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G20 shows steady rise of Chinese clout and fraying U.S. ties in Latin America





It took only minutes for Argentine officials to react to the White House’s version of what was said in the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his G20 host Mauricio Macri: the Americans weren’t reporting the discussion accurately.

It was spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders who had described the bilateral talks in terms sure to annoy China.

“The two leaders reiterated their shared commitment to face regional challenges like Venezuela and predatory Chinese economic activity,” she said.

Well, actually they didn’t, said Argentina.

“That comment wasn’t co-ordinated with the government of Argentina and doesn’t reflect Argentina’s view” said an official. “We value our relationship with China very much.”

Argentina’s foreign minister, Jorge Faurie, chimed in, “It was not discussed in those terms.”

And from Beijing, Argentina’s ambassador, Diego Guelar, told the newspaper La Nacion, “China is an integral strategic partner of Argentina and we’re signing 37 bilateral accords with China covering every area during the state visit of President Xi Jinping.”

Sanders’s version of the meeting “must have been a mistake,” said Guelar.

And with that episode, Argentina’s relations with the U.S. frayed a little more and inched closer to China.

Trump’s indifference was on full display on Friday when he suddenly walked offstage at a G20 event and left Macri alone, visibly perplexed and discomfited, while some in the audience began to laugh.

Rather upset Washington than Beijing

There’s a good reason Argentina’s government appears more concerned about upsetting China than it is about contradicting the White House. China is investing billions of dollars in its economy. And China’s footprint here is growing.

This week, China doubled to $25 billion Cdn a line of credit to help Argentina through the latest round of its perennial financial crisis. That makes China Argentina’s biggest creditor after the International Monetary Fund.

Next week, China is expected to announce that it will construct a new nuclear power station for Argentina at a cost of about $8 billion.

“China is the second-largest economy in the world, soon to be number one, and it is looking to expand its interests, commercial and otherwise, throughout the world,” says Thomas Bernes, a former senior official with both the IMF and the World Bank who was attending the G20 as a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). “This is similar to what the U.S. has done for decades, including throughout Asia.”

“The TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) was an attempt by the U.S. to build a trade agreement with countries in Asia that excluded China. Countries want to enjoy a productive relationship with both. But the world hasn’t witnessed a time before when two countries were so dominant economically and strategically at the same time. Russia was a strategic competitor but not an economic one.” 

Increasingly, Bernes told CBC, countries may be forced to choose.

“So as the power dynamic changes; how do the U.S. and China, and other countries, find a way to avoid conflict?”

Spreading wealth, buying friends

More and more, the choice is China. Chinese corporations, many with links to the state, are investing heavily, and strategically, across the region. They prefer to put their money into infrastructure, such as ports, and natural resources, such as strategic minerals, as well as energy projects.

In 2015, President Xi Jinping toured Latin America, showering money — and wherever he went, he told Latin American leaders that China was committed to spend $250 billion US in the region by 2025. He invited Latin leaders to a conference in Beijing where he told them China believes its trade with Latin America will reach $500 billion a year over the same period.

That largesse brings two kinds of risks for those who fear that authoritarian China may one day displace democratic America as the heavyweight of the hemisphere. 

The first is that the assets China is buying are creating an infrastructure of power that spans the world. Just as the U.S. once benefited mightily from control of the Panama Canal, China’s growing network of seaports potentially gives it control over the chokepoints of global commerce.

The second is the concessions China is demanding — and receiving — in return for its investments. One example is El Salvador’s decision to end its long-standing recognition of Taiwan in August, ignoring U.S. threats of retaliation, in what looks like a quid pro quo for China’s investment in a new port.

And in Argentina, China’s investments have secured for Beijing what may be its first military presence in the Western hemisphere.

PLA comes to the Andes

In the foothills of the Andes, on 200 hectares of land ceded by Argentina for 50 years, China has built a satellite tracking and monitoring station, which began operating last year. Its antenna is 16 stories high.

China first proposed the project when Argentina was experiencing the economic turmoil of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

“The station is exclusively for scientific and civic purposes, focused on monitoring, control, and data download of China’s interplanetary space missions,” Argentina’s ministry of planning said when the deal came up for ratification in Argentina’s Congress.

And Congress had to take their word for that, because the deal contains a number of secret clauses, but it is striking that the organization that operates the station is fully controlled by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and the antenna is the kind of dual-use technology that other countries use to intercept communications.

In recent years, China’s military has also sought liaison arrangements with some South American nations, and conducted joint exercises with the Brazilian Navy.

U.S. needlessly ceding terrain

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri is a wealthy businessman who knows Donald Trump from New York days before he ran for president. Macri has been highly critical of his immediate predecessor’s anti-American rhetoric and her tendency to work with countries such as Russia, China, Venezuela and Iran while allowing ties with western democracies to degrade.

Argentina’s president has made his preferences clear, and has offered advantages to U.S. companies to invest in a vast and undeveloped oil and gas reservoir called Vaca Muerta in Patagonia.

In his bilateral meeting with Trump on Friday, Macri spoke at length about Vaca Muerta and encouraged the U.S. president to try to get American companies involved in developing it. Macri’s government is well aware of the dangers of becoming too beholden to China’s predatory lending practices, which have dragged vulnerable countries deep into debt only to extract concessions that can include surrenders of sovereignty.

But Trump showed little interest in Vaca Muerta, according to Argentine media reports.

It’s just one more way that the Trump administration is accelerating the decline of U.S. influence in the region and hastening the rise of China’s.

Soybeans and the byproducts are a leading commodity in Argentina and increasingly the underpinning of its government’s tax revenues. When Trump began his trade war with China, Beijing retaliated by imposing tariffs on U.S. soya and shifting more of its soy purchases to Argentina and Brazil. China is by far the biggest customer for Argentina’s soybeans, deepening the country’s dependence on Beijing.

“As we see between Canada and the U.S., having close economic ties clearly makes you more sensitive to views of the other,” says Bernes.

In stark contrast to China’s strategic nurturing of its influence in Argentina, the Trump administration has been uninterested, disorganized, and increasingly absent. And as U.S. prestige and presence wane, pro-western Macri has had no choice but to turn more to the Chinese. And they have come through for Argentina, ever eager to take on the roles Washington seems to be abandoning.


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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary





Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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Real Estate

‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market





The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers





Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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