Quotulatiousness

March 9, 2014

Prime Minister jets off to South Korea for trade deal photo-op

Filed under: Asia, Cancon, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:32

It’s not clear whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to Seoul to actually sign a free trade agreement with South Korea or if it’s just another grip-and-grin photo-op to announce an as-yet-unfinalized deal:

Harper said on his 24 Seven webcast that this would be Canada’s first trade deal in the Asia-Pacific region.

“It adds, obviously, to the important deals we have in the Americas and in Europe now. And it’s really given the Canadian economy as good, if not better, free-trade access than virtually every major developed economy,” he said.

Harper added that South Korea is “a relatively open economy, a relatively, very progressive economy and advanced democracy, and it has trade linkages all through Asia itself.” He said it’s “probably the best gateway you can get into long-term trade agreement access into the Asia-Pacific region.”

NDP trade critic Don Davies said growing trade with South Korea and Asia in general is a good thing. But he was skeptical that the week’s coming ceremonies would amount to much more of a repeat of Brussels.

“Are they going to go just to shake hands, have a photo-op and sign an agreement-in-principle without the actual details or text to be released?”

Davies again assailed the government for a total lack of transparency, and questioned whether the deal would be able to protect jobs in Canada’s auto sector.

“In trade deals, it’s details that matter,” he said.

“The Conservatives have the least transparent trade policy probably in the developed world. They are closed, they are secretive and they don’t involve a lot of stakeholders; they don’t involve the opposition.”

The deal would mark progress toward expanding trade with Asia, a major economic priority of the Harper government. Coming on the heels of the Canada-EU pact, it would allow Prime Minister Stephen Harper to trumpet his first significant free-trade deal in Asia, and give impetus to other negotiations, particularly with Japan.

February 27, 2014

Ukraine and the EU – why the easy answer won’t work

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:09

At the Adam Smith Institute website, Eamonn Butler explains why there won’t be an easy economic fix for the EU/Ukraine trading relationship:

The trouble with EU membership is that it is such a big deal. A country that wants to be part of the club, and enjoy its free trade benefits also has to accept a mountain of regulation and to sign up for the common currency. It is all or nothing.

That puts countries like Ukraine in a fix, just as it put the UK in a bit of a fix in the early 1970s. The UK did not want to raise tariff barriers and lose its trading relationships with its historic trading partners such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, from which it imported a great many agricultural products — butter, lamb, fruit, bacon and much else. But thanks to the Common Agricultural Policy, it did not have much choice. Today, the UK is inside the EU’s tariff wall, which makes trade with the rest of the world more expensive, and naturally focuses UK trade on Europe.

[...]

As a logical matter, that does not have to be. If the EU allowed Ukraine the same sort of status enjoyed by (neutral) Switzerland, the country would be free to trade with the EU as part of its customs-union club – but would remain free to preserve trading links to other countries as well. It would also be free to retain its currency and its legal and regulatory structure. A free trade pact with the EU that would help grow the Ukrainian economy, without threatening Russia or the Russian-speaking Ukrainians that the country would be wholly swallowed up into a Western political alliance.

A genuine free-trade deal, rather than full membership. That would probably be ideal for Ukraine (and for other nearby countries not already in the EU), but it won’t be on offer, because too many existing members of the EU would also prefer to have that kind of trading relationship without all the legislative/regulatory overhead that full membership requires. In many ways, the EU cannot afford to offer Ukraine such a deal, for fear of undermining the basis of the current integrated model.

Update: Daniel Hannan on the possibility of partition in Ukraine.

These two views — Ukrainians as a historic people, Ukrainians as a strain of Russians — frame the present quarrel. Most Russian nationalists allow, albeit reluctantly, that Ukrainian national consciousness exists. Alexander Solzhenitsyn grumpily accepted that western Ukrainians, after the horrors of the Soviet era, had been permanently alienated from Mother Russia; but he insisted that the frontiers were arbitrarily drawn under Lenin. If Ukrainians claimed independence on grounds of having a separate national identity, he argued, they must extend their own logic to the Russian-speakers east of the Dnieper.

[...]

Plainly a pro-Russian regime can’t govern the whole country: the recent uprising has put that fact beyond doubt. If the Slavophiles can’t rule the West, might the Westernisers win the East? The way of life they propose ought to be more attractive. But we should not underestimate the importance, in such a region, of blood and speech. Nor should we underestimate how much more Ukraine matters to Moscow than it does to Brussels. Vladimir Putin has mobilised troops on the border. Does anyone imagine any EU government, with the possible exception of Poland’s, contemplating a military response?

If neither the Slavophiles nor the Westernisers can carry the entire territory, some kind of separation starts to look inevitable. Such a separation might come about as paramilitary groups establish local supremacy. Or it might happen as a result of Russian intervention, as in Armenia, Moldova and, later, South Ossetia. It is easy enough to imagine Russian security forces crossing the border at the request of local proxies and establishing a de facto Russophone state. The Trans-Dniester Republic still exists, unrecognised but very much in force, on Ukraine’s western border; why not a Trans-Dnieper Republic to its east?

January 28, 2014

CETA provisions still secret, even though the deal is agreed

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:13

It’s an odd day that I find myself in full agreement with anything the Council of Canadians pushes, but as Glyn Moody explains, this is not the way to get Canadians to buy in to a new trade deal:

Back in November, we reported that the EU and Canada were claiming that “a political agreement” on the key elements of the Canada-EU trade agreement, CETA, had been reached. One of the supposed reasons why the negotiations were being conducted in secret was that it was “obviously” not possible to release texts while talks were still going on — even though that is precisely how WIPO operates. So, now that key parts of the CETA have been agreed upon, presumably the public will finally get to see at least those sections of the text, right? Apparently not, as the Council of Canadians found when it put in a freedom of information request to the Canadian government:

    The federal government has denied an access to information request from the Council of Canadians for the working text of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The grassroots public advocacy organization is accusing the Conservative government of unnecessarily depriving Canadians of the information they need to pass judgement on CETA, and of any opportunity to alter the deal before it is signed.

    “It’s a new year, but we’re seeing the same old secrecy from the Harper government. How is anyone expected to say yes or no to this EU deal if Ottawa is not prepared to release it publicly before CETA is signed, sealed and delivered?” asks Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “The Prime Minister is misleading Canadians by claiming the CETA negotiations are the most transparent in Canadian history. A fully redacted copy of the text would be more transparent than this.”

This exposes nicely the dishonesty of governments around the world when they claim that regrettably they “have” to keep texts secret, but will release them just as soon as they can. Here, we have major parts of CETA that have been agreed upon and where there is no need to keep them secret — apart, that is, from the real reason why there is no transparency: because the governments concerned know that once the public find out how they have been let down by their representatives, there will be widespread outrage. In a blatant attempt to stifle democratic debate, it has become standard practice with these trade agreements only to release the texts after they have been passed, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

January 18, 2014

Austrian economics

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:35

Published on 26 Sep 2012

Steve Horwitz, Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University, explains what Austrian Economics is and what Austrian Economics is not, clearing up some common misconceptions.

This video is based on Steve’s essay by the same name:
http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2010/11/what-austrian-economics-is-and-what-austrian-economics-is-not.html

To learn more about Austrian Economics, visit http://www.fee.org

January 14, 2014

Noam Chomsky – TPP is an “assault” that furthers corporate “domination”

Filed under: Economics, Government, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:59

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is perhaps the most secretive “free trade” deal ever negotiated. It’s apparently so important that the details be kept from the electorate that even our elected representatives are not being given much information on what has been discussed or agreed. It’s not just libertarian and free market advocates that find this lack of transparency disturbing, as this piece in the Huffington Post shows:

The Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is an “assault,” on working people intended to further corporate “domination,” according to author and activist Noam Chomsky.

“It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity,” Chomsky said during an interview with HuffPost Live.

The Obama administration has been negotiating the TPP pact with 11 other Pacific nations for years. While the deal has not been finalized and much of it has been classified, American corporate interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have already voiced strong support for the TPP, describing it as a free trade deal that will encourage economic growth. The Office of U.S. Trade Representative has also defended the talks, saying the TPP will include robust regulatory protections. But labor unions and a host of traditionally liberal interest groups, including environmentalists and public health advocates, have sharply criticized the deal.

Chomsky argues that much of the negotiations concern issues outside of what many consider trade, and are focused instead on limiting the activities governments can regulate, imposing new intellectual property standards abroad and boosting corporate political power.

“It’s called free trade, but that’s just a joke,” Chomsky said. “These are extreme, highly protectionist measures designed to undermine freedom of trade. In fact, much of what’s leaked about the TPP indicates that it’s not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights.”

December 24, 2013

Indian gold bugs go home

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, India, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

The Indian government has been attempting to restrict the domestic gold market, but there’s a big loophole in the rules that many travellers are taking advantage of while they can:

Faced with curbs on gold imports and crash in international prices leaving it cheaper in other countries, gold houses and smugglers are turning to NRIs to bring in the yellow metal legally after paying duty. Any NRI, who has stayed abroad for more than six months, is allowed to bring in 1kg gold.

It was evident last week when almost every passenger on a flight from Dubai to Calicut was found carrying 1kg of gold, totalling up to 80kg (worth about Rs 24 crore). At Chennai airport, 13 passengers brought the legally permitted quantity of gold in the past one week.

“It’s not illegal. But the 80kg gold that landed in Calicut surprised us. We soon got information that two smugglers in Dubai and their links in Calicut were behind this operation, offering free tickets to several passengers,” said an official. The passengers were mostly Indian labourers in Dubai, used as carriers by people who were otherwise looking at illegal means, he said. “We have started tracing the origin and route of gold after intelligence pointed to the role of smugglers,” he said.

Reports from Kerala said passengers from Dubai have brought more than 1,000kg of gold in the last three weeks. People who pay a duty of Rs 2.7 lakh per kg in Dubai still stand to gain at least Rs 75,000 per kg, owing to the price difference in the two countries. Gold dealers in Kerala say most of this gold goes to jewellery makers in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

December 4, 2013

The rising tide of “isolationism”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:23

Justin Raimondo on the irritating-to-pundits-and-politicians increase in what they mis-characterize as isolationism:

For years the Pew folks have been yelping about “isolationism.” They’ve been telling us it’s on the march — except among the elites — with the strong implication being that this is not a Good Thing. But do they know what the heck they’re talking about?

One has to wonder what extending peaceful commercial links with other nations has in common with invading them, meddling in their internal politics, or otherwise bullying them around. Indeed, establishing voluntary non-coercive relations with other nations — otherwise known as international trade — is the polar opposite of military and/or political intervention in their affairs. The American people know this. The Pew folks — not so much.

The bias of the Pew Center is evident in every line of the report, and also in its structure: the Pew Poll is really two polls, one a survey of the hoi polloi (you and I), the other a poll of members of the “internationalist” Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the elite foreign policy group founded by Elihu Root and dominated by the Morgan banking interests from the get-go. The gulf between us plebeians and the Very Serious People in Washington (and New York) has been growing for years, but today it is a vast chasm: The CFR types are aghast at the “isolationism” of the rest of us, and ascribe to this various causes: “war fatigue,” the costs — and of course our narrow plebeian “isolationist” anti-cosmopolitan country-bumpkin outlook.

While 51 percent of normal Americans say we’re pushing our weight around far too much, the exact opposite opinion is held by the Washington-New York know-it-alls: “By contrast, about twice as many CFR members say the US does too little internationally as say it does too much (41% vs. 21%); 35% say the US does the right amount.” While us Normals were overwhelmingly opposed to US intervention in Syria, the CFR’ers were for it 2-to-1. Yes, they’re wrong about practically everything, including what it means to be an “isolationist” — a creature that has never existed and could not exist outside of North Korea.

[...]

The political class in this country has a far different view of commercial relations between nations than the Average American. To the latter, it is simply Good Old American Free Enterprise, albeit engaged in overseas. The former are not so naïve: they realize it is all about buying political influence, and, failing that, using the US military to guarantee the safety, security, and profitability of American investments abroad.

Viewed through this lens, American foreign policy since 1890 takes on a whole new dimension, which Rothbard’s Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy reveals in scintillating detail. The One Percent have been utilizing the US military as their private security force ever since that time: indeed, every war we have fought — yes, including the Good War — was fulsomely supported by the economic elite and their journalistic camarilla against the overwhelming desire of the American people to stay out. The political class has deliberately conflated commercial contacts with military and political intervention into the affairs of other nations — because, for them, the two are synonymous.

According to the mindset of the Pew Center and their good buddies at the CFR, “isolationism” has to mean commercial isolation. While this may puzzle the average person, look at it from the perspective of a professional thief: without the threat of US sanctions and the ultimate bludgeon of US military intervention, how else will the big banksters and their sycophants enforce a “world order” that exists so they can make a fast buck off the sweat of Chinese coolies, Eurasian oil workers, and Mexican maquiladores?

November 26, 2013

Twenty-five years on, Canada has clearly changed

Filed under: Cancon, History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:23

Richard Anderson notes the 25th anniversary of an almost forgotten Canadian crisis:

From the perspective of a quarter century the whole thing is almost inexplicable. It isn’t just that everything turned out well. The oddness of that time is how worked up people got about a trade agreement. Seriously. It’s an international trade agreement. The Harper Tories have signed quite a few, including an important deal with the EU. It’s barely headline news. But way back then it was the beginning of the end of Canada, if the good and great of the Canadian Cultural Establishment were to be believed.

Adding more distance to the passage of time is the demographic revolution that has taken place since, a revolution kicked into high gear by Mulroney not Trudeau. The Canada of 1988 was a much whiter and far more WASPish place than it is today. The Canadian WASP is an odd creature. Genial to a fault, decent, hard working and subdued in manner and lifestyle. He does, however, have one terrible weakness: A paranoid fear of the United States.

The Punjabi, the Vietnamese and the Filipino immigrant could not tell a Loyalist from a lolipop. The strange psycho-drama that has consumed the Canadian elite since Simcoe landed is now, mostly, over. The new Canadians have no fear of the old enemy America. There are no intergenerational flashbacks to the Battle of Queenston Heights. The Americans are just the loud neighbour to the south. It is not entirely coincidental that free trade was at last brought to Canada by an Irish Catholic, supported by a phalanx of Quebecois. Neither group ever really feared America. Among them there was never that nagging sense of imminent cultural absorption.

October 19, 2013

CETA as a lever to (finally) loosen rules on inter-provincial trade

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:18

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells thinks that the new free trade deal between Canada and the European Union will be one of the historical successes of Stephen Harper’s career, but also notes it has a potentially great domestic influence:

Flip it around. Every delay in reaching an agreement with the EU on freer trade in goods and services has been merrily mocked by a few critics in the gallery, yours truly first among them. And if Stephen Harper had failed to conclude this deal, having taken negotiations this far, he would have durably wrecked Canada’s reputation as a serious trading nation.

(That goes doubly so now that Canada and the EU have reached an agreement in principle. Could it still fall apart? It could, although my test on this, for reasons I explained long ago, is the reaction of the Europeans. I’m told there is no love lost between Harper and José Manuel Barroso; Barroso would not waste time in Brussels on an empty dog and pony show so Harper could duck a few questions about Mike Duffy. The Europeans think this is real. For now we should take today’s announcement at face value. The Council of Canadians sure does.)

Well, if delay was worth criticism and failure would have been read as a career-threatening personal defeat, success must be counted as a personal triumph for Stephen Harper. When his political career ends, this is one of the first three things the newspapers will mention.

But as he notes, there’s a long-term, nagging domestic trade issue that might also improve under the new international agreement:

Best of all, any advantage offered by any province and its municipalities to European importers must, in simple logic, be made available to businesses from other Canadian provinces. This accord will act powerfully to deepen the still fragmented internal Canadian market. In a week when some cabinet ministers were turning cartwheels because it will now be legal to drive from Hull to Ottawa with a bottle of wine, that’s an overdue change. I’m on the record being skeptical Harper couldn’t close this deal, and I’m happy to eat crow. This CETA deal will be the most powerful pro-market accomplishment of any Canadian government in a quarter century.

As Wells correctly notes, this isn’t a true free trade deal but it’s a “free-r trade” agreement that moves us a few notches closer to actual free trade with the EU. Regulators and bureaucrats of all stripes will still have a lot of say in what goods and services are actually exchanged between the signatories, but that will still be less than the influence they currently wield.

September 7, 2013

TPP negotiators actively concealing their tracks

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:34

The EFF on the now even-more-secret negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty:

This week, trade delegates met in San Francisco to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement’s e-commerce chapter. It’s likely that this secret chapter carries provisions that whittle away at user data protections. But we weren’t able to say so at this meeting. Not only have they neglected to notify digital rights groups — including EFF, which is based in San Francisco — about the meeting, we could not even discover where it was taking place.

Delegates from TPP countries are right now holding these secretive “inter-sessional” meetings here and in other undisclosed cities around the world. Trade reps for specific issue areas are hammering out “unresolved” issues that are holding up the conclusion of the agreement, and doing so by becoming even more secretive and evasive than ever.

We only heard about a TPP meeting on intellectual property in Mexico City in September through the diplomatic rumor-mill, since the US Trade Rep is no longer bothering to announce the dates or locations of these closed-door side meetings. During this round in Mexico, countries that have been resistant to U.S. demands to sign onto highly restrictive copyright enforcement standards may ultimately be strong-armed into doing so.

It’s probably safe to assume that the reason they’ve become so secretive is that they don’t want any of us to know what they’re doing until it’s a fait accompli and we can’t do anything about it. That’s how much they trust us.

August 30, 2013

Trade negotiations are so secret that MPs are denied access to the information

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:55

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick says that even congressmen have (limited) access to ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation documents, but that even the NDP’s trade critic can’t get that level of information here:

Don Davies is a Canadian Member of Parliament who notes that he’s been denied access to information about the ongoing TPP negotiations, of which Canada is supposedly a member:

    “The TPP is a sweeping agreement covering issues that affect many areas of Canada’s economy and society — including several areas of policy that have never been subject to trade agreements before,” said Davies. “By keeping Parliament completely in the dark on negotiations the Conservatives also leave Canadians in the dark and, for an agreement of this magnitude that is abnormal and unacceptable.

    “If the US can allow its legislators to see the TPP text, there is no reason that Canada can’t,” Davies said.

In this case, it’s doubly ridiculous. Davies is a member of the NDP party, which is not in power, but his role is as the Official Opposition Critic for International Trade. In other words, he’s basically the trade policy expert for the NDP, and as such, you’d think he should at the very least be included in the details of ongoing negotiations. Yet again, though, it seems that the main negotiating parties involved in the TPP have realized that the best way to get across an agreement they like is to keep it as secretive and non-transparent as possible, especially from critics. This is the exact opposite of how democratic governments are supposed to work.

Of course, the addition of Canada to the TPP has always been done in a way to keep our neighbor up north as a silent partner to the US’s position. You may recall that the US didn’t let Canada join until well into the negotiating process, and as part of the invite, Canada was told that it had to accept all negotiated text without question, even though it wasn’t allowed to see it yet. And, related to that, they had to agree to future texts during some meetings where they weren’t allowed to attend.

July 26, 2013

BC Premier highlights antiquated inter-provincial trade rules with wine

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:22

The rules governing inter-provincial trade in wine date back to the Prohibition era. BC’s Christy Clark would like to see the rules brought into this century:

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark brought a case of her province’s wine to the heart of Ontario’s vine land.

Clark presented the vintages to her dozen provincial and territorial colleagues in a bid to lower trade barriers.

Even though Ottawa eased interprovincial rules surrounding wine last year, it is still illegal for Ontarians to buy wine in bulk directly from B.C. vineyards.

To get around that, Clark’s six-person entourage brought two bottles apiece to have a full case for the premiers at their annual Council of the Federation gathering.

I linked to an item on this issue by Michael Pinkus earlier this year.

June 28, 2013

Ecuador responds to US diplomatic pressure by abandoning trade agreement

Filed under: Americas, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:17

This is either political grandstanding for foreign audiences or a shrewd attempt to gain some positive domestic points:

One of the points that many people have made concerning most countries in the world is that they’re loathe to challenge the US on many things, even when they’re in the right, because they’re so reliant on the US for trade. The US regularly lords this fact over countries in seeking to get its way. In fact, US officials had been very strongly suggesting to Ecuador that if it decides to take in Ed Snowden and grant him asylum, that there could be consequences for trade under the Andean Trade Preference Act that both countries are signed to, but which needs to be renewed next month. Specifically, US politicians suggested that they might not allow the renewal if Ecuador granted asylum.

In response, Ecuador has taken a stand: saying that it’s breaking the trade agreement upfront as it doesn’t appreciate the attempt by the US to blackmail it in this matter.

[. . .]

As the article notes, some of this is surely political. It is a bit of a populist move by the government, and many suspected that the trade agreement was unlikely to be renewed anyway by the US, so in some ways this is an attempt to get out in front of that story and pull something of a “you can’t fire me, I quit!” move. Still, it highlights, once again, the way the US bullies smaller countries, and how that can backfire.

May 19, 2013

Top Three Common Myths of Capitalism

Filed under: Business, Economics, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:09

Is being pro-business and pro-capitalism the same? Does capitalism generate an unfair distribution of income? Was capitalism responsible for the most recent financial crisis? Dr. Jeffrey Miron at Harvard answers these questions by exposing three common myths of capitalism.

April 27, 2013

The misplaced outrage over Amazon’s tiny tax bill in the UK

Filed under: Britain, Business, Economics, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:40

Tim Worstall explains that the current efforts by various campaigners including Stephen Fry are not only a waste of time and effort, but betray a fundamental misunderstanding of how the EU is set up:

There are several points that could be made. One being that selling to Brits from Luxembourg is not tax dodging, it’s exactly what the EU intends the Single Market should be. A, umm, single market across 27 countries. A second might be that even if we start to whine about UK warehouses, tax is still not due here. Our double taxation treaty with Luxembourg means that such warehouses do not lead to tax being due. And that’s from 1968 or so when Wilson ruled: it’s also a standard part of all double taxation treaties and for good reason.

(For example, the metals trade uses warehouses in Rotterdam as the point at which a contract is concluded. The cut flowers business warehouses in a small village near Schipol. Should Holland get all the tax from the world’s metals and flower businesses? Or should everyone be taxed where they really are, not the warehouses?)

But there’s much worse than this. We’ve had the Margaret Hodges screeching that we’re talking about immoral, not illegal. The TJN and other fools similarly scream about how awful it is that people can do business without paying tax. And it is precisely all of this activism that leads these gentle booksellers to spend their year collecting signatures. To absolutely no avail whatsoever.

For in the year they are complaining about, last year, 2012, Amazon did not make a profit. A $39 million loss in fact according to their accounts. It’s simply not true that “tax dodging” by Amazon is leading to the crucifixtion of the independent book shop. That’s a lie that’s been foisted upon people by the obfuscations of the campaigners.

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