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Russia: Facilitating Trade with Africa

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Interview with Maxim Chereshnev

Russian Export and Investment Fair (REIF) to be held on 19-20 November 2015, for the first time, will gather high level participants from more than 50 countries and 80 regions in Russia. The purpose of the REIF is to create an international platform for professional dialogue of the business community.

The REIF is designed to help government leaders, representatives of ministries, departments, business corporations and industries from across the world to meet new partners. It will also offer participants the opportunity to receive up-to-date information on the current trends, challenges and prospects of development of export and investment activities of world-class professionals as well as to expand the circle of business contacts.

In this exclusive interview, Maxim Chereshnev, the Chairman of the Board of the Council for the Development of Foreign Trade and International Economic Relations, explains to Kester Kenn Klomegah about the significance of the forthcoming corporate business event.

What are the key objectives of the forthcoming Russian Export and Investment Fair scheduled for November in Moscow?

Russian trade and economic development council jointly with Agency of Strategic Initiatives have initiated this Fair as the first platform in Russia for direct business community international dialogue. After examining the experience in events organizations in other part of the world, particularly in China, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore, the decision was made to adopt the best practices in Russia. Indeed, REIF is aimed at providing business with opportunities for meetings and the beginning of cooperation between Russian and foreign companies. Within REIF it will be possible to present export and import possibilities of Russian and foreign companies, their investment projects, to attend training courses and seminars, to arrange b2b sessions as a way of sharing views and so forth.

Is this an effort directed at promoting Russian export products and services as Vladimir Putin has urged businesses to do?

As President Vladimir Putin noted in his message to the Federal Assembly, raising business development, diversification of economy and non-resource export are key priorities for economic prosperity of Russia. RTEDC as a trade promotion organization is exactly aimed at global communication development and mutually beneficial business relations strengthening in compliance with the governmental politics. RTEDC activity and REIF initiative definitely suit investment promotion, trade facilitation and export support of Russian companies as instruments for new opportunities creating for small and medium enterprises.

Do you think that the Fair can help stimulate export transactions and the flow of corporate business deals abroad?

REIF is a result of long and hard work on strengthening b2b communication between Russian and foreign companies. RTEDC has a range of 20 priority countries for collaboration. RTEDC special representatives and chairmen of profile RTEDC committees for cooperation with these countries assist to different business cases realization which RTEDC deals with. These are examples of private business interest. Without doubts, REIF will lead to growth of general mutual interest, demonstrate facilities of Russian companies and highlight favorable conditions for active business interaction. Prearranged meetings and business matching will allow to find partners and investors for projects realization both abroad and in Russia. REIF is not just fair but also the platform where participants will get opportunity to negotiate and to make agreements with new partners. After REIF, RTEDC will provide companies with full assistance in all communications.

As it shows, so who should attend this Russian Export and Investment Fair? Can we expect something new in terms of foreign participation?

Foreign manufactures and companies which are interested in localization in Russia or in joint production, companies which search for projects and investment to Russia or those business representatives that are looking for export from Russia or would like to present their own products and technologies as well as Russian export companies, Russian regional representatives are invited for participation in this business event. We suppose that matchmaking and working sessions will be really useful for mutual benefits of REIF exponents and guests. REIF would specially welcome companies from Asian and African countries as participants and visitors. Thus, nowadays perspectives of business contacts between Russian and African business are actually underestimated, however, there are a huge number of opportunities for technology exchange, trade promotions, mutual investment between Russia and South Africa, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Egypt, Kenya and other African countries.

How important is this corporate business event for Africa?

Import substitution policy in Russia and general course on economic diversification are favorable for other countries to export/import relations development and investment with Russian companies. It includes interests of African countries within their economic development and independence from traditional and new monopolists in African markets. At present African continent with its total economic growth rate 5-5,5% per year on average attracts attention of international business community. It puts Africa on the second place in the world growth rates.

According to forecasts by 2033 African GDP will reach to East Europe figures, including Russia, and by 2039 – to Latin America rate. It’s pleasure to note that Russia and African states have a long story of relations. Import of coffee, cacao, tea, citrus, sea products from African states is important for Russia. At the same time Russia is interested in African market for joint production and export of technical, military, industrial equipment and services in satellite communications, geological survey and power engineering.

Some Russian companies such as Gazprom, ALROS, RusAl, Norilsk Nickel and others are already operating in Africa. Moving on, Russia is the 5th country in total volume of investment among all states in Africa. What is very important today is the fact that new opportunities are arising for small and medium enterprises of Russia and Africa for their collaboration. For instance, agricultural, high-tech, medicine, energy-saving technologies, logistics and infrastructure projects are really perspective for strengthening Russia-African economic cooperation. That’s why we invite participants from Africa for establishing closer contacts and continue cooperating in key sectors of the economy. We call on all interested companies and organizations to register on REIF website (www.rusfair.com) and provide us with information about their needs and requests from this first Russian Export and Investment Fair.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage

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coronavirus people

The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.

In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.

In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.

From our partner RIAC

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Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery

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Lunzu market in southern Malawi. WFP/Greg Barrow

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal support and fragile health systems. The pandemic has plunged the continent into its first recession in over 25 years, and vulnerable groups such as the poor, informal sector workers, women, and youth, suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunities and unequal access to social safety nets.

Fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine acquisition—alongside widespread testing, improved treatment, and strong health systems—are critical to protecting lives and stimulating economic recovery. In support of the African Union’s (AU) target to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, the World Bank and the AU announced a partnership to assist the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources, allowing countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million Africans. This extraordinary effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising cases in the region.

I am convinced that unless every country in the world has fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we will not stem the spread of the pandemic and set the global economy on track for a steady and inclusive recovery. The World Bank has taken unprecedented steps to ramp up financing for Malawi, and every country in Africa, to empower them with the resources to implement successful vaccination campaigns and compensate for income losses, food price increases, and service delivery disruptions.

In line with Malawi’s COVID-19 National Response and Preparedness Plan which aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, the World Bank approved $30 million in additional financing for the acquisition and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This financing comes as a boost to Malawi’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project, bringing World Bank contributions in this sector up to $37 million.

Malawi’s decision to purchase 1.8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines through the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) with World Bank financing is a welcome development and will enable Malawi to secure additional vaccines to meet its vaccination target.

However, Malawi’s vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs. These concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fueling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic’s impact on the health and welfare of billions of people.  The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60 percent by the end of 2023 from the current 2.2 percent.

Government leadership remains fundamental as the country continues to address vaccine hesitancy by consistently communicating the benefits of the vaccine, releasing COVID data, and engaging communities to help them understand how this impacts them.

As we deploy targeted resources to address COVID-19, we are also working to ensure that these investments support a robust, sustainable and resilient recovery. Our support emphasizes transparency, social protection, poverty alleviation, and policy-based financing to make sure that COVID assistance gets to the people who have been hit the hardest.

For example, the Financial Inclusion and Entrepreneurship Scaling Project (FInES) in Malawi is supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises by providing them with $47 million in affordable credit through commercial banks and microfinance institutions. Eight months into implementation, approximately $8.4 million (MK6.9 billion) has been made available through three commercial banks on better terms and interest rates. Additionally, nearly 200,000 urban households have received cash transfers and urban poor now have more affordable access to water to promote COVID-19 prevention.

Furthermore, domestic mobilization of resources for the COVID-19 response are vital to ensuring the security of supply of health sector commodities needed to administer vaccinations and sustain ongoing measures. Likewise, regional approaches fostering cross-border collaboration are just as imperative as in-country efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. United Nations (UN) partners in Malawi have been instrumental in convening regional stakeholders and supporting vaccine deployment.

Taking broad, fast action to help countries like Malawi during this unprecedented crisis will save lives and prevent more people falling into poverty. We thank Malawi for their decisive action and will continue to support the country and its people to build a resilient and inclusive recovery.

This op-ed first appeared in The Nation, via World Bank

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An Airplane Dilemma: Convenience Versus Environment

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Mr. President:  There are many consequences of COVID-19 that have changed the existing landscape due to the cumulative effects of personal behavior.  For example, the decline in the use of automobiles has been to the benefit of the environment.  A landmark study published by Nature in May 2020 confirmed a 17 percent drop in daily CO2 emissions but with the expectation that the number will bounce back as human activity returns to normal.

Yet there is hope.  We are all creatures of habit and having tried teleconferences, we are less likely to take the trouble to hop on a plane for a personal meeting, wasting time and effort.  Such is also the belief of aircraft operators.  Add to this the convenience of shopping from home and having the stuff delivered to your door and one can guess what is happening.

In short, the need for passenger planes has diminished while cargo operators face increased demand.  Fewer passenger planes also means a reduction in belly cargo capacity worsening the situation.  All of which has led to a new business with new jobs — converting passenger aircraft for cargo use.  It is not as simple as it might seem, and not just a matter of removing seats, for all unnecessary items must be removed for cargo use. They take up cargo weight and if not removed waste fuel.

After the seats and interior fittings have been removed, the cabin floor has to be strengthened.  The side windows are plugged and smoothed out.  A cargo door is cut out and the existing emergency doors are deactivated and sealed.  Also a new crew entry door has to be cut-out and installed. 

A new in-cabin cargo barrier with a sliding access door is put in, allowing best use of cargo and cockpit space and a merged carrier and crew space.  A new crew lavatory together with replacement water and waste systems replace the old, which supplied the original passenger area and are no longer needed.

The cockpit gets upgrades which include a simplified air distribution system and revised hydraulics.  At the end of it all, we have a cargo jet.  If the airlines are converting their planes, then they must believe not all the travelers will be returning after the covid crisis recedes.

Airline losses have been extraordinary.  Figures sourced from the World Bank and the International Civil Aviation Organization reveal air carriers lost $370 billion in revenues.  This includes $120 billion in the Asia-Pacific region, $100 billion in Europe and $88 billion in North America.

For many of the airlines, it is now a new business model transforming its fleet for cargo demand and launching new cargo routes.  The latter also requires obtaining regulatory approvals.

A promising development for the future is sustainable aviation fuel (SAP).  Developed by the Air France KLM Martinair consortium it reduces CO2 emissions, and cleaner air transport contributes to lessening global warming.

It is a good start since airplanes are major transportation culprits increasing air pollution and radiative forcing.  The latter being the heat reflected back to earth when it is greater than the heat radiated from the earth.  All of which should incline the environmentally conscious to avoid airplane travel — buses and trains pollute less and might be a preferred alternative for domestic travel.

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