Business briefing

The daily business briefing: June 18, 2021

The U.S. lifts tariff on Scotch, jobless claims rise after falling six straight weeks, and more

1

U.S. lifts Trump tariff on Scotch 

The U.S. and Britain agreed Thursday to a five-year suspension of 25 percent tariffs on certain goods imposed under former President Donald Trump as part of a long trade dispute over subsidies to Boeing and its European rival, Airbus. The Biden administration and the European Union resolved the aerospace dispute earlier this week, paving the way for the suspension of the 2019 retaliatory tariffs. For Britain, which was part of the EU in 2019 but isn't anymore, the highest-profile export hit in the trade war was single malt Scotch. The 25 percent tariffs on Scotch led to a 30 percent drop in exports to the U.S. in the 18 months through March 2021, the Scotch Whisky Association says. British tariffs on American whiskeys remain in place as part of a different EU-U.S. dispute.

2

Jobless claims unexpectedly rise

The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits rose by 37,000 last week to 412,000, the first weekly increase since April. The number has dropped most weeks this year as coronavirus infections and deaths have fallen, bolstering the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Economists had expected weekly applications for benefits to fall again this week after six straight weeks of pandemic-era lows. The four-week average of claims dropped by 8,000 last week to 395,000, the lowest four-week average since the pandemic hit the United States in March 2020. AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, said the uptick showed that "we are not back to a 'normal' level yet," but the good news is that initial claims "are no longer astronomically high."

3

Supreme Court rules former West Africa child slaves can't sue U.S. companies 

The Supreme Court ruled against six former child slaves from Mali in West Africa who sued food companies Nestle and Cargill accusing them of perpetuating illegal working conditions in the global chocolate industry. The plaintiffs said in the 15-year-old suit that they were trafficked to cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast, and forced to work. They said the companies' pressure to keep down cocoa prices fueled a system that relied on enslaved children on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court, said that the plaintiffs couldn't sue because the actions took place in Ivory Coast, not the United States. Associate Justice Samuel Alito noted that the suit "didn't even allege that [Nestle and Cargill] knew about forced child labor."

4

Stock futures flat as Dow faces losing week

U.S. stock futures were mixed early Friday as the market struggled for footing after the Federal Reserve accelerated its timetable for raising interest rates. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were down by less than 0.1 percent several hours before the opening bell, while those of the tech-heavy Nasdaq were up by 0.1 percent. The Dow dropped by 0.6 percent on Thursday, putting it down by 1.9 percent this week. The S&P 500 fell by less than 0.1 percent. The Nasdaq rose by 0.9 percent on Thursday. The Fed this week kept interest rates unchanged near zero, but moved up its planned interest rate hikes as it raised its 2021 inflation expectation to 3.4 percent.

5

U.S. to invest $3.2 billion in antiviral pills for COVID-19

The Biden administration will invest $3.2 billion to speed up development of antiviral pills to treat COVID-19, the Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, said the money, which will come from the $1.9 trillion March coronavirus relief package, could accelerate clinical trials already underway for some antiviral pills, possibly making some available by the end of 2021. Patients could take them at home early in an infection. "New antivirals that prevent serious COVID-19 illness and death, especially oral drugs that could be taken at home early in the course of disease, would be powerful tools for battling the pandemic and saving lives," Fauci said in a Thursday briefing.

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