Capital rich and ready to spend, China might be outplaying many Western rivals, even maybe Russia, in the Balkans. Chinese investments boost the influence, something already see in Africa. Is the Balkans next Chinese Africa – opportunities potent filed of contests with the west that loses its orientation, speed and grip?
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will soon visit Europe again to participate in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) – China Summit to be hosted in Belgrade. This visit is a continuation of last year’s 16+1 initiative held in Bucharest which appeared to offer considerable promise. At that meeting, leaders called for wide-ranging multilateral cooperation aimed at doubling trade and investment in five years.
The outcome of last year’s forum was a four-point proposal for a comprehensive, friendly and cooperative partnership. The main pillars of the proposal included enhancing political trust between China and CEE countries, exploring economic and trade potential, creating a large number of cooperative projects, and strengthening cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
One must ask why China seems so interested in the Balkans. Although some countries – Greece and Serbia are examples – may seem to have some appeal, China is in fact showing an overall interest in the region.
That interest appears to go beyond markets – in fact, the Balkan markets could be considered insignificant for trade. It also seems to go beyond the need to secure a source of commodities, although the Balkans are rich in natural resources. Rather, it appears that China is focused on infrastructure and access to Western European markets.
China’s long-term strategy views Serbia as a strategic partner in the region, and it believes that Belgrade can fill the role of a European transportation hub. An agreement to construct a high-speed railway between Belgrade and Budapest was signed in November 2013. With construction set to begin in 2015 and finish in just two years, the railway highlights China’s interest in infrastructure projects. The project, worth 2.5 billion euro ($3.112 billion), will be financed by the China Development Bank and executed by Chinese state-owned enterprises. Of note is the number of Chinese workers engaged in the project.
Take a closer look, and this approach suggests a Chinese strategy of ensuring greater access to Western Europe to promote its own commercial activities. One of Beijing’s aims is to advance the New Silk road project by accelerating investments in regional infrastructure links and creating a large network of ports, logistic centers, and railways to distribute Chinese products and bolster the speed of East-West trade.
The starting point in this network is the port of Piraeus in Greece, which has attracted continued and significant Chinese investment since 2009, partly through COSCO Pacific, a global shipping giant. Piraeus has subsequently become the main entry point for Chinese goods in Europe, shortening normal shipping times by one week. China has also shown interest in the port of Thessaloniki (Greece), among others in the region, including Bar in Montenegro.
China’s efforts to set up logistics bases started with the Thriasis hub in Greece and then continued in other countries of the region. A new and efficient railway route through the Balkans is the perfect picture of a speedy distribution network.
However, given the low productivity of the Balkans, we can surmise that China is prepared to sacrifice short-term profits while it focuses on pursuing a trade-substituting investment strategy. This approach would allow the Chinese to set up shop on the edge of the EU. That in turn could potentially allow Chinese companies to circumvent trade restrictions and export products directly to a market of 800 million people, thanks to free trade agreements that Balkans countries enjoy with the EU.
China also has an interest in uncovering the Balkan Peninsula’s unexploited business potential through long-term strategic investments. It is aiming to do so by penetrating local strategic markets, not only in infrastructure but also in energy, telecommunications and agriculture.
Especially attractive is the Balkan’s energy sector, where major Western utilities are unwilling to make risky investments. This market is giving China the opportunity to roll out its green expertise and compete on a global scale, aiming to become a leader in the clean energy market niche, based on the Green Credit Directive, which just celebrated its second anniversary.
In fact, China has already initiated many investments in the energy sector in Serbia, where an agreement worth 2 billion euro was signed with EPS, Serbia’s power utility. Agreements have also been made in Bosnia and Herzegovina, through the Stanari project, worth 350 million euro, among others in the region.
On the other hand, the debt-burdened Balkans, in urgent need of major rescue packages and infrastructure investment, are courting foreign investors. Lack of greenfield investment has been the main problem for the transitioning Balkan economies, which have received less than 1 percent of the world total. The loose regulation practices, lax public procurement rules, and labor regulations of the Balkans make the picture more appealing.
The CEE-China initiative looks similar to other Chinese market penetration strategies, one example being the China-Latin America Permanent Forum.
Chinese trade with Latin America has grown more than 20-fold over the last ten years, with China overtaking the European Union as Latin America’s second biggest trade partner. In this region, China has the largest share of two-way trade, imbuing the markets with Chinese exports and importing natural resources back home. Chinese investment in Latin America is also expanding, principally in the energy and natural resources sectors, with the objective to get closer to the big market of the United States.
It is clear that the Balkan economies are in bad shape and urgently need investment. China seems to recognize this, but setting up shop on the edge of EU is the first step towards striking deals inside it. Beijing is building assets and buying future stocks in a region closely linked with Western Europe. Capital rich and ready to spend, China might be outplaying many Western rivals in the Balkans.
Chinese investment will no doubt present opportunities to buy influence – a fact that will need to be carefully assessed by EU concerns.
Permitted by and taken from the www.thediplomat.com (under title: China’s Balkan Gamble – Why is China investing so much in the debt-burdened Balkans?)
Russians Need to Strategise Trade with Africa
Russian business lobbying groups, together with about 40 business and industry heads, have shown interest in exporting their products to markets in Africa but found it difficult to access facilitation procedures in some of the countries.
To understand some of the processes and procedures, Nonna Kagramanya, the Vice President of Delovaya Rossia (Business Russia), moderated a special seminar to constructively discuss emerging issues and possible solutions on various foreign economic tracks. Representatives of governments, development institutions, private businesses as well as Southern and Eastern African diplomats attended the event.
She said despite the relatively small trade turnover with African countries, Russian companies were very interested in establishing stable long-term contacts with African partners.
As a first step, Ms. Kagramanya proposed the creation of a permanent discussion-line for all interested participants of the seminar to discuss a set of priority problems and barriers when working with Africa.
Polina Slyusarchuk, Head of Intexpertise (St. Petersburg-based African focused Consultancy Group), questioned whether Russia has a broader Africa policy or long-term strategy in there.
“Today, Russia wants to deepen its understanding of the business climate and explore trade and partnership opportunities in Africa,” she underscored.
While meetings organised between Russia and Africa have to be used to discuss thoroughly how to trade, efforts should be made to remove or lessen some of the barriers for mutual benefits. Now Russia’s main goal is to decide what it can offer that foreign players haven’t yet been made available in the African market.
Contributing to the discussion, the General Director of Intelnexus, Anatoly Yakimenko, introduced the participants to the opportunities for the development of Russian-African business cooperation, noting the favourable and hindering factors in the African market.
He stressed the need for potential exporters of Russia to adopt high-tech production and solutions to expand initiatives for more effective positioning of high-tech companies in Africa.
The Deputy Director of the Department of Asia, Africa and Latin America of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, Alexander Dianov, spoke about the non-financial support measures for Russian companies operating within the department.
“Currently, there are 10 intergovernmental commissions between the Russian Federation and African countries,” he said.
At the same time, he said: “There are trade missions only in four African countries, and if you take sub-Saharan African countries, the trade mission operates effectively only in South Africa. It is obvious that there is something to work on in terms of developing the infrastructure to support Russian businesses. If there is a serious request from the business community, we are ready to expand the geography of our presence.”
A representative of the Russian Export Centre (REC) in Africa, Dmitry Suchkov, drew the attention of companies to the need for in-depth analysis of national programmes of economic and investment development of African countries.
He spoke about the initiatives of the Coordinating Committee for Economic Cooperation with Sub-Saharan Africa.
Natalia Zaiser, the Chairperson of the Board of the African Business Initiative, pointed to the problems of ensuring security and stable “rules of the game,” as well as the need to identify five priority areas of business cooperation on the medium and long term perspectives for individual countries.
Representatives of the embassies of Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa spoke about the integration processes on the African Continent, the potential of regional markets and national development initiatives.
Members of diplomatic missions also noted the greatly unrealised potential of cooperation between Russia and African countries, and interest in attracting investments in infrastructure, education and many other sectors.
They called for a wider interaction between African business circles and Russian businesses.
During the discussion, the participants mentioned high import duties, complicated certification procedure, high cost of products, expensive logistics, security and guarantee issues, and information vacuum as some of the barriers to Russian-African trade and economic cooperation. However, the participants agreed on the need to develop a comprehensive strategy for Russia to work with Africa.
Curating a Vision with Young African Entrepreneurs
How can young people be involved in creating a future of work that is decent, equitable and bright? This November I was fortunate enough to take part in an event with this mandate at its heart.
The Youth Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment Forum (YES Forum) in Dakar, Senegal was co-organised by the ILO and our partners in the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth. It was a collaborative effort supporting young entrepreneurs in the region, and it was a joy to see this vision becoming real during the two-day event – with young entrepreneurs shining at different stages of the YES Forum.
More than 30 young entrepreneurs took on active speaking roles across the discussion sessions, a “Dragon’s Den” style pitching competition, and the Marketplace. This Marketplace offered participants the opportunity to float in between booths and to have one-on-one interactions with the presenting entrepreneurs and organisations.
The vibrant tone was set at the very start, with all participants given hand-made, customised notebooks, the product of an all-female team led by entrepreneur Ndey Fatou Njie for her business TIGA Gambia. TIGA Gambia is now an all-around fashion and accessories retailer, but originally zoomed in on providing locally-inspired swimwear – a large market gap that Ndey spotted and filled!
Not only were the TIGA Gambia notebooks a showstopper, they were also a colourful and popular extension of the empowering message of the YES Forum.
The innovative and vibrant spirit of entrepreneurs in their element was palpable all through the Forum, but shone particularly during the networking lunch and the Marketplace. It was difficult to lure the participants back into the plenary after these events, because they were so busy talking, forging synergies and building contacts.
While the young entrepreneurs embraced their speaking opportunities to the fullest, they also created a wonderfully inclusive setting that allowed everyone’s successes to be seen and recognised. I was particularly touched when the pitching competition winner, Malick Diouf, CEO of LAfricaMobile, immediately called his three competitors onto the stage to congratulate them on their incredible work.
Malick was humble about his win but his company deserves a special shout-out. LAfricaMobile serves as a digital bridge between African media publishers and organizations wanting to disseminate their content to the African diaspora. As a comms aficionado I was particularly impressed by how effortless their SMS service is in helping the African diaspora connect to what is going on in their home countries.
All in all, the YES Forum left a lasting impression on me for two reasons: Firstly because of the level of mutual support and cooperation that the young entrepreneurs showed, and secondly because the Forum truly catered for these young entrepreneurs and allowed them to share their stories and to explore collaboration. I believe it will leave a lasting result – of stronger alliances and greater empowerment.
Mariama Johm, founder of Afri Taste, a Banjul health joint that combats fruit and vegetable waste, summed up the atmosphere in her remarks during the Young Global Entrepreneurs panel: “I am glad we have the youth actually speaking here. We, young entrepreneurs, want to speak and let policymakers hear from us – not only here, but we want to make governments take into consideration what we are saying and that they should not make decisions on our behalf.”
Easing US-China trade tensions could save millions of jobs
Millions of jobs in the Asia and Pacific region have been put at risk by conflicts over trade, despite a recent agreement not to escalate tit-for-tat tariffs by the United States and China, according to a new regional UN report.
The 2018 Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report, issued by the UN’s development arm in the region, ESCAP, suggests that an escalating “tariff war” and resulting drop in confidence next year, could cut nearly $400 billion from the global gross domestic product, drive regional GDP down by $117 billion.
“As production shifts take place and resources are reallocated across sectors and borders due to the trade conflicts, tens of millions of workers may see their jobs displaced and be forced to seek new employment,” said Mia Mikic, the head of Trade, Investment and Innovation Division at ESCAP.
That said, the report also noted trade tensions have already had had a major impact, resulting in disruptions to existing supply chains and dampening investment. Trade growth slowed after the first half of 2018, and foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to the region are also expected to continue on a downward trend next year, following a 4 per cent drop overall this year.
In such a scenario, regional investment will be key to creating new economic opportunities, says Ms. Mikic, adding that “complementary policies” such as labour, education and retraining, and social protection measures must be placed high on the policymaking agenda.
This is also critical for ensuring progress on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), she said.
ESCAP has also called on countries to take full advantage of all existing initiatives to strengthen regional cooperation, including a new UN treaty on digitalizing trade procedures and enabling cross-border paperless trade in the zone.
‘Trade war’ has no winners
The report has also underscored that neither China nor the US can win a “trade war”, explaining that “both will see significant economic losses from continuing conflict.”
It also finds that implementation of mega-regional trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, among the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its six partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea – could offset much of the economic losses from trade tensions.
The 2018 report estimates that implementation of such agreements could boost exports by 1.3 to 2.9 per cent and add 3.5 to 12.5 million jobs in the Asia-Pacific.
ESCAP, or the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific is largest among UN regional commissions. Its 53 member States and 9 associate members span a geographic area from the Pacific island of Tuvalu in the east to Turkey in the west, and Russia in the north to New Zealand in the south. The region is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population.
In addition to countries in the Asia-Pacific region, ESCAP’s membership also includes France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the US.
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