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Kazakhstan joins currency war as tenge plummets after float

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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Welcome to the Caspian Daily, where you will find the 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region. We appreciate ideas, reports, news and interesting articles. Send along to Caspian[at]moderndiplomacy.eu or on Twitter: @DGiannakopoulos

1Kazakhstan switched to a floating exchange rate, creating fears that the world is about to witness a new round of “currency wars.” After currency devaluations in neighboring Russia and China, oil and mineral-rich Kazakhstan’s currency fell 36 percent overnight after its government introduced a floating exchange rate for its currency, the tenge. While Kazakhstan’s economy is more dependent on oil prices than Russia’s, it has been able to avoid currency devaluations until now. After the country’s currency collapsed, many stores closed, apparently to change price tags. The Alser electronics store in the central department store of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city hung up a sign saying it is “closed for technical reasons.” [Sputnik]

2Iran, Kazakhstan discuss launching energy trade zone. Iran, Kazakhstan’s provincial officials discussed mutual ties, including establishment of a free trade zone of energy, oil and gas in the Caspian Sea. Rabi’ Fallah Jolodar the governor-general of Iran’s Mazandaran Province and Rakimbek Amirjanov a deputy governor-general of Kazakhstan’s Mangystau Province have conferred over ways to further develop bilateral ties, Fars News Agency reported August 19. During the meeting, the two sides focused on the establishment of a free trade zone of energy, oil and gas in the Caspian Sea. Amirjanov noted that launching the Aktau-Sari flight would further facilitate economic cooperation between the two provinces.Data released by Iran’s Customs Administration shows last year Iran exported $205.11 million of non-oil goods to Kazakhstan while importing $175.95 million worth non-oil goods.

3Russian lawmakers are calling the largest allied airborne drills in Europe since the Cold War a threat and provocation rather than a defensive exercise. The war games, dubbed Swift Reponse 15, involve nearly 5,000 soldiers from 11 NATO countries flying across Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania, and will continue from August 15 to September 13.In announcing the games August 18, the U.S. Army said they were aimed at demonstrating “high-readiness” and the capacity to maintain “a strong and secure Europe.”But Vladimir Komoyedov, head of the State Duma Defense Committee, said August 19 that Russia in response is keeping its forces “on alert.”Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Federation Council International Affairs Committee, said the exercises are egging on a recent escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine.”Conducting large-scale NATO drills is tantamount to conducting an operation to cover or support another adventure of Kyiv.” He said the “hyper exercise” is actually undermining security in Europe rather than increasing it. “Europe is secure and strong precisely when sabers are rattled less,” he said.

4IS Releases Russian Propaganda App. Islamic State (IS) militants from the extremist group’s Russian-speaking faction have released a propaganda app for Google’s popular Android platform. The app, called Caucas, is not available through the Google Play Store, where Android users obtain mainstream apps. Instead, it was made available for download on August 18 via links posted on sites such as archive.org, a U.S.-based digital archive that IS often uses to post videos. The app provides several types of IS propaganda in Russian. [RFERL]

5Almaty among Top 100 liveable cities. Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) rated 140 cities by livability. The cities were ranked based on “stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure”. Almaty landed on the 100th place of the rating earning 65.3 points out of 100. The City of Apples earned 77 points for stability, 66.7 for healthcare, 57.6 for culture and environment, 66.7 for education and 60.7 for infrastructure. [Tengrinews]

6Azerbaijan has developed six projects under the Harmonizing Digital Markets Initiative and submitted them to the European Commission for financing, according to remarks made by Tofig Babayev on August 17. The director of the Regional Information Technologies Academy told Trend that the main projects to be financed in 2016-2017 will be determined by the end of 2015.”The projects developed in six areas of HDM Initiative, including e-customs, e-commerce, e-business, and e-security, will be further implemented in Azerbaijan,” he noted. The HDM Initiative includes countries of the Eastern Partnership (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia).

7What makes Kazakhstan right for the bank deal? “Kazakhstan is home to some of the world’s most abundant uranium deposits, making it a key contributor to nuclear fuel supplies around the globe. In 2011, Kazakhstan increased uranium production to almost 20,000 tonnes, making it the largest uranium-producing country. Russia, China and Japan all export significant percentages of their uranium supplies from Kazakhstan. Although Kazakhstan currently does not generate nuclear power, the country is exploring assistance from Russia and Japan to construct nuclear power plants” [Gulf News]

8Russia’s top diplomat has said his country doesn’t care about the United States’ unilateral sanctions against Iran over the delivery of the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system to the Islamic Republic. “The U.S. sanctions are no concern of ours,” Sergei Lavrov said on August 19, emphasizing that Moscow stands only by its own international commitments, Press TV reported. This came as Washington voiced concern a day earlier over delivery of the S-300 missiles to the Islamic Republic. John Kirby, U.S. State Department spokesman, said that Washington is concerned about the delivery of the defense system to Tehran despite the fact the move does not violate any UN Security Council resolutions.

9The oil sector, which determined direct investments in Azerbaijan for two months running, failed to restore this status for March-July. In July direct investments in the Azerbaijan’s oil sector increased by 2.1% against June providing only 47.9% of all investments in the economy against 64.1% in January, abc.az reports. The State Statistics Committee (SSC) informs that over Jan-Jul 2015 it was invested AZN 4.125 bn in the oil sector ($3.9 bn on the exchange rate by the end of reported period of AZN 1.0495 to the US dollar) that is by 19.57% higher against the 2014 same term. The non-oil sector was invested AZN 5.2 bn (-6.7%). Oil investments for the reported period made up 44% and non-oil investments -56% of all investments in the economy.

10Iran is going to inaugurate eight new petrochemical projects during the current Iranian fiscal year, Ali Mohammad Bosaqzadeh, an official with the Iranian National Petrochemical Industries Company, said. He added that Iran’s petrochemical production increased by 4 percent in the current Iranian calendar year (since March 21). According to Bosaqzadeh, 18 million metric tons of petrochemical products were produced from March 21 to July 22. He said eight petrochemical firms across the country had productions above 90 of their nominal capacities in the meantime.During the period, Iran sold about 4.4 million metric tons of petrochemical products worth 860 trillion rials ($28.8 billion) in the domestic market.

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine. follow @DGiannakopoulos

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World Bank Group Releases Little Data Book on Gender

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The World Bank Group today released the Little Data Book on Gender 2019 to provide an easily accessible entry point to statistics tracking gaps between men and women, boys and girls for 217 economies around the world with comparable data for 2000 and 2017.

In addition to demographic and economic information, the Little Data Book on Gender indicators include the proportion of women and men who use the internet, sex-disaggregated smoking prevalence, and the percentage of female graduates from science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs in tertiary education.

The book includes two indicators from the Women, Business and the Law database: the length of paid maternity leave and whether women are legally able to work in the same industries as men.

“Progress in eliminating poverty and ensuring shared prosperity can be enhanced and accelerated when we have good data,” said Caren Grown, World Bank Group Senior Director for Gender. “The Little Data Book on Gender offers policymakers and development practitioners easy access to data on males and females in the domains in which we work – health, education, and economic life.  As sex-disaggregated data becomes increasingly available, there is no excuse to not use it in our policy dialogue and to inform choices about interventions.”

This edition of the Little Data Book on Gender also features online tables that will be updated quarterly.

“Regular online updates will make it easier than ever to see how women and men are faring across a range of global indicators, and to track progress over time,” said Haishan Fu, Director, Development Data Group. “This supplements the fuller, curated data and analysis tools provided by the World Bank Group, including through the Gender Data Portal.”

The Little Data Book on Gender shows remarkable broad progress toward gender equality in education enrollment and health, while gender inequality remains stubbornly persistent in access to economic opportunities. On virtually every global measure, the Little Data Book on Gender reveals that women are more likely than men to be engaged in low productivity activities, and to work more in vulnerable employment.

The Little Data Book on Gender can be accessed online through the World Bank’s Gender Data Portal, and can be used by researchers, journalists, policy makers, and anyone interested in gaps between men and women.

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UNIDO and Italy further strengthen cooperation with focus on Africa and innovative partnerships

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The Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), LI Yong, spoke at the opening ceremony of the ‘International Cooperation Expo: job creation and innovation for sustainable development’ (EXCO 2019), which was organized under the patronage of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, the European Commission and IFAD.

“I welcome the organization of the EXCO, as it is very clear that the ambitious goals of the 2030 Agenda cannot be achieved by one country or by one institution alone,” said Li. “Our experience shows that a multilateral approach, and particularly working in partnerships, is key to addressing these challenges.”

The UNIDO Director General then opened the UNIDO International Award Ceremony, ‘Innovative ideas and technology on agribusiness’, as well as the ‘EXCO 2019 Hackathon: solutions for sustainable development’, with both also taking place in the Fiera di Roma. Organized by the UNIDO Investment and Technology Promotion Office (ITPO) in Italy jointly with the Future Food Institute, the Award Ceremony invited submissions of the best technologies and the most innovative and sustainable worldwide solutions in the agriculture and agro-industry sectors.

“The role of UNIDO and in particular the interventions by our ITPO network to transfer new technologies and sustainable production models including investments are fundamental to overcome barriers and help countries achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda,” said the UNIDO Director General. “Indeed, this award aims to support developing countries with innovative models to increase production in a sustainable manner and to build a resilient agribusiness environment.”

Li also met with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Emanuela Claudia Del Re, to discuss scaling-up interventions in the agribusiness sector, including with long-standing private sector partners such as Illy Caffé, also how to benefit from the important expertise and interest of the Italian private sector. During their meeting, the Director General and the Deputy Minister also discussed opportunities to diversify the ongoing cooperation to new sectors of mutual interest, such as energy and the environment.

“The significant and vital relationships between UNIDO and the Italian Government for implementing development initiatives in the partner countries of the Italian Development Cooperation have been reviewed,” said Del Re. “From the Italian side, interest has been shown toward the new approach set by UNIDO in defining integrated projects with the private sector, such as the new initiative ‘UNIDO partnership model for de- risking investments in the Ethiopian coffee sector’.”

The UNIDO Director General also met Executive Vice President of ENI, Alberto Piatti, together with Director General of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Giorgio Marrapodi, to explore cooperation opportunities, notably in the field of applied research on energy as well as agro-value chains.

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Small Business in Kosovo to Gain Improved Access to Finance with World Bank Support

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors has approved the Kosovo Financial Sector Strengthening Project, to improve access to finance for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), including startups, young entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses, by strengthening the financial and technical capacity of the Kosovo Credit Guarantee Fund (KCGF). The financial support for the project is €22.3 million ($25 million equivalent).

“The World Bank is pleased to support Kosovo authorities’ efforts to increase access to finance and ultimately enhance private sector job creation,” said Marco Mantovanelli, World Bank Country Manager for Kosovo.

The project will provide funds through the Ministry of Finance to KCGF to issue credit guarantees to support access to finance to MSMEs. As these types of businesses dominate the real economy and the labor market, improving their access to finance will support job creation and economic growth. With a focus on the underserved and productive segments of the economy, the project has the potential to directly impact poverty reduction, especially among youth and women. Currently, some creditworthy MSMEs do not have access to finance due to high collateral requirements, lack of credit history, or lack of financial reporting. The project will focus on these firms along with improving financial terms for firms who already have access to finance. It also aims to crowd in private sector funds to financing MSMEs by providing support to the partial guarantee scheme.

The project will support KCGF to develop special products targeted to women-owned businesses, startups and young entrepreneurs and develop monitoring and evaluation framework to track financial and economic impact of beneficiaries of KCGF.

This initiative is financed with a credit from the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank Group. IDA credits are provided on concessional terms with zero or very low interest rates and long repayment periods. The financing for this project has a maturity of 30 years, including a 5-year grace period. The KCGF, a local, independent, sustainable, credit guarantee facility, will be responsible for the implementation of the project. KCGF enjoys full operational and administrative autonomy. It offers credit guarantees to Registered Financial Institutions on selected loans to MSMEs.

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