Uber rides take COVID-19 hit but food-delivery business doubles

By Tina Bellon and Akanksha Rana

(Reuters) – Home-bound customers of Uber Technologies Inc. more than doubled their orders from the company’s food-delivery service in the second quarter but demand for ride-hailing trips only marginally recovered from pandemic rock-bottom.

The company said that despite those larger challenges it is sticking to its goal of being profitable on an adjusted basis before the end of 2021 thanks to stringent cost-cutting measures and a strong balance sheet. Uber recorded an adjusted loss in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $837 million in the second quarter.

Shares were down 2.9% at $33.72 in after-hours trading.

Ride-hailing trips, in the past responsible for nearly two-thirds of Uber’s revenue, increased 5 percentage points from their low in April, but gross bookings remained down 75% from last year.

Uber’s chief executive officer, Dara Khosrowshahi, told analysts on a conference call on Thursday that rides recovery depended on the ability of different countries to contain the virus, with the recovery so far led by Asia, excluding India.

In Hong Kong and New Zealand, ride bookings at times exceeded pre-COVID-19 levels, while trip requests in Germany, France and Spain have improved to just a 35% decline from a year ago.

“Our global geographic footprint remains a huge advantage,” Khosrowshahi said.

The company on Thursday posted a $1.8 billion net loss from April through June, including charges related to laying off 23% of its global workforce during a period when infections of the novel coronavirus continued to spread in the United States, Uber’s largest market.

The number of active platform users across the 69 countries in which Uber operates nearly halved year-over-year, from 99 million to 55 million.

Uber’s second-quarter revenue fell 29% to $2.24 billion from the year prior, beating analysts’ average estimate of $2.18 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Revenue at Uber Eats doubled to $1.2 billion, boosted by greater demand for delivery as Americans largely continue to stay home. Uber last month expanded its delivery reach by announcing the acquisition of Postmates Inc for $2.65 billion to expand the business of supplying everyday goods.

Uber’s ride-hailing segment remained battered by the coronavirus crisis, with revenue from the United States and Canada, its largest combined market, declining to $1.25 billion. Nevertheless, ride-hailing was the only segment generating an adjusted EBITDA profit, of $50 million.

Uber said fewer U.S. ride-hail drivers were returning to the platform compared with other countries. Uber faces several legal challenges over the status of its drivers in the United States, with California and Massachusetts suing the company over the alleged mis-classification of drivers as independent contractors.

Uber Eats, whose gross bookings more than doubled, narrowed losses, recording a $232 million adjusted EBITDA loss in the second quarter. Uber’s CFO, Nelson Chai, said the company expects third-quarter losses to be roughly the same.

He also told analysts that Uber’s food-delivery business would be profitable in the vast majority of countries in which it operates within a couple years.

Uber in recent months has closed Eats operations in eight smaller markets, including in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It also cut losses from its Eats business in India, where it sold its food-ordering business to a local competitor in exchange for a stake in the company.

Uber Eats was also gaining traction in the suburbs, including the outer boroughs of New York City, where the food delivery service is now the market leader, the company said.

Uber executives said cost-cutting was helping to improve margins, along with better route planning and more restaurants relying on its delivery couriers.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York and Akanksha Rana in Bangalore; Editing by Peter Henderson and Matthew Lewis)

U.S. judge agrees to end decades-old movie theater rules

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge on Friday granted the U.S. government’s request to immediately end the Paramount Decrees, a set of antitrust rules from the late 1940’s and early 1950’s that ended Hollywood’s monopoly on producing, distributing and exhibiting movies.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan said the Department of Justice “offered a reasonable and persuasive explanation” for why terminating the consent decrees would “serve the public interest in free and unfettered competition.”

Last November, the Justice Department moved to end the decrees enacted after the Supreme Court in 1948 said Hollywood’s biggest studios had illegally monopolized the movie distribution and theater industries.

New rules made it illegal for studios to unreasonably limit how many theaters could show movies in specific geographic areas.

They also banned “block booking,” which forced theaters to show bad movies as well as blockbusters as part of a package, and “circuit dealing,” the mass licensing of movies to theaters under common ownership rather than theater-by-theater.

The Justice Department said the decrees were no longer needed after multiplexes, broadcast and cable TV, DVDs and the internet changed how people watch movies, and because studios no longer dominated movie theater ownership. It also said the risk of future violations was low.

Three chains–AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Regal–control about half of the 41,000 U.S. movie screens.

Torres’ order includes a two-year “sunset” provision for ending the block booking and circuit dealing bans, to minimize market disruption.

Critics of the termination said it could threaten the survival of smaller theater owners.

The National Association of Theater Owners, whose members have about 35,000 screens, supported retaining the block booking ban, while the Independent Cinema Alliance said the termination could reduce its members’ competitiveness and movie diversity,

Neither group was immediately available to comment.

The Justice Department has in recent months moved to end dozens of consent decrees it considers obsolete.

The cases are U.S. v. Paramount Pictures Inc and U.S. v. Loew’s Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-mc-00544.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

Democrats offer to cut $1 trillion from coronavirus plan, White House says no

By Richard Cowan and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in Congress said on Friday they had offered to reduce a proposed coronavirus aid package by a trillion dollars if Republicans would add a trillion to their counter-offer, but the idea was flatly rejected by Donald Trump’s White House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disclosed the offer as she and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer prepared to meet White House negotiators again on Friday afternoon.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one of the White House negotiators, rejected Pelosi’s proposal out of hand, telling reporters, “that’s a non-starter.”

After nearly two weeks of talks that have failed to make substantial progress, the Republican president has threatened to pull his negotiators out and instead issue executive orders to address the human and economic toll of a crisis that has killed more than 160,000 Americans and thrown tens of millions of people out of work.

It was unclear how much any president could do by executive order. At a news conference, Schumer said the president could not order any new money spent – as that is the power of Congress – but could only defer costs until they were eventually paid.

Democrats have advocated for a $3 trillion-plus economic aid program, while leading Republicans have proposed about a third of that.

“Yesterday I offered to them, we’ll take down a trillion if you add a trillion in,” Pelosi said. “They said absolutely not.”

She said she would make the offer again at an afternoon negotiating session with Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “We’ve got a responsibility to find common ground,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi said the proposed $1 trillion cut in Democrats’ plan would mean the aid would run out sooner.

Schumer said the White House would have to compromise with Democrats, because they need Democratic votes to get anything passed by Congress. “They can’t just say no,” he said.

“Their other choice is to do some weak insufficient executive orders that wont do the job for the people we want to help,” Schumer said.

Pelosi said Democrats want the biggest possible number for reviving an expired federal payment to the unemployed that had been $600 a week. Renewing that benefit has been a leading Democratic demand.

The White House at one point suggested $400 a week in federal benefits for the unemployed, but Democrats rejected it and have refused to do a separate deal on that, saying they wanted a comprehensive package that also included money for state and local government and other matters.

Congress passed more than $3 trillion in relief legislation early in the pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said a new boost is needed to help the U.S. economy, but some of his fellow Republicans oppose doing anything more.

Pelosi and Schumer have pushed for a comprehensive package of assistance for the unemployed, the poor, hospitals, schools, and state and local governments.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert and David Morgan; Writing by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)

New U.S. Postal Service chief warns of ‘dire’ finances as quarterly loss narrows

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) on Friday said the agency faces a “dire” financial position even as it posted a slightly narrower third-quarter loss amid soaring package demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said USPS has a “broken business model” and is in need of organizational changes. “Without dramatic change, there is no end in sight and we face an impending liquidity crisis,” DeJoy said.

USPS said quarterly revenue rose to $17.6 billion, up $547 million. The quarterly net loss shrank to $2.2 billion from $2.3 billion in the same quarter last year.

First-class mail volume declined by 1.1 billion pieces, or 8.4%. Shipping and packages revenue increased by $2.9 billion, or 53.6%, on a volume increase of 708 million pieces, up 49.9%.

Democrats Thursday called on DeJoy to reverse changes that they say are resulting in delayed mail.

“We believe these changes, made during the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, now threaten the timely delivery of mail—including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers, and absentee ballots for voters—that is essential to millions of Americans,” wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

Voting by mail is expected to increase dramatically this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has claimed without evidence that absentee voting leads to rampant fraud.

“We are not slowing down election mail or any other mail,” DeJoy, a Trump supporter, said Friday.

The Postal Service has faced financial woes with the rise of email and social media, and a measure passed in 2006 requiring it to pre-fund 75 years of retiree health benefits over the span of 10 years at a cost of more than $100 billion.

DeJoy said the Postal Service is eliminating inefficiencies, including “unnecessary overtime.” The Postal Service has lost $80 billion since 2007.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Canada to impose retaliatory tariffs on C$3.6 billion worth of U.S. goods

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will slap retaliatory tariffs on C$3.6 billion ($2.7 billion) worth of U.S. aluminum products after the United States said it would impose punitive measures on Canadian aluminum imports, a senior official said on Friday.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a news conference the countermeasures would be put in place by Sept. 16 to allow consultations with industry.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday moved to reimpose 10% tariffs on some Canadian aluminum products to protect U.S. industry from a “surge” in imports. Canada denies any impropriety.

“A trade dispute is the last thing anyone needs – it will only hurt an economic recovery on both sides of the border. However, this is what the U.S. administration has chosen to do,” said Freeland.

“We do not escalate and we do not back down,” she said later, describing the U.S. decision as unjust and absurd.

The Canadian list of goods that might be subject to tariffs include aluminum bars, plates, household articles, refrigerators, bicycles and washing machines.

It is the second time in two years that Canada has struck back at Trump over trade. In 2018, Ottawa slapped tariffs on C$16.6 billion ($12.5 billion) worth of American goods ranging from bourbon to ketchup after Washington imposed sanctions on Canadian aluminum and steel.

Canadian officials may be calculating that the measures will be short-lived. An Ottawa source briefed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said Canadian officials are increasingly sure that Trump will lose the Nov. 3 presidential election to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Trump acted just weeks after a new continental trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico took effect. The North American economy is highly integrated and Canada sends 75% of all its goods exports to the United States.

The premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, said earlier on Friday that he had encouraged Freeland to impose tariffs on as many U.S. goods as possible.

“For the President to come and attack us during these times, during a pandemic when we need everyone’s support, is totally unacceptable,” Doug Ford told a news conference.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Chris Reese and Dan Grebler)

U.S. surpasses 160,000 coronavirus deaths as school openings near

By Aurora Ellis and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – More than 160,000 people have died from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, nearly a quarter of the global total, according to a Reuters tally on Friday, as the country debates whether schools are ready to reopen in coming weeks.

The country recorded 160,003 deaths and 4.91 million cases, the highest caseload in the world, caused in part by lingering problems in making rapid testing widely available and resistance in some quarters to masks and social distancing measures.

Coronavirus deaths are rising in 23 states and cases are rising in 20 states, according to a Reuters analysis of data the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.

On a per-capita basis, the United States ranks 10th highest in the world for both cases and deaths.

Friday’s grim milestone marks an increase of 10,000 deaths in nine days in the United States.

Many of those died in California, Florida and Texas, the top three U.S. states for total cases. While new infections appear to be declining in those states, new outbreaks are emerging coast to coast.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the lead coordinator for the White House coronavirus response, warned of worrying upticks in the rate of tests coming back positive in several cities, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Washington.

Nearly 300,000 U.S. residents could be dead from COVID-19 by Dec. 1, University of Washington health experts said on Thursday, although they said 70,000 lives could be saved if Americans were scrupulous about wearing masks.

Throughout the country, U.S. officials, teachers’ unions, parents and students were debating how to reopen schools safely.

President Donald Trump has urged states to resume in-person classes, saying the virus “will go away like things go away,” but health officials have told states with rising counts to be on guard.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday some 700 school districts in the state could reopen classrooms, but insisted schools do extensive consultation with teachers, students and parents beforehand.

“If you look at our infection rate we are probably in the best situation in the country right now,” Cuomo told reporters. “If anybody can open schools, we can open schools.”

In New York City, where 1.1 million children attend the country’s largest network of public schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said students’ attendance will be limited to between one and three days each week. Parents in New York City have until Friday to request all-remote learning for their children.

Chicago Public Schools, which make up the country’s third largest school district, reversed course this week, saying students would stick with remote learning when the school year begins.

Some states, including Florida and Iowa, are mandating schools provide at least some in-person learning, while the governors of South Carolina and Missouri have recommended all classrooms reopen.

Texas had initially demanded that schools reopen but has since allowed districts to apply for waivers as the state grapples with a rising caseload. The Houston Independent School District has said that the school year will begin virtually on Sept. 8, but will shift to in-person learning on Oct. 19.

(Reporting by Aurora Ellis and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Howard Goller)

U.S. travel warning puts virus-battered Mexico on par with war-torn nations

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department urged citizens on Thursday not to travel to Mexico, despite easing a global travel ban, and warned of the rapid spread of coronavirus in the neighboring nation, in addition to rampant crime and kidnapping.

The United States and Mexico have close commercial ties and share the world’s busiest land border, crossed by many of their citizens for work, travel or family visits.

Mexico’s health ministry reported 6,590 new infections and 819 more deaths, taking its virus tally to 462,690 confirmed cases and 50,517 fatalities.

On Twitter, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, said his country had issued a “Level 4: Do not travel,” warning for all nations at the beginning of the pandemic in March.

But the stringent advisory, usually reserved for countries at war, was not lifted for Mexico, because of the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

“Its own government recognizes that contagion rates are still high,” Landau added.

The state department said, “Travelers to Mexico may experience border closures, airport closures, travel prohibitions, stay at home orders, business closures, and other emergency conditions within Mexico due to COVID-19.”

Reiterating earlier concerns about crime, its website said the Level 4 warning covered Mexico and many other countries.

Also citing the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention  (CDC)  issued a separate “Level 3 Travel Health Notice.”

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. imposes sanctions on Hong Kong’s Lam, other officials over crackdown

By David Brunnstrom and Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the territory’s current and former police chiefs and eight other officials for their role in curtailing political freedoms in the territory.

The sanctions were imposed under an executive order U.S. President Donald Trump signed last month to punish China for its moves against dissent in Hong Kong and are the latest action by his administration against Beijing in the run-up to his November re-election bid.

As well as Lam, the sanctions target Hong Kong Police commissioner Chris Tang and his predecessor Stephen Lo; John Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong’s secretary of security, and Teresa Cheng, the justice secretary, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.

It said Beijing’s imposition of draconian national security legislation had undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and allowed mainland security services to operate with impunity, “setting the groundwork for censorship of any individuals or outlets that are deemed unfriendly to China.””Carrie Lam is the chief executive directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes,” it said.

“The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong and we will use our tools and authorities to target those undermining their autonomy,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.

The sanctions freeze any U.S. asset of the officials and generally bar Americans from doing business with them.

Tensions between the United States and China have been increasing daily. China’s foreign ministry said on Friday it firmly opposes executive orders that Trump announced this week to ban U.S. transactions with the Chinese owners of the WeChat and TikTok apps.

Last month, Carrie Lam postponed a Sept. 6 election to Hong Kong’s legislature by a year because of a rise in coronavirus cases, dealing a blow to the pro-democracy opposition that had hoped to make huge gains.

The United States condemned the action, saying it was the latest example of Beijing undermining democracy in the Chinese-ruled territory.

A source familiar with the matter said U.S. deliberations on the sanctions intensified after the election postponement.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey, David Brunnstrom, Daphne Psaledakis and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Chris Reese and Frances Kerry)

Former U.S. national security adviser Scowcroft is dead at 95

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Brent Scowcroft, a pragmatic three-star general who served as national security adviser to Republican U.S. Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush and later criticized President George W. Bush’s Iraq war policies, died on Thursday. He was 95.

Scowcroft, a member of the presidential commission that investigated the biggest scandal of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and an architect of the 1991 Gulf War under the elder Bush, died of natural causes, according to a statement on Friday from a spokesman for the Bush family.

Scowcroft reached the rank of Air Force lieutenant general during a 29-year military career and was an influential voice on U.S. national security for decades. He was a cautious internationalist – he called himself a realist – closely aligned with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Scowcroft served as chief military aide to Republican President Richard Nixon during a time when the United States was looking to extricate itself from the Vietnam War, then became Ford’s national security adviser from 1975 to 1977 and George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser from 1989 to 1993.

“He’s just marvelous and he never asks for one ounce of credit,” the elder Bush said of Scowcroft after the Gulf War was won in March 1991.

Scowcroft, a soft-spoken man with the manner of a genial Westerner, remained close to Bush and co-authored a 1998 book with him. But he took exception to his son George W. Bush’s “unilateral” approach to world affairs as president.

Scowcroft was a key adviser to the elder Bush during the 1991 Gulf War in which U.S. forces, along with a coalition of allies, expelled Iraqi troops that had invaded oil-rich neighbor Kuwait in August 1990..

The war ended with Bush’s team opting to leave Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in power after Iraq’s forces were quickly swept out of Kuwait. Twelve years later Bush’s son ordered an invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam and led to his execution but left American troops fighting a messy war in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.

Scowcroft, in a PBS interview five years later, explained the first Bush administration’s decision not to send U.S. forces to Baghdad in 1991 to overthrow Saddam.

“It was never our objective to get Saddam Hussein. Indeed, had we tried we still might be occupying Baghdad. That would have turned a great success into a very messy, probable defeat,” Scowcroft said.

‘FAILING VENTURE’

Before the younger Bush launched his Iraq war in 2003, Scowcroft publicly opposed it, doubted the U.S. justifications for it and called it an unwise diversion from the fight against terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda.

In 2004, Scowcroft called Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a “failing venture” and faulted Bush for becoming “mesmerized” by hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In 2005, Scowcroft said the continued American presence in Iraq was inflaming the Middle East. He advocated handing over the U.S. operation in Iraq to NATO or the United Nations.

His criticisms were particularly stinging, considering he was a mentor to Condoleezza Rice, who served Bush as national security adviser and then secretary of state. Scowcroft had served under Bush as chairman of the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board but was removed in 2005.

During Ford’s presidency, Scowcroft closely advised the president, alongside Kissinger, on the 1975 evacuation of the last U.S. forces in Vietnam. The chaotic scene in Saigon – with helicopters plucking people off rooftops – became a symbol of America’s debacle in Vietnam that left 58,000 U.S. troops dead.

In 1987, Scowcroft was one of three members of the Tower Commission that investigated the biggest scandal of Republican Reagan’s presidency – the sale of arms to Iran in exchange for U.S. hostages in Lebanon, with proceeds diverted to fund “contra” rebels in Nicaragua in violation of U.S. law.

Born on March 19, 1925, in Ogden, Utah, Scowcroft graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1947 and later earned a doctorate in international relations from Columbia University. His career as a military pilot ended in 1949 when his P-51 Mustang crashed in New Hampshire, breaking his back.

He taught Russian history at West Point and headed the U.S. Air Force Academy’s political science department before taking a series of jobs at the Pentagon in the 1960’s.

Scowcroft had one daughter with his late wife, Marian.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Chris Reese and Dan Grebler)

Beirut blast a wake-up call on dangers of ammonium nitrate, experts warn

By Maayan Lubell, Rami Ayyub and Katharine Houreld

(Reuters) – The devastating explosion in Beirut should be a wake-up call for countries on the dangers of ammonium nitrate, which caused the blast, experts say.

Lebanese authorities said 2,750 tonnes of the industrial chemical had been stored for six years at Beirut port without safety measures. That stockpile exploded on Tuesday, killing more than 150 people, injuring thousands and leaving about a quarter of a million people homeless.

Commonly used in fertilizers and as an industrial explosive, ammonium nitrate is considered relatively safe if handled properly, but it has proved lethal.

In one of the world’s deadliest industrial accidents, 567 people were killed in Texas in 1947 when 2,300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated aboard a ship.

“Beirut, like Texas, is a wake-up call. We should learn from these catastrophes and make sure they don’t happen again,” said Stewart Walker, of the school of Forensic, Environmental and Analytical Chemistry at Flinders University in Adelaide.

Some countries have banned ammonium nitrate as a fertilizer because it has been used by militant bomb-makers and since Tuesday’s blast, some governments have been urged to relocate stockpiles.

Chris Owen, a U.N. explosives adviser, said few countries make ammonium nitrate but many use it, often importing it by sea. Since many ports have had cities develop around them, large quantities are moving through cities on a regular basis. “If it’s managed properly, it’s no risk,” Owen said.

In terms of safety, experts say, quantity, ventilation and proximity to flammables are critical, as is distance from population centers.

Anger has been mounting in Lebanon at the authorities for allowing huge quantities of the chemical to be stored near a residential area for years in unsafe conditions.

The United Nations has issued guidelines on safe storage and transportation but regulations vary from country to country, experts said.

Global variation on regulation is a concern, said Julia Meehan, the managing editor of ICIS Fertilizers, a trade publication. “There’s no global body that looks across it, it’s country to country or regional,” said Meehan. “It can even differ from port to port.”

One expert, who asked not to be identified, said political instability was a major factor in enforcement. He cited Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan and South American countries. “If the country is at war, or struggling with an insurgency or other problems, they have other issues to deal with,” he said.

Global data on storage is spotty, said Hans Reuvers, a German-based expert on ammonium nitrate and fertilizer technology and executive committee member at the Ammonium Nitrate/Nitric Acid Producers Study Group (ANNA).

Germany only allows 25 tonnes of pure ammonium nitrate to be stored in one place, Reuvers said. France toughened its regulations after a 2001 explosion in Toulouse killed 31 people.

“You have to store it in non-flammable bins, keep them far away from flammable materials. There are similar regulations across Europe as well as in East Asia,” Reuvers said.

GLOBAL TRADE

Worldwide trade in ammonium nitrate in 2018 was worth $2.14 billion, with Russia the leading exporter, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, and Brazil the largest importer.

The United States and Europe are the leading consumers of ammonium nitrates, according to London-based IHS Markit, accounting for just over half of global consumption in 2019.

Countries with large stockpiles tend to have large mining or industrial agriculture industries, said Roger Read, of the School of Chemistry at the University of New South Wales.

“Those would tend to be most large, industrialized countries – Britain, the U.S., Russia, China – as well as India and other smaller countries in Europe,” Read said.

The United States in 2019 eased chemical-safety regulations implemented after a deadly ammonium nitrate blast in 2013. The move cut costly regulations but still kept safety measures, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Rick Engler, a former member of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, said the EPA should add ammonium nitrate to a list of regulated chemicals needing increased oversight, calling present U.S. regulations “thoroughly inadequate.”

The United States does not maintain a public database on the locations of ammonium nitrate, meaning people do not know if they live near one, said Elena Craft, of the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group.

“There are a lot of unknowns about how much of this material exists and where,” Craft said. “You don’t know the magnitude of that risk because of the lack of information that’s available.”

(Additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer, Tangi Salaun, Jonathan Saul, Gus Trompiz, Polina Devitt, Guy Faulconbridge, Josephine Mason, Stephen Farrell, Tom Polansek and Sudarshan Varadhan; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Giles Elgood)