The daily business briefing: December 16, 2019

Harold Maass


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday welcomed 109 newly elected Conservative members of Parliament following his party's landslide win in last week's election. Johnson promised to deliver on his pledge to speed up the U.K.'s exit from the European Union after months of delays. Johnson said he would run a "people's government" that would "repay the public's trust by getting Brexit done." He also vowed to use his solid new majority to approve increased spending for health care, education, and law enforcement. Johnson reportedly aims to present his Brexit bill to Parliament before Christmas so that Britain can leave the EU by Jan. 31, ending three years of debate over Brexit. [Reuters]


U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Sunday that the first phase of the U.S.-China trade deal the two sides announced Friday is now "totally done." Under the agreement, he said, the U.S. will "double exports" to China over the next two years. The gains stemmed partly from China's agreement to buy billions of dollars' worth of American agricultural products. In exchange, President Trump promised to drop plans to impose a new round of tariffs on Chinese imports on Sunday. The world's two biggest economies plan to formally sign the agreement in January. [CNBC]


A top Mexican trade negotiator on Sunday rushed to Washington to discuss a potential snag in the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The trade deal, intended to replace NAFTA, was signed last week, but Jesús Seade, undersecretary for North America in the Foreign Ministry, accused Washington of unexpectedly deciding to send up to five U.S. representatives to monitor labor conditions under the treaty. Mexico had rejected a proposal for U.S. labor inspectors to boost enforcement of labor laws, calling such a measure a violation of Mexico's sovereignty. The measure was included in implementing legislation sent to the U.S. Congress on Friday. Seade sent U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer a letter saying the U.S. "never mentioned" that the foreign labor inspectors would be part of the deal, and expressing "Mexico's surprise and concern." [The Washington Post]


U.S. stock index futures rose slightly early Monday, boosted by Friday's announcement of a "phase one" trade deal between the U.S. and China. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up by about 0.2 percent several hours before the opening bell, while those of the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq gained more than 0.3 percent. Stocks closed slightly higher on Friday after the U.S. and China announced the deal, averting a new round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods that had been scheduled to hit on Sunday. Markets remained cautious pending the release of full details on China's planned purchases of U.S. agricultural goods and other key points. In corporate news, Boeing reportedly is considering reducing or halting production of its grounded 737 MAX jets. [CNBC, Reuters]


The Hallmark Channel announced Sunday it was reversing a decision to pull a same-sex marriage commercial that sparked outrage from a conservative group. The One Million Moms organization complained to the network about a commercial for Zola, a wedding planning site, that featured two brides kissing at the altar. Hallmark agreed to stop airing the ads, but on Sunday, Hallmark Cards CEO Mike Perry released a statement saying the "Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we've seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused. Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision. We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused." The decision to stop airing the commercials triggered a social media backlash and calls to boycott Hallmark. [The Associated Press]

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