Connect with us

Economy

The ongoing debt crisis in the European Union

Published

on

Public debt is a relatively complex concept that most current approaches agree to refer to the sum of debt whose obligation to repay falls on the government of a country[1]. According to the World Bank (WB)’s approach, public debt is understood as the liability of four main groups of institutions:

(i) Central government liability, (ii) Local government liability, (iii) Central banking institution liability, and (iv) Liabilities of independent organizations, state-owned enterprises of whose capital the state owns more than 50%, or other organizations whose debt the government has the responsibility to settle should they fails to do this[2].

Owing to the widespread nature of public debt and the fact that countries can easily fall into public debt crisis – especially since the 80s of the 20th century – the global community had created a number of criteria to supervise and warn countries about to, or in the middle of a public debt crisis[3]. However, the criteria most commonly used to estimate a country’s public debt situation is public debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This figure reflects the size of a country’s public debt as a fraction of the economy’s income and is calculated as of the 31st December each year.

               According to a 2010 research of the American National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a survey of more than 44 countries showed that when the public debt/GDP ration exceeds 90%, it will negatively impact on economic growth and reduce the economic growth rate of the country in question by around four percent on average. In particular, for newly emerging economies like that of Vietnam, the healthy public debt/GDP ratio threshold is 60%, and exceeding this threshold will stall annual economic growth by around 2%. However, the ratio between public debt and GDP alone is not a comprehensive estimate of the safety or riskiness of a country’s public debt – we need to examine public debt in a more comprehensive manner, in its relation with the system of macroeconomic criteria of a national economy[4].

                Public debt crisis refers to an escalated public debt situation – or worse, public insolvency – that damages the economy resulting from a imbalance between national budget revenue and expenditure. The typical scenario arises from an excess of governmental expenditure over revenue, forcing the state to borrow money in many ways such as government bonds, debentures or credit agreements. This results in the state’s inability to repay its debt obligations. Persisting budget deficit will increase public debt. Should the state be unable to settle these debts in a timely manner will lead to an accumulation of interest, further exacerbating the problem.

                Hyman Minsky (1986)[5] gave an explanation to what would cause the serious crisis starting in 2007, a flaw of the financial-credit system. According to him, the financial-credit system plays a key role in a financial crisis: It led to a large amount of risky and speculative borrowing by firms and the public alike (borrowing far more than their existing assets, for instance) to seek profit from appreciating assets. However, if and when assets depreciates instead (the credit bubble pops), these speculators will lose much – if not all – of their solvency, resulting in the insolvency of the entire financial and credit system, leading to a financial crisis[6]. This happened because there was not yet the necessary systems to control and reduce these speculative and highly risky activities..

b. Cause of the EU public debt crisis

                The current public debt crisis in the EU began in Greece when the Greece Prime Minister announced in November 2009 that the country’s budget deficit for the year would be 12.7% of GDP, twice as high as a previously announced figure (Lane, 2012), and that he would try to save Greece from insolvency. In reality, the country’s public debt had peaked at €300 billion (around US$440 billion), equal to 124% of the country’s GDP, twice as high as the level permitted by the Maastricht Treaty. Immediately, on December 22nd 2009, Moody’s Investors Service had reduced Greece’s public debt credit ranking from A1 to A2 because of its rising budget deficit. Previously, Fitch Group an Standard & Poor had reduced Greece’s credit rating below investment grade. In April 2010, Greece’s budget deficit had risen to 13.6%, followed by a spike in government bond interest rate; Standard & Poor reduced Greece’s credit rating to “junk status” – the lowest possible rank[7]. Ireland followed Greece with a budget deficit of 32% GDP (September 2010), Portugal (January 2012), Spain (June 2012), Italy (November 2012) and presently Cyprus (March 2013), all fell into debt crisis[8]. Why did this debt crisis happen? There were several causes as follows:

i. Root causes:

First, the problem arises from inefficiencies of an economic model based heavily on banking and financial services[9] as well as shortfalls in the EU and Eurozone’s management system. Every time an economic recession occurs or an election takes place, public debt would spike as governments have not brought forward long-term solutions to the public debt problem and instead focusing on short-term solutions. The accumulation of this problematic management and failure to solve the problem at its root results in an eventual loss of control of the public debt burden.

Second, the problem also owes to the rapid development of the financial and banking services based on exploiting market inefficiencies and based heavily on speculation and speculative investment of the early 90s, leading to a “fake prosperity”. This caused many instabilities in the labor structure, big gap of wealth and increasing unemployment and welfare dependencies. This development of the financial system also, paradoxically, stabilized the supply of credit, making it easier and promoting borrowing and rapid growth of credit. These contributed greatly to increasing public debt.

Third, the global financial crisis in 2008 was greeted with old policies – borrowing to sponsor credit funds, firms and unemployment support, while government bonds had come to maturity. This caused an overload as several decades’ worth of debt obligation fell on these governments at the worst possible timing. While governments have realized the unsustainability of an economy geavily stilted towards financial services, they have been unwilling to give up the old habit of a “false” economy, instead they were opting for a short-term solution of borrowing new funds to repay old debts and keep insolvent banks afloat.

Fourth, owing to structural problems, the European Union is heavily restricted in managing its economy as a whole, lacking mechanisms that would enable the governments of member countries to reduce budget deficit (Guillen, 2012). This leads to monetary policies not being consistent with fiscal policies, expecially tax reform and labor policies. While the EU has a limit on member countries’ budget deficit and public debts, the managing and supervisory institutions remain lax, making it easier for countries to borrow and much harder for the group to control said borrowing. The EU and the European Central Bank had responded too slowly when the crisis struck. When the politics of opposing national interests is taken into the equation, the mechanism becomes even more complicated and self-defeating (Bastasin, 2012).

Fifth, this wasthe emergence of the Euro (€). This allowed smaller countries to attract a huge amount of foreign investment owing to the common currency[10]. However, this also caused a major challenge: When the capital flow exceeds the economy’s capability to sustainably absorb it, the excess capital would easily be wasted on activities that do not efficiently benefit the economy, leading to an increase in bad debts among banks, causing an even faster outbreak of a debt crisis. This is one of the ways the sovereign debt crisis is linked to the banking crisis in Europe (Shambaugh, 2012)

Sixth, the monetary flows into smaller economies in the EU were too great, resulting in a huge monetary supply and an increase in price level, causing a far higher rate of inflation in smaller economies compared to larger ones, sometimes even greater than the rate of interest (causing, among others, the value of debts to decrease with time, causing borrowers to gain rather than lose). The consequence of taking advantage of external monetary flows was a long-term current account balance deficit, yet countries were unable to control this by their own monetary policies because of the common currency. Additionally, the use of an external monetary flows would further increase budget deficit (for want of stimulating domestic production), exceeding the 3% of GDP as allowed by the EU. This long-term budget deficit plays a contributing role to exacerbating public debt.

 

ii. Direct causes

First and foremost, causes pertaining to interior characteristics of countries undergoing crisis:

First, all of the countries currently undergoing public debt crisis have lax fiscal discipline. End-of-year spending realization of budget would always exceed the expenditure decision of their respective Parliaments as announced at the beginning of the year. In addition, these countries had undergone a missed opportunity to tighten fiscal policies throughout the earlier part of the last decade, owing in no small part to their poor analytical framework (Lane, 2012).

Second, the distribution of capital, in many cases, is influenced more by political rather than economic goals. (for examples: defense and security expenditure, social welfare, retirement wages, interest subsidy of banks for social welfare projects, governmental protocols or celebrations and so on)

Third, state projects generally are not completed in a timely manner. This causes an increase in interest payable over the borrowed funds.

Fourth, low capital utilization efficiency (often lower than that of private projects with commercial loans), since the borrower in the state sector are not directly held responsible for its repayment. This is to say borrower responsibility is not high as those in charge of borrowing are not necessarily those who have to settle the debt, especially if they have a slim chance of being reelected into office.

Fifth, these governments have the capability to hide problematic issues of the country’s public debt situation over an extended period (up to ten years), making it impossible to make readjustment in a timely manner. In fact, the severity of the crisis can be attributed to the governments’ lack of initiative in the years leading up to, as well as during the ‘lulls’ in between the crises (Lane, 2012). Coupled with the complex and overlapping nature of this crisis (Shambaugh, 2012), this inactivity has proven to be extremely damaging.

Second, causes pertaining to external factors:

First, credit rating and risk analysis firms like Standard & Poor, Moody’s and Filch Group is a contributing factor to the instability of the market and the crisis itself, owing to their announcement of lowering the credit rating of these government bonds, thereby decreasing investors’ confidence in these markets[11].

Second, political pressure from speculators, major financial organizations and economic powerhouses managed to persuade governments to adjust rather than reform their financial institutions. Governments had to spend many billions of Euros to bail out banks and on stimulus packages to save banks and the economies from collapse. This would invariably lead to an increase in public debt. At the same time, private banks received funds from central banks at a low interest rate (around one percent) to finance enterprises for production, but instead, they used these funds to repurchase government debts and debentures at a higher interest rate (4 to 5 percent).

Third, arbitrage activities with an aim to raise government bond interest to the highest possible level for maximum arbitrage profit. In practice, public debt is usually negotiated through private banks and priced by these private institutions. Such financial institutions like Alpha Bank, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, ING Group and so on have ample opportunities to artificially raise government bond interest[12].

  1. The Vietnamese economy under the impact of the EU public debt crisis.

                The public debt crisis in the EU in addition to the current problems of the Vietnamese economy may have a number of negative impacts on it:

First, an increased difficulty in exporting to the EU market. According to the General Office of Statistics of Vietnam, EU has been Vietnam’s largest export market (the EU alone consumed around 17.5% of all products produced in Vietnam in 2012, worth US$20 billion)[13]. In 2012, difficulties in the Eurozone economies (high inflation, lowered income, increase in unemployment) resulted in a general tendency to reduce spending among EU consumers, giving rise to the demand of goods and services – including those from Vietnam – not rising. Additionally, EU countries have been increasing protectionistic measures to protect domestic industries, resulting in greater dificulties for Vietnamese exports, in addition to competition from other exporters. While the major relatively inexpensive export products such as agricultural and forestry products, seafood and foodstuff experienced a low drop in demand, the other products like furniture, handicraft, textile and footwear suffered a major demand hit.

Second, there was an increase in domestic market competition. In the backdrop of the ongoing public debt crisis and the difficulties challenging the entire global economy, Vietnamese firms are under pressure from foreign investors looking to diversify their market and hedge risks. These foreign firms are additionally granted advantageous borrowing rates (in many foreign countries, interest rates of commercial loans for their own firms are very low), and have greater competence and stronger trademarks than Vietnamese products, making Vietnamese firms being severely disadvantaged all but inevitable.

Third, foreign investment and investors’ confidence in Vietnam decreased. The crisis had forced European firms to constrict production and lay off employers owing to a decrease in consumption in both the EU and the world. The most obvious countermeasure is decreasing inefficient foreign investment. As a result, foreign direct investment flow from both Europe and the world into Vietnam has decreased. In 2009, Europe’s FDI into Vietnam took up 18% of total FDI. This figure was reduced to 11% in 2011, continued to decrease in 2012 and seems to continue on this downward trend in 2013.[14]

Fourth, according to the evaluation of WB, Vietnam’s business environment index is on the decrease (in 2011, Vietnam’s business environment ranked 98th out of the 183 ranked economies, falling eight ranks compared to 2010), showing the faltering confidence of foreign investors on the Vietnamese business environment. The main reason behind this is that the public debt crisis in Europe had caused investors and credit ratings services firms pay greater attention to the public debt issue. The three groups of main criteria used as early warning are: (i) excessive debts, reflected in a high public debt over GDP ratio; (ii) excessive spending, reflected in a high budget deficit over GDP ratio; and (iii) a continually decreasing GDP growth rate. In 2011, Vietnam’s public debt was 106% of GDP (see Table 1), state budget deficit was 4.9% of GDP (see Table 3), the GDP growth rates continually decreased[15] (see Table 2), making it the riskiest economy in the ASEAN region, with a S&P credit rating of BB- (a deterioration from the BB rating at the beginning of the year). This not only negatively impacted on the ability to attract foreign investment and borrowings, but also increased the cost of borrowing from international financial organizations owing to a higher interest.

Table 1: Vietnam’s public debt, 2011

Figure

Billion VND

Billion USD

Percentage of GDP

Public debt according to Vietnam’s definition

1,391,478

66.8

55%

    State debt

1,085,353

52.1

43%

   State guaranteed debt

292,210

14

12%

   Local government debt

13,915

0.7

1%

Public debt according to the international definition

2,683,878

128.9

106%

   Public debt according to the Vietnam

   definition

1,391,478

66.8

55%

   State-owned enterprise debts

1,292,400

62.1

51%

Source: Vũ Quang Vit, “Public and banking debts of Vietnam at a glance”, Forum Magazine, Hanoi, 25/11/2011.

Fifth, there was an increase in exchange rate risk. In the short term, the appreciation of the US$ relative to the € will decrease Vietnam’s export goods into the Eurozone owing to Vietnam’s export goods being valued in USD. In addition, recently the USD are also appreciating relative to the VND (Vietnamese currency) owing to high inflation in Vietnam from 2008 to 2011 (see Table 3), creating a pressure to adjust exchange rate, yet Vietnam has maintained the same rate. This causes a risk of existing two interest rates and the potential risk of smuggled import owing to cheaper import. This will put a greater pressure on Vietnam’s national foreign exchange reserve.

3. Lessons for Vietnam in public debt crisis prevention

a. Current difficulties of the Vietnamese economy.

               

                The main reason causing Vietnam’s current difficulties began to emerge in 2006 and was rooted before that. To promote high growth, Vietnam had promoted investment very strongly and over an extended period had had an investment-to-GDP ratio, rating second only behind China (see Table 2). The rate of increase in money and credit supply was also among the world’s highest and consequently the rate of inflation was record high in the world. This can be clearly seen when comparing Vietnam’s exceedingly high investment-to-saving ratio from 2005 to 2011.

Table 2: GDP growth rate and the rate of investment and saving of Vietnam (2000-2011)

Figure

   Year

2000

-2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Investment/GDP (%)

33

38

41

43

40

38

39

33

Saving/GDP (%)

 

28

28

26

23

23

23

24

Difference between investment and saving (%)

 

10

13

17

17

15

16

9

GDP growth rate (%)

7.1

8.4

8.2

8.5

6.3

5.5

6.8

5.9

Source: Vu Quang Viet, Crisis and the financial-credit system: Practical analysis in regard to the American and Vietnamese economy, Washington D.C., February 2013; Nguyen Anh Tuan; Vietnamese External Economic Syllabus, National Political Publisher, Hanoi 2005.

The rate of investment was much higher than saving, some years up to 16-17% of GDP (see Table 2). To achieve this there were only two ways: (i) borrowing from foreign sources, or (ii) extensive (excessive) issuing of credit lines, resulting in bad debts and very high inflation as of the last few years (see Table 3). As a result of high inflation while the government did not adjust the exchange rate between the VND and the USD, import was highly stimulated, resulting in an unprecedented trade balance deficit, some years as high as US$18 billion (See table 3). This excessive investment while efficiency was low resulted in an excessive public debt. As shown in Table 1, Vietnam’s public debt could have reached US$129 billion, equal to 106% of GDP in 2011, in which state-owned enterprises’ were US$62.1 billion (see Table 1).

Table 3: Increase in money supply, credit, CPI, trade balance deficit and state revenue-expenditure of budget in Vietnam (2006-2011)

Figure

   Year

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Increase in money supply (%)

34.0

46.0

20.0

29.0

33.0

12.0

Increase in credit (%)

25.0

50.0

28.0

46.0

32.0

14.0

Inflation (CPI) (%)

7.1

8.3

23.1

5.9

10.0

18.6

Change in exchange rate (%)

0.9

0.7

1.2

4.7

9.1

10.1

Balance of trade (billion USD)

-5,1

-14,2

-18,0

-12,9

-12,6

-9,8

State revenue (Trillion VND)

na

na

357.4

390.6

456.0

590.5

State expenditure (Trillion VND)

na

na

398.9

441.2

581.0

725.6

Source: ADB, Annual Report 2011, Manila 2012; General Office of Statistics of Vietnam, Annual Report 2012, Hanoi 2013.

b. Lessons and suggestions for public debt crisis prevention in Vietnam

i. Basic Guidelines

                In order for the Vietnamese economy to avoid negative impacts from the public debt crisis, we need to examine intrinsic factors within the Vietnamese economy as well as the causes of the public debt crisis in the EU and its existing impact on Vietnam as previously analyzed. There are a number of suggestions:

First, in order to manage and prevent public debt crisis, the most pressing requirement is an effective governmental regulatory mechanism in order to control financial activities and the flows of financial sources. This includes transparency of information, the effective maintenance of macro-level supervisory mechanism, while guaranteeing the needs for social welfare and mobilizing and combining resources to develop the country in a sustainable manner.

Second, it is necessary to properly manage and improve efficiency of state investment. In the long term, state investment needs to be actively reduced while investment from non-budget sources needs to increase relative to total social investment; shift the focus of state investment outside of economic activities so as to concentrate on social and infrastructural investment. In the same time, there is also a need to reform and standardize the state investment process in an appropriate manner so as to serve as a selection and standardization criteria for public projects[16].

Third, state-owned corporations and enterprises diversifying investment outside of their main business and production must cease. State-owned enterprises should be concentrated on key industries of the national economy, mainly those related to and dealing with socio-economic infrastructure, public services and those pertaining to macroeconomic stability.

Fourth, systemic stability, prevention of side effects and debt “traps” and practical efficiency in both SOE and financial-banking sector restructuring should be ensured. At the same time, proper care should be taken to effectively handle such matters as firm acquisitions and mergers, unemployment insurance and social welfare.

                ii. In-depth suggestions and areas for attention

                On the basis of the guidelines above, we can draw a number of in-depth lessons and suggestions for public debt crisis prevention in Vietnam.

First, there are a number of issues pertaining to state-owned enterprises (SOEs), as followed: (i) cease excessive investment into SOEs and only maintain a minimal, manageable number of SOEs (between one to two dozen)[17]; (ii) put an end to diversification outside of expertise (especially letting a SOE own a bank, or vice versa)[18]; (iii) every decision to found new SOEs must be carefully discussed and approved by the National Assembly. The government needs to stop spending more than the budget previously approved by the National Assembly (notably, in a number of countries this is considered illegal)[19].

Second, the government should not continue to have the State Bank issue money for spending and credit distribution, especially for SOEs as a spearhead for development owing to its lack of efficiency and also owing to the very large existing budget deficit (from 5% to 7% of GDP, while in these times a 3% of GDP deficit is already seen as a warning threshold in some countries). Stimulation of demand through budget deficit is only a temporary solution and should only be used when there are no other options when the economy – for any reason – falls into a crisis owing to plummeting demand. It should never be used as a method for stimulating economic growth because it will lead to high inflation and loss of stability, since budget deficit would invariably be remedied by printing money. The reason for Vietnam’s current economic situation is the stimulation of demand via credit growth (which increased from 35% to 125% of GDP between 2007 and 2011), but without good control of the utilization of credit flow.

Third, it is necessary to raise the ratio of equity (paid-up or owner’s capital) in both private firms and SOEs to ensure stable development. Currently, in Vietnam the debt-to-equity ratio is 1.77, much higher than in the United States or Europe (around 0.7). This high ratio of debt can very quickly lead to financial distress and insolvency should the interest rate rise.

Fourth, there is a need to focus the power for development investment into seven regions of Vietnam instead of on a provincial basis in order to avoid waste owing to overlapping construction investment, as well as to reduce the influence of the locality on the central organs located in provinces[20]. In addition, management of territory, forests, rivers and seas needs to be stratified between central, regional and local government so as to concentrate power for infrastructural development. Local governments should not be permitted to issue their own bonds to foreign markets. Furthermore, local government bonds should be tightly regulated so as to avoid uncontrollable layering of debts.

Fifth, it is worth noting that the excessive expansion of credit in Vietnam (See Table 3) is because the State Bank lacks the independence according to the standard of a market economy and of a central bank. Because of this, it had acted not on the ultimate goal of maintaining market price stability, but according to the government’s directive to print money for SOEs to become as spearheads for the economy (that, in reality, was quite inefficient), but consequence of that was the detriment of the economy. The difficulties facing the Vietnamese economy occurred when the government began to execute stimulus packages but did not closely supervise them. Hence most of those funds were not invested on production but on stocks and real estate. When the bubble pops, this caused great difficulties for the financial-banking system with an increasing ratio of bad debts.[21]

Sixth, according to the Credit Organizations Law (2010), many banks that had been given permission for establishment but whose sole purpose was to help local governments and clienteles to carry out rent seeking activities because the Law does not distinguish between commercial and investment bank. According to the experience from the EU and the US, commercial banks use deposits from clients to lend, while investment banks mainly implement portfolio investment using their own money, or serve clients to invest in portfolio for the service fees. Hence, in order to avoid risks for the financial-banking system and crisis, there is an urgent need to amend this law to emphasize on the difference between the role and function of these two categories of banks, as well as stopping allowing a bank to own a non-financial enterprises, or conversely, a non-financial enterprises founding a bank to serve itself.

Seventh, the state bank should establish a standard for minimum capital for each category of banks, as well as set up and announce basic statistics of each bank in particular and the financial-monetary system in general to serve both policy-makers and users of financial services. The Vietnamese financial-banking system has (i) 101 banks and foreign bank branches including (a) 5 national commercial banks, each of which having more than US$1 billion in chartered capital and total assets of between US$15 to US$25 billion, (b) 39 private commercial banks, of which only a few banks are large like Eximbank with chatered capital of US$630 million, Sacombank – US$550 million, ACB – US$470 million[22]; (c) 53 foreign bank branches and banks with 100% foreign capital; (d) 5 foreign joint banks; (ii) 18 financial firms, 12 financial-lease firms and 1,202 public credit funds, (iii) 105 stock companies, 47 investment funds, 43 non-life insurance and 10 life insurance firms[23]. This financial system is a very complicated, overlapping that was not properly supervised and controlled[24].

4. Conclusion

                As the public debt crisis in Europe continues, casting further doubt on the already tumultuous and shaky macroeconomic and financial system worldwide, two questions demand a satisfactory answer. The first, what should be done to save those economies already engulfed in it and bring them back to financial healthiness. The second, what should be done for economies not yet in the crisis to avoid its ripple effect, or worse, being involved in its own crisis. This paper seeks to find an appropriate answer for the second question in a manner that is relevant to the Vietnamese economy.

                As has been discussed, the macro-economy of Vietnam is currently displaying a number of worrying issues and symptoms. The crisis has struck in the wake of Vietnam’s rapidly changing economy and exposed a number of key weaknesses in the country’s macro-economy such as inflation, state budget deficit and the inefficient use of SOEs as spearhead for the economy, to name a few. This article has named a number of suggestions to restructure the economy so as to alleviate these deficiencies at the root, while avoiding a potential public debt crisis.

                While a number of issues underlying the European crisis – one may even say key issues – are inapplicable to Vietnam, namely the dependence on a shared currency and fiscal policies and the political costs thereof, the situation in Europe has proven that weaknesses in government budget, in the banking system and low growth are inseparable and one cannot be examined or solved without the other. Considering the present state of the Vietnamese banking and financial sector and its many issues, how these three problems interact and how to tackle them is an important area that policymakers and future researches should pay attention to.

 

References:

  1. Bajrektarevic A., (2013), Future of Europe (Of Lisbon and Generational Interval), Crans Montana Forum, 2013, Geneva, Switzerland.
  2. Bajrektarevic, A., (2004), Europe beyond 2020: Three-dimensional Challenge, 13th OSCE Economic Forum, Trieste Italy, November 2004.
  3. Bastasin, C (2012), Saving Europe: How National Politics Nearly Destroyed the Euro, Brookings Institution Press.
  4. Guillen, A (2012), Europe: The Crisis Within a Crisis, International Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Fall 2012), pp 41-68Jolly, D. (2011), European Agency Sells Billion in Bonds to Rescues Ireland, The New York Times, January 5, 2011 in http://nytimes.com
  1. Lane, P. (2012), The European Sovereign Debt Crisis, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Summer 2012), pp. 49-67
  1. Minsky, H. (1986), Stabilizing an Unstable Economy, Yale University Press, Yale.
  2. Manasse, P. and Roubini, N (2009), Rule of Thumb for Sovereign Debt Crises, IMF: Journal of International Economics.
  3. Le, N. M., (2011), Public Debt: Impacts on Economic Growth and Burden of Next Generation, Banking Academy of Vietnam, Hanoi 2011.
  4. Reinhart, C.M. and Rogoff, K.S., (2010), Growth in a Time of Debt, American Economic Review.
  5. Shambaugh, J; Reis, R and Rey, H (2012), The Euro’s Three Crises, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (SPRING 2012), pp. 157-231
  6. Le, S. K (2013), The World Economy After Crisis: Implications and Prospects, Publisher of Social Sciences, Ha Noi 2012.
  7. Vu, V. Q., (2013),Crisis and the financial-credit system: Practical Analysis in Regard to the American and Vietnamese Economy, Washington D.C., February 2013.
    1. Vu, V. Q., (2011) “Public and banking debts of Vietnam at a glance”, Forum Magazine, Hanoi, 25/11/2011.
    2. Dinh, T. C., (2012), EU in the First Two Decades of 21 Century, Publisher of Social Sciences, Ha Noi 2012.
    3. Nguyen, T. A. , (1999), Asian Monetary-Financial Crisis: Reasons and Impacts (ed.), National Political Publishing House, Hanoi 1999.
    4. Nguyen, T. A, (2006), “East Asian Financial Cooperation After 1997-Crisis: Experience From EU”, Seminar Proceedings in China, May 2006.
    5. Nguyen, T. A., (2009), “Global Financial Crisis: Experiences of Australia and Lessons for Vietnam”, Review of Communist, No 169, January 2009



              The public sector as defined by the United Nations System of National Accounting (SNA) includes public service (government) and state-owned enterprises. Hence, the term “public debt” is also taken to mean the same as such terms as “governmental debt” (United Nations, System of National Accounts 2008, para. 22.15, http://unstats.un.org/unsd/nationalaccount/docs/SNA2008.pdf: “the public sector includes general government and public corporations”). However, public debt differs from national debts in that the latter refers to a country’s debt obligation in its entirety, including both governmental debt and private debts. In other words, public debt is only a component of national debt.

               This definition is similar to that of the Debt Management and Financial Analysis System (DMFAS) of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

               Supervisory criteria for a country’s public debt and foreign debt includes: (i) Public debt as a percentage of GDP, (ii) Foreign debt as a percentage of GDP, (iii) National debt as a percentage of GDP, (iv) Foreign debt as a percentage of gross export value, (v) Public debt as a percentage of state budget revenue and so on.

               These criteria are: (i) rate and quality of economic growth; (ii) total factor productivity; (iii) capital utilization efficiency (via the Incremental capital-output ratio – ICOR); (iv) budget deficit ratio; (v) domestic saving rate and gross domestic investment; and (vi) a number of other criteria. Additionally, such criteria as public debt structure, weight of different debt classes, interest structure and payment period also require in-depth analysis when addressing the sustainability of public debt. For instance, a public debt worth 100% of Greece’s GDP caused its bankruptcy, while Japan’s public debt is worth around 200% of its GDP and is still considered sustainable. Another example, Argentina, has a public debt ratio to GDP less than 60% yet is still undergoing public debt crisis. According to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the European Union countries are not allowed to have their public debt exceed 60% of their GDP.

               Hyman Minsky, 1986, Stabilizing an Unstable Economy, Yale University Press, Yale.

               Minsky classified borrowers into three categories: (i) hedge borrowers, who can repay their both principal and interest from their investment flows; (ii) speculative borrowers, who can repay interest but has to regularly roll over principal to stay afloat; and (iii) Ponzi borrowers, who operates on the basis of borrowing money from one creditor to repay another. His view was that a crisis would happen if the last two categories outnumbers the first.

               On the 2nd May 2010, the Prime Minister of Greece had accepted the aid package worth 110 billion (US$143 billion) from Eurozone and IMF, which would come into effect over the following three years.

               At the end of 2009, typical countries of the EU had the high public debt-GDP ratios such as Greece – 124%; Portugal – 84,6%; Italy – 120,1%; Germany – 84,5%; Ireland – 82,9%; France – 82,6%.

               Two energetical crises in 1973-1974 and in 1979-1980 pushed countries in Europe and America into recession. That was the time when Europe and America restructured and transformed their economies from industrial production into banking and financial services with the boom of portfolio investment.

             For instance, the small countries of EU like Greece, Ireland were allowed to borrow money with interest rates equal to that of Germany, France. In other words, the small countries took advantage of the whole EU for their benefit.

             At the beginning of 2009, the long-term interest of EU countries’ government bonds reached an all-time low by the time the governments issued new bonds, but within a few weeks the bond market had undergone significant changes. As S&P’sRatings Services and Fitch Group began to examine Greece’s debt and ranked her bonds as junk, their bond interest statred to increase dramatically while the stock market index went down quite as dramatically.

             For example, IMF’s report on the 22nd of April 2010, stating that the economy of Portugal that was deteriorating, would grow less than forecasted and would not be able to reduce her deficit. This caused the interest on Portugal’s 10-year bond to increase significantly, and as at present Portugal, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Italy are countries that are almost certain to meet with extreme difficulties reducing their public debt.

             Nguyễn Sinh Cúc, “An overview on the economy of Vietnam in 2012 and a forecast for 2013”, Communist Magazine, Hanoi, Jan 2013, pp 69-73. The impact of the European public debt crisis on Vietnam’s export goods arenot very large owing to Vietnam’s exports mainly being necessaries. In 2012, the amount of goods exported did not decrease, yet did not increase as much as expected.

             In addition, accoding to general analysis, global FDI in general and of the EU in particular into Vietnam, aside from the present crisis, are subject to a number of limiting factors: (i) low general effectiveness of FDI, still mainly being assembly and processing projects with little value added and low capability to participate in the global value chain; (ii) low ratio ofdisbursed to registered capital, small project scale, many projects slow on the execution; (iii) the majority of technologies attracted via FDI is not modern and is only average compared to the world, very few firms bringing high technology; (iv) the number of employment created by FDI isnot high, as is the living quality of FDI firm employees, as well as an increasing number of labor disputes, (v) there appear many cases of price transfering and tax evading in FDI firms with an increasing level of sophistication (falsely raising the capital value, input costs, overheads, education and so on) to create “real profit, false losses”, (vi) low diffusion value to ofther economic sectors, and (vii) a number of projects cause environmental pollution and waste of resources.

             In 2012, GDP growth rate of Vietnam economy that was only 5.03% compared with that of 2011, was lowest growth rate since 2000 (Nguyễn Sinh Cúc, 2013, Ibid). In 2010, although GDP growth rate was 6.8%, but this rate attributed to estate bubble and consequence of economic stimulus packages of 2009 whose utilization was not stricly controlled and supervised , therefore was not used in proper manner.  

             In particular, there is a need to distinguish between two classes of goals and criteria for assessing the efficiency of public investment (for- and non-profit investment), alleviate the confusion between tcapital for forprofit and for nonprofit activities as well as the social responsibility of state-owned enterprises.

             This can be achieved by promoting equitization of SOEs, reduce the weight and number of SOEs of which the state owns controlling shares, only maintaining SOEs with 100% state capital in industries and fields that the state needs to maintain a monopoly, or hold a key role in the economy, or that the private sector cannot or is unwilling to takepart in. Additionally, this can also be done by promoting a multi-owner corportations where SOEs play a key role that can take on the role as the economy’s lead, while operating according to economic laws, on the basis of voluntary agreement and cooperation between independent legal entities.

             At present, the Credit Law of Vietnam permits this.

             Since 2007 the government of Vietnam has been spending more than the amount approved by the National Assembly on a yearly basis: In 2007, exceeding 31%; 2008 29%; 2009 46% and 2010 11%. (calculation based on the statistics on budget estimates approved by the National Assembly and the budget liquidation at the end of each year).

             In other words, all branches of central organs like the State Bank, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the General Office of Statistics and so on would be stationed on a region rather than provincial basis, as they are at the moment.

             Until the 31st of May 2012, the total outstanding debts of the banking system of Vietnamare around VND2,500 trillion. If we assume 10% of this figure is bad debt, it would have an absolute value of 250 trillion. According to senior banking expert, Mr Nguyen Tri Hieu, bad debts in Vietnam are around 15% (VND370 trillion) of which 50% (VND190 trillion) is irretrievable (according to international precedences), which is very large compared to the banking system’s provident fund (VND70 trillion). At the same time, State Bank Governor of Vietnam Nguyen Van Binh insinuated that the rate of bad debt is only 4.47% (around VND117 trillion) and 84% of all debts have collaterals worth 135% total outstanding debts. On the other hand, according to the banking inspectional body, the rate of bad debts is closer to 8.6% of outstanding debts (VND202 trillion).

             According to the 141-ND-CP decree dated the 22th November 2006, up to 31st December 2010, each private commercial bank has to have a minimum chartered capital of VND3 trillion (more than US$150 million). However, at that time there were 21 banks with a chatered capital less than VND2 trillion, 9 banks having a chartered capital between VND2 to VND3 trillion, and only 9 banks with a chartered capital of above VND3 trillion. At the meantime, the average global commercial bank has a typical chartered capital of US$1 to US$2 billion.

             Vũ Quang Việt, Crisis and the financial-credit system: Practical analysis in regard to the American and Vietnamese economy, Washington D.C., February 2013 .

             Labor (Người lao động), Market-dominating financial group, 23/1/2013, (http://nld.com.vn/20130123104917462p0c1002/tap doan tai chinh lung doan thi truong.htm)

Continue Reading
Comments

Economy

Agriculture Is Creating Higher Income Jobs in Half of EU Member States but Others Are Struggling

MD Staff

Published

on

Half of EU member states have leveraged the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to significantly reduce poverty and drive higher incomes in farming, while other countries are still lagging, according to the latest World Bank study.

The ‘Thinking CAP’ report details how new investments and services in farming, reinforced by the EU’s flagship agriculture policy, can drive down poverty and transform agriculture into a sector which can provide higher paying jobs for those who farm.

Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia, Denmark and the Netherlands are all examples of member states that have successfully modernized their agricultural sectors by providing advisory services, roads, secure property rights and access to education and health services in rural areas. Others, such as Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Greece, still have some way to go in reducing poverty and ensuring that agricultural work pays. They can do so by improving the basic conditions for a successful agricultural sector, which would improve the results of the financial investments available under the CAP. Other remaining member states fall in between these two categories – achieving a successful transformation or lagging behind.

“Agriculture and poverty in half of the member states of the EU no longer go hand-in-hand. It’s clear that the income gap between agriculture and other sectors is narrowing and in some countries, such as the Netherlands, agricultural work can pay more than jobs in other sectors,” says Arup Banerji, Regional Director for the European Union Countries at the World Bank. “Today, about half of EU member states recognize that farming can boost shared prosperity, while the other half still has some work to do to provide the basic conditions to bring about necessary structural changes.”

The World Bank report shows that the EU CAP is associated with improving employment conditions in farming. Decoupled payments – annual payments based on how much land a farmer uses – and the co-financing of on-farm investments do show clear links with improvements in agriculture. For instance, in the newer member states agricultural labor productivity growth increases from 3.1 percent to 4.7 percent per year with a 10 percent increase in this type of CAP spending. However, there are certain categories of subsidy – known as coupled payments, which reward farmers for producing a particular crop or livestock— for which the report could find no such association. In the past, these coupled payments also led to extreme overproduction and price distortion on global markets.

“Some countries are running before they can walk by issuing payments to farmers who don’t have the necessary infrastructure to effectively bring their products to market or to make the best use of their investment,” said Rogier van den Brink, Lead Economist at the World Bank. “However, the processes the CAP has put in place are impressive. The CAP casts a very wide net and reaches farmers in every far-flung corner of the EU. Because of this, improvements in the CAP along the lines of the recommendations outlined in our report will further strengthen its role as a powerful instrument of structural transformation.”

Going forward, the report says the monitoring of CAP funds should focus on delivering tangible results rather than confusing bureaucratic processes. This would also encourage the co-financing of private investment into CAP-supported projects which are in the public interest such as environmentally sound practices, organic farming and animal welfare.

Continue Reading

Economy

Economic Warfare and Cognitive Warfare

Published

on

Until not long ago, the Western world lived in the conviction that Liberalism was an end in itself, however, the new context of globalization suggests that political economics once again makes more sense, given that power relations in the economic sphere can no longer be ignored and  the idea that world trade is structured on supply and demand appears obsolete.

The world is changing. Situations change, and events and the ways of understanding politics change with them. Instruments change as well: if the aphorism of Clausewitz that war is politics conducted by other means once seemed valid, today we might say that politics (and economics) is war conducted by the means of information.

The threat is no longer limited to what we once thought and conceived in the geographical terms of one superpower attacking another. The threat today is asymmetrical, different, and changes continuously. It travels through the Internet, it is immediate, and above all, it threatens the entire system. It is not aimed at military or political targets but commercial, industrial, scientific, technological, and financial interests instead. This requires intelligence to structure itself around new duties: protect not only the entire system but also the weakest links in the chain of production.

All this requires changes in mentality and in operational processes, as well as continuous updating, especially at a business culture level. Most of all, it requires close interaction between intelligence and the private sector, despite the difficulties this entails.

The crisis we are currently undergoing, together with the industrial and commercial physiognomy characteristic of our era, requires us to consider the idea of “economic warfare” very closely.

It is essentially since the end of the Cold War that the balance of powers has been developed around economic issues: most governments today are no longer interested in occupying territory or dominating other peoples but rather building up technological, industrial and commercial power capable of bringing money and jobs to their own land.

Globalization has transformed competition from “gentle” and “limited” into authentic “economic warfare”.

Although this economic challenge reduces the areas available for military warfare, its ultimate goal of accumulating power and well-being is the same.

The national economic intelligence strategies recently adopted by numerous governments assign their private operatives central roles in maintaining security by providing them with information technology infrastructure and the primary asset in the digital age: data.

The step between protecting private economic activities and protecting national economic interests is a short one indeed.

Economic intelligence consists in coordinating a series of activities: collecting and processing information, monitoring competitors, keeping strategic information secret, and capitalizing knowledge for the purpose of controlling and influencing world economic environment. All this makes it a powerful weapon at the nation’s disposal.

The main players in economic warfare are:

First and foremost, the world’s nations, which remain the most influential regulators on the economic chessboard despite their relative decline in the life of nations and the various restrictions placed over them, such as those imposed by international organizations like the European Union. One important recent change is that now nations must take numerous stakeholders (NGO, international bodies, companies, mass media) into account. At any rate, they uphold the role of arbiter that all the other players only continue to emphasize by regularly imploring their intervention.

The world’s companies, which address the new hyper-competitive geo-economic scenario by using strategic information control as a weapon of competitiveness and economic security.

Civil society: the expansion of discussions on social issues regarding company activities (nutrition and well-being, technological progress and risks to public health industry, and the environment, transport and passenger safety, information technology and individual freedom), the mass use and democratization of Internet, and the growing involvement of the legal system in monitoring business operations, all increase the risks of hacking attacks against companies by hackers from civil society.  Including in the public discussion topics such as risks to the environment, sustainable development, socially responsible investment, and corporate social responsibility brings greater importance to the legitimacy of social questions.

The infosphere, which is not a category of physical persons or legal entities but instead a dynamic, that is the aggregate of interventions and messages spread through media and the worldwide web. The infosphere is a particularly insidious instrument similar to an amplifier that continuously jumbles and blends ideas, emotions, and impulses emitted by an infinite number of people without any real dominant subject and exerts a determinant influence – positive or negative as occurs – on individuals and organizations. When launched in the infosphere, a simple statement has the power to trigger ferocious argument, harsh political reaction, media crises, and damage to company reputations. The infosphere can become a particularly effective weapon of destabilization. We must never forget that a brand’s image and reputation are strategic components of the capital of a company that can affect its commercial and financial activities.

Which forms does economic warfare take?

Economic warfare is often confused with economic espionage, which despite being used as one of economic warfare’s weapons is hard to define both because the companies victimized are reluctant to publicize its incursion and because it is hard to circumscribe in juridical terms and therefore difficult to report.

A more commonly practiced form of economic warfare is the purchasing of companies. This may lead to authentic forms of surrounding the industries in any given territory through operations that reflect motivations of financial, economic and technological nature all at the same time.

Yet another form of economic warfare, which is both particularly widespread and insidious, is lobbying; in other words, an influencing strategy aimed directly at public decision-makers assigned to the drafting of regulations. Our nations are particularly plagued by the proliferation of regulations and one strategically important aspect of lobbying is attending and altering the process of creating, interpreting and/or applying regulations and legislative measures and directly or indirectly influencing public powers in every intervention or decision. International trade is largely based on influence, and therefore gaining closer access to decision-making centers has become an obligatory part of commercial competition.

All the practices above are included in influence strategy: influential communication is also the hardest to identify and oppose because it is perfectly legal. “Information war” is based on the following few simple principles that can wreck havoc when marshaled together:

  • moral argument, that is the possibility to induce a crisis on the basis of an ethical reasoning;
  • offending political correctness by disrupting the day’s cultural and psychological patterns;
  • choosing targets, in the sense that the weaker the legitimacy of the adversary’s capital, the more the information attack will provoke escalation in the media;
  • the degree of celebrity of the players;
  • the criterion of appropriateness or resonance of the environment.

The upheaval of the Western economies’ competitive system is not just a passing thing. A growing number of powers (China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, Russia) is conditioning the rapid shift in international competition. More often than not, the choice of winning dominance in foreign markets prevails over restructuring the nation’s own domestic markets. This demonstrates the extent to which a power strategy can make a decisive difference in the context of economic competition. These new players in international competition hold a different view of the dialectic between power and market, the latter being seen as the primary means to the increment of power. This vision revives the basic principles of political economics, according to which the market is the only path to power and not the other way around that has been demonstrated in numerous cases (such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s use of energy resources for coercive bargaining and blackmail in 2009) and illustrates the limits  of the interpretative models of liberal economists whose analyses were focused on the effects of deregulation, mergers, or financial speculation involving gas prices, but fell short of the possible use of gas trade as a weapon.

The process of globalization is irreversible and fairly independent of what governments do.  Globalization is one thing, but the ideology of a global free market that may produce a higher growth rate than any other system but gives no importance to how such growth is distributed is another. The argument that the highest capitalistic growth distributes resources in the best possible way, in fact, was never very convincing. Even Adam Smith thought that there were certain things the market could not do and should not do.

Historically speaking, the balanced evolution of world industry was created not by liberalism but by its opposite. The United States and Germany both became industrial powers in the 19th century because they protected their industries until they were able to compete against the dominant economy of the day: Great Britain. Neo-classical economic theories are now in disfavor because the system has come to be disrupted by scarce control over international financial flows and investment procedures.

Now more than ever, we are witnessing a struggle between the forces of capitalism, which tend to overcome every obstacle, and political forces that operate through nation states and are obliged to regulate these procedures. The laws of capitalist development are simple: maximize expansion, profit, and increase in capital. Governments by nature have different priorities instead, and this generates conflict. Furthermore, the dynamic of the global economy is one that does not ensure the stability of its protagonists.

The nation-state system and the economy system coexist in constant tension and must adapt, but if there were no relative stability among states, the instability of a world organized along the lines of transnational economy would only increase. The real problem is not whether governments can control the international corporations operating inside their borders, but whether they are able to exert global control: when companies and governments clash, the latter must negotiate as if there were another nation seated before them.

Like religions and cultures, globalization is only a simplified answer to today’s conflicts and the challenges to security. Globalization has most certainly reduced the importance of military power since the end of the 20th century, whereas security – internal security in particular – has become a global public asset. In the age of information technology, interdependence, and ”smart goods over heavy goods”, the military force offers less and costs more. Economic, technological, and especially communicative competition is more important and determinant than military strength.

The globalization of information has contributed to changing the nature of warfare by making public opinion decisive. In the short term, geo-information has become more important than geo-economy because its effects are immediate and not always governable. This is also a post-Cold War phenomenon.

In this context, the economy is no longer the mechanism of security as it was during Cold War, but on the contrary, security now serves the economy in creating better conditions for the expansion and protection of globalization. The nature of security depends on the situation prevailing in each nation and varies from one region to another, according to the respective level of globalization.

Consequently, it is the process of globalization that has restored political economics to importance and re-sparked a discussion formerly considered closed, according to which the market is the path to power and not the other way around, as it becomes an instrument of power politics in the globalization of exchange. The accumulation of power through economic expansion is the driving force behind the new emerging nations.

Yet today’s economic context must come to terms with new offensive strategies that undermine the industrial basis of the market economy and draw attention to the predatory policies of what may be defined as authentic economic warfare.

It is in this context that all companies, regardless of size, can be said to suffer damage from the absence of an economic security culture that only the use of intelligence, as a tool in analyzing predatory completion, can provide.

Interpreting the notion of national security including also the safeguarding of national interests requires information and security services to be ready to protect big companies or those of strategic significance, which the French refer to as “companies of national strategic importance” or “national champions”. These companies often – but not always – have their own information or security organizations that help them survive fiercer and fiercer competition.

In any case, in the field of economic intelligence the rules between the services of the various nations are more flexible, and it is easier to refer to others merely as competitors, neither friend nor enemy. This field is currently in the process of development, and European economic intelligence is still in embryonic phase.

The evolution of the information society has profoundly modified the frame of conflict. In the opinion of American analysts like John Arquilla and David Runfeldt, experts in netwar at Rand Corporation, the nation that wins tomorrow’s conflicts will not be the one with the biggest bomb, but the one that tells the best story.

In this sense, Americans have been referring to the key concept of information dominance since 1997. Defined as the control of anything that may be deemed information, this doctrine aspires at the moulding of the world by standardizing international practices and regulations to the American model, with the objective of placing decision-making bodies under control.

These experts note that it is sufficient to observe how American public opinion was mobilized during the invasion of Kuwait by a disinformation process planned at military level, or more precisely, at the level of psychological warfare. Information manipulation processes allow certain facts to be marginalized, and for this reason the domination of information has become a top priority in defining American strategy.

We may consider how the war in Iraq demonstrated the importance that manipulating information has assumed in international relations. The accusations made by G. W. Bush against Saddam Hussein regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction represent a textbook case in the history of disinformation.

On the other hand, we must be careful of jumping to conclusions about how cognitive warfare is waged: disinformation, or even worse, the manipulation and authentic distortion of information for the purpose of deceiving your adversary or ally is often mistakenly confused with the production of knowledge conceived to orient the rules of conduct.

In this regard, Harbulot emphasized the profoundly innovative role of information war in terms of strategy and its implications for companies.

It was naturally Harbulot’s intention to use cognitive warfare to protect the economic interests of French companies against their American competitors. If, in fact, conflicts ranging from the Gulf War to the War in Kosovo have demonstrated the overwhelming superiority of American military intelligence overseas, what room for maneuver remains open today for the managers of the intelligence service in Western Europe, who are responsible for defending the geo-economic interests of their nations against American interests? Harbulot’s answer is clear: this room for maneuver is constantly eroding, and a situation of near total paralysis has been reached in certain cases.

Closing this gap means modernizing the thought of Sun-Tzu, the Comintern, and Mao Zedong, and especially that of Winston Churchill, the first Western statesman to have orchestrated a plan for information warfare against Nazi Germany (Plan Jaël). In terms of disinformation, he represents British genius in deceiving the enemy on the dates and locations of invasion landings.

Naturally, the lack of legal provisions regarding the manipulation of knowledge raises serious concern for the economic security of European companies, which must consequently arm themselves with techniques capable of strategically managing economic information.

It is precisely in light of American political-military choices that French strategy discerned the need to define just what information war really is in the strictest terms. The expression used in French strategic context is “cognitive warfare”, which is defined as the capacity to utilize knowledge in circumstances of conflict.

In particular, the French School of Economic Warfare acknowledges in cognitive warfare the conflict between different capacities of obtaining, producing, and/or obstructing determined types of knowledge implicit in power relations that can be defined “weak against weak” or inversely, “weak against strong”.

Numerous examples that come from the world of industry testify that innovation in this field is not always necessarily made by the strongest. Naturally, the United States is the primary artifice of “strong against weak” cognitive thinking, such as, for example, in defense of its position as superpower at both military and informational level. This nation’s way of orienting its own and the other nation’s conduct implies its complete acquisition of the importance of cognitive warfare as the ability to have the images of single powers perceived by the world public opinion, a strong argument in the search for legitimacy that every democracy must acquire in national and international context. The United States has always – but especially after September 11 – stoked the legitimacy of its policies by emphasizing the defense of democracy and the need for global security as reasons to combat anti-democratic forces.

In today’s context of intense competition, destabilization plays a fundamental role. Harbulot suggests considering the example, that has become common practice in economic warfare, of a multinational company that decides to stop a competitor from developing a project in an emerging nation.

A cognitive warfare operation might take the following form:

Identification of the competitor’s weak points in the area in question (weaknesses may vary in nature: bribes paid to authorities, environmental pollution, failures to respect human rights). All the information collected must be verifiable and not give rise to fallacious interpretation.

The choice of the information attack procedure: if the cognitive aspect is considered, the following scenario may be imagined. The director assigned orders funds to be paid into a private foundation supported by the company. A trusted person at such foundation then channels this money to a NGO that has posed itself the objective of protecting the environment. The maneuver consists in then making the NGO aware of this dossier by indirectly providing it with verifiable (and therefore non-manipulated) information on the misdeeds of the competitor multinational. Through its Internet site, the NGO then sends negative messages against the competitor’s project. This is how the chain of knowledge is created. The next step required is knowing how to consciously activate it for the purpose of destabilizing the target.

The chief strength of the information attack lies not in deceiving or misinforming but instead in fomenting a pertinent dispute that has been demonstrated by objective facts. The level of conspiracy is limited to setting up and activating the information chain. The more “grounded” the diatribe is, the harder it will be for the adversary to demonstrate conspiracy, even if only in theory.

It is clear that the spread of new information technologies has brought competition exasperated levels and facilitated cognitive warfare, in such way triggering an unprecedented conflict that, in the opinion of the French analysts, exceeds even that of the Cold War.

Information has become another weapon in the art of war capable of making the difference between winning and losing, regardless of whether the conflict is military or economic.

Changes of such degree impose cultural revolution.

Then there is psychological warfare, one of the principal forms of information war. It is the most sophisticated because it relies essentially on human intelligence, in its capacity to understand possible actions for success by controlling the means of communication.

Little known and scarcely practiced in France, psychological warfare has never received much attention from the military establishment, which has often succumbed to the pressure of events or adversaries, as happened in Indochina and Algeria.

Psychological warfare employs every means available, from disinformation to deceit, from propaganda to interdiction, in clashes of various nature (from the battle against terrorism to conventional warfare and the subsidization of peace) and is moreover directed to public opinion for the purpose of conditioning or manipulating it.

The use of psychological weapons cannot be improvised and is based on an organized operative structure and conducted by specialized personnel and organizations.

Civil communication systems have by now reached levels of performance previously attained only by armed forces and governments. This has led to the accumulation of a critical mass such to enable a lowering of costs. For this reason, even if the conservation of certain autonomous military capacities is foreseen, the development of information systems for defense and intervention depends more and more on civil systems. This creates a vulnerability that might be underestimated in times of crisis or conflict.

The infosphere’s framework has become highly conflictual; information war has become inevitable and is waged with the function of appropriation (intelligence), interdiction (limitation of access to information) and manipulation (intoxication).

Economic intelligence provides a necessary response to a world with no more borders of time or space, where information is immediate and reaction time is zero. A re-organization of structures around the new dimension assumed by the relationship between information and intelligence leads to changes in both the decision-making system and the management of human resources. First and foremost of all, the revolution must be cultural in nature: perceiving information as a weapon to be incorporated into national defense strategy.

Continue Reading

Economy

“Made-in-Russia”: Securing Russia’s economic interests

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Published

on

Squeezed between the United States and European Union sanctions, Russia has been exploring effective ways to increase exports of its industrial products under “Made-in-Russia” program to traditional markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The primary strategic goal is to secure Russia’s economic interests abroad while at the same time support Russian industries in raising revenue to modernize Soviet-era industries. But increasing exports especially to African markets, Russia has to confront market competition from western players and Asian countries such as China, India and the Gulf states.

In a recent interview, Peter Fradkov, general director of the Russian Export Center (REC), has explained that Russia has been making every effort to avoid the “raw-materials” export model and focus on developing export-oriented industries and the launch of the Russian Export Center was a key step towards the development of a full-fledged national export support system.

The Soviet Union made a significant contribution to the social and economic development of African countries by building large industrial and infrastructure facilities and helping to establish national education and health care systems. However, in the 1990s the Russian-African relations came virtually to a standstill. At present, Russia’s foreign trade turnover with Africa is about 12 billion US dollars, which is a rather modest achievement. Nevertheless, the African continent remains a rather promising market for Russian industrial goods.

Admittedly, the Government authorities, and both Inter-Governmental Commissions and the REC, are primarily concerned with removing barriers for Russian exporters and opening up foreign markets for them in Africa. Reinforcement of positions of Russian exporters in Africa requires creation of certain conditions and the key task is penetration into the global market. For this purpose, the Russian Export Center has launched a program to promote Russian goods and services under a single country brand “Made in Russia” and in this context, Africa is a very important partner for us, though not an easy one.

He underscored the fact that “Russian manufacturers have a number of specific competitive advantages. Let’s take, for example, agricultural machinery. The main advantage of Russian products as compared to the counterparts by major foreign manufacturers is a lower price and almost the same level of capacity, quality and useful life.”

On the other hand, there are some difficulties still inherent in the Russia-African business partnership. According to Fradkov there are still insufficient awareness of the real economic opportunities, market conditions and specific counterparts in African markets by Russian businesses and poor awareness of capabilities of Russian partners for Africans.

“We are often faced with discriminatory barriers, which are there not because we are from Russia, but because we have just not thought about how to remove these barriers. Our primary task is to gradually change the thinking of Russian entrepreneurs, who are often skceptical about entering foreign markets, including Africa. Secondly, we strive to promote the image of Russia as a producer of diverse and high-quality products,” he underlined in the interview.

With new trends and directions in global business, African countries have to look to the Eurasian region as a huge market for exports as well as make efforts to consolidate and strengthen economic cooperation, says Tatiana Cheremnaya, the president of ANO “Center for Effective Development of Territories” and head of the working group on public-private partnership “Business Union of Eurasia” based in Moscow.

Cheremnaya discussed here three main points and are as follows: The problems of effective cooperation between Russia and Africa are political in nature. Thus, the strengthening of Russia’s position leads to the strengthening of its influence in the world, including in Africa and vice versa, sectional policy has significantly reduced Russian exports.

The second problem for the development of Russian-African business is the lack of competitiveness of Russia which allows working only in the low-budget segment. This is due to structural problems in the Russian economy, the need for modernization, the bulk of the products produced during the Soviet Union.

The third problem is competition from the United States, China and India as more developed countries with more advanced technological solutions, and from the European countries as the former “patrons” of African countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking part in a congress during the 11th Russian Business Week organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE) early February, discussed how innovative technology is reshaping the global business landscape. He, however, encouraged Russian industrialists and businesses participating in the forum to improve their business approaches in order have competitive advantages in the global market.

“This is the most important thing. And fundamentally fresh markets for goods and services will become available, and new leaders will appear as well. Naturally, competition will exacerbate. Clearly, in a situation like that, no one will be playing fair with their competitors, including in the global business environment,” Putin said.

Russia has trade centers established in Africa. But these Russian trade centers must necessarily embark on a “Doing Business in Africa” campaign to encourage Russian businesses to take advantage of growing trade and investment opportunities, to promote trade fairs and business-to-business matchmaking in key spheres in Africa.

Maxim Matusevich, an associate professor and director, Russian and East European Studies Program, at the Seton Hall University, told me in an interview that “in the past decade there was some revival of economic ties between Africa and Russia – mostly limited to arms trade and oil/gas exploration and extraction. Russia’s presence in Africa and within African markets continues to be marginal and I think that Russia has often failed to capitalize on the historical connection between Moscow and those African elites who had been educated in the Soviet Union.”

“It is possible that the ongoing crisis in the relations between Russia and the West will stimulate Russia’s leadership to look for new markets for new sources of agricultural produce. Many African nations possess abundant natural resources and have little interest in Russia’s gas and oil. As it was during the Soviet times, Russia can only offer few manufactured goods that would successfully compete with Western-made products. African nations will probably continue to acquire Russian-made arms, but otherwise, I see only few prospects for a diversification of cooperation in the near future,” added Maxim Matusevich.

Former Ethiopian ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation, professor Teketel Forssido has also explained that Russian businessmen think that business can be done from government to government levels (at the state levels) but in many countries business at the state levels has been complimented by private participation. Using government as an umbrella could be alright, countries such as India, China and others run businesses without government in Africa. The government, of course, has to clear the way for smooth business transactions.

“Russians are counting on the authorities to do business, but if they always rely on the state, business can be ineffective. That’s why Russians businessmen are slow as we have seen it,” he said.

According to Forssido Russia has to open its market for Africa and there are various ways to this. One surest way is to use the existing rules and regulations. The preferential treatments for agricultural products exist but Africans don’t use them. Then, individual countries have to negotiate with Russian government for their products to enter the market.

Further, the African regional economic blocs can be useful instruments because these blocs are very important and can work with their counterparts to facilitate trade between Africa and Russia. For instance, in COMESA and SADC zones in Africa, goods and services move freely, and now I think these blocs should look into the line of working as regional economic blocs with Russia.

“At the moment, China has done a lot in Africa despite worldwide criticisms. China is not the only player on the continent, but also India, Turkey and other serious players. But, when we talk about Russia, I think it’s not comparable. China has largely involved in Africa, practically in all sectors as we can see. We expect that Russia can do more if they want to, looking at their huge potential capability. They still have their own priorities, anyway,” he pointed out assertively.

As already known, Moscow’s long term goals include developing investment cooperation with African countries, widening the presence of Russian companies in the African markets through increased deliveries of industrial and food products, and enhancing Russian participation in driving the economic development of Africa. At the same time, Russia needs to look at simplifying access to its market for African countries.

In one of his speeches posted to the official website, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov noted frankly in remarks: “it is evident that the significant potential of our economic cooperation is far from being exhausted and much remains to be done so that Russian and African partners know more about each other’s capacities and needs. The creation of a mechanism for the provision of public support to business interaction between Russian companies and the African continent is on the agenda.”

Continue Reading

Latest

Newsletter

Trending

Copyright © 2018 Modern Diplomacy