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India and the BRICS are giving the US dollar the boot

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The last time a country decided to dump the dollar in the oil business, the US destroyed it. Now India, the world’s third largest economy, and Iran have agreed to settle their outstanding oil dues in rupees. What’s more, the two countries may conduct all future trade in their national currencies.

This follows an agreement between Iran and India in mid-2011 in which both sides decided to settle 45 per cent of India’s oil import bill in rupees and the remaining 55 per cent in euros. In March 2012 the two countries inked the Rupee Payment Mechanism that allowed India to buy crude oil in its national currency. Iran then used the funds to buy products from Indian manufacturers.

Ironically, it is the US itself which is responsible for the dollar’s elimination from India-Iran trade. The Rupee Payment Mechanism was set up to skirt American economic sanctions on Tehran. Iranian oil forms a significant portion of India’s energy requirements. Similarly, the Iranians rely upon India for steel, medicines, food and chemicals.

Replacing the dollar

India and the US may have come closer in recent years, but that hasn’t blinded New Delhi to the toxic nature of America’s currency as well as manipulation by Britain.

The US is literally writing its own cheque with its unrestrained printing of the dollar, the bedrock of America’s post-war hegemony. It is the reserve currency status of the dollar that allows the US to fund its endless wars and topple governments with impunity.

Across the Atlantic, the Bank of England is involved in interest rate fixing of an order of magnitude that makes corruption in developing countries look puny by comparison.

Such financial manipulations and currency debasements are negatively and cyclically impacting the global economy. In fact, it suits the West to have periodic booms and busts because it keeps the emergent economies in turmoil. It keeps poor countries poor and the emergent ones stuck in what’s known as the “middle income trap”.

India’s central bank has invested a significant proportion of its approximately $500 billion reserves in dollar denominated assets. Any sharp depreciation in the value of the dollar entails significant losses to this massive holding. In this backdrop, the idea of de-dollarisation has resonated with the country’s leadership in recent times.

In 2010, the Reserve Bank of India proposed floating the rupee as an alternative global currency. In a study titled ‘Internationalisation of Currency: The Case of the Indian Rupee and the Chinese Renminbi’, the bank said the dollar was likely to lose its predominance as the global reserve currency in the foreseeable future.

“The Indian rupee is rarely being used for invoicing of international trade,” the study pointed out. It argued that India needs to proactively take steps to increase the role of the rupee in the region. Also, the strength of the growing Indian economy has raised the issue of greater internationalisation of the Indian rupee.

Group remedy

Indian negotiators have actively pushed dollar-free trade at the annual meetings of the BRICS group. This group of five major economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – is actively engaged in speeding up the process of increasing mutual trade in national currencies.

The $100 billion BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) and a reserve currency pool worth over another $100 billion are both aimed at weakening the western chokehold on global financial flows.

According to India’s K.V. Kamath, the first president of NDB, exchange rate differences increased the cost of hard-currency loans to emerging and developing countries by 15-20 per cent. In his view, using local currencies would eliminate that risk and ease the burden.

The BRICS have already launched a Contingency Reserve Arrangement to enable the five member states to swap currencies. Another key advantage of using national currencies in trade and investment is that businesses do not have to hedge against two different currencies. Transition to trade in national currencies will also protect countries from the volatility of a particular currency.

China’s action plan

Meanwhile, the Chinese have surprised everyone with the speed with which the renminbi has acquired global acceptance. In a paper titled ‘The Renminbi Bloc is Here’, Arvind Subramanian and Martin Kessler of the US-based Peterson Institute for International Economics provide a dramatic picture of how the renminbi is growing in strength while the US dollar weakens.

Firstly, they say the renminbi is already the dominant reference currency in India and South Africa. Secondly, since mid-2010 the renminbi has made dramatic strides as a reference currency compared with the dollar and euro.

“The renminbi has now become the dominant reference currency in East Asia, eclipsing the dollar and the euro….The currencies of South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, and Thailand now more closely track the RMB than the dollar. The dollar’s dominance as reference currency in East Asia is now limited to Hong Kong (by virtue of the peg), Vietnam and Mongolia.”

And they provide this chilling assessment: “The dollar and the euro still play a greater role beyond their natural spheres of influence than does the renminbi but that is changing in favour of the renminbi.”

Why chilling? The India-Iran rupee trade, Russia-Iran rouble trade and the worldwide acceptance of the renminbi will slowly erode the prestige of the US dollar, which will have dire consequences for American prosperity.

As a country that greatly benefits from – and exploits – the dollar’s reserve currency status, the end of dollar dominance will mean a sharp decline in American incomes and the ability to project power overseas.

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Economy

Record high remittances to low- and middle-income countries in 2017

MD Staff

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Remittances to low- and middle-income countries rebounded to a record level in 2017 after two consecutive years of decline, says the World Bank’s latest Migration and Development Brief.

The Bank estimates that officially recorded remittances to low- and middle-income countries reached $466 billion in 2017, an increase of 8.5 percent over $429 billion in 2016. Global remittances, which include flows to high-income countries, grew 7 percent to $613 billion in 2017, from $573 billion in 2016.

The stronger than expected recovery in remittances is driven by growth in Europe, the Russian Federation, and the United States. The rebound in remittances, when valued in U.S. dollars, was helped by higher oil prices and a strengthening of the euro and ruble.

Remittance inflows improved in all regions and the top remittance recipients were India with $69 billion, followed by China ($64 billion), the Philippines ($33 billion), Mexico ($31 billion), Nigeria ($22 billion), and Egypt ($20 billion).

Remittances are expected to continue to increase in 2018, by 4.1 percent to reach $485 billion. Global remittances are expected to grow 4.6 percent to $642 billion in 2018.

Longer-term risks to growth of remittances include stricter immigration policies in many remittance-source countries. Also, de-risking by banks and increased regulation of money transfer operators, both aimed at reducing financial crime, continue to constrain the growth of formal remittances.

The global average cost of sending $200 was 7.1 percent in the first quarter of 2018, more than twice as high as the Sustainable Development Goal target of 3 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most expensive place to send money to, where the average cost is 9.4 percent. Major barriers to reducing remittance costs are de-risking by banks and exclusive partnerships between national post office systems and money transfer operators. These factors constrain the introduction of more efficient technologies—such as internet and smartphone apps and the use of cryptocurrency and blockchain—in remittance services.

“While remittances are growing, countries, institutions, and development agencies must continue to chip away at high costs of remitting so that families receive more of the money. Eliminating exclusivity contracts to improve market competition and introducing more efficient technology are high-priority issues,” said Dilip Ratha, lead author of the Brief and head of KNOMAD.

In a special feature, the Brief notes that transit migrants—who only stay temporarily in a transit country—are usually not able to send money home. Migration may help them escape poverty or persecution, but many also become vulnerable to exploitation by human smugglers during the transit. Host communities in the transit countries may find their own poor population competing with the new-comers for low-skill jobs.

“The World Bank Group is mobilizing financial resources and knowledge on migration to support migrants and countries with the aim of reducing poverty and sharing prosperity. Our focus is on addressing the fundamental drivers of migration and supporting the migration-related Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Compact on Migration,” said Michal Rutkowski, Senior Director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank.

Multilateral agencies can help by providing data and technical assistance to address adverse drivers of transit migration, while development institutions can provide financing solutions to transit countries. Origin countries need to empower embassies in transit countries to assist transit migrants.

The Global Compact on Migration, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, sets out objectives for safe, orderly and regular migration. Currently under negotiation for final adoption in December 2018, the global compact proposes three International Migration Review Forums in 2022, 2026 and 2030. The World Bank Group and KNOMAD stand ready to contribute to the implementation of the global compact.

Regional Remittance Trends

Remittances to the East Asia and Pacific region rebounded 5.8 percent to $130 billion in 2017, reversing a decline of 2.6 percent in 2016. Remittance to the Philippines grew 5.3 percent in 2017 to $32.6 billion. Flows to Indonesia are expected to grow 1.2 percent to $9 billion in 2017, reversing the previous year’s sharp decline. Stronger growth in transfers from countries in Southeast Asia helped offset lower remittance flows from other regions, particularly the Middle East and the United States. Remittances to the region are expected to grow 3.8 percent to $135 billion in 2018.

Remittances to countries in Europe and Central Asia grew a rapid 21 percent to $48 billion in 2017, after three consecutive years of decline. Main reasons for the growth are stronger growth and employment prospects in the euro area, Russia, and Kazakhstan; the appreciation of the euro and ruble against the U.S. dollar; and the low comparison base after a nearly 22 percent decline in 2015. Remittances in 2018 will moderate as the region’s growth stabilizes, with remittances expected to grow 6 percent to $51 billion.

Remittances flows into Latin America and the Caribbean grew 8.7 percent in 2017, reaching another record high of nearly $80 billion. Main factors for the growth are stronger growth in the United States and tighter enforcement of U.S. immigration rules which may have impacted remittances as migrants remitted savings in anticipation of shorter stays in the United States. Remittance growth was robust in Mexico (6.6 percent), El Salvador (9.7 percent), Colombia (15 percent), Guatemala (14.3), Honduras (12 percent), and Nicaragua (10 percent). In 2018, remittances to the region are expected to grow 4.3 percent to $83 billion, backed by improvement in the U.S. labor market and higher growth prospects for Italy and Spain.

Remittances to the Middle East and North Africa grew 9.3 percent to $53 billion in 2017, driven by strong flows to Egypt, in response to more stable exchange rate expectations. However, the growth outlook is dampened by tighter foreign-worker policies in Saudi Arabia in 2018. Cuts in subsidies, increase in various fees and the introduction of a value added tax in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have increased the cost of living for expatriate workers. In 2018, growth in remittances to the region is expected to moderate to 4.4 percent to $56 billion.

Remittances to South Asia grew a moderate 5.8 percent to $117 billion in 2017. Remittances to many countries appear to be picking up after the slowdown in 2016. Remittances to India picked up sharply by 9.9 percent to $69 billion in 2017, reversing the previous year’s sharp decline. Flows to Pakistan and Bangladesh were both largely flat in 2017, while Sri Lanka saw a small decline (-0.9 percent). In 2018, remittances to the region will likely grow modestly by 2.5 percent to $120 billion.

Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa accelerated 11.4 percent to $38 billion in 2017, supported by improving economic growth in advanced economies and higher oil prices benefiting regional economies. The largest remittance recipients were Nigeria ($21.9 billion), Senegal ($2.2 billion), and Ghana ($2.2 billion). The region is host to several countries where remittances are a significant share of gross domestic product, including Liberia (27 percent), The Gambia (21 percent), and Comoros (21 percent). In 2018, remittances to the region are expected to grow 7 percent to $41 billion.

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A bio-based, reuse economy can feed the world and save the planet

MD Staff

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Transforming pineapple skins into product packaging or using potato peels for fuel may sound far-fetched, but such innovations are gaining traction as it becomes clear that an economy based on cultivation and use of biomass can help tackle pollution and climate change, the United Nations agriculture agency said on Friday.

A sustainable bioeconomy, which uses biomass – organic materials, such as plants and animals and fish – as opposed to fossil resources to produce food and non-food goods “is foremost about nature and the people who take care of and produce biomass,” a senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)  official said at the 2018 Global Bioeconomy Summit in Berlin, Germany.

This means family farmers, forest people and fishers, who are also “holders of important knowledge on how to manage natural resources in a sustainable way,” she explained.

Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General for Climate and Natural Resources, stressed how the agency not only works with member States and other partners across the conventional bioeconomy sectors – agriculture, forestry and fisheries – but also relevant technologies, such as biotechnology and information technology to serve agricultural sectors.

“We must foster internationally-coordinated efforts and ensure multi-stakeholder engagement at local, national and global levels,” she said, noting that this requires measurable targets, means to fulfil them and cost-effective ways to measure progress.

With innovation playing a key role in the bio sector, she said,  all the knowledge – traditional and new – should be equally shared and supported.

Feeding the world, saving the planet

Although there is enough food being produced to feed the planet, often due to a lack of access, estimates show that some 815 million people are chronically undernourished.

“Bioeconomy can improve access to food, such as through additional income from the sale of bio-products,” said Ms. Semedo.

She also noted its potential contribution to addressing climate change, albeit with a warning against oversimplification.

“Just because a product is bio does not mean it is good for climate change, it depends on how it is produced, and in particular on much and what type of energy is used in the process,” she explained.

FAO has a longstanding and wide experience in supporting family farmers and other small-scale biomass producers and businesses.

Ms. Semedo, told the summit that with the support of Germany, FAO, together with an international working group, is currently developing sustainable bioeconomy guidelines.

Some 25 cases from around the world have already been identified to serve as successful bioeconomy examples to develop good practices.

A group of women fishers in Zanzibar are producing cosmetics from algae – opening up a whole new market with sought-after niche products; in Malaysia, a Government programme supports community-based bioeconomy; and in Colombia, a community is transforming pineapple skins into biodegradable packaging and honey into royal jelly – and these are just a few examples of a bioeconomy in action.

“Together, let’s harness the development for sustainable bioeconomy for all and leave no one behind,” concluded Ms. Semedo.

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Belarus: Strengthening Foundations for Sustainable Recovery

MD Staff

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The speed of economic recovery has accelerated in early 2018, but the foundations for solid growth need to be strengthened, says the latest World Bank Economic Update on Belarus.

The economic outlook remains challenging due to external financing needs and unaddressed domestic structural bottlenecks. Improved household consumption and investment activity, along with a gradual increase in exports, will help the economy to grow, but unlikely above three percent per annum over the medium term.

“The only way for ordinary Belarusians to have better incomes in the long run is to increase productivity, which requires structural change. While macroeconomic adjustment has brought stability, only structural change will bring solid growth to the country,” said Alex Kremer, World Bank Country Manager for Belarus. “Inflation has hit a record low in Belarus, driving the costs of domestic borrowing down. However, real wages are now again outpacing productivity, with the risks of worsening cost competitiveness and generating cost-push inflation.”

A Special Topic Note of the World Bank Economic Update follows the findings of the latest World Bank report, The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018, which measures national wealth, composed of produced, natural, and human capital, and net foreign assets. Economic development comes from a country’s wealth, especially from human capital – skills and knowledge.

“Belarus has a good composition of wealth for an upper middle-income country. The per capita level of human capital exceeds both Moldova and Ukraine. However, the accumulation of physical capital has coincided with a deterioration in the country’s net foreign asset position,” noted Kiryl Haiduk, World Bank Economist. “Belarus needs to rely less on foreign borrowing and strengthen the domestic financial system, export more, and strengthen economic institutions that improve the efficiency of available physical and human capital.”

Since the Republic of Belarus joined the World Bank in 1992, lending commitments to the country have totaled US$1.7 billion. In addition, grant financing totaling US$31 million has been provided, including to programs involving civil society partners. The active investment lending portfolio financed by the World Bank in Belarus includes eight operations totaling US$790 million.

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