Over the past few years, Russian companies have shown an increasing interest towards investment and preparedness to compete with other foreign players in Africa, but they have also complained bitterly of lack of state financial support and investment credit guarantees from policy banks and money-lending institutions.
China, India and Japan, and more recently the United States have provided funds to support companies ready to carry out projects in various sectors in African countries.
This situation has sparked discussions among policy experts. For instance, Dr Martyn Davies, Chief Executive Officer of the South African based Frontier Advisory (Pty) Ltd, does not think that the Chinese model of financing various infrastructure and construction projects in Africa is replicable considering the current structure/nature of the Chinese policy banking system, adding that Russia’s banking sector operates quite differently.
There are now approximately 50 leading Chinese state-owned enterprises that are all Fortune 500 firms that are present in Africa, with the majority of these active in infrastructure and construction in Africa, he explained to Buziness Africa.
Explaining further, he said although the rapidity of and pervasiveness of their market entry into Africa has taken many by surprise, and the main factor that has assisted this speedy market engagement was that the projects were largely “de-risked” from a financial perspective.
Arguably the single greatest risk of contracting (with governments) in Africa is ultimately getting paid. In the case of the Chinese contracted projects, the Chinese state’s so-called policy banks have provided finance and have underwritten the infrastructure roll-out very often supported by sovereign guarantees from the recipient African state. No other (even development) banks have been willing to absorb such financial risks on infrastructure projects in Africa. This accounts for China’s “success” in building infrastructure in Africa in recent years, according to the academic professor.
“It is almost impossible for the model to be replicated in a true commercial sense. The only likelihood of similar financial structures arising is in the case of tied-aid for commercial purposes. I would argue that the strategy of China Inc. is resulting in a rethinking of how aid/developmental capital is being allocated or spent in Africa by other partners. This is especially the case with Japanese aid to Africa, with the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) meeting and the commercial outcomes from it evidence of this,” Davies concluded assertively.
When the former Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), he indicated explicitly that “China will expand cooperation in investment and financing to support sustainable development in Africa. China provided $20 billion dollars of credit line to African countries to assist them in developing infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and small and medium-sized enterprises.”
Japan made a five-year commitment of $32 billion dollars in public and private funding to Africa, and the money to be used in areas prioritized as necessary for growth by the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).
Japan’s new pledge is nearly four times larger than its last commitment to the group. The plan of action is ambitious. Japanese funds will help in a number of areas, including trade, infrastructure, private sector development, health and education, good governance and food production
Suffice to say that the United States, Britain, Brazil and India have followed concretely Chinese footsteps with financial commitment towards sustainable development projects in Africa. These steps have, indeed, made competition keen for bidding for available infrastructural projects on the continent.
During the official working meeting with Barack Obama, South African President Jacob Zuma told his colleague: “The United States’ strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa that you launched is well-timed to take advantage of this growing market. We look forward to strengthening the US-Africa partnership and we are pleased with the growing bilateral trade and investment.”
For example, there are 600 US companies operating in South Africa which have created in excess 150,000 jobs for local people. Many experts still believe that Russian authorities have to provide incentives.
Charles Robertson, Global Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital, thinks that the major problem is incentives. China has two major incentives to invest in Africa. First, China needs to buy resources, while Russia does not. Second, Chinese exports are suitable for Africa – whether it is textiles or iPads, goods made in China can be sold in Africa. Russia exports little except oil and has (roughly 2/3 of exports), steel and metals (which is either not cost effective to sell in Africa, or again is the same as Africa is selling) and military weapons.
“Most importantly, Chinese firms see African growth as benefiting China, while Russia has less to gain from this. There is little incentive for Russian firms to operate in Africa…though Renaissance Capital sees opportunities, as does Rusal, and a few others. The problem is not investment credits or guarantees,” Robertson pointed out.
In his objective views, Russia has a northern hemisphere focus. And that explains why Russia has shown low financial commitment in its foregn policy implementation in Africa as compared to countries such as Japan, India and China.
According to Jimmy Saruchera, a Director at Schmooze Frontier Markets, an investment fund that works to support small-and-medium sized businesses in new emerging markets, suggested that both Russia and Africa needed work on a good trade policy, stable and transparent institutions are the fundamental ingredients, then tools such as credits and export guarantees can be more effective.
Dr Scott Firsing, a visiting Bradlow fellow at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA) and a senior lecturer in international studies at Monash University in Johannesburg, said “the absence of export credit guarantees can be a real obstacle to some in countries such as Russia because there are businesses and policy holders that look for these guarantees to help alleviate the fear of doing business in high risk markets like Africa.”
Export credit guarantees show the exporter protection against the main risks, which include political and commercial risks, in places such as Africa. This has been very successful for countries like South Africa, which even manage to stockpile cash over time due to the premiums being more than the payouts. Moreover, one can deduce that without such cover or this ‘safety net’, South African companies might have never taken such risks or would have been unable to bid or win contracts in developing economics, according to his explanation to Buziness Africa.
“I would suggest such a move that Russia has to design a policy strategy. One of China’s policy banks, the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) is the country’s largest lender for funding acquisitions and investments overseas, totaling more than its four main commericial banks. This has helped expand the overseas presence of Chinese companies like ZTE Corp and Huawei that wouldn’t have been previously unlikely without the assistance from such a policy bank,” he added.
According to Dr Firsing: a similar statement can be made of the importance of American institutions like their Export-Import Bank that supports American companies and their expansion into African markets. Obama’s latest African Power Initiative sees the Export-Import Bank granting up to US$5 billion in support of U.S. exports for the development of power projects across sub-Saharan Africa. Russia can learn a lot from the approach of these countries.
Professor David H. Shinn, an Adjunct Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs George, Washington University, suspects that Russia’s problem goes well beyond investment credits and export credit guarantees. Just look at Russian trade with Africa. It is embarrassingly low. Turkey has twice as much trade with Africa as Russia. Most Russian investment in Africa goes into large energy and mineral projects. China is investing in just about everything.
Professor Shinn, who was a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) and Burkina Faso (1987-90), wrote in an email interview to Buziness Africa, that lack of or weakness of Russian government incentives for investing outside Russia seems to be the significant part of its African policy problem, that compared, China does a lot of project financing in Africa.
He argued that western countries are also at a disadvantage because there is much more separation between the government and the private sector and there is no equivalent government state-owned sector, at least, not in the United States. Most Chinese investment in Africa occurs with the large state-owned companies, which work closely with the government. President Barack Obama recently tried to energize the US private sector in Africa during his recent visit, especially with the Power Africa initiative.
Interestingly, Russian policy experts have repeatedly called for state support for corporate investment initiatives as well as helping systematically private entrepreneurs to make strong strategic inroads into mutually viable investment sectors and to raise economic presence in Africa.
“Until recently, Africa was poorly represented in macro-economic forecasting and research, especially in terms of Russian-African relations,” wrote Professor Aleksei Vasiliev and Evgeny Korendiasov both from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of African Studies (IAS). Vasiliev is the current Director of the IAS and former Special Presidential Envoy to African Countries while Korendiasov retired Russian Ambassador and now the Head of the Department for Russian-African Research at the IAS.
They both authored an article published in June that Russia has officially declared promoting relations with Africa a priority goal. Assurances made by Russian officials in their statements that Africa is “in the mainstream of Russia’s foreign policy” have not been substantiated by systematic practical activities, and the development of relations between Russia and Africa has so far nothing to boast about.
According to the academic researchers, currently the scope for Russian-African partnership is significantly expanding and of the 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Western experts consider 24 to be democratic countries.They both argued that “through large-scale and purposeful participation in the international development assistance, Russia strives to advance its foreign policy priorities and strengthen the positions of Russian business in the African economic space.”
But, they pointed out unreservedly that the situation in Russian-African foreign trade will change for the better, if Russian industry undergoes technological modernization, the state provides Russian businessmen systematic and meaningful support, and small and medium businesses receive wider access to foreign economic cooperation with Africa.
Among other policy recommendations, they stressed “defining clear guidelines and priorities of Russian policy towards Africa, creating conditions for the promotion of Russian goods and investments in African markets, setting up mechanisms of financial support by the state of export and investment projects which is a compulsory condition for successful Russian business activity on the African continent and introducing tariff preferences for trade with African partners.”
Is Your Neighborhood Store Safe? Amazon and Store Closings
Amazon has reached the far corners of the earth… and the highest elevations. Delivery men venture 11,562 feet up in the Himalayas to leave a package. While the company may serve a useful purpose in remote regions, its phenomenal growth also reveals that no town is immune from its less desirable consequences. The online retailer’s omnipresence has been all too apparent in Chicago, New York, and London in recent months, where stores have been closing in droves.
Treasure Island Foods of Chicago, a family-owned business started by Christ Kamberos in 1963, announced at the end of September that after 55 years it was closing all remaining stores in just two weeks. Now, the lights are out and the shadows empty shelves are all that remain, with the scent of fresh sourdough and gyros cooking on the spit only in shoppers’ reminiscences as they walk by the darkened windows.
Julia Child once described Treasure Island as “America’s Most European Supermarket.” In my memory, it was unforgettable. The stores always had treasure troves for every season, from delicious green picholine olives from France, to liver pâté and English Blue Stilton at Christmas, and of course, Marmite. Not to mention exotic cookies and chocolates from all over the world: marzipan and chocolate from Switzerland and Austria, shortbread from Scotland, and crisp butter wafers from the Netherlands are a few examples. It was a haven for special gifts during the holidays.
Treasure Island was not alone in the struggle to survive amidst food delivery apps and Amazon. Not only were customers buying goods online, but Amazon was also shifting into the grocery market by taking over Whole Foods. Not surprisingly, Chicago’s other local grocery chain Dominick’s closed in 2014. The city lost one of its most beloved bakeries too in 2017 when the Swedish Bakery closed after 88 years in business. Gone were the days of mouth-watering rum balls, Princess Torte laden with green marzipan, and toska cake. In its final days an estimated 500 customers per day flocked in to have one last tasty treat.
Purchasing items online might be convenient but the trend has serious costs for many industries, not only food. Retail has been hit hard. Sears recently filed for bankruptcy and is closing 142 stores. So did Toys R Us, shuttering its outlets last summer. Luxury goods retailer Henri Bendel announced in September that its stores will be closing too, after 123 years.
What’s more the change is not just in the United States. In the UK, Marks & Spencer plans to close 100 stores by 2022. Debenhams and House of Fraser in London are also in trouble. In March of 2018, Sweden’s H & M reported the lowest first quarter profits in more than a decade, down 62%. When large international stores are being squeezed, one can understand how local shops are struggling to keep afloat. A recent Atlantic article observes that Manhattan is becoming a “rich ghost town.” So many store fronts once filled with interesting items are now empty, a trend that the author predicts will move to other cities. Will the choices for future shoppers be restricted to chain stores and dark unrented windows? Local small retailers unable to afford high rents are gradually being nudged out of existence. They need help.
Could Local Currencies Save Our Neighborhood Stores?
Switzerland has had the WIR since 1934 and Ithaca, New York introduced its own currency known as Ithaca Hours in 1991. Ithaca Hours started out with 90 individuals who were willing to accept the currency as a payment for their work, and expanded to become one of the largest local currency systems in the U.S. Ithaca’s example was an inspiration for municipal systems in Madison, Wisconsin, and Corvallis, Oregon.
The UK also has several local currencies including the Bristol Pound. The former Mayor of Bristol accepted his entire salary in Bristol Pounds, and more than 800 businesses accept the local currency.
Once local currencies are in circulation, consumers can continue using their national currency to purchase from large retailers and from online giants like Amazon. Their local currency, though, is typically used at local businesses.
As an example, were a Chicago currency implemented, consumers might use their U.S. dollars to purchase goods online but would use their Chicago currency to buy locally. Legislators and communities could thus lend a helping hand to local gems that remain in our towns. Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop, for instance, established in 1948, is unique to Chicago, and creates some of the most delicious cakes in the world.
By 2003, there were over 1,000 local currencies in North America and Europe. Yet this is a mere fraction of the total number of cities. If local currencies expanded to a majority of towns, perhaps our beloved neighborhood stores would be able to survive the online onslaught.
The Benefits of Preserving Local Shops
Consumers lose a service every time a small shop shuts down. A local paint store, for instance, can provide advice on what paint to use for a particular purpose, how to use it, etc. Nowadays, in many towns, these stores have closed. Consumers’ options are limited to buying online without input from an expert, or from a large national chain, where they will be lucky to find advice comparable to that from a specialized store. The same holds true for many kinds of home repair.
Then there is the charm of familiar faces at the corner store. Growing up near Treasure Island as a child, I could scarcely forget the cherry-cheeked cherub-like server at the deli counter. After noticing this eight-year-old’s tendency to gorge on free olive samples once a week, he would always laugh heartily with those chubby cheeks and remark with a chuckle that I would end up eating all the olives before reaching the check out line. Ordering specialty olives online is just not the same. There may be no checkout line, but also no one to talk or joke with. The same is true for the automated Amazon Go stores. The nice deli server today is out of a job after decades of service.
Another hidden cost of online purchases is environmental. Aside from fossil fuel emissions, delivery of a parcel requires packaging, and often bubble wrap, made of low-density polyethylene, a form of plastic that comprises 20% of global plastic pollution. Reusable bags and a neighborhood store within walking distance are clearly better for the environment.
Amazon’s reach extends to places like Leh, India, high in the snow-covered Himalayas, where many of its goods may not be available in town. And one can appreciate and understand the value of online purchases in such rural communities. In fact that was exactly the original purpose of Sears with its iconic catalogue.
Yet in cities where one can readily buy the same items in stores nearby, we have to try to refrain from the convenience of one-click shopping. The more we purchase online items, the more we pollute the environment and kill local stores. Without small businesses, cities will eventually become homogenized with block after block of chain retailers, or dark empty windows, as has started to happen in Manhattan. The character of a quaint town or a trendy metropolis becomes obsolete.
Gone will be the unique gift shops and the luxury tailor. When the British high street becomes indistinguishable from U.S. ghost towns and when the only place to eat is a chain burger joint, the fun of traveling and the adventure of new places will be lost forever. The vibrant world of new flavors and experiences will be no more.
So please think twice before clicking an online purchase. You may be signing your local store’s death warrant.
Author’s note: this piece first appeared in CounterPunch.org
Azerbaijan: Just-in-time support for the economy
Over the last two decades, oil has been the defining factor for Azerbaijan; not only for its economic growth but also for its development. During the first ten years of the millennium, Azerbaijan experienced an explosion in wealth. As oil GDP, comprising half of the sectoral share of the economy, grew by an average of 21 percent per year, fueled by global upsurge of oil prices and increased production. Total GDP grew more than tenfold: from US$6 bn to US$66 bn. This was accompanied by rapid decline in poverty, from 49.6% to 7.6%, increase in real wages, and middle-class growth.
However, after the decline in global oil prices in 2014, nearly by half, the reduction of oil revenue caused a domino effect in the economy. The double devaluation of the Azerbaijani manat in 2015 erased half of the manat’s value against US dollar. and subsequent fiscal adjustment together with ongoing banking sector distress led to a 3.8% contraction in GDP (2016). This was accompanied with the rising of traditionally low levels of government debt (from 8.5% in 2014 to 22% in early 2018) primarily due to devaluation of manat.
On December sixth, 2016, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has signed a decree approving the “Strategic roadmaps for the national economy and main economic sectors.” The decree for reforms spanned across 11 sectors, from tourism to agriculture, and aimed to decrease the over-reliance to the oil and gas sector.
Azerbaijan – World Bank Partnership
Under very tight deadlines, Azerbaijani ministry of finance started working on a roadmap, that would reform the economy which had been impaired by a number of negative shocks such as lower oil prices, weak regional growth, currency devaluations in Azerbaijan’s main trading partners, and a contraction in hydrocarbon production. As a long-term partner of the World Bank Group (WBG), they reached out for support in developing a public finance strategy for the medium term at the beginning of 2016. To be able to broach such a broad project, different teams within WBG worked together closely to provide just-in-time support and to cover various facets of the macro-fiscal framework. Government Debt and Risk Management (GDRM) Program, a World Bank Treasury initiative targeting middle income countries funded by countries funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) worked on the debt management portion of the issue. The Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Global Practice advised on macroeconomic and fiscal framework and debt sustainability analysis.
Providing a macro-fiscal outlook, analyzing debt sustainability and proposing debt management reforms
The ministry of finance and WBG joint teams had a thorough review of the macro-fiscal and borrowing conditions and honed in three interlinked issues:
- The need for sustainable financing: While the level of direct debt was expected to remain modest, the sharp increase in the issuance of public guarantees would lead the public and publicly-guaranteed (PPG) debt trajectory to be higher in the next five years.
- Fiscal Rules: Azerbaijan was exploring fiscal rules involving the use of the country’s oil assets, based on recommendations from the IMF.
- The country was facing high exchange-rate and interest-rate risks, due to 98% of the central government debt being in foreign currency and two thirds in variable interest rates.
With that in mind, the teams tested different borrowing strategies to cover the 2017-2021 period under baseline and different shock scenarios, analyzing debt sustainability, and the composition of the public debt portfolio weighing it against the national risk tolerance. They also recommended several measures to better enable the debt management operations: revising and submitting the Debt Management Law to parliament; improving the reporting system; improving the coordination between the ministry of finance; the central bank and the Sovereign Oil Fund; developing a credit risk assessment capacity in the ministry and improving the IT system, and eventually looking at developing a domestic debt market.
Azerbaijan develops the public finance strategy
In December 2017 Azerbaijan ministry of finance shared the debt management strategy, with the President’s office. The proposed strategy comprised a macroeconomic policy framework, a borrowing plan, and associated institutional and legal reforms. In August 2018, President Aliyev enacted and published the “Medium to long term debt management strategy for Azerbaijan Republic’s public debt”. The strategy outlines the main directions of the government borrowing during 2018-2025 based on sound analysis. It puts a limit of 30% of GDP for the public debt in the medium term, with a moderation to 20% of GDP by 2025. The authorities also envisage gradual rise in domestic debt, to develop the local currency government bond market. To reflect the changing macroeconomic outlook and financial conditions, the strategy document will be updated every two years.
“As World Bank, our mission is ending extreme poverty and building shared prosperity,” said Elena Bondarenko, the Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management team member. “It is our privilege to provide just-in-time support to our member countries when they most need it. Especially if we can help build resilience to the economy before further shocks cause major damage.”. “The work doesn’t stop here,” said GDRM Program Task Team Leader Cigdem Aslan. “The GDRM Program will continue its support through the implementation phase of the recommendation and help build capacity for the development of the domestic market for government securities.”
Knowledge economy and Human Capital: What is the impact of social investment paradigm on employment?
Social policy advocates claim the development of the European welfare state model on three phases as follows: traditional welfare state until 1970s; neo-liberal welfare state until the mid-1990s and finally social investment state model afterwards of the mid-1990s. At the first time, on the European Union level, to bring the social investment policy to the political agendas after the 1990s economic hardship, the European Council adopted the Lisbon Strategy in 2000. In fact, the Lisbon Strategy was successful with respect to the employment. In the latter, the social investment state paradigm has fostered once more in the Europe with the “Social Investment Package: Towards Social Investment for Growth and Cohesion” in 2013 by the European Commission that targeted to “prepare” individuals, families and societies for the competitive knowledge economy by investing in human capital from an early childhood together with increase female participation in the workforce.
Generally, social investment idea emerged as a link between social insurance and activation in employment policies and upgrading human capital. Hemerijck (2014) defined the concept of the social investment state to facilitate the “flow” of labour market transitions, raising the quality of human capital “stock” and upkeeping strong minimum income guarantee as social protection and economic stabilization “buffers”. The underlying idea of the social investment strategy has been argued to modernize the traditional welfare states and guarantee their sustainability in line with the response to the “new social risks” such as skill erosion, flexible market, insufficient social insurance and job insecurity.
Economic aim of social investment paradigm is divided into two types by Ahn& Kim (2014),in the following way:The social democratic approach based on the example of the Nordic countries and the liberal approach of the Anglo-American countries. To make the distinguish more clear, the social democratic approach aims to increase the employment for all working classes and strength human capital. On the other hand, liberal approach applies selective strategy which is more workfare policy oriented and covers vulnerable class. In this regard, cross country analyses show that the Scandinavian countries have been the forerunners of social investment and perform the childcare and vulnerable group targeted policies at their best.
Studies have viewed the social investment state approach as a new form of the welfare state and reshaped social policy objectives that addressed to promote labour market participation for a sustainable employment rather than simply to fight against unemployment. Since the beginning, the social investment strategy directs to protect individuals from social and economic threats by investing in human capital through labour market trainings, female (family – career) and child care policies, provision of universal access to education from the childhood. On doing so, the social investment as a long term strategy aims to reduce the risk of future neediness in contrast to the traditional benefit oriented welfare state that focuses on short term mitigation of risks. Or to put it differently, the social investment “prepares” children and families against to economic and social challenges rather than “repair” their positions in such problems later. In short, social investment policies are characterized as a predictor rather than a recoverer. Mainstream social investment argument is that redesigned welfare state model more focuses on work and care reconciliation policy as strengthening parental employment in the labour market is an important factor to exit poverty and support families especially mothers. On the other hand, human capital measures such as education and trainings improve life course employability, particularly for market outsiders as well as human investment guarantees better job security in today`s more flexible job market.
In reality, an economic development and employment is friendly to each other. Thus, income comes from the market through employment as a paid employment is foundation of household welfare. Likewise, a welfare is purchased in the markets. Arguably, unemployment leads to the poverty and social exclusion in the societies. Hereby, work based policy regarded as a sustainable anti-poverty strategy. The welfare states in order to guarantee households` net income and well-being in the post industrialized labour market have turned to invest in preventive measures such as human capital. The human capital (cognitive development and educational attainments) is a must for the dynamic and competitive knowledge economy. Educational expenditures yield on a dividend because they may/make citizens more productive but we need to push the logic much further (Andersen, 2002). In fact, social investment state by being more female and child care policy oriented predicts an importance of the education for a well-being of society and more developed economy in the future. Thus, employment policies need to link with family policies to be more effective in response to the unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. Social investment state as a new shape of the active employment policies invests in education particularly of women and children to prevent unemployment and poverty from the beginning. One hand, addresses to the ageing problem of European societies social investment strategies aim to mobilize motherhood with an employment. On the other hand, by promoting family polices, social investment strategy directs to reduce child poverty and safeguard child welfare in the line with better social and economic conditions of childhood.
What is certain that, social investment state implies human capital strategy. To increase an employment and long term productivity of individuals, social investment policies interchanged with the provision of social insurance. In other words, the social service policies took over the place of the cash benefit oriented policies. It is probably fair to say, the human capital strategies link social investment policies to employment outcomes. Simply, to see the correlation between the social investment paradigm and employment, human capital policy measures (education and trainings) are needed to be checked as a direct labour market value. Since they are the most effective activation measures in skill investment to respond to the knowledge economy, more educated and skilled manpower boosts the labour supply in turn results income equality which is a traditional goal of the social democracy. In this context, social investment state is addressed to reach high quality employment by its human investment orientation. As Andersen, (2002) argues, “We no longer live in a world in which low-skilled workers can support the entire family. The basic requisite for a good life is increasingly strong cognitive skills and professional qualifications”.
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