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    How Will Interest Rate Increases Impact Inflation?

    The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to fight inflation. Some economists want more; some politicians want less. What’s the logic?The Federal Reserve is expected to announce its fourth interest rate increase of 2022 on Wednesday as it races to tamp down rapid inflation. The moves have a lot of people wondering why rate increases — which raise the cost of borrowing money — are America’s main tool for cooling down prices.Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday arguing that the Fed’s demand-crushing rate increases are not the right policy to fight today’s inflation as fuel costs and supply chain turmoil push up prices. The policies will hurt workers, she said, and “it doesn’t have to be this way.”Others have argued that the Fed should continue to be forceful. Lawrence H. Summers, the former Democratic Treasury secretary, argued during an interview on CNN this week that the Fed needed to take “strong action” to control inflation and that allowing inflation to gallop out of control would be the “bigger mistake” than causing a recession.Onlookers could be excused for struggling to make sense of the debate. Fed officials themselves acknowledge that their tools are blunt, that they cannot fix broken supply chains and that it will be difficult to slow the economy enough without causing an economic downturn. So why is the Fed doing this?America’s central bank has for decades been what Paul Volcker, its chair in the 1980s, called “the only game in town” when it comes to fighting inflation. While there are things that elected leaders can do to combat rising prices — raising taxes to curb consumption, spending more on education and infrastructure to improve productivity, helping flailing industries — those targeted policies tend to take time. The things that elected policymakers can do quickly generally help mainly around the edges.But time is of the essence when it comes to controlling inflation. If price increases run fast for months or years on end, people begin to adjust their lives accordingly. Workers might ask for higher wages, pushing up labor costs and prompting businesses to charge more. Companies might begin to believe that consumers will accept price increases, making them less vigilant about avoiding them.By making money more expensive to borrow, the Fed’s rate moves work relatively quickly to temper demand. As buying a house or a car or expanding a business becomes pricier, people pull back from doing those things. With fewer consumers and companies competing for the available supply of goods and services, price gains are able to moderate.Unfortunately, that process could come at a hefty cost at a moment like this one. Bringing the economy into balance when supply is constrained — cars are hard to find because of semiconductor shortages, furniture is on back order, and jobs are more plentiful than laborers — could require a big decline in demand. Slowing the economy down that meaningfully could tip off a recession, leaving workers unemployed and families with lower incomes.Economists at Goldman Sachs, for example, estimate that the probability of a recession over the next two years is 50 percent. Already, signs abound that the economy is slowing as the Fed begins to push rates higher, with overall growth data, housing market trackers and some metrics of consumer spending showing a pullback.But central bankers believe that even if the risks are difficult to bear, they are necessary. A downturn that pushes unemployment higher would undoubtedly be painful, but inflation is also a major impediment for many families today. Getting it under control is critical to putting the economy back on a sustainable path, officials argue.“It is essential that we bring inflation down if we are to have a sustained period of strong labor market conditions that benefit all,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at his news conference last month. More

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    Truckers’ Protests Over Labor Law Block Access to Oakland’s Port

    For days, a convoy of truckers has blocked the roads that serve the Port of Oakland, crippling a major West Coast cargo hub already hampered by global supply chain disruptions.The protest is meant to send a message to Gov. Gavin Newsom: Keep the drivers clear of a California labor law that they say threatens their livelihood.The truckers, primarily independent owners and operators, are demonstrating in opposition to Assembly Bill 5, a law passed in 2019 that requires gig workers in several industries to be classified as employees with benefits, including minimum wage and overtime pay.Along with a coalition of trade groups, the truckers want Mr. Newsom to issue an executive order putting off the application of the 2019 law to their work and to bring labor and industry to the table to negotiate a path forward.A representative of Mr. Newsom said the state would “continue to partner with truckers and the ports to ensure the continued movement of goods to California’s residents and businesses, which is critical to all of us.”Smaller protests were organized last week at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.In a statement, Danny Wan, executive director of the Port of Oakland, said he understood the displays of frustration. But he warned against more delays surrounding the ports, a vital link in a supply chain already hemorrhaging from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Covid-19 lockdowns in China.“Prolonged stoppage of port operations in California for any reason will damage all the businesses operating at the ports and cause California ports to further suffer market share losses to competing ports,” he said.When Mr. Newsom signed the measure into law, it received immediate rebukes from companies like Uber and Lyft, whose leaders argued that the law would change their businesses so severely that it might well destroy them.The state law codified a California Supreme Court ruling from 2018 that said, among other things, that people must be classified as employees if their work was a regular part of a company’s business.Both Uber and Lyft, along with DoorDash, quickly lobbied for a ballot measure that would allow gig economy companies to continue treating their drivers as independent contractors.California voters passed the measure, Proposition 22, in 2020, but last year a California Superior Court judge ruled that it was unconstitutional. Uber and Lyft quickly appealed and have been exempt from complying with Assembly Bill 5 while the court proceedings play out.But that wasn’t the case for the truckers. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge by California truckers, who under the new law are viewed as employees of the trucking companies they do business with.Nearly 70,000 California truck drivers work as independent owners and operators, ferrying goods from ports to distribution warehouses. Trucking companies and the protesting drivers argue — as Uber and Lyft did — that if Assembly Bill 5 is applied to them, the drivers will have less flexibility in when and how they work.Proponents of the law say the companies could simply take the drivers on as full- or part-time employees and continue to offer them flexible schedules.A majority of port truckers in California are independent operators and do not work for a single company. A smaller number of drivers are unionized and are represented primarily by the Teamsters.Matt Schrap, chief executive of the Harbor Trucking Association, a trade group for transportation companies serving West Coast ports, said the “frustration is that there is no pathway for folks to have independence.”“That frustration is boiling over into action,” Mr. Schrap said.Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a former state lawmaker who was an architect of the labor bill, rejected the idea that applying the law to the trucking industry would be a disservice to drivers.“These truck companies have a business model that is misclassifying workers,” said Ms. Gonzalez Fletcher, who is about to take over as head of the California Labor Federation. “How they have been operating has been illegal.”The trucker protests come as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is engaged in contract negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the shipping terminals at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle.Farless Dailey III, president of Local 10 of the longshore union, said that for their own safety, his members were not trying to get through the truck blockade.“They don’t get paid when they don’t get in,” he said. “But we’re not going to put our members in harm’s way to pass through the line of truckers.”Officials at the port said the largest marine terminal had been closed since Monday because of the protests. Three other smaller terminals have operated, but with a limited capacity.Christopher S. Tang, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management, who studies supply chains, said the shutdowns at the Port of Oakland should not — for now — cause major issues for consumers.“The impact will not be significant in the short term,” he said. “Many retailers have stockpiled inventory.”On Thursday, German Ochoa, a trucker who lives in Oakland, arrived at the port, as he had every day this week.As horns from semitrucks blared in the background, Mr. Ochoa said by phone that he was standing shoulder to shoulder with other truckers. Some held poster boards that read, “Take down AB 5!!!” and “AB 5 Has Got to Go!,” he said.“This is taking away my independence,” Mr. Ochoa said. “It’s my right to be an independent driver.”Noam Scheiber More

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    Gas Prices Around the World Threaten Livelihoods and Stability

    “NO ES SUFICIENTE” — It’s not enough. That was the message protest leaders in Ecuador delivered to the country’s president this past week after he said he would lower the price of both regular gas and diesel by 10 cents in response to riotous demonstrations over soaring fuel and food prices.The fury and fear over energy prices that have exploded in Ecuador are playing out the world over. In the United States, average gasoline prices, which have jumped to $5 per gallon, are burdening consumers and forcing an excruciating political calculus on President Biden ahead of the midterm congressional elections this fall.But in many places, the leap in fuel costs has been much more dramatic, and the ensuing misery much more acute.Families worry how to keep the lights on, fill the car’s gas tank, heat their homes and cook their food. Businesses grapple with rising transit and operating costs and with demands for wage increases from their workers.In Nigeria, stylists use the light of their cellphones to cut hair because they can’t find affordable fuel for the gasoline-powered generator. In Britain, it costs $125 to fill the tank of an average family-size car. Hungary is prohibiting motorists from buying more than 50 liters of gas a day at most service stations. Last Tuesday, police in Ghana fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators protesting against the economic hardship caused by gas price increases, inflation and a new tax on electronic payments.Discontent over soaring fuel prices prompted angry demonstrations in Quito, Ecuador.Martin Bernetti/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe staggering increase in the price of fuel has the potential to rewire economic, political and social relations around the world. High energy costs have a cascading effect, feeding inflation, compelling central banks to raise interest rates, crimping economic growth and hampering efforts to combat ruinous climate change.The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the largest exporter of oil and gas to global markets, and the retaliatory sanctions that followed have caused gas and oil prices to gallop with an astounding ferocity. The unfolding calamity comes on top of two years of upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, off-and-on shutdowns and supply chain snarls.The spike in energy prices was a major reason the World Bank revised its economic forecast last month, estimating that global growth will slow even more than expected, to 2.9 percent this year, roughly half of what it was in 2021. The bank’s president, David Malpass, warned that “for many countries, recession will be hard to avoid.”In Europe, an over-dependence on Russian oil and natural gas has made the continent particularly vulnerable to high prices and shortages. In recent weeks, Russia has been ratcheting down gas deliveries to several European countries.Across the continent, countries are preparing blueprints for emergency rationing that involve caps on sales, reduced speed limits and lowered thermostats.As is usually the case with crises, the poorest and most vulnerable will feel the harshest effects. The International Energy Agency warned last month that higher energy prices have meant an additional 90 million people in Asia and Africa do not have access to electricity.Expensive energy radiates pain, contributing to high food prices, lowering standards of living and exposing millions to hunger. Steeper transportation costs increase the price of every item that is trucked, shipped or flown — whether it’s a shoe, cellphone, soccer ball or prescription drug.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What’s driving inflation in the United States? What can slow the rapid price gains? Here’s what to know.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Greedflation: Some experts say that big corporations are supercharging inflation by jacking up prices. We take a closer look at the issue. Changing Behaviors: From driving fewer miles to downgrading vacations, Americans are making changes to their spending because of inflation. Here’s how five households are coping.“The simultaneous rise in energy and food prices is a double punch in the gut for the poor in practically every country,” said Eswar Prasad, an economist at Cornell University, “and could have devastating consequences in some corners of the world if it persists for an extended period.”In many places, livelihoods are already being upended.Dione Dayola, who drives a commuter jeepney in metropolitan Manila, said spiraling fuel casts had cut his daily earnings to $4 from $15. “How do you expect to live on that?” he said.Jes Aznar for The New York TimesThe livelihoods of many jeepney drivers in Manila have been wiped out.Jes Aznar for The New York TimesDione Dayola, 49, leads a consortium of about 100 drivers who cruise metropolitan Manila picking up passengers in the minibuses known as jeepneys. Now, only 32 of those drivers are on the road. The rest have left to search for other jobs or have turned to begging.Before pump prices started rising, Mr. Dayola said, he would bring home about $15 a day. Now, it’s down to $4. “How do you expect to live on that?” he said.To augment the family income, Mr. Dayola’s wife, Marichu, sells food and other items on the streets, he said, while his two sons sometimes wake at dawn and spend about 15 hours a day in their jeepneys, hoping to earn more than they spend.The incomes of Manila’s jeepney drivers have been diminished.Jes Aznar for The New York TimesSome jeepney drivers in the Philippines have taken to asking neighbors for donations.Jes Aznar for The New York TimesThe Philippines buys only a minuscule amount of oil from Russia. But the reality is that it doesn’t really matter whom you buy your oil from — the price is set on the global market. Everyone is bidding against everyone else, and no country is insulated, including the United States, the world’s second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia.Persistently expensive energy is stirring up political discontent not only in places where the war in Ukraine feels remote or irrelevant but also in countries that are leading the opposition to Russia’s invasion.Last month, Mr. Biden proposed suspending the tiny federal gas tax to reduce the sting of $5-a-gallon gas. And Mr. Biden and other leaders of the Group of 7 this past week discussed a price cap on exported Russian oil, a move that is intended to ease the burden of painful inflation on consumers and reduce the export revenue that President Vladimir V. Putin is using to wage war.Price increases are everywhere. In Laos, gas is now more than $7 per gallon, according to GlobalPetrolPrices.com; in New Zealand, it’s more than $8; in Denmark, it’s more than $9; and in Hong Kong, it’s more than $10 for every gallon.Leaders of three French energy companies have called for an “immediate, collective and massive” effort to reduce the country’s energy consumption, saying that the combination of shortages and spiking prices could threaten “social cohesion” next winter.Mexico is using money it makes from the crude oil it produces to subsidize gas prices.Celia Talbot Tobin for The New York TimesIn poorer countries, the threat is more fraught as governments are torn between offering additional public assistance, which requires taking on burdensome debt, and facing serious unrest.In Ecuador, government gas subsidies were instituted in the 1970s, and every time officials have tried to repeal them there’s been a violent backlash.The government spends roughly $3 billion a year to freeze the price of regular gas at $2.55 and the price of diesel at $1.90 per gallon.On June 26, President Guillermo Lasso proposed shaving 10 cents off each of those prices, but the powerful Ecuadorean Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, which has led two weeks of protests, rejected the plan and demanded reductions of 40 and 45 cents. On Thursday, the government agreed to cut each price by 15 cents, and the protests subsided.“We are poor, and we can’t pay for college,” said María Yanmitaxi, 40, who traveled from a village near the Cotopaxi volcano to the capital of Quito, where the Central State University is being used to shelter hundreds of protesters. “Tractors need fuel,” she said. “Peasants need to get paid.”The gas subsidies, which amount to nearly 2 percent of the country’s gross national product, are starving other sectors of the economy, according to Andrés Albuja, an economic analyst. Health and education spending was recently reduced by $1.8 billion to secure the country’s large debt payments.Businesses in Mexico City have struggled with natural gas prices, which have soared even as the government has used subsidies to defray gasoline increases.Celia Talbot Tobin for The New York TimesMexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is using money the country makes from the crude oil it produces to help subsidize domestic gas prices. But analysts warn that the revenue the government earns from oil can’t make up for the money it is losing by temporarily scrapping taxes on gas and by providing an additional subsidy to companies that operate gas stations.In Nigeria, where public education and health care are in dire condition and the state cannot ensure its citizens electricity or basic safety, many people feel that the fuel subsidy is the one thing the government does for them.Kola Salami, who owns the Valentino Unisex Salon in the outskirts of Lagos, has had to hunt for affordable fuel for the gas generator he needs to run his business. “If they stop subsidizing it,” he said, I don’t think we can even. …” His voice trailed off.Kola Salami owns the Valentino Unisex Salon in Lagos, Nigeria.Tom Saater for The New York TimesMr. Salami refills petrol in a generator to power his salon.Tom Saater for The New York TimesIn South Africa, one of the world’s most economically unequal countries, the rising price of fuel has created one more fault line.As President Cyril Ramaphosa campaigns for re-election at the ruling African National Congress’s conference in December, even the party’s traditional allies have seized on the cost of fuel as a failure of political leadership.In June, after fuel reached beyond $6 a gallon, a record high, the Congress of South African Trade Unions marched through Durban, a city already wrecked by violence and looting last year, and floods this year. Higher fuel prices have been “devastating,” Sizwe Pamla, a spokesman for the trade unions, said.A town near Durban, South Africa, which was hit by devastating floods this year, drew protests when fuel prices spiked.Rajesh Jantilal/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe dizzying spiral in gas and oil prices has spurred more investment in renewable energy sources like wind, solar and low-emission hydrogen. But if clean energy is getting an investment boost, so are fossil fuels.Last month, Premier Li Keqiang of China called for increased coal production to avoid power outages during a blistering heat wave in the northern and central parts of the country and a subsequent rise in demand for air conditioning.Meanwhile, in Germany, coal plants that were slated for retirement are being refired to divert gas into storage supplies for the winter.There is little relief in sight. “We will still see high and volatile energy prices in the years to come,” said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency.At this point, the only scenario in which fuel prices go down, Mr. Birol said, is a worldwide recession.Reporting was contributed by More

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    As Dockworkers Near Contract’s End, Many Others Have a Stake

    LOS ANGELES — David Alvarado barreled south along the highway, staring through the windshield of his semi truck toward the towering cranes along the coastline.He had made the same 30-minute trek to the Port of Los Angeles twice that day; if things went well, he would make it twice more. Averaging four pickups and deliveries a day, Mr. Alvarado has learned, is what it takes to give his wife and three children a comfortable life.“This has been my life — it’s helped me support a family,” said Mr. Alvarado, who for 17 years has hauled cargo between warehouses across Southern California and the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a global hub that handles 40 percent of the nation’s seaborne imports.He weathered the blow to his paycheck early in the pandemic when he was idling for six hours a day, waiting for cargo to be loaded off ships and onto his truck. Now the ports are bustling again, but there is a new source of anxiety: the imminent expiration of the union contract for dockworkers along the West Coast.If negotiations fail to head off a slowdown, a strike or a lockout, he said, “it will crush me financially.”The outcome will be crucial not only for the union dockworkers and port operators, but also for the ecosystem of workers surrounding the ports like Mr. Alvarado, and for a global supply chain reeling from coronavirus lockdowns and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Inflation’s surge to the highest rate in more than four decades is due, in part, to supply chain complications.The contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 22,000 workers at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle, and the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the shipping terminals, is set to expire on Friday. The union members primarily operate machinery like cranes and forklifts that move cargo containers on and off ships.In a statement this month, representatives of the two sides said that they didn’t expect a deal by the deadline but that they were dedicated to working toward an agreement.The negotiations have centered largely on whether to increase wages for the unionized workers, whose average salaries are in the low six figures, and expanding automation, such as using robots to move cargo containers, to speed up production, a priority for shipping companies.“It will crush me financially,” David Alvarado said of any work stoppage.Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesTrucks lined up to enter the Port of Los Angeles. Any slowdown, strike or lockout could further snarl the global supply chain.Stella Kalinina for The New York Times“Automation allows greater densification at existing port terminals, enabling greater cargo throughput and continued cargo growth over time,” Jim McKenna, the chief executive of the Pacific Maritime Association, said in a recent video statement on the negotiations.In an open letter posted on Facebook last month, the union president, Willie Adams, attacked moving toward automation, saying it would translate to lost jobs and prioritizes foreign profits over “what’s best for America.”The State of Jobs in the United StatesJob gains continue to maintain their impressive run, even as government policymakers took steps to cool the economy and ease inflation.May Jobs Report: U.S. employers added 390,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.6 percent ​​in the fifth month of 2022.Downsides of a Hot Market: Students are forgoing degrees in favor of the attractive positions offered by employers desperate to hire. That could come back to haunt them.Slowing Down: Economists and policymakers are beginning to argue that what the economy needs right now is less hiring and less wage growth. Here’s why.Opportunities for Teenagers: Jobs for high school and college students are expected to be plentiful this summer, and a large market means better pay.“Automation,” Mr. Adams wrote, “poses a great national security risk as it places our ports at risk of being hacked as other automated ports have experienced.”As the negotiations, which began in early May, continue, record levels of cargo have arrived here.In May, the Port of Los Angeles had its third-busiest month ever, handling nearly one million shipping container units, largely stocked with imports from Asia. Twenty-one ships were waiting to dock outside the local ports this week, down from 109 in January, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.On a recent trip here, President Biden — who authorized a plan last year to keep the Port of Los Angeles open 24 hours a day — met with negotiators to urge a swift agreement. Leaders on both sides say Mr. Biden has worked behind the scenes on the matter, hoping to avoid delays.When a breakdown in talks resulted in an 11-day lockout in 2002, the U.S. economy lost an estimated $11 billion. President George W. Bush eventually intervened, and the lockout was lifted. In 2015, when negotiations went on for nine months, the Obama administration intervened after the standoff led to a work slowdown and congestion at West Coast ports.Mr. Biden’s early intervention could help stave off severe backlogs, said Geraldine Knatz, a professor of the practice of policy and engineering at the University of Southern California.“In the past, the federal government would swoop in at the end when negotiations were at a stalemate,” said Ms. Knatz, who was executive director of the Port of Los Angeles from 2006 to 2014. “The relationship that developed between the ports and the Biden administration as a result of the supply chain crisis is something that did not exist before.”The contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association is set to expire this week. Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesEven so, contingency plans are in place, said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation. Some retailers began pushing up their timetables months ago, ordering supplies long before they needed them, he said, and using ports along the East and Gulf Coasts when feasible.In an interview, Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said he didn’t believe the looming contract deadline would lead to any delays: All the parties involved, he said, know that it’s already an exceptionally busy time for the region.Retail imports account for 75 percent of all cargo coming into the ports, and with back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons nearing, Mr. Seroka said he did not expect cargo volumes to shrink to more typical levels until next year.“Everyone is working as hard as they can,” Mr. Seroka said.But for some retailers, the current limbo brings back painful memories.In early 2015, as delays arose during contract talks, Charlie Woo laid off more than 600 seasonal workers from his company, Megatoys.“It was rough back then,” Mr. Woo said on a recent morning from his 330,000-square-foot warehouse in Commerce, Calif., an industrial city in Los Angeles County not far from the ports.Mr. Woo started Megatoys in 1989 and now imports around 1,000 cargo containers from China every year. The 40-foot containers come filled with small toys like plastic Easter eggs and miniature rubber soccer balls and basketballs, which his employees package into baskets sold at grocery stores and bigger outlets like Walmart and Target.During the pandemic disruptions last fall, some of his shipments were stalled by nearly three months — delays that ultimately translated into a 5 percent drop in sales for his company, which Mr. Woo said brings in tens of millions of dollars annually.He’s bracing for another hard year.“I expect problems; I just don’t know how big the problem will be,” said Mr. Woo, who also owns a manufacturing plant near Shenzhen, China, and said he hoped more U.S. terminals moved toward more automation.“We must find innovative solutions to catch up with the ports in Asia,” Mr. Woo said.Charlie Woo started Megatoys in 1989 and now imports around 1,000 cargo containers from China every year. Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesShipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles. The current limbo brings back painful memories for some retailers.Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesOn a recent afternoon, Mr. Alvarado, the truck driver, reminisced about the early days of the career he’d been born into.During summer vacations as a little boy, he’d ride shotgun with his father, who has driven a semi truck for nearly four decades at the ports, and they’d listen to Dodger baseball games together.“This is all I ever wanted to be,” Mr. Alvarado, 38, said. Over the years, he has seen many childhood friends move away because they could not afford to live here.It hasn’t always been easy for him, either. Last fall, with more than 80 cargo carriers anchored off the coast here, in part because of the lingering pandemic and a surge of imports ahead of the holiday season, he sometimes waited for hours before he finally got a load, said Mr. Alvarado, who is among the roughly 21,000 truck drivers authorized to pick up cargo at the ports.For an independent contractor, time is money: Mr. Alvarado works 16 hours some weekdays and aims to pick up and drop off four loads each day. When he does that consistently, he said, he can make up to $4,000 a week, before expenses.During the worst of the pandemic delays, he was lucky to get two loads a day, and although things have improved in recent months, he now frets about fuel prices.“Inflation has been intense,” he said.Filling up with 220 gallons for the week now typically costs $1,200, double that of several months ago, Mr. Alvarado said.“It all starts to add up,” he said. “You wonder if you should think about doing something else.”As for the prospects in the labor talks, Mr. Alvarado said he was trying to remain optimistic. The union workers, he said, remind him of his own family: men and women from blue-collar upbringings, many of them Latino with deep family ties to the ports. A work stoppage would be painful for many of them, too.“It will hurt all Americans,” he said.As he drove past the ports, Mr. Alvarado turned his truck into a warehouse parking lot, where the multicolored containers lined the asphalt like a row of neatly arranged Lego blocks.It was his third load of the day, and for this round, he didn’t have to wait on the longshoremen to load the carrier onto his truck. Instead, he backed his semi up to a chassis, and the blue container snapped into place.He pulled up Google Maps on his iPhone and looked at the distance to the drop-off in Fontana, Calif.: 67 miles, an hour and half.It might, Mr. Alvarado said, end up being a four-load day after all. More

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    As Russia Chokes Ukraine’s Grain Exports, Romania Tries to Fill In

    Stopping at the edge of a vast field of barley on his farm in Prundu, 30 miles outside Romania’s capital city of Bucharest, Catalin Corbea pinched off a spiky flowered head from a stalk, rolled it between his hands, and then popped a seed in his mouth and bit down.“Another 10 days to two weeks,” he said, explaining how much time was needed before the crop was ready for harvest.Mr. Corbea, a farmer for nearly three decades, has rarely been through a season like this one. The Russians’ bloody creep into Ukraine, a breadbasket for the world, has caused an upheaval in global grain markets. Coastal blockades have trapped millions of tons of wheat and corn inside Ukraine. With famine stalking Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, a frenetic scramble for new suppliers and alternate shipping routes is underway.“Because of the war, there are opportunities for Romanian farmers this year,” Mr. Corbea said through a translator.The question is whether Romania will be able to take advantage of them by expanding its own agricultural sector while helping fill the food gap left by landlocked Ukraine.Catalin Corbea, in his trophy room showing stuffed animals from hunting expeditions, said the war in Ukraine had presented opportunities to Romanian farmers.Cristian Movila for The New York TimesIn many ways, Romania is well positioned. Its port in Constanta, on the western coast of the Black Sea, has provided a critical — although tiny — transit point for Ukrainian grain since the war began. Romania’s own farm output is dwarfed by Ukraine’s, but it is one of the largest grain exporters in the European Union. Last year, it sent 60 percent of its wheat abroad, mostly to Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. This year, the government has allocated 500 million euros ($527 million) to support farming and keep production up.Still, this Eastern European nation faces many challenges: Its farmers, while benefiting from higher prices, are dealing with spiraling costs of diesel, pesticides and fertilizer. Transportation infrastructure across the country and at its ports is neglected and outdated, slowing the transit of its own exports while also stymieing Romania’s efforts to help Ukraine do an end run around Russian blockades.Even before the war, though, the global food system was under stress. Covid-19 and related supply chain blockages had bumped up prices of fuel and fertilizer, while brutal dry spells and unseasonal floods had shrunk harvests.Since the war began, roughly two dozen countries, including India, have tried to bulk up their own food supplies by limiting exports, which in turn has exacerbated global shortages. This year, droughts in Europe, the United States, North Africa and the Horn of Africa have all taken additional tolls on harvests. In Italy, water has been rationed in the farm-producing Po Valley after river levels dropped enough to reveal a barge that had sunk in World War II.Rain was not as plentiful in Prundu as Mr. Corbea would have liked it to be, but the timing was opportune when it did come. He bent down and picked up a fistful of dark, moist soil and caressed it. “This is perfect land,” he said. “This is perfect land,” Mr. Corbea said after picking a handful of soil on his farm in Prundu.Cristian Movila for The New York TimesThunderstorms are in the forecast, but this morning, the seemingly endless bristles of barley flutter under a cloudless cerulean sky.The farm is a family affair, involving Mr. Corbea’s two sons and his brother. They farm 12,355 acres or so, growing rapeseed, corn, wheat, sunflowers and soy as well as barley. Across Romania, yields are not expected to match the record grain production of 29 million metric tons from 2021, but the crop outlook is still good, with plenty available to export.Mr. Corbea slips into the driver’s seat of a white Toyota Land Cruiser and drives through Prundu to visit the cornfields, which will be harvested in the fall. He has been mayor of this town of 3,500 for 14 years and waves to every passing car and pedestrian, including his mother, who is standing in front of her house as he cruises by. The trees and splashes of red-and-pink rose bushes that line every street were planted by and are cared for by Mr. Corbea and his workers.He said he employed 50 people and brought in €10 million a year in sales. In recent years, the farm has invested heavily in technology and irrigation.Amid rows of leafy green corn, a long center-pivot irrigation system is perched like a giant skeletal pterodactyl with its wings outstretched.Because of price rises and better production from the watering equipment he installed, Mr. Corbea said, he expected revenues to increase by €5 million, or 50 percent, in 2022.Investments like Mr. Corbea’s in irrigation and technology are considered crucial for Romania’s agricultural growth to reach its potential.Cristian Movila for The New York TimesThe costs of diesel, pesticides and fertilizer have doubled or tripled, but, at least for now, the prices that Mr. Corbea said he had been able to get for his grain had more than offset those increases.But prices are volatile, he said, and farmers have to make sure that future revenues will cover their investments over the longer term.The calculus has paid off for other large players in the sector. “Profits have increased, you cannot imagine, the biggest ever,” said Ghita Pinca, general manager at Agricover, an agribusiness company in Romania. There is enormous potential for further growth, he said, though it depends on more investment by farmers in irrigation systems, storage facilities and technology.Some smaller farmers like Chipaila Mircea have had a tougher time. Mr. Mircea grows barley, corn and wheat on 1,975 acres in Poarta Alba, about 150 miles from Prundu, near the southeastern tip of Romania and along the canal that links the Black Sea with the Danube River.Drier weather means his output will fall from last year. And with the soaring prices of fertilizer and fuel, he said, he expects his profits to drop as well. Ukrainian exporters have lowered their prices, which has put pressure on what he is selling.Mr. Mircea’s farm is about 15 miles from Constanta port. Normally a major grain and trade hub, the port connects landlocked central and southeastern European countries like Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldavia and Austria with central and East Asia and the Caucasus region. Last year the port handled 67.5 million tons of cargo, more than a third of it grain. Now, with Odesa’s port closed off, some Ukrainian exports are making their way through Constanta’s complex.Grain from Ukraine being unloaded from a train car in Constanta, a Romanian port on the Black Sea.Cristian Movila for The New York TimesRailway cars, stamped “Cereale” on their sides, spilled Ukrainian corn onto underground conveyor belts, sending up billowing dust clouds last week at the terminal operated by the American food giant Cargill. At a quay operated by COFCO, the largest food and agricultural processor in China, grain was being loaded onto a cargo ship from one of the enormous silos that lined its docks. At COFCO’s entry gate, trucks that displayed Ukraine’s distinctive blue-and-yellow-striped flag on their license plates waited for their cargoes of grain to be inspected before unloading.During a visit to Kyiv last week, Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, said that since the beginning of the invasion more than a million tons of Ukrainian grain had passed through Constanta to locations around the world.But logistical problems prevent more grain from making the journey. Ukraine’s rail gauges are wider than those elsewhere in Europe. Shipments have to be transferred at the border to Romanian trains, or each railway car has to be lifted off a Ukrainian undercarriage and wheels to one that can be used on Romanian tracks.Truck traffic in Ukraine has been slowed by backups at border crossings — sometimes lasting days — along with gas shortages and damaged roadways. Russia has targeted export routes, according to Britain’s defense ministry.Romania has its own transit issues. High-speed rail is rare, and the country lacks an extensive highway system. Constanta and the surrounding infrastructure, too, suffer from decades of underinvestment.Bins storing corn, wheat, sunflower seeds and soybeans in Boryspil, Ukraine.Nicole Tung for The New York TimesOver the past couple of months, the Romanian government has plowed money into clearing hundreds of rusted wagons from rail lines and refurbishing tracks that were abandoned when the Communist regime fell in 1989.Still, trucks entering and exiting the port from the highway must share a single-lane roadway. An attendant mans the gate, which has to be lifted for each vehicle.When the bulk of the Romanian harvest begins to arrive at the terminals in the next couple of weeks, the congestion will get significantly worse. Each day, 3,000 to 5,000 trucks will arrive, causing backups for miles on the highway that leads into Constanta, said Cristian Taranu, general manager at the terminals run by the Romanian port operator Umex.Mr. Mircea’s farm is less than a 30-minute drive from Constanta. But “during the busiest periods, my trucks are waiting two, three days” just to enter the port’s complex so they can unload, he said through a translator.That is one reason he is less sanguine than Mr. Corbea is about Romania’s ability to take advantage of farming and export opportunities.“Port Constanta is not prepared for such an opportunity,” Mr. Mircea said. “They don’t have the infrastructure.”Constanta is bracing for backups at its port when the bulk of Romania’s harvest starts arriving in the coming weeks.Cristian Movila for The New York Times More

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    Fed Confronts a ‘New World’ of Inflation

    Central banks had a longstanding playbook for how inflation worked. In the postpandemic era, all bets are off.Federal Reserve officials are questioning whether their longstanding assumptions about inflation still apply as price gains remain stubbornly and surprisingly rapid — a bout of economic soul-searching that could have big implications for the American economy.For years, Fed policymakers had a playbook for handling inflation surprises: They mostly ignored disruptions to the supply of goods and services when setting monetary policy, assuming they would work themselves out. The Fed guides the economy by adjusting interest rates, which influence demand, so keeping consumption and business activity chugging along at an even keel was the primary focus.But after the global economy has been rocked for two years by nonstop supply crises — from shipping snarls to the war in Ukraine — central bankers have stopped waiting for normality to return. They have been raising interest rates aggressively to slow down consumer and business spending and cool the economy. And they are reassessing how inflation might evolve in a world where it seems that the problems may just keep coming.If the Fed determines that shocks are unlikely to ease — or will take so long that they leave inflation elevated for years — the result could be an even more aggressive series of rate increases as policymakers try to quash demand into balance with a more limited supply of goods and services. That painful process would ramp up the risk of a recession that would cost jobs and shutter businesses.“The disinflationary forces of the last quarter-century have been replaced, at least temporarily, by a whole different set of forces,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said during Senate testimony on Wednesday. “The real question is: How long will this new set of forces be sustained? We can’t know that. But in the meantime, our job is to find maximum employment and price stability in this new economy.”When prices began to pick up rapidly in early 2021, top Fed policymakers joined many outside economists in predicting that the change would be “transitory.” Inflation had been slow in America for most of the 21st century, weighed down by long-running trends like the aging of the population and globalization. It seemed that one-off pandemic shocks, especially a used-car shortage and ocean shipping issues, should fade with time and allow that trend to return.But by late last year, central bankers were beginning to rethink their initial call. Supply chain problems were becoming worse, not better. Instead of fading, price increases had accelerated and broadened beyond a few pandemic-affected categories. Economists have made a monthly habit of predicting that inflation has peaked only to see it continue to accelerate.Now, Fed policymakers are analyzing what so many people missed, and what it says about the unrelenting inflation burst.“Of course we’ve been looking very carefully and hard at why inflation picked up so much more than expected last year and why it proved so persistent,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference last week. “It’s hard to overstate the extent of interest we have in that question, morning, noon and night.”The Fed has been reacting. It slowed and then halted its pandemic-era bond purchases this winter and spring, and it is now shrinking its asset holdings to take a little bit of juice out of markets and the economy. The central bank has also ramped up its plans to raise interest rates, lifting its main policy rate by a quarter point in March, half a point in May and three-quarters of a point last week while signaling more to come.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What’s driving inflation in the United States? What can slow the rapid price gains? Here’s what to know.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.An Economic Cliff: Inflation is expected to remain high later this year even as the economy slows and layoffs rise. For many Americans, it’s going to hurt.Greedflation: Some experts say that big corporations are supercharging inflation by jacking up prices. We take a closer look at the issue. It is making those decisions without much of an established game plan, given the surprising ways in which the economy is behaving.“We’ve spent a lot of time — as a committee, and I’ve spent a lot of time personally — looking at history,” Patrick Harker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, said in an interview on Wednesday. “Nothing quite fits this situation.”A recruiter at a job fair in North Miami Beach, Fla., last week. Labor shortages are pushing up wages, which is likely contributing to higher inflation. Scott McIntyre for The New York TimesGas prices have helped drive inflation higher.Scott McIntyre for The New York TimesThe economic era before the pandemic was stable and predictable. America and many developed economies spent those decades grappling with inflation that seemed to be slipping ever lower. Consumers had come to expect prices to remain relatively stable, and executives knew that they could not charge a lot more without scaring them away.Shocks to supply that were outside the Fed’s control, like oil or food shortages, might push up prices for a while, but they typically faded quickly. Now, the whole idea of “transient” supply shocks is being called into question.The global supply of goods has been curtailed by one issue after another since the onset of the pandemic, from lockdowns in China that slowed the production of computer chips and other goods to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has limited gas and food availability.At the same time, demand has been heady, boosted by government pandemic relief checks and a strong labor market. Businesses have been able to charge more for their limited supply, and consumer prices have been picking up sharply, climbing 8.6 percent over the year through May.Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released this week found that demand was driving about one-third of the current jump in inflation, while issues tied to supply or some ambiguous mix of supply-and-demand factors were driving about two-thirds.That means that returning demand to more normal levels should help ease inflation somewhat, even if supply in key markets remain roiled. The Fed has been clear that it cannot directly lower oil and gas prices, for instance, because those costs turn more on the global supply than they do on domestic demand.“There’s really not anything that we can do about oil prices,” Mr. Powell told senators on Wednesday. Still, he added later, “there is a job to moderating demand so that it can be in better balance with supply.”Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Companies Brace for Impact of New Forced Labor Law

    Billions of dollars could be at stake as a law banning imports of products from China goes into effect.WASHINGTON — A sweeping new law aimed at cracking down on Chinese forced labor could have significant — and unanticipated — ramifications for American companies and consumers.The law, which went into effect on Tuesday, bars products from entering the United States if they have any links to Xinjiang, the far-western region where the Chinese authorities have carried out an extensive crackdown on Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities.That could affect a wide range of products, including those using any raw materials from Xinjiang or with a connection to the type of Chinese labor and poverty alleviation programs the U.S. government has deemed coercive — even if the finished product used just a tiny amount of material from Xinjiang somewhere along its journey.The law presumes that all of these goods are made with forced labor, and stops them at the U.S. border, until importers can produce evidence that their supply chains do not touch on Xinjiang, or involve slavery or coercive practices.Evan Smith, the chief executive at the supply chain technology company Altana AI, said his company calculated that roughly a million companies globally would be subject to enforcement action under the full letter of the law, out of about 10 million businesses worldwide that are buying, selling or manufacturing physical things.“This is not like a ‘picking needles out of a haystack’ problem,” he said. “This is touching a meaningful percentage of all of the world’s everyday goods.”The Biden administration has said it intends to fully enforce the law, which could lead the U.S. authorities to detain or turn away a significant number of imported products. Such a scenario is likely to cause headaches for companies and sow further supply chain disruptions. It could also fuel inflation, which is already running at a four-decade high, if companies are forced to seek out more expensive alternatives or consumers start to compete for scarce products.Understand the Supply Chain CrisisThe Origins of the Crisis: The pandemic created worldwide economic turmoil. We broke down how it happened.Explaining the Shortages: Why is this happening? When will it end? Here are some answers to your questions.Lessons From History: Henry Ford believed short-term interests must not squeeze out investment in a business’ resilience. His management philosophy yields powerful insights about the current crisis.A Key Factor in Inflation: In the U.S., inflation is hitting its highest level in decades. Supply chain issues play a big role.Failure to fully enforce the law is likely to prompt an outcry from Congress, which is in charge of oversight.“The public is not prepared for what’s going to happen,” said Alan Bersin, a former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection who is now the executive chairman at Altana AI. “The impact of this on the global economy, and on the U.S. economy, is measured in the many billions of dollars, not in the millions of dollars.”Ties between Xinjiang and a few industries, like apparel and solar, are already well recognized. The apparel industry has scrambled to find new suppliers, and solar firms have had to pause many U.S. projects while they investigated their supply chains. But trade experts say the connections between the region and global supply chains are far more expansive than just those industries.According to Kharon, a data and analytics firm, Xinjiang produces more than 40 percent of the world’s polysilicon, a quarter of the world’s tomato paste and a fifth of global cotton. It’s also responsible for 15 percent of the world’s hops and about a tenth of global walnuts, peppers and rayon. It has 9 percent of the world’s reserves of beryllium, and is home to China’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, which is responsible for 13 percent of global output.Direct exports to the United States from the Xinjiang region — where the Chinese authorities have detained more than a million ethnic minorities and sent many more into government-organized labor transfer programs — have fallen off drastically in the past few years. But a wide range of raw materials and components currently find their way into factories in China or in other countries, and then to the United States, trade experts say.In a statement on Tuesday, Gina Raimondo, the secretary of commerce, called the passage of the law “a clear message to China and the rest of the global community that the U.S. will take decisive actions against entities that participate in the abhorrent use of forced labor.”The Chinese government disputes the presence of forced labor in Xinjiang, saying that all employment is voluntary. And it has tried to blunt the impact of foreign pressure to stop abuses in Xinjiang by passing its own anti-sanctions law, which prohibits any company or individual from helping to enforce foreign measures that are seen as discriminating against China.Though the implications of the U.S. law remain to be seen, it could end up transforming global supply chains. Some companies, for example in apparel, have been quickly severing ties to Xinjiang. Apparel makers have been scrambling to develop other sources of organic cotton, including in South America, to replace those stocks.But other companies, namely large multinationals, have made the calculation that the China market is too valuable to leave, corporate executives and trade groups say. Some have begun walling off their Chinese and U.S. operations, continuing to use Xinjiang materials for the China market or maintain partnerships with entities that operate there.Uyghur workers at a factory in Xinjiang, China, in 2019. A wide range of raw materials and components from Xinjiang currently find their way into factories in China or in other countries, and then to the United States.Gilles Sabrié for The New York TimesIt’s a strategy that Richard Mojica, a lawyer at Miller & Chevalier Chartered, said “should suffice,” since the jurisdiction of U.S. customs extends just to imports, although Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia are considering their own measures. Instead of moving their operations out of China, some multinationals are investing in alternative sources of supply, and making new investments in mapping their supply chains.How the Supply Chain Crisis UnfoldedCard 1 of 9The pandemic sparked the problem. More

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    Red Flags for Forced Labor Found in China’s Car Battery Supply Chain

    The photograph on the mining conglomerate’s social media account showed 70 ethnic Uyghur workers standing at attention under the flag of the People’s Republic of China. It was March 2020 and the recruits would soon undergo training in management, etiquette and “loving the party and the country,” their new employer, the Xinjiang Nonferrous Metal Industry Group, announced.But this was no ordinary worker orientation. It was the kind of program that human rights groups and U.S. officials consider a red flag for forced labor in China’s western Xinjiang region, where the Communist authorities have detained or imprisoned more than 1 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other largely Muslim minorities.The scene also represents a potential problem for the global effort to fight climate change.China produces three-quarters of the world’s lithium ion batteries, and almost all the metals needed to make them are processed there. Much of the material, though, is actually mined elsewhere, in places like Argentina, Australia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uncomfortable with relying on other countries, the Chinese government has increasingly turned to western China’s mineral wealth as a way to shore up scarce supplies.That means companies like the Xinjiang Nonferrous Metal Industry Group are assuming a larger role in the supply chain behind the batteries that power electric vehicles and store renewable energy — even as China’s draconian crackdown on minorities in Xinjiang fuels outrage around the world.The Chinese government denies the presence of forced labor in Xinjiang, calling it “the lie of the century.” But it acknowledges running what it describes as a work transfer program that sends Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities from the region’s more rural south to jobs in its more industrialized north.Xinjiang Nonferrous and its subsidiaries have partnered with the Chinese authorities to take in hundreds of such workers in recent years, according to articles displayed proudly in Chinese on the company’s social media account. These workers were eventually sent to work in the conglomerate’s mines, a smelter and factories that produce some of the most highly sought minerals on earth, including lithium, nickel, manganese, beryllium, copper and gold.It is difficult to trace precisely where the metals produced by Xinjiang Nonferrous go. But some have been exported to the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and India, according to company statements and customs records. And some have gone to large Chinese battery makers, who in turn, directly or indirectly, supply major American entities, including automakers, energy companies and the U.S. military, according to Chinese news reports.It is unclear whether these relationships are ongoing, and Xinjiang Nonferrous did not respond to requests for comment.But this previously unreported connection between critical minerals and the kind of work transfer programs in Xinjiang that the U.S. government and others have called a form of forced labor could portend trouble for industries that depend on these materials, including the global auto sector.A new law, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, goes into effect in the United States on Tuesday and will bar products that were made in Xinjiang or have ties to the work programs there from entering the country. It requires importers with any ties to Xinjiang to produce documentation showing that their products, and every raw material they are made with, are free of forced labor — a tricky undertaking given the complexity and opacity of Chinese supply chains.A Critical Year for Electric VehiclesAs the overall auto market stagnates, the popularity of battery-powered cars is soaring worldwide.Charging Stations: The Biden administration unveiled proposed regulations that would require stations built with federal dollars to be located no more than 50 miles apart.General Motors: The company hopes to become a leading force in the electric vehicle industry. Its chief executive shared how G.M. intends to get there.Turning Point: Electric vehicles still account for a small slice of the market, but this year, their march could become unstoppable. Here’s why.New Materials: As automakers seek to electrify their fleets and to direct electricity more efficiently, alternatives to silicon are gaining traction.The apparel, food and solar industries have already been upended by reports linking their supply chains in Xinjiang to forced labor. Solar companies last year were forced to halt billions of dollars of projects as they investigated their supply chains.The global battery industry could face its own disruptions given Xinjiang’s deep ties to the raw materials needed for next-generation technology.Trade experts have estimated that thousands of global companies may actually have some link to Xinjiang in their supply chains. If the United States fully enforces the new law, it could result in many products being blocked at the border, including those needed for electric vehicles and renewable energy projects.Some administration officials raised objections to cutting off shipments of all Chinese goods linked with Xinjiang, arguing that it would be disruptive to the U.S. economy and the clean energy transition.Representative Thomas R. Suozzi, a Democrat from New York who helped create the Congressional Uyghur Caucus, said that while banning products from the Xinjiang region might make goods go up in price, “it’s too damn bad.”“We can’t continue to do business with people that are violating basic human rights,” he said. To understand how reliant the battery industry is on China, consider the country’s role in producing the materials that are critical to the technology. While many of the metals used in batteries today are mined elsewhere, almost all of the processing required to turn those materials into batteries takes place in China. The country processes 50 to 100 percent of the world’s lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite, and makes 80 percent of the cells that power lithium ion batteries, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a research firm.“If you were to look at any electric vehicle battery, there would be some involvement from China,” said Daisy Jennings-Gray, a senior analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.The materials Xinjiang Nonferrous has produced — including a dizzying array of valuable minerals, like zinc, beryllium, cobalt, vanadium, lead, copper, gold, platinum and palladium — have gone into a wide variety of consumer products, including pharmaceuticals, jewelry, building materials and electronics. The company also claims to be one of China’s largest producers of lithium metal, and its second-largest producer of nickel cathode, which can be used to make batteries, stainless steel and other goods.Xinjiang Non-Ferrous Metal Industry Group was one of the region’s earliest miners, operating the state-owned No. 3 pegamite mining pit beginning in the 1950s.Shen Longquan/Visual China Group, via Getty ImagesIn recent years, the company has expanded into Xinjiang’s south, the homeland of most Uyghurs, acquiring valuable new deposits that executives describe as “critical” to China’s resource security.Ma Xingrui, a former aerospace engineer who was appointed Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang in 2021, has talked up Xinjiang’s prospects as a source of high-tech materials. This month, he told executives from Xinjiang Nonferrous and other state-owned companies that they should “step up” in new energy, materials and other strategic sectors.Xinjiang Nonferrous’s role in work transfer programs ramped up several years ago, as part of efforts by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping to drastically transform Uyghur society to become richer, more secular and loyal to the Communist Party. In 2017, the Xinjiang government announced plans to transfer 100,000 people from southern Xinjiang into new jobs over three years. Dozens of state-owned companies, including Xinjiang Nonferrous, were assigned to absorb 10,000 of those laborers in return for subsidies and bonuses.Transferred workers appear to make up only a minor part of the labor force at Xinjiang Nonferrous, perhaps a few hundred of its more than 7,000 employees. The company and its subsidiaries reported recruiting 644 workers from two rural counties of southern Xinjiang from 2017 to 2020, and training more since then.Some laborers were sent to the company’s copper-nickel mine and smelter, which are operated by Xinjiang Xinxin Mining Industry, a Hong Kong-listed subsidiary that has received investment from the state of Alaska, the University of Texas system and Vanguard. Other laborers went to subsidiaries that produce lithium, manganese and gold.Before being assigned to work, predominantly Muslim minorities were given lectures on “eradicating religious extremism” and becoming obedient, law-abiding workers who “embraced their Chinese nationhood,” Xinjiang Nonferrous said.Inductees for one company unit underwent six months of training including military-style drills and ideological training. They were encouraged to speak out against religious extremism, oppose “two-faced individuals” — a term for those who privately oppose Chinese government policies — and write a letter to their hometown elders expressing gratitude to the Communist Party and the company, according to the company’s social media account. Trainees faced strict assessments, with “morality” and rule compliance accounting for half of their score. Those who scored well earned better pay, while students and teachers who violated rules were punished or fined.Even as it promotes the successes of the programs, the company’s propaganda hints at the government pressure on it to meet labor transfer goals, even through the coronavirus pandemic.A 2017 article in the Xinjiang Daily quoted one 33-year-old villager as saying that he was initially “reluctant to go out to work” and “quite satisfied” with his income from farming, but was persuaded to go to work at Xinjiang Nonferrous’ subsidiary after party members visited his house several times to “work on his thinking.” And in a visit in 2018 to Keriya County, Zhang Guohua, the company president, told officials to “work on the thinking” of families of transferred laborers to ensure that no one abandoned their jobs.Chinese authorities say that all employment is voluntary, and that work transfers help free rural families from poverty by giving them steady wages, skills and Chinese-language training.“No one has been forced to become ‘transferred labor’ in Xinjiang,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told reporters in Beijing this month.It is difficult to ascertain the level of coercion any individual worker has faced given the limited access to Xinjiang for journalists and research firms. Laura T. Murphy, a professor of human rights and contemporary slavery at Sheffield Hallam University in Britain, said that resisting such programs is seen as a sign of extremist activity and carries a risk of being sent to an internment camp.“A Uyghur person cannot say no to this,” she said. “They are harassed or, in the government’s words, educated,’ until they are forced to go.”Files from police servers in Xinjiang published by the BBC last month described a shoot-to-kill policy for those trying to escape from internment camps, as well as mandatory blindfolds and shackles for “students” being transferred between facilities.Other Chinese metal and mining companies also appear to be linked with labor transfers at a smaller scale, including Zijin Mining Group Co. Ltd., which has acquired cobalt and lithium assets around the globe, and Xinjiang TBEA Group Co. Ltd., which makes aluminum for lithium battery cathodes, according to media reports and academic research. Other entities that were previously sanctioned by the United States over human rights abuses are also involved in the supply chain for graphite, a key battery material that is only refined in China, according to Horizon Advisory, a research firm.An indoctrination center in Hotan, China. In 2017, the regional government announced plans to transfer 100,000 people from the cities of Kashgar and Hotan in southern Xinjiang into new jobs.Gilles Sabrié for The New York TimesThe raw materials that these laborers produce disappear into complex and secretive supply chains, often passing through multiple companies as they are turned into auto parts, electronics and other goods. While that makes them difficult to trace, records show that Xinjiang Nonferrous has developed multiple potential channels to the United States. Many more of the company’s materials are likely transformed in Chinese factories into other products before they are sent abroad.For example, Xinjiang Nonferrous is a current supplier to the China operations of Livent Corporation, a chemical giant with headquarters in the United States that uses lithium to produce a chemical used to make automobile interiors and tires, hospital equipment, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and electronics.A Livent spokesman said that the firm prohibits forced labor among its vendors, and that its due diligence had not indicated any red flags. Livent did not respond to a question about whether products made with materials from Xinjiang are exported to the United States.In theory, the new U.S. law should block all goods made with any raw materials that are associated with Xinjiang until they are proven to be free of slavery or coercive labor practices. But it remains to be seen if the U.S. government is willing or able to turn away such an array of foreign goods.“China is so central to so many supply chains,” said Evan Smith, the chief executive of the supply chain research company Altana AI. “Forced labor goods are making their way into a really broad swath of our global economy.”Raymond Zhong More