforts didn’t work, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says Congress will have to weigh in to avoid retaliation — such as extra tariffs — from the two neighbor countries.

“Congress has got to fix this problem,“ Vilsack said after the decision. “They either have to repeal (country of origin labeling) or modify and amend it.“

Though the ruling went against the U.S., it’s a victory for the U.S. meat industry, which has said the labels are costly because of segregation of livestock, record-keeping and new packaging that is required. After the decision, meat processors quickly called for repeal of the labeling laws.

Canada and Mexico issued a joint statement calling on the United States to repeal the labeling rules and saying they will seek authorization from the WTO to take retaliatory measures against U.S. exports.

The joint statement of Canadian and Mexican agriculture and trade officials said the rules cause Canadian and Mexican livestock and meat to be segregated from those of U.S. origin — a costly process that has forced some U.S. companies to stop buying exports. The labeling is “damaging to North America’s supply chain and is harmful to producers and processors in all three countries,“ the officials said.

They said they would “continue to work closely” on the issue with the United States.

The National Farmers Union, a farm group that has backed the country of origin labels, said negotiations would be better than congressional intervention.

“As we have seen in other disputes, once decisions are handed down, WTO members often work together to find a solution that will work for them,“ said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “In this case, such a solution must involve continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labeling requirement.“

Congress required the labels in 2002 and 2008 farm laws, mostly at the behest of ranchers in the northern United States who compete with the Canadian cattle industry. Originally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed the labels to say simply “Product of U.S.“ or “Product of U.S. and Canada,“ but the WTO rejected that approach in 2012.

USDA then revised the labels and made them more specific in an attempt to win WTO approval. Now the labels say, for example, that the animal that produced the meat was “born in Mexico, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.“

The WTO rejected those revised rules last year, and the United States filed one last appeal, rejected Monday by the WTO.

Tim Reif, chief counsel for the U.S. Trade Representative, said the administration is “considering all options going forward, and will continue to consult with members of Congress and interested members of the public regarding possible next steps.“

The Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have indicated they are ready to step in on the issue. Both Texas Rep. Mike Conaway and Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts have supported past efforts to repeal the labeling laws, siding with the meat industry.

Conaway said in a statement he will hold a hearing this week for members of the House panel to weigh in on the issue.

“As retaliation by Canada and Mexico becomes a reality, it is more important now than ever to act quickly to avoid a protracted trade war with our two largest trade partners,“ Conaway said.

Roberts also said he would move swiftly to try and find a solution. He said retaliation could mean billions of dollars in tariffs on U.S. exports.

“Those costs will be passed on to consumers,“ Roberts said.

Which Cities Have the Highest Minimum Wages

Los Angeles just voted to raise its minimum wage from $9 to $15. See how other major cities stack up:

Los Angeles became the latest and largest city to raise its minimum wage, voting May 19 to up it from $9 an hour to $15 by 2020. (The federal minimum is $7.25.) The nation’s second largest city follows Seattle and San Francisco, which moved to gradually increase their minimum wages to $15 in 2014.

Here are the other major cities that have passed or proposed a higher wage floor. (Note: Most increases will be phased in between now and 2020.)

The Gilmer Free Press

Financial Markets on 05.21.15

The Gilmer Free Press

The S&P 500 closed at a record high on Thursday after disappointing economic data bolstered expectations that an interest rate hike is likely to come only later in the year.

Traders warned that below-average volume in recent sessions suggests that not all of Wall Street may be confident in the market’s gains.

As the quarterly earnings reporting season draws to a close, volume on U.S. stock markets has been below the month-to-date average for several sessions.

On Thursday, about 5.6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.3 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

Data showed that jobless claims rose more than expected last week, although the underlying trend continued to point to a rapidly tightening labor market.

Another report showed a surprise decline in home resales in April and persistent weakness in manufacturing in May.

Federal Reserve officials have all but ruled out a rate hike next month. Investors now await Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s speech on Friday for new clues about when the central bank will begin raising interest rates for the first time since 2006.

The S&P 500 .SPX gained 4.97 points, or 0.23%, to end at 2,130.82 points, barely beating its previous record close of 2,129.2 from Monday.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was essentially flat, ending up 0.34 point at 18,285.74.

The NASDAQ Composite .IXIC rose 19.05 points, or 0.38%, to 5,090.79, just short of its record close of 5,092.08 on April 24.

Recent highs set by stock indexes have won little enthusiasm on trading floors, said Gordon Charlop, a managing director at Rosenblatt Securities in New York.

Seven of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were higher, with the energy index .SPNY rising 0.84% as oil prices rose for a second day.

Salesforce.com (CRM.N), the subject of takeover speculation for the past few weeks, rose 3.92% to $72.91 after posting a profit for the first time in seven quarters.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,684 to 1,355, for a 1.24-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the NASDAQ, 1,384 issues rose and 1,369 fell for a 1.01-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 20 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the NASDAQ Composite recorded 75 new highs and 48 new lows.

Trading in Bitcoin Made Simpler Through New Exchange

The Gilmer Free Press

STOCKHOLM — Investors can for the first time bet on the value of bitcoins through an established stock exchange after Nasdaq launched an index based on the cybercurrency in Stockholm, Sweden.

Monday’s launch of a bitcoin-based security on the Stockholm Stock Exchange allows investors to speculate on bitcoin’s value without actually owning the cybercurrency. It makes it easier to trade on the currency’s value without having to go through websites and online exchanges that may or may not be safe.

Here are some questions and answers on the system.

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What is a bitcoin?

Bitcoins are a virtual currency that can be used to buy and sell some goods and services without government-issued money. They also allow people to conduct transactions anonymously, making it difficult to regulate and opening up the possibility of operating unlicensed bitcoin exchanges. The cybercurrency is created by computers that are used to resolve complex algorithmic formulas.

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How does this new index work?

A financial firm called XBT Provider got approval last month from Swedish regulators to offer shares for Bitcoin Tracker One, a certificate whose value is based on the price of bitcoins on world markets.

The value of these shares is based on 0.5 percent of the global value of a bitcoin as traded on major online bitcoin exchanges.

The shares’ price opened Monday at 9.69 kronor ($1.18) and closed at 9.73 kronor, with more than 1.8 million shares traded on the first day.

XBT Provider spokesman Johan Wattenstrom said the company wants to make it “extremely accessible” to invest in bitcoins.

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Why buy bitcoin shares?

Investors are able to speculate on the value of bitcoins without actually buying the virtual currency, providing an easy and secure way to invest in bitcoins outside the volatile spot exchanges and shady websites.

It gives an alternative to traditional investors who believe the value of the bitcoin will increase but don’t want to hold the currency.

XBT Provider CEO Alexander Marsh says the company hopes to have “eliminated the boundaries that earlier prevented individuals and companies from being able to actively invest in what we believe to be the future of money.“

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Who can buy bitcoin shares?

The shares can be bought by anyone

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