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A Biden Win Could Renew a Democratic Split on Trade

WASHINGTON — Joseph R. Biden’s presidential campaign has unified the Democratic Party around a shared goal of ousting President Trump from office. But as the campaign nears an end, a deep split between progressives and moderate Democrats on trade policy is once again spilling out into the open.

As the Biden transition team begins gearing up to select the people who might staff the administration, the progressive wing of the party is pushing for appointees with deep ties to labor unions and congressional Democrats. And they are battling against appointees that they say would seek to restore a “status quo” on trade, including those with ties to corporate lobbyists, trade associations and Washington think tanks that advocate more typical trade deals.

The split is falling along familiar lines between moderates — who see trade agreements as key to American peace and prosperity — and left-wing Democrats, who blame trade deals for hurting American workers in favor of corporate interests.

The division has dogged the Democratic Party for years. President Bill Clinton and Barack Obama joined with moderate Republicans to try to lock in new trade pacts to the chagrin of labor unions and many Congressional Democrats. For Mr. Obama, that split spilled into a fight over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multicountry trade pact that became so politically toxic that Hillary Clinton disavowed it during her 2016 presidential campaign.

The rift helped speed the election of President Trump, who won over some blue-collar workers disaffected with the Democratic Party’s trade record by espousing a populist worldview and vowing to rewrite “job-killing” trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The balance of power between progressives and moderates in trade policy will be “a huge issue for the Democrats,” said Simon Lester, an expert in trade policy at the Cato Institute.

“During the campaign, you can kind of gloss over it, you can make statements in vague ways, but at a certain point you have to make decisions about personnel and about policy,” Mr. Lester said.

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Mr. Biden has bridged these divisions so far in the campaign by focusing on criticizing Mr. Trump for his costly and erratic trade policy, which he says has alienated allies like Canada and Europe and failed to convince China to make significant economic reforms. Mr. Biden has emphasized broad principles that most Democrats agree on, like working with allies and investing at home to make American businesses more competitive, and he has declined to provide specifics on other policies that might divide his supporters.

In the Oct. 22 debate, Mr. Biden criticized Mr. Trump for embracing “thugs” in North Korea, China and Russia, and he said the president “pokes his finger in the eye of all of our friends, all of our allies.”

“We need to be having the rest of our friends with us, saying to China, ‘These are the rules. You play by them or you’re going to pay the price for not playing by them, economically.’” Mr. Biden said. “That’s the way I will run it.”

Some progressive Democrats have worried that Mr. Biden — who voted for NAFTA in 1993 and to pave the way to bring China into the World Trade Organization in 2000 — would put America back on the mainstream trade policy path that Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton pursued. Many of Mr. Biden’s closest advisers are holdovers from the Obama administration, who, like Mr. Biden, believe deeply in the benefits of global economic integration.

But Mr. Biden has also done more than previous Democratic presidents to court the progressive wing of his party, pledging to give both labor unions and environmentalists a larger role in writing future trade rules. His vice-presidential pick, Senator Kamala Harris of California, has also taken a more skeptical stance on trade and was one of the few Senate Democrats to vote against the revised NAFTA agreement because it did not contain provisions on climate change.

“He’s going to, in my opinion, run a very labor-friendly administration,” said Jon Leiber, managing director for the United States at the Eurasia Group.

To help quiet any trade fights within the party, Mr. Biden has promised to first focus on domestic priorities like curbing the coronavirus pandemic, addressing climate change and investing in infrastructure and health care before writing new trade deals, signaling that the blistering pace of trade talks seen under President Trump is likely to slow.

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Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“The thing that they realize politically is that if they want strong unity and purpose on things like Covid, infrastructure and climate, they cannot create a war between the congressional Democrats and the White House,” said Lori Wallach, the director Public Citizen’s trade watch, a progressive who has been cited as a potential trade official in a Biden administration.

Mr. Biden has papered over other difficult divisions within the Democratic Party by declining to state a position. Mr. Biden has released more extensive plans for expanding Buy American programs and proposed tax penalties for companies that send jobs overseas.

But on other policy choices, his campaign has been vague. That includes declining to say whether a Biden White House would keep the tariffs Mr. Trump imposed on $360 billion worth of Chinese goods, whether it would proceed with bans on Chinese social media sites like TikTok or WeChat or how it would resolve a standoff that has crippled the World Trade Organization. It’s unclear if a Biden administration would ultimately move to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or continue existing trade talks with the United Kingdom and Kenya.

In a sign of the challenges facing Mr. Biden, those same voices have objected to more mainstream candidates they say could return trade policy to a previous status quo, like Fred Hochberg, the former head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank or Miriam Sapiro, a trade negotiator for the Obama administration who is now at a public relations firm.

The commerce secretary, a position sometimes doled out to wealthy political donors, is also an area where progressives hope to make staffing inroads. The Commerce Department has become increasingly powerful under the Trump administration as it pursued trade cases against other nations, accusing foreign governments of unfairly subsidizing goods sold by American competitors. The department has also levied tariffs on foreign metal and is responsible for imposing sanctions against Chinese companies, including placing several big firms like Huawei on an entity list that prevents them from buying American technology and other components.

Among the names being floated for role of commerce secretary is Rohit Chopra, a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission and an ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren who has pushed the trade commission to crack down on companies that falsely claim their products are American-made.

Some non-trade roles will also play a part in shaping policy, particularly with regard to China. Top officials in the Departments of State and Defense, as well as the National Security Council, could have outsized influence over the direction of relations with China given the growing concerns among both Democrats and Republicans about Beijing’s economic, military and technology ambitions.

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Europe Can Impose Tariffs on U.S. in Long-Running Aircraft Battle

WASHINGTON — The World Trade Organization on Tuesday gave the European Union permission to impose tariffs on $4 billion worth of American products annually in retaliation for illegal subsidies given to U.S. plane maker Boeing, a move that could result in levies on American airplanes, agricultural products and other goods.

The decision, which stems from a 16-year fight before the global trade body, follows a parallel case that the United States brought against Europe over subsidies to its largest plane maker, Airbus. Last year, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on European planes, wine, cheese and other products after the W.T.O. gave the United States permission to retaliate on up to $7.5 billion of European exports annually.

It remains to be seen whether the new tariffs will ultimately persuade the United States and Europe to come to a negotiated settlement that would lift the levies, or merely inflame relations and result in higher costs on businesses and consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. The European Union has repeatedly appealed to the United States to remove its tariffs, but American officials say Europe has not taken the necessary actions to stop its Airbus subsidies.

The tariffs will not go into effect immediately. The European Union needs to request authorization from the W.T.O. to impose the levies, which it can do at an Oct. 26 meeting at the earliest. The European Commission last year issued a preliminary list of American products that it could choose to tax, including aircraft, chemicals, citrus fruit, frozen fish and ketchup.

The tariffs would come at a difficult moment for American companies, which are reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and would be especially painful for Boeing, which is already struggling from a pair of devastating crises. Boeing, like Airbus, announced plans this summer to cut more than 10 percent of its global work force amid a steep decline in travel, which has forced airlines to delay and scale back plans to buy planes. Both Boeing and Airbus plan to cut more than 30,000 jobs in all.

Delta Air Lines, whose fleet includes hundreds of planes from both manufacturers, said on Tuesday that it had scaled back plans to buy $5 billion worth of aircraft through 2022. Just under a million people were screened at federal airport checkpoints on Monday, a decline of more than 60 percent from the same day last year.

Boeing is also still struggling with fallout from the 737 Max, a star of the company’s fleet of planes, which has been grounded worldwide since March 2019 after two crashes killed 346 people. In January, the company estimated that the grounding, which could be lifted in the coming months, would cost it more than $18 billion. The company is also contending with quality concerns related to another plane, the 787 Dreamliner, a wide-body jet designed for long-distance flights.

So far this year, Boeing customers have canceled 438 orders for the Max, with hundreds more orders removed from its books based on the low likelihood that they will be fulfilled, the company said Tuesday. After accounting for new sales and cancellations, Boeing has lost a net 381 orders for the year.

The W.T.O.’s decision on Tuesday rested on a Washington state tax break provided to Boeing and worth about $100 million a year. Lawmakers there repealed the tax break earlier this year with Boeing’s support, but the W.T.O. said the subsidy had nevertheless harmed Airbus between 2012 and 2015. Airbus contends that Boeing continues to receive other preferential tax treatment from the state.

“Airbus did not start this W.T.O. dispute, and we do not wish to continue the harm to the customers and suppliers of the aviation industry and to all other sectors impacted,” Guillaume Faury, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement. “It is time to find a solution now so that tariffs can be removed on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Boeing said it was “disappointed” that Airbus and the E.U. had pursued the tariffs even after the tax break’s repeal, but said the company hoped that both would focus “on good-faith efforts to resolve this long-running dispute.” The E.U. had asked the W.T.O. to authorize more than $8.5 billion in annual tariffs, while the U.S. said they should not exceed $412 million.

In a statement, Robert E. Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative, said the European Union had no valid basis to impose tariffs since Washington had already repealed its tax break, and that the United States would seek more negotiations with Europe.

“Any imposition of tariffs based on a measure that has been eliminated is plainly contrary to W.T.O. principles and will force a U.S. response,” he said. “The United States is determined to find a resolution to this dispute that addresses the massive subsidies European governments have provided to Airbus and the harm to U.S. aerospace workers and businesses.”

Ole Moehr, an associate director at the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center, said that, in the short run, there were likely to be more barriers to trade than before, but that the ruling may ultimately “open the door for a trans-Atlantic trade détente.”

“Both sides are waiting until the election is settled to re-engage and depending on the outcome we could see a ratcheting up of tensions before any potential deepening of trade ties,” Mr. Moehr said. “The Airbus-Boeing dispute is one of the keys to the entire trade relationship and today’s decision, combined with the recession triggered by the pandemic, may change the calculus over the long-term.”

The ruling brings to a close a dispute that formally began in 2004. At the time, the United States and Boeing accused several European nations of violating trade agreements by providing Airbus with below-market loans. That “launch aid” helped Airbus to develop and produce several types of aircraft, allowing it to gain equal footing with Boeing in the global airplane market, despite having less than 25 percent of the market in 1990, they argued.

Last year, the W.T.O. sided with the United States, allowing up to $7.5 billion in annual tariffs on European imports. Europe countered with a formal complaint of its own in 2005, arguing that the United States had similarly provided illegal subsidies to Boeing.

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Chevron’s Purchase Could Unlock Israel’s Natural Gas Bonanza

Chevron, the American oil giant, wrapped up the acquisition on Monday of a relatively small Houston-based company called Noble Energy, paying about $4 billion.

Until recently, the deal would have been unlikely, if not unthinkable — because what distinguishes Noble is the large natural gas business it has built in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, especially in Israel, an area that major oil companies had until now avoided.

Chevron’s move is the latest milestone in a remarkable shift in perceptions about a relatively new region for the petroleum industry in the eastern Mediterranean. Once a dead sea for the oil industry, this area, reaching from the Nile Delta in Egypt up to Israel and Lebanon and around Cyprus, has come alive with exploration vessels, drilling rigs and production platforms in recent years thanks to a series of large natural gas discoveries.

Those finds are drawing major oil companies into the area, attracted not only by the prospect of further undiscovered resources but by improving relations between Israel and its former foes Egypt and Jordan.

“This is an area that looks as if it could have the resource quality and the scale to become a pretty significant energy province,” said Mike Wirth, Chevron’s chief executive, in an interview.

International oil giants previously steered clear of Israel, partly, it has been assumed, to avoid alienating large Arab oil producers like Saudi Arabia. The move by Chevron, which this week edged ahead of Exxon Mobil to become America’s largest oil company by market value, indicates that the days when Persian Gulf states bristle about business with Israel may be over. Recently, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain established relations with Israel with apparent Saudi blessing.

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Credit…Toru Hanai/Reuters

“It is opening up the Israeli market to the world,” Nati Birenboim, a former Israeli energy official who is now a consultant, said of Chevron’s arrival. “Everyone knows when they bought Noble, they bought Israel.”

There are no guarantees that recent progress on energy and other fronts won’t face setbacks. Longstanding differences between Israel and its neighbors are not forgotten; expansionist moves by Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to claim some of the underwater riches have alarmed its NATO allies and recently prompted the United States to deploy a massive Navy ship at a base it shares with Greece.

More than 20 years ago, Noble helped put the region on the energy industry’s map. Delek Drilling, an Israeli firm, brought the company to Israel to hunt for petroleum. The partnership, which began in 1999, has produced major natural gas finds that not only reduced Israel’s dependence on imported coal and oil but turned Israel — with some helpful nudging from American diplomats — into an exporter with long-term contracts worth an estimated $25 billion to help power the neighboring economies of Jordan and Egypt.

“I think what Chevron sees is the opportunity” to buy into “massive natural gas resources located in the center of a region with a lot of demand,” said Yossi Abu, Delek’s chief executive and now Chevron’s partner, in an interview.

Along with the drilling sites off the coast of Israel, a major discovery called the Zohr gas field, found by the Italian energy company Eni in Egyptian waters in 2015, has drawn development in the area. Total, the French oil firm, and Eni have even extended the hunt into the sea off strife-torn Lebanon — although the first well the partners drilled, this year, turned out to be a dry hole.

From a geological point of view, the eastern Mediterranean has what oil giants like Chevron are looking for: very large volumes of gas, which many in the industry view as likely to have a better future than oil as climate change concerns grow.

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Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

“It is a very attractive region,” said Wayne Ackerman, a former executive at Royal Dutch Shell and an adviser on gas to Saudi Aramco, who has studied the area’s geology. “I am convinced there will be more discoveries there,” added Mr. Ackerman, who now heads gas research at Rapidan Energy Group, a consulting firm.

The energy business has been shaken by plummeting demand during the coronavirus pandemic and worries about the viability of fossil fuels. But the resources that these big fields hold are unlikely to be left in the ground, because they are already earning substantial revenues by powering the economies of Israel and its neighbors. Some of the fields in the region, including the largest Israeli field, in which Chevron now holds a nearly 40 percent stake, could also be expanded relatively cheaply for exports.

“Gas is an important part of any future energy transition scenario,” Mr. Wirth said. “Proximity to growing markets with demand is a real advantage for a gas resource.”

What Chevron is buying in Noble — very cheaply, because Noble’s shares had been pummeled by the pandemic and worries about the company’s high debt and the industry’s future — is a combination of a profitable regional gas business and the opportunity to expand to serve markets farther afield. Noble also has substantial shale-drilling properties in the United States and some production in Equatorial Guinea in central West Africa.

Mr. Abu of Delek said he thought the American company would bring the capital, technology and marketing clout to allow further expansion of the gas fields as well as new exploration. Delek and Noble, along with Royal Dutch Shell, also share a large find off Cyprus, called Aphrodite, that they have so far not succeeded in developing.

The riches lurking beneath the region’s waters have brought their share of problems.

Turkey has so far been unable to benefit from the prospecting because the gas fields are in zones claimed by other countries under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention. It has responded by muscle-flexing: In recent months, Mr. Erdogan has sent vessels to drill in waters around Cyprus, including in territory that the island’s government has already awarded to companies like Eni and Total.

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Credit…Baz Ratner/Reuters

“It’s quite a novel way of applying pressure,” said Robert Morris, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie, an energy research firm.

Tensions rose in August when a Greek warship collided with a Turkish warship that was escorting a survey vessel. Greece called it an accident; Turkey described it as a provocation. France, Greece, Cyprus and Italy later took part in military exercises involving ships and planes off the Cypriot coast.

Turkey is not a signatory to the Law of the Sea, and says its neighbors have divided the waters unfairly.

“Their aim,” Mr. Erdogan said in a recent magazine interview, “was to confine our country — which has the longest shore in the Mediterranean — to coastline where only fishing with a rod is possible.”

Turkey’s actions have slowed exploration work around Cyprus — as has the coronavirus pandemic.

The wider region, though, is likely to continue to attract interest and investment, analysts say.

“There are just a few places in the world where you can get into large gas assets,” said Gerald Kepes, an independent energy consultant who has worked in Egypt. “These are what big companies are made for.”

Despite Turkey’s efforts, the lure of gaining access to relatively cheap energy has pushed former foes like Egypt, Israel and Jordan more toward cooperation than discord.

Mr. Wirth said recent developments suggested that the region was an “area where we can expect to see regional ties improve in the coming years,” a trend likely to promote economic growth and, consequently, demand for gas.

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Credit…Amir Cohen/Reuters

If such trends continue, there is even the possibility of exporting natural gas to countries in the Persian Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, that are rich in oil but poor in gas needed for electric power and industry. There is also a longer-term hope: that gas from the region can help ease Europe’s dependence on energy imports from Russia.

“I think when you’ve got a large, low-cost resource base like this proximate to large economies, we will find ways to move the gas to market in a manner that’s competitive,” Mr. Wirth said on a call with analysts.

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Trump, Biden and Domestic Economic Policy

In July, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. presented an economic strategy to “rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity,” restoring local supply chains from semiconductors to pharmaceuticals. In September he added a tax penalty to the plan, aimed at companies that move jobs to other countries, alongside a tax credit for businesses that bring them home.

The proposals might have seemed like something from President Trump’s playbook.

“There is a common concern, which the Trump candidacy forced a lot of people to think harder about,” said Jared Bernstein, a former top economic adviser to Mr. Biden who is informally advising his presidential campaign. And that is “the extent to which globalization has left significant swaths of people in many different communities behind.”

These common understandings could reshape the global economy. No matter who wins in November, economic policy for the next several years will aim to protect American employment from outsourcing driven by employers seeking lower labor costs, and to reclaim a foothold in industries that the United States had given up for lost.

“If the argument is that we need high-paying manufacturing jobs, because they fit the skill set of a lot of people that are being left out, that is an argument for deglobalization,” said Derek Scissors, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. “We would have to have some deglobalization for this to work.”

Depending on how the next administration deploys the tools of government to serve this cause, the United States could reconfigure the global network of corporate supply chains that multinational corporations have established over the last four decades. A “flat world” with countries ever more closely tied together through trade and investment, pursued by presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, seems to be an outdated goal.

A Biden administration is unlikely to continue to impose tariffs on friends and foes alike, deploying protectionist tools in a more strategic and disciplined way. Still, policy proposals suggest that Mr. Biden would stick to the goal of encouraging, steering, cajoling or pushing American companies to develop critical industries and the jobs they support in the United States.

“Biden is not blindly pro-trade, but he doesn’t want to shrink from the world like President Trump has,” said Ben Harris, a senior economic adviser to Mr. Biden and his campaign. “What the vice president proposes is a new approach to globalization, one in which we don’t get behind every trade deal on the grounds that more trade is always better.”

Mr. Trump has put tariffs on imports from rivals and allies, started a trade war with China and blocked the access of Chinese companies to American technology. He renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, short-circuited the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement system and pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But a membership survey published in September by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai found that despite the administration’s push for American companies to redirect investment to the United States, only 4 percent planned to do so; 79 percent reported no change in plans.

Moreover, the trade war has come at a cost. Tariffs imposed by the United States and retaliatory measures taken by aggrieved trading partners have shaved billions off the U.S. economy, according to a Federal Reserve paper. And a 2019 study by economists at the Fed, Princeton University and Columbia University showed that tariffs imposed additional burdens on American households, raising the cost of imports and curtailing exporters’ access to markets.

For all that cost, there has been no improvement in Mr. Trump’s preferred indicator of economic dominance, the nation’s trade balance. The balance between America’s exports and imports of goods and services sank in July to its deepest deficit since the administration of George W. Bush. The balance in the trade of goods alone recorded its deepest deficit at least since the administration of Mr. Bush’s father.




Trade Balance of Goods

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

$10

bil.

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

Trade Balance of Goods

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

$10

billion

Recessions

20

30

40

50

60

70

80


Balance of payments basis

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

By Karl Russell

Over the summer, Robert Lighthizer, the top U.S. trade negotiator, published an essay extolling the administration’s pugnacious approach as a strategy that “at long last, prizes the dignity of work.” And yet Moody’s Analytics estimated last year that the trade war with China had cost 300,000 U.S. jobs.

When the administration put tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, the United Steelworkers union complained that “the regular chaos surrounding our flawed trade policies is undermining the ability to project a reasoned course and ensure that we can improve domestic production and employment.”

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And Harley-Davidson moved production of motorcycles for the European market from the United States to Thailand, to avoid getting caught up in the administration’s trade skirmishes with Europe.

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Credit…Luke Duggleby for The New York Times

Under Mr. Biden, “I would expect a more judicious and targeted form of protectionism,” said Kimberly Clausing, an economist at Reed College who has offered advice on tax policy to the Biden campaign. “Tax reform is useful to reduce the tilt of the playing field.” Ms. Clausing supports Mr. Biden’s proposed minimum tax on corporate profits, saying it would counter incentives introduced in the tax reform of 2017 for businesses to outsource production.

Whatever turn American protectionism takes, it will remain squarely focused on China. “Trump did wake us up on the China issue,” added Rob Atkinson, who heads the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank close to the U.S. technology industry. “He made it clear that we have to get tough with China.”

Manufacturing has become increasingly automated. So the effort by multinational companies to find cheap workers has taken a back seat to other considerations, like finding skilled labor, being close to consumer markets and ensuring that supply chains can withstand shocks like pandemics, climate-related disasters or even trade wars. And those companies are paying more attention to the risks involved in their complex global networks.

This has reduced the pressure on American jobs. Factory employment remains far from its peak 40 years ago, but manufacturers added nearly 1.5 million jobs in the 10 years after employment hit bottom in February 2010, in the depths of the last recession. And a flight of white-collar service jobs from the United States has yet to materialize.




Manufacturing Employment

20

million

18

16

14

12

10

8

6

4

Recessions

2

’40

’50

’60

’70

’80

’90

’00

’10

’20

Manufacturing Employment

20

million

18

16

14

12

10

8

6

4

Recessions

2

1940

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990

2000

2010

2020


Seasonally adjusted

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

By Karl Russell

In August, the McKinsey Global Institute issued a report suggesting that a vast reorganization of global production could be underway: Production of 16 percent to 26 percent of global trade, worth $2.9 trillion to $4.6 trillion, could move elsewhere over the next five years, perhaps closer to the home market.

The driver of this change is fear — fear of natural disasters, pandemics or trade wars that might take out some vital cog in corporation’s far-flung production network. “The global supply chains built over the last 20 years were shaped by cost efficiency and a just-in-time delivery mentality,” said Susan Lund, a co-author of the report. “Now a just-in-case mentality has emerged. It’s the start of a different chapter.”

The United States might emerge a winner in this process. “Buy America” programs and other incentives might draw domestic investment in new technologies. If skilled labor becomes more important for modern manufacturing than cheap labor, the United States is likely to get more of it. “The offshoring that occurred happened 10 to 20 years ago,” Ms. Lund said. “This time it is upside only.”

The new U.S. approach to the world does carry some risk, as the relationship between the two largest economies, which drove the process of globalization for decades, become colder.

It will be difficult for the United States to disengage from China, which remains a huge market for American companies.

Yet the relationship could take a turn for the worse. Mr. Autor, for one, thinks that the new politics of trade and investment is splitting the world into a Chinese bloc and a Western bloc, led by the United States. “It will be a bipolar world, bifurcated, with different standards and different rights,” he said. Where the jobs end up will be a secondary consideration.

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China Is on a Building Binge, and the Global Economy Could Benefit

The coronavirus pandemic forced China to bring industrial activity to a halt earlier this year, but the country is revving its engines again — and global prices of metals are reflecting that renewed appetite for growth.

China consumes roughly half of the world’s industrial metals, according to analysts. As the country emerged from the worst of the pandemic in March, the Chinese government unleashed a program of enormous fiscal stimulus aimed at building bridges, roads, utilities, broadband and railroads across the country. As a result, the prices of iron ore, nickel, copper, zinc and other metals used to build infrastructure have surged in recent months.

Since late March, prices of iron ore — the key ingredient in steel — have risen more than 40 percent. Nickel, needed for stainless steel, and zinc, used to galvanize metal, are up more than 25 percent. Copper, which is used in wiring for power transmission, construction and car manufacturing, and has long been seen as a barometer for the world’s industrial economy, is also up, around 35 percent.

“China, as usual, went the investment route and is massively investing in metals-intensive infrastructure,” said Caroline Bain, a commodities market analyst with Capital Economics in London. “So there’s been a very strong pickup in China’s demand for metals.”

Last month, China’s state railway operator announced plans to double the size of its high-speed rail network over the next 15 years. In July, investment from China’s state-owned enterprises, including giants such as China National Offshore Oil Corporation and China Mobile, surged 14 percent from a year earlier, according to Standard & Poor’s analysts. (Private companies, by comparison, bolstered investment by just 3 percent.)

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Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Guangdong, the country’s most populous province, regional officials plan to spend some 700 billion yuan — about $100 billion — this year on public medical facilities, 5G networking and transportation infrastructure.

In February, the coronavirus outbreak prompted a lockdown of much of the country’s economy, the second largest in the world after that of the United States. From January to March, China’s economy contracted 6.8 percent, the first decline the country has acknowledged in roughly half a century.

Industrial activity stopped, causing metal prices to plunge. Copper and aluminum prices all dived roughly 20 percent in that period, while iron ore fell about 15 percent. The sudden pause in demand from such a big buyer immediately strained several countries that have built large parts of their economy around digging ore out of the ground and shipping it to China.

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Australia’s exports to China — mostly iron ore and coal — tumbled roughly 20 percent, as the country fell into its first recession in nearly 30 years. Metal exports from Brazil, Chile and Peru also slumped, driven by cratering demand from China and declines in mining production, but also because miners were forced to halt operations as the coronavirus spread locally. The share prices of global mining giants, which get large portions of their revenue from China, cratered. In local currency terms, Vale in Brazil and the Anglo-Australian giant Rio Tinto both tumbled roughly 40 percent from January to March.

But the response of the authoritarian government in China — its state-led model that gives Beijing significant influence over the direction of the economy — was enormous, helping China post one of the fastest recoveries of any of the world’s largest economies in recent months.

Goldman Sachs’s estimates of Chinese budget deficits — a measure that includes both official budget deficit numbers and a variety of off-balance-sheet government support that is common in China — ballooned to 20 percent of gross domestic product in the first half of 2020 from about 10 percent at the end of 2019, as the country pumped money into the economy.

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Credit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

Recent economic reports from China show where that government money has flowed. August data on industrial production revealed 5.6 percent growth over the same month last year, firmly establishing a V-shaped recovery for the sector. Industrial production in sectors tied to infrastructure, such as cement, steel and iron, all posted strong gains. Other official data on investment showed growth in utilities, road and rail construction.

Economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development expect that China’s G.D.P. will grow 1.8 percent this year, making it the only member of the Group of 20 nations that will not suffer a recession this year. That’s the best expected performance of any of the countries the organization tracked in its latest economic update.

“The recovery in G.D.P. is much faster and stronger than elsewhere,” said Ms. Bain of Capital Economics.

That’s not only good news for metals markets, but could also herald better times for the global economy. Analysts have studied the prices of some metals as a leading indicator of global economic growth, even referring to copper as “Dr. Copper” because of its supposed ability to predict the direction of the economy as well as any economist with a Ph.D.

“People’s perception of the economy is how weakened it is, yet all the industrial metals are telling you a very different story,” said Chris Verrone, an analyst and partner at Strategas Research in New York. “We think copper is the market trying to tell us that the economy is stronger than we expect.”

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China Is on a Building Binge, and Metal Prices Are Surging

The coronavirus pandemic forced China to bring industrial activity to a halt earlier this year, but the country is revving its engines again — and global prices of metals are reflecting that renewed appetite for growth.

China consumes roughly half of the world’s industrial metals, according to analysts. As the country emerged from the worst of the pandemic in March, the Chinese government unleashed a program of enormous fiscal stimulus aimed at building bridges, roads, utilities, broadband and railroads across the country. As a result, the prices of iron ore, nickel, copper, zinc and other metals used to build infrastructure have surged in recent months.

Since late March, prices of iron ore — the key ingredient in steel — have risen more than 40 percent. Nickel, needed for stainless steel, and zinc, used to galvanize metal, are up more than 25 percent. Copper, which is used in wiring for power transmission, construction and car manufacturing, and has long been seen as a barometer for the world’s industrial economy, is also up around 35 percent.

“China, as usual, went the investment route and is massively investing in metals-intensive infrastructure,” said Caroline Bain, a commodities market analyst with Capital Economics in London. “So there’s been a very strong pick up in China’s demand for metals.”

Last month, China’s state railway operator announced plans to double the size of its high-speed rail network over the next 15 years. In July, investment from China’s state-owned enterprises, including giants such as China National Offshore Oil Corporation and China Mobile, surged by 14 percent compared with the prior year, according to Standard & Poor’s analysts. (Private companies, by comparison, bolstered investment by just 3 percent.)

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Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Guangdong, the country’s most populous province, regional officials plan to spend some 700 billion yuan — about $100 billion — this year on public medical facilities, 5G networking and transportation infrastructure.

In February, the coronavirus outbreak prompted a lockdown of much of the country’s economy, the second largest in the world’s after that of the United States. From January to March, China’s economy contracted by 6.8 percent, the first decline the country has acknowledged in roughly half a century. Industrial activity stopped, causing metal prices to plunge. Copper and aluminum prices all dove roughly 20 percent in that period, while iron ore fell about 15 percent. The sudden pause in demand from such a big buyer immediately strained several countries that have built large parts of their economy around digging ore out of the ground and shipping it to China.

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Australia’s exports to China — mostly iron ore and coal — tumbled roughly 20 percent, as the country fell into its first recession in nearly 30 years. Metal exports from Brazil, Chile and Peru also slumped, driven by cratering demand from China and declines in mining production, but also because miners were forced to halt operations as the coronavirus spread locally. The share prices of global mining giants, which get large portions of their revenue from China, cratered. In local currency terms, Vale in Brazil and the Anglo-Australian giant Rio Tinto both tumbled roughly 40 percent from January to March.

But the response of the authoritarian government in China — its state-led model that gives Beijing significant influence over the direction of the economy — was enormous, helping China post one of the fastest recoveries of any of the world’s largest economies in recent months.

Goldman Sachs’s estimates of Chinese budget deficits — a measure that includes both official budget deficit numbers and a variety of off-balance sheet government support that is common in China — ballooned to 20 percent of gross domestic product in the first half of 2020 from about 10 percent at the end of 2019, as the country pumped money into the economy.

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Credit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

Recent economic reports from China show where that government money has flowed. August data on industrial production revealed 5.6 percent growth over the same month last year, firmly establishing a V-shaped recovery for the sector. Industrial production in sectors tied to infrastructure, such as cement, steel and iron, all posted strong gains. Other official data on investment showed growth in utilities, road and rail construction.

Economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development expect that China’s G.D.P. will actually grow by 1.8 percent this year, making it the only member of the Group of 20 nations that will not suffer a recession this year. That’s the best expected performance of any of the countries the organization tracked in its latest economic update.

“The recovery in G.D.P. is much faster and stronger than elsewhere,” said Ms. Bain of Capital Economics.

That’s good news not only for metals markets, but could also herald better times for the global economy. Analysts have studied the prices of some metals as a leading indicator of global economic growth, even referring to copper as “Dr. Copper” because of its supposed ability to predict the direction of the economy as well as any economist with a Ph.D.

“People’s perception of the economy is how weakened it is, yet all the industrial metals are telling you a very different story,” said Chris Verrone, an analyst and partner at Strategas Research in New York. “We think copper is the market trying to tell us that the economy is stronger than we expect.”

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TikTok’s Proposed Deal Under Review by Trump Administration

WASHINGTON — After more than six weeks, two White House executive orders, new Chinese regulations and multiple bidders, a deal for the social media app TikTok has boiled down to one main strategy: mitigation.

TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance, said on Monday that it had offered a proposal to the Treasury Department that aimed to address the Trump administration’s concerns that the app could give the Chinese government access to sensitive data.

The proposal is far from an outright sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations, as President Trump suggested in an Aug. 6 executive order. Instead, ByteDance designed a proposal to alleviate the pressure it was facing from China and the United States and to mollify all sides. Specifically, it structured the deal to satisfy some of Mr. Trump’s concerns while dodging new Chinese regulations that could allow Beijing to block an outright sale of TikTok, people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Under the terms, TikTok would bring on Oracle, a business software firm that is close with the White House, as a “trusted technology partner.” That role could involve Oracle’s handling TikTok user data not just in the United States but also around the world, one person familiar with the matter said.

Oracle would also most likely gain a stake in TikTok, one person with knowledge of the proposal said. While the size of any Oracle investment in TikTok was unclear, Oracle would not be the app’s outright owner, another person said. And TikTok would also not transfer ownership of its valuable recommendation algorithm to Oracle, one person said. Beijing has essentially forbidden such a move.

The exact ownership structure for TikTok was still being debated, but some of ByteDance’s current investors are expected to be shareholders of the app, the people added. The deal would give U.S.-based investors voting control over TikTok, even though they may not own a majority of its shares, one person added. Such an arrangement could address concerns from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which scrutinizes investments with a foreign entity and makes a distinction between control and ownership of U.S.-based companies.

TikTok would also establish its headquarters in the United States. (It currently has offices in Los Angeles.) With discussions still underway, it’s possible that central details could still change.

The proposal now hinges on gaining the support of Mr. Trump, who previously said he was willing to ban TikTok if the app’s U.S. operations were not sold by a Sept. 20 deadline set by his executive order. Mr. Trump’s advisers, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, seem inclined to accept the kind of deal that ByteDance has offered, people familiar with their thinking said.

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Credit…Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Ross, who are both playing a prominent role in reviewing ByteDance’s proposal, have come to favor a solution that would reduce national security and data risks by moving some of TikTok’s key operations out of China, rather than killing the company outright, those people said. There are few strong voices in the administration speaking out against such a deal, with the trade adviser Peter Navarro, a China hawk and one of TikTok’s more vocal critics, playing a minimal role in recent discussions.

ByteDance’s carefully designed proposal and the shifting views of Mr. Trump’s advisers indicate how they are more willing to compromise to mitigate an increasingly fractious situation over a video app that is beloved by American teenagers and influencers. On Sunday, ByteDance rejected a deal from Microsoft, in which Microsoft had proposed essentially taking over control of TikTok’s algorithm.

“This way D.C. is happy, Beijing’s happy with no algorithm being sold, and ByteDance and TikTok, along with Oracle, all have smiles on their faces,” said Daniel Ives, a technology analyst at Wedbush Securities. “This is a very tight balancing act for ByteDance because they’re trying to, by the thread of a needle, keep their company as a stand-alone.”

In its statement on Monday, TikTok said the proposal that was in front of the Treasury Department would “enable us to continue supporting our community of 100 million people in the U.S. who love TikTok for connection and entertainment.” Oracle confirmed that it was “part of the proposal submitted by ByteDance to the Treasury Department,” but declined to elaborate.

Mr. Mnuchin described on CNBC on Monday how Oracle would be a “trusted technology partner” for TikTok and said the software company had made “many representations for national security issues.” The White House declined to comment, and the Department of Commerce did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other parties may still be interested in participating in a deal. Walmart, which had been working on a TikTok bid with Microsoft, said on Sunday in a statement that it “continues to have an interest in a TikTok investment and continues discussions with ByteDance leadership and other interested parties.”

In China, state media reports said on Monday that ByteDance would not sell TikTok in full to Oracle or any other bidders, suggesting that the company’s valuable algorithm would not trade hands. Last month, Beijing issued regulations that effectively said ByteDance would need a license to sell its technology to an American suitor.

At a regularly scheduled news briefing on Monday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, also criticized the American treatment of TikTok.

“TikTok has been rounded up and hunted in the United States, in a classic example of a government-coerced transaction,” Mr. Wang said. “This fully lays bare certain American politicians’ true intentions to seize by force, as well as the ugly face of economic bullying.”

Mr. Trump, who delights in being unpredictable, has a history of surprise decisions in his dealings with China. In recent years, he announced tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of products during a trade war and pardoned Chinese companies like ZTE at the request of China’s president, Xi Jinping.

Now he will essentially have to be persuaded to accept the type of compromise that he previously rejected. This summer, TikTok and its investors pressed the administration to allow them to address any concerns over national security by reconfiguring their operations, including moving their headquarters and data storage out of China. But Mr. Trump said no.

It is possible that Mr. Trump will face criticism from China skeptics in both parties if he takes a deal that doesn’t sever TikTok from ByteDance entirely.

In a letter on Monday to Mr. Mnuchin, Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, urged the government to reject ByteDance’s proposal. He said ByteDance “can still pursue a full sale of TikTok, its code and its algorithm” to an American company.

“Or perhaps, given constraints imposed by Chinese law, the only feasible way to maintain Americans’ security is to effectively ban the TikTok app in the United States altogether,” Mr. Hawley said.

David McCabe and Ana Swanson reported from Washington, and Erin Griffith from San Francisco. Raymond Zhong contributed reporting from Taipei, Taiwan.

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U.S. Restricts Chinese Apparel and Tech Products, Citing Forced Labor

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday announced new restrictions on imports of apparel, hair products and technology goods from certain Chinese companies, saying those entities had used forced labor in the Xinjiang region to make their products.

The measure would allow U.S. customs agents to detain and potentially destroy goods brought into the country that are made by the named companies or entities in Xinjiang, a far western region where China has detained as many as a million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in internment camps and prisons.

While the move is likely to further inflame tensions between the United States and China, it stops short of a more sweeping ban on cotton and tomatoes produced in Xinjiang that the administration was poised to announce last week. That measure had alarmed apparel companies that use Chinese cotton and spurred concern among some administration officials, who were worried it could hurt economic relations with China and prompt possible retaliation on American-grown cotton, according to people familiar with the internal discussions.

In a briefing with reporters on Monday, officials with the Department of Homeland Security said that the broader measure was undergoing further legal analysis, and that more announcements could soon follow.

The so-called withhold release orders announced by Customs and Border Protection on Monday target all products made with labor from the Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Center in Xinjiang, which provides prison labor to nearby manufacturing entities, the border agency said.

The orders will also restrict hair products made in the Lop County Hair Product Industrial Park, apparel produced by Yili Zhuowan Garment Manufacturing Company and Baoding LYSZD Trade and Business Company, cotton produced and processed by Xinjiang Junggar Cotton and Linen Company, and computer parts made by Hefei Bitland Information Technology Company.

“These extraordinary human rights violations demand an extraordinary response,” Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting deputy secretary of homeland security, said of China’s actions in Xinjiang. “This is modern-day slavery.”

The economic scope of the order was not immediately clear, and border agency officials declined to specify the dollar value of imports from these companies.

Hefei Bitland has said on its website that its cooperative partners include major technology companies such as Google, HP, Haier, iFlytek and Lenovo. Yili Zhuowan has produced gloves for the French clothing brand Lacoste, according to the Workers Rights Consortium, a nonprofit.

Hefei Bitland “is not a direct supplier to HP,” a spokesperson for HP said in a statement. “We have robust policies in place to protect human rights and prohibit the use of involuntary labor of any kind across our supply chain. We are committed to ensuring everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect.”

American law bans the importation of any goods produced with forced labor. But human rights groups say the practice has long been widespread in Xinjiang, where many detainees are recruited into programs that assign them to work in factories, on cotton farms or in textile mills.

Xinjiang accounts for about 85 percent of China’s cotton production, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department, and about one-fifth of cotton production globally. Brands including Muji, Uniqlo, Costco, Caterpillar, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss have been named in reports tying them to Xinjiang factories or materials. Some companies have denied the allegations.

Amid the tensions of President Trump’s trade war and a growing spotlight on human rights abuses in Xinjiang, some major apparel brands have tried to limit their exposure to the region in recent years, including by moving textile and clothing operations to Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam. In July, the sportswear maker Patagonia announced that it was exiting Xinjiang, and that it had told its global suppliers that using fiber made in the region was prohibited.

But human rights groups and industry analysts say supply chains in China remain opaque, allowing companies to profit off involuntary labor by Uighurs and other ethnic Muslims. Travel restrictions in Xinjiang can prevent companies from investigating their supply chains there, and companies that carry out audits of their suppliers may see only what the Chinese factories want them to see.

Concerns about the prevalence of forced labor in these supply chains led Customs and Border Protection to draw up more sweeping restrictions on products made with cotton and fabric from Xinjiang. On the morning of Sept. 8, an agency official told The New York Times that the import bans would cover the supply chains for cotton, from yarn to textiles and apparel made in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, as well as tomatoes and tomato paste.

But that order was never announced. Officials from the Agriculture Department, the Treasury Department and the U.S. Trade Representative intervened to raise objections about the measure, saying it could threaten American cotton exports to China, or put the trade deal Mr. Trump signed with China in January at risk, people familiar with the matter said.

In their call on Monday, homeland security officials denied that any intervention prompted the delay, saying the legal review had been “driven by the unique nature” of the policy. “We want to make sure that once we proceed that it will stick,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.

Under a withhold release order, importers are still allowed to bring their products into the United States if they are able to provide proof to customs that the goods were not made with forced labor, for example through an extensive audit of the manufacturing facilities, said John Foote, a partner at Baker & McKenzie who specializes in international trade and forced labor issues. If the importer is not able to produce that proof, the product must be sent back, or it is subject to seizure by U.S. customs.

In August, labor and human rights groups including the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Uyghur Human Rights Project filed a petition asking Customs and Border Protection to issue a withhold release order on all cotton goods from the Xinjiang region.

“The system of forced labor is so extensive that there is reason to believe that most cotton-based products linked to the Uyghur Region are a product wholly or in part of forced labor,” the petition read.

Customs has issued several withhold release orders in the past against individual companies with ties to Xinjiang, including the Esquel Group, which said it had ties to Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Muji; Hetian Taida Apparel Company; and Hero Vast Group. Other entities and people in Xinjiang have been subject to sanctions, including the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an economic and paramilitary group that plays an important role in Xinjiang’s development.

In July, the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security issued an advisory jointly warning American companies to monitor their activities in China, particularly in Xinjiang, saying they could face “reputational, economic and legal risks associated with certain types of involvement with entities that engage in human rights abuses.”

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Sailors Trapped by Covid-19 Fight Exhaustion and Despair

BANGKOK — Ralph Santillan, a merchant seaman from the Philippines, hasn’t had shore leave in half a year. It has been 18 months since he reported for duty on his ship, which hauls corn, barley and other commodities around the world. It has been even longer since he saw his wife and son.

“There’s nothing I can do,” Mr. Santillan said late last month from his ship, a 965-foot bulk carrier off South Korea. “I have to leave to God whatever might happen here.”

His time on the ship, where he spends long days chipping rust off the deck or cleaning out cargo holds, was supposed to have ended in February, after an 11-month stint — the maximum length for a seafarer’s contract.

But the Covid-19 pandemic led countries to start closing borders and refusing to let sailors come ashore. For cargo ships around the world, the process known as crew change, in which seamen like Mr. Santillan are replaced by new ones as their contracts expire, ground nearly to a halt.

In June, the United Nations called the situation a “growing humanitarian and safety crisis.” And there is still no solution in sight.

Last month, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a seafarers’ union, estimated that 300,000 of the 1.2 million crew members at sea were essentially stranded on their ships, working past the expiration of their original contracts and fighting isolation, uncertainty and fatigue.

“This floating population, many of which have been at sea for over a year, are reaching the end of their tether,” Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, which represents shipowners, said on Friday. “If governments do not act quickly and decisively to facilitate the transfer of crews and ease restrictions around air travel, we face the very real situation of a slowdown in global trade.”

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Credit…via Ralph Santillan

Some crew members have begun refusing to work, forcing ships to stay in port. And many in the shipping industry fear that the stress and exhaustion will lead to accidents, perhaps disastrous ones.

“Owners made their contract so short for a reason,” said Joost Mes, the director of Avior Marine, a maritime recruitment agency in Manila. “The consequences are coming closer, and the margins of safety are getting less.”

Seafarers have to stay vigilant. Standing in the wrong spot on deck, or missing a step on a long, narrow ladder, could mean injury or death. A distracted watch officer could miss an approaching vessel until it is too late.

“I can see the fatigue and stress in their faces,” Mr. Santillan said in July from his ship, referring to the five men who worked with him on the deck. “I’m sure they can see it on my face.” He said they sometimes worked 23-hour days to meet their schedules.

Three of the 20 crew members on a bulk carrier that ran aground off Mauritius in late July, spilling 1,000 tons of oil into the pristine waters, were on extended contracts, according to Lloyd’s List, a maritime intelligence company. The cause of the accident has not been determined, but the seafarers’ union said it pointed to the potential consequences of having an overworked crew. Two of the ships’ officers have been charged with unsafe navigation.

In a June survey by the seafarers’ union, many crew members on extended contracts said exhaustion was affecting their ability to focus. Some compared themselves to prisoners or slaves, according to the survey, and some said they had considered suicide.

Members of one crew had to shave their heads after running out of shampoo because no one could go ashore for provisions, according to the survey. Another ship’s captain had to pull the tooth of a seafarer who could not go ashore to see a dentist, a shipping company executive said.

“If someone is hurt, there is no hospital,” said Burcu Akceken, the chief officer of a chemical tanker that was anchored off Dakar, Senegal, who is from Turkey.

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Credit…via Burcu Akceken

Many stranded crew members said governments should do more to accommodate crew changes. “Ports and countries want the cargo, but when it comes to the crew who are bringing the cargo to them, they are not helping us,” said Nilesh Mukherjee, the chief officer on a tanker carrying liquid petroleum gas, who is from India.

Even in normal times, replacing a crew member involves complex logistics, said Frederick Kenney, director of legal and external affairs at the International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency that oversees global shipping.

Leaving a ship, and getting home, requires more than just disembarking. It usually involves multiple border crossings, flights with at least one connection, and a slew of certificates, specialized visas and immigration stamps. A crew member’s replacement has to go through the same steps.

Every step in that procedure is “broken” because of the pandemic, with flights limited, border controls tightened and many consulates closed, according to Mr. Kenney. While some countries have found ways around the problem, “the rate of progress is not keeping up with the growing backlog of seafarers,” he said last week.

Some ports have exempted crew members from border restrictions, then backtracked after seafarers, arriving from their home countries to report for duty on a ship, were found to have Covid-19.

Hong Kong exempted sea as well as airline crews from a 14-day quarantine requirement, but it changed those rules in July, after the exemptions were blamed for a surge in case numbers. In Singapore, too, protocols were tightened after seafarers tested positive for the virus on arrival.

Mr. Platten, of the International Chamber of Shipping, said that if the crisis continued, vessels would inevitably stop sailing. “It’s not going to be suddenly, tomorrow, that they’re all going to stop,” he said. “It’ll be a gradual creeping up on this, and that’s a real worry for the global supply chain.”

Some ships have already been idled, at least temporarily, because seafarers refused to keep working. Under international maritime law, an undermanned ship cannot sail.

The departure of the Ben Rinnes, chartered to haul soy for Cargill from Geelong, Australia, was delayed last month after five seafarers demanded to be sent home; at least one had been working for 17 months. Cargill said that as a charterer, it did not manage crew changes, but that it had been involved in discussions that led to the crew members’ departure. In a statement, it said it joined the union’s call for “immediate government action to ensure seafarers can be repatriated.”

Another ship was idled in the Australian port of Fremantle because seafarers stopped working, and there were at least two similar cases in which crew members were allowed to disembark in Panama.

While some seafarers have extended their contracts out of a sense of duty, or because they feared being blacklisted if they didn’t, others have accused captains or employers of intimidation. The Australian maritime authorities detained the cargo ship Unison Jasper last month over accusations that its Burmese crew had been abused and forced to sign contract extensions.

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Credit…Burcu Akceken

Mr. Santillan, who boarded his ship in March 2019, was near the end of his contract when the pandemic hit. After a monthlong voyage from Brazil to Singapore, which was supposed to be his last stop, he was told that his flight home to the Philippines had been canceled.

It wasn’t clear to him who was responsible — the airline, his employer or the Philippine government, which, because of the pandemic, was letting only a few of its many overseas workers back into the country each day.

But border restrictions meant that Mr. Santillan wasn’t allowed onshore. And with no one to replace him, the ship would be unable to sail if he stopped working.

Fearing he’d be blacklisted if he did so, Mr. Santillan signed a new contract. Since then, he said, his captain has told him at least three times that he would be allowed to leave, but it hasn’t happened.

He and the rest of the crew try to keep one another’s spirits up, but their list of diversions is grimly short: Go to the gym, belt out some songs on the karaoke machine, or buy internet credits and scroll through Facebook, looking for something to laugh at. Mr. Santillan has watched “Pirates of the Caribbean” so many times that he has memorized it — a point of exasperation, not pride.

He still has chocolates that he bought in Brazil for his wife and their young son, but they have passed their expiration date. His son, who was a week old when Mr. Santillan left the Philippines, is now walking and talking.

Mr. Santillan said he had to resist thinking about his family while working.

“Missing someone is not allowed,” he said. “For you to focus on work, you can’t think about them. Your body is heavier when you miss someone.”

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U.S. May Ban Cotton From Xinjiang Region of China Over Rights Concerns

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is weighing a ban on some or all products made with cotton from the Xinjiang region of China, a move that could come as soon as Tuesday as the United States looks to punish Beijing over alleged human rights violations, three people familiar with the matter said.

The potential ban, which could affect a wide range of apparel and other products, comes amid widespread concerns about the use of forced labor in Xinjiang, where China has carried out a crackdown against mostly Muslim minorities, including a campaign of mass detentions.

The scope of the order remains unclear, including whether it would cover all cotton products shipped from Xinjiang or China, or potentially extend to items that contain Xinjiang cotton and are shipped from third countries.

But any move to block cotton imports could have huge implications for global apparel makers. Xinjiang is a major source of cotton, textiles, petrochemicals and other goods that feed into Chinese factories. Many of the world’s largest and best-known clothing brands rely on supply chains that extend into China, including using cotton and textiles produced in Xinjiang, in the country’s far west.

Studies and news reports have documented how groups of people in Xinjiang, especially the largely Muslim Uighur and Kazakh minorities, have been recruited into programs that assign them to work in factories, cotton farms, textile mills and menial jobs in cities.

President Trump has taken a harder stance toward China as the presidential election approaches, blaming Beijing for allowing the coronavirus to spread around the world and ravage the American economy. The Trump administration has steadily ramped up its pressure on China in recent months, placing sanctions on dozens of companies and individuals over alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang and national security risks.

The new ban could produce a stampede out of China for major apparel brands. Amid a prolonged trade war and rising tensions between the United States and China, many companies have looked to relocate apparel supply chains to countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia. But some have found China’s quality production hard to replicate, or faced fierce competition for factory space.

The measure, called a withhold release order, would be issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The agency has in the past issued such bans against individual companies it suspected of using forced labor in Xinjiang, but it has been weighing more sweeping action against a broader category of goods. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In July, the Trump administration placed several apparel companies on a blacklist that prevented them from buying American products, citing their use of forced labor in Xinjiang. The list included reported current or former suppliers to major international apparel brands, such as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss. Several of the listed Chinese companies and the major international brands they supply pushed back against those measures, saying they had found no evidence of forced labor or other abuses in their supply chains.

Companies caught up in the debate over whether their products are made with forced labor say the opaque nature of Chinese supply chains can make it difficult to trace exactly where cotton is sourced.

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