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Steel tariffs may lift when USMCA signed, new Mexican foreign minister says

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The U.S. is expected to lift its steel and aluminum tariffs when a new North American trade deal is signed, Mexico’s incoming foreign minister said Monday.

Marcelo Ebrard spoke to reporters following talks today with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in Ottawa. Seven secretaries-designates from incoming Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government were meeting with their Canadian counterparts.

Freeland confirmed the pair discussed the tariffs. She said she’d “love them to be lifted today” but did not directly answer a question put to both ministers about when they expect the Americans to drop their 25 per cent levy on steel and 10 per cent levy on aluminum products.

U.S. President Donald Trump and other members of his administration have spoken of the tariffs being useful leverage in trade negotiations, as well as a good source of government revenue. But now that a revised U.S.–Mexico–Canada trade agreement has been reached, the Americans have made no commitments about when the tariffs could end, or what the criteria would be for ending them.

“I think that might occur when the agreement is signed,” Ebrard said in Spanish. He did not say why he believes that to be the case.

The USMCA is expected to be signed Nov. 30 — the earliest possible date, according to the U.S. Congressional timetable, following a required 60-day period from the date its text was posted (Oct. 1). That’s also the last day current Mexican President Enrique Peña ​Nieto is in office.

Peña ​Nieto’s ministers presided over the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and although the incoming government has said it will honour the terms negotiated, all parties have said they’d like the deal to be signed before Lopez Obrador’s government is sworn in Dec.1.

Suggestions that the Trump administration wanted to hold a symbolic three-country ceremony for the USMCA earlier than late November have been rebuffed by both Canadian and Mexican officials, who have insisted their focus is on getting the tariffs lifted first.

Mexico’s secretary-designate of foreign affairs Marcelo Ebrard joined Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for a press conference following their meetings. He told reporters he expects U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs to be lifted before the revised North American trade deal is signed Nov. 30. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Freeland have both said talks to lift the tariffs are on a “separate track” from the USMCA negotiations.

Freeland repeated that Canada sees the tariffs as “unjustified and illegal” according to international trade rules, and is challenging them at both the World Trade Organization and through NAFTA’s existing dispute settlement provisions.

While she wasn’t as definitive as Ebrard, Freeland did say that it’s “quite reasonable” to think that there’s momentum building in favour of lifting the tariffs between the North American trading partners.

Both Freeland and Ebrard denied the suggestion that signing on to the final USMCA text under current circumstances made it easier for the U.S. to use national security as justification for future tariffs.

The Mexican delegation is touring Montreal, Toronto and Guelph, Ont., for meetings with provincial governments and various private-sector representatives. In addition to Ebrard, the future secretaries for interior affairs, economy, environment, energy, finance and agriculture are also on this tour.

The group met privately with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later Monday afternoon.

Lopez Obrador won Mexico’s July 1 election with 53 per cent of the popular vote. His party —​ Morena, the National Reconciliation Movement — is a left-leaning social democratic movement with nationalist economic policies. It formed a coalition with a leftist workers’ party and the evangelical (socially conservative) ‘social encounter party’ to win power.

While it has backed away from extreme nationalist positions, Lopez Obrador’s platfom focused on populist appeals: empowering the underprivileged, alleviating poverty and violence and eliminating corruption among the political and business elites that Lopez Obrador called Mexico’s “mafia of power.”

The incoming administration is expected to pay particular attention to the needs of rural Mexicans, making potentially transformative changes in sectors like agriculture.

Tensions remain over steel

Canada’s relationship with the outgoing Mexican administration became fraught in the final weeks of NAFTA talks, as Mexico agreed to a bilateral deal with the Americans in August that put Canada under pressure to sign on before the end of September.

The new USMCA trade deal attempts to preserve the integration of North American automotive supply chains, including its integrated steel industry.

A week ago, Mexico’s outgoing economy secretary Ildefonso Guajardo telephoned Freeland to express frustration over new surtaxes Canada is about to levy on $200 million worth of two kinds of Mexican steel exports.

Mexico believes that Canada’s decision to impose emergency safeguards on energy tubular (pipeline) products and wire rod undermines its argument that its steel exports are fairly priced, despite differences in labour standards and wages across the three countries.

Mexico’s outgoing economy minister Ildefonso Guajardo expressed frustration over Canada’s decision to apply a surtax to two products representing 20 per cent of Mexico’s global steel exports, at a time when both countries are trying to persuade the U.S. to lift other steel tariffs. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

The U.S. has demanded export quotas from Canada and Mexico in return for the removal of the tariffs, something Freeland has appeared to rule out, despite other reports suggesting the industry was being consulted on what kind of restrictions it could accept.

In an interview with CBC News last weekend, Freeland said two countries want to move their bilateral relationship “beyond the NAFTA talks” and get “off on the right foot.”

She told Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio’s The House:“As far as we know, Canada is the only country that this Mexican team is coming to meet with, and we’re very much looking forward to welcoming them.”

Freeland characterized Mexico’s incoming government as progressive and said it had strong ties with civil society groups in Canada.

On Monday, Ebrard said in Spanish that he hoped the two countries would turn over a new page in the history of their bilateral relationship. In addition to trade issues, the pair discussed cannabis legalization, climate change policies and the protection of human rights.

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U.S. Charges Chinese Tech Giant Huawei, Top Executive

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is filing charges against Chinese tech giant Huawei.

A 13-count indictment was unsealed Monday in New York charging Huawei, two of its affiliates and a top executive at the company.

The charges include bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

A separate case filed in Washington state charges Huawei with stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile.

Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1. Prosecutors allege she committed fraud by misleading American banks about Huawei’s business deals in Iran.

Prosecutors charge Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Huawei is the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies.

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24 Million Mortgage And Bank Loan Documents Leaked Online

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A trove of more than 24 million financial and banking documents, representing tens of thousands of loans and mortgages from some of the biggest banks in the U.S., has been found online after a server security lapse.

The server, running an Elasticsearch database, had more than a decade’s worth of data, containing loan and mortgage agreements, repayment schedules and other highly sensitive financial and tax documents that reveal an intimate insight into a person’s financial life.

But it wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone to access and read the massive cache of documents.

It’s believed that the database was only exposed for two weeks — but long enough for independent security researcher Bob Diachenko to find the data. At first glance, it wasn’t immediately known who owned the data. After we inquired with several banks whose customers information was found on the server, the database was shut down on January 15.

With help from TechCrunch, the leak was traced back to Ascension, a data and analytics company for the financial industry, based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company provides data analysis and portfolio valuations. Among its services, the Ascension converts paper documents and handwritten notes into computer-readable files — known as OCR.

It’s that bank of converted documents that was exposed, Diachenko said in his own write-up.

Sandy Campbell, general counsel at Ascension’s parent company, Rocktop Partners, which owns more than 46,000 loans worth $4.4 billion, confirmed the security incident to TechCrunch, but said its systems were unaffected.

“On January 15, this vendor learned of a server configuration error that may have led to exposure of some mortgage-related documents,” he said in a statement. “The vendor immediately shut down the server in question, and we are working with third-party forensics experts to investigate the situation. We are also in regular contact with law enforcement investigators and technology partners as this investigation proceeds.”

An unspecified portion of the loans were shared with the contractor for analysis, the statement added, but couldn’t immediately confirm how many loan documents were exposed.

TechCrunch has learned that the vendor is New York-based company OpticsML. Efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful. Its website is offline and its phone number was disconnected from service.

In a phone call, Campbell confirmed that the company will inform all affected customers, and report the incident to state regulators under data breach notification laws.

From our review, it was clear that the documents pertain to loans and mortgages and other correspondence from several of the major financial and lending institutions dating as far back as 2008, if not longer, including CitiFinancial, a now-defunct lending finance arm of Citigroup, files from HSBC Life Insurance, Wells Fargo, CapitalOne and some U.S. federal departments, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some of the companies have long been defunct, after selling their mortgage divisions and assets to other companies.

Though not all files contained the highly sensitive and personal data points, we found: names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and bank and checking account numbers, as well as details of loan agreements that include sensitive financial information, such as why the person is requesting the loan.

Some of the documents also note if a person has filed for bankruptcy and tax documents, including annual W-2 tax forms, which are targets for scammers to claim false refunds.

But the database stored documents in a random order, and were not easily followable or presented in an easy to read or formatted way, making it difficult to follow from one document to another, said Diachenko.

We verified the authenticity of data by checking a portion of names in the database with public records.

“These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report,” Diachenko told TechCrunch. “This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.”

Although the documents originate from these financiers, one bank — Citi, which helped to secure the data — said it had no current relationship with the company.

“Citi recently became aware that a third party, with no connection to Citi, was storing certain mortgage origination and modification documents in an unsecure online environment,” said a Citi spokesperson. “These documents contained information about current or former Citi customers, as well as customers from other financial institutions. Citi notified law enforcement, initiated a thorough forensic investigation and worked quickly to ensure the information could no longer be publicly accessed.”

Citi confirmed that “third party is a vendor to a company that had purchased the loans and we have found no evidence that Citi’s systems were compromised.”

The bank added that it’s working to identify potentially affected customers.

Dozens of other companies are affected, including smaller regional banks and larger multinationals.

A Wells Fargo spokesperson said the data was obtained by Ascension from other entities that purchased Wells Fargo mortgages. HSBC said it was investigating if any of its customers’ data, including past customers, and confirmed it had “no vendor relationship with Ascension since 2010.” When reached, CapitalOne did not comment at the time of publication. A Housing and Urban Development spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The department is currently affected by the ongoing government shutdown. If anything changes, we’ll update.

It’s the latest in a series of security lapses involving Elasticsearch databases.

A massive database leaking millions of real-time SMS text message data was found and secured last year, as well as a popular massage service and, most recently, AIESEC, the largest youth-run nonprofit for working opportunities.

Updated at 5pm ET: with comment from HSBC and additional details regarding OpticsML.

Got a tip? You can send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755–8849. You can also send PGP email with the fingerprint: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

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Brandon Truaxe, Founder of Deciem Skin Care Company, Is Dead At 40

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Brandon Truaxe, the former CEO and founder of the skin care company Deciem, has died at age 40.

An executive at the company confirmed Truaxe’s death in an email to Vox, which also obtained the email sent by acting CEO Nicola Kilner to Deciem’s staff.

“I can’t believe I am typing these words. Brandon has passed away over the weekend. Heartbroken doesn’t come close to how I, and how I know many of you will be feeling,” read the email, which also indicated that the company’s “offices, warehouses, factories and stores” would all be closed Monday to “take the time to cry with sadness, smile at the good times we had, reflect on what his genius built and hug your loved ones that little harder.”

A spokesperson for the Estée Lauder Cos., a minority investor in Deciem, told HuffPost: “Brandon Truaxe was a true genius, and we are incredibly saddened by the news of his passing. As the visionary behind Deciem, he positively impacted millions of people around the world with his creativity, brilliance and innovation. This is a profound loss for us all, and our hearts are with Nicola Kilner and the entire Deciem family.”

Representatives of Deciem did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, but they did post a heartfelt message about Truaxe on their Instagram page.

“Thank you for every laugh, every learning and every moment of your genius. Whilst we can’t imagine a world without you, we promise to take care of each other and will work hard to continue your vision. May you finally be at peace. Love, (forever) your DECIEM,” they wrote.

The Toronto-based company, nicknamed “The Abnormal Beauty Company,” was called Deciem after Truaxe’s intention to launch 10 lines under the brand’s umbrella, though the brand has now exceeded that. Arguably its most famous line, The Ordinary, has gone on to achieve near-cult status for its affordable prices and ubiquity. The line is currently sold at Sephora.

As for Truaxe, he has had a multitude of highs and lows with the company. On the heels of a near-rave review in The New Yorker in early 2018, Truaxe began to appear erratic on social media and use the company’s pages to post bizarre messages and videos. By the end of the year, Estée Lauder took legal action against him, and Truaxe was ousted by a judge as CEO. Kilner has been the acting CEO ever since. Additionally, Truaxe was issued a restraining order by several executives at Estée Lauder.

While the cause of Truaxe’s death is currently unknown, a report published in Canada’s Financial Post in December 2018 indicated that he’d been previously hospitalized for mental health issues several times and had problems with drug use. 

The response on social media has been widespread, as many fans of his skin care brand mourn his death:

This article has been updated with comment from Estée Lauder Cos. and a message posted by Deciem.

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