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Russia’s Business Dreams, What’s The Reality

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Recognizing the widening gap and huge untapped potential in their economic cooperation, Russia and Africa are gearing up efforts in raising the level of trade and business, Lyubov Demidova, Deputy Chairperson of the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry at Moscow Region, explained in an interview with me, while emphasizing unreservedly the importance of increasing business and economic cooperation with the African countries.

She says that Russians are constantly interested in partnering with large and medium scale businesses in the African market as well as in the continuing interest of Africans to further cooperate with Russia, and further pointed out that a significant impetus to the Russian-African business cooperation was given by the visit of the then Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev to a number of African countries in June 2009.

Since then, many Russian delegations have visited the continent, the highest ranking delegation headed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to a few African countries, notably Zimbabwe where he launched the $3 billion project and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he held discussion with Africa Union Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, about Russia’s readiness to infrastructural development.

In 2014, Russia started a new $3 billion platinum mine about 50 km north-west of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. The Russian project, where production is projected to peak at 800 000 ounces year, involves a consortium consisting of the Rostekhnologii State Corporation, Vneshekonombank, as well as investment and industrial group, Vi Holding, in a joint venture with some private Zimbabwe investors as well as the Zimbabwean government.

Brigadier General Mike Nicholas Sango, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation, wrote recently that Russia’s biggest economic commitment to Zimbabwe to date was its agreement in September 2014 to invest $3 billion in what is Zimbabwe’s largest platinum mine.

“What will set this investment apart from those that have been in Zimbabwe for decades is that the project will see the installation of a refinery to add value, thereby creating more employment and secondary industries,” Brigadier General Sango explained to the local media.

“We are confident that this is just the start of a Russian-Zimbabwe economic partnership that will blossom in coming years. Our two countries are discussing other mining deals in addition to energy, agriculture, manufacturing and industrial projects. Russia also continues to assist Zimbabwe in training young Zimbabweans in special-skills areas such as medicine, general engineering, agricultural engineering and many other disciplines,” Ambassador Sango added. Groundwork was laid for expanding trade and investment when Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe met President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in May 2015.

Undoubtedly, Russia has been implementing a number of other large-scale projects with participation of Russian capital in Africa. Among them are the development of the world’s largest bauxite deposit in Guinea and an aluminium plant in Nigeria as well as oil and gas in Uganda.

Of particular importance is also the creation a Russian industrial zone in Egypt. It is expected that products of Russian companies will localize their production and will be in demand not only in the local market, but also in all regions of North and East Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Besides projects, trade is also important. Speaking at a symposium organized by the Embassy of the Republic of Ghana as part of the Independence Day (March 6) celebration in Moscow and which was attended by the eminent group of diplomats, industry leaders, prominent international traders and analysts, Dr. Leonid Fituni, Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, called on Russian authorities to take significant practical steps to provide African countries with broad preferences in trade.

He pointed out that “Russia attaches special significance to deepening trade and investment cooperation with African States, including the involvement of Russian economic operators in the implementation of infrastructure projects. It is encouraging that more Russian companies being aware of the prospects that are opening in the large market of the continent work actively in such fields as nuclear energy, hydrocarbon and metallurgy industries.”

On their part to engage Russian investors, Africans have seized efforts and shown activeness in business events (conferences, forums, seminars and exhibitions) in many cities, the latest in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, in the Russian Federation. Official government representatives and private individuals from about fifteen African countries attended the IV Russian-African Forum (RAF) held on 11-14 July as part of the INNOPROM-2016 international industrial trade fair in Yekaterinburg (Urals).

According to the organizing committee, this year the African delegates represented different countries included Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Burundi, South Africa, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Cameroon, Mozambique, Chad, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt.

The “Russian – African Forum” has become an integral part of the program of the exhibition and it is no coincidence, that the African vector every year becomes more and more significant in the foreign policy of Russia, – said Russian Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov while addressing the gathering.

He expressed assertively Russia’s readiness to expand its activities in projects of nuclear energy and, oil and gas industry. “We hope that the authorities of the countries of the African continent will contribute their part in creating most favorable conditions for the development of all joint projects that we have been discussing and also here at INNOPROM,” said Denis Manturov.

As already well-known, Russian companies are interested in projects focusing on mineral extraction, the energy sector, construction of large manufacturing facilities, human resources training, healthcare development, agriculture and food security, cooperation in digital technology and communications.

The general or popular sentiments at the 2016 Russian-African forum was that Russia and Africa need a more efficient system of exchanging vital information and effective efforts have to target, first and foremost, the search for new partnerships, new ways directed at boosting the economic cooperation and at implementing the biggest and most promising projects.

Unbelievably for over two decades, Russian officials in their speeches have repeated the same identified pitfalls, speed bumps or setbacks in the bilateral relations between Russia and Africa. The Foreign Ministry published the text of Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov’s speech at its official website in July 2013 which he highlighted the same decade-old problems at a session of the Urals-Africa economic forum in Yekaterinburg.

“One must admit that the practical span of Russian companies’ business operations in Africa falls far below our export capabilities, on the one hand, and the huge natural resources of the huge continent, on the other,” Bogdanov said.

“Poor knowledge of the African markets’ structure and the characteristics of African customers by the Russian business community remains an undeniable fact,” he said. “The Africans in their turn are insufficiently informed on the capabilities of potential Russian partners,” Bogdanov said.

Experts have also been looking at ways to improve trade relations and economic cooperation. For instance, Andrey Efimenko, an Expert at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Trade said in an exclusive interview with me that CCI of Russia closely monitored the activities of Russian companies in Africa, as a number of companies – members of Chamber are implementing major investment projects in this region of the world, in particular, Renova group, Gazprombank, LUKOIL, Rosneft, etc.

“Unfortunately,” Efimenko regrettably pointed out, “some large Russian companies operating on the African market, has managed to establish itself negatively in a number of countries. This is primarily due to ignorance of cultural peculiarities of the region, the lack of social responsibility, failure to completely fulfill contractual obligations. These cases damage the image of Russia and Russian companies with further entering the African market.”

The Russian Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of Russian companies regarding the work on the African markets has shown that in conditions of sanctions have hampered their access to financial and credit resources that could be directed to participate in the implementation of infrastructure projects, the purchase of foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials.

Certain deterrent factor is the cost of logistics from Africa to Russia and/or vice versa and weak solvency of local companies, interested in obtaining Russian products on preferential terms. Another constraint to the development of business cooperation with certain countries in the region (Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone) is currently an epidemic of the Ebola virus, as well as the lack of political stability in several African countries (Chad, Nigeria, Liberia, etc), the Expert explained.

In conditions of high competition on the African markets from China, European Union and the United States believe that public-private partnership with the coordinating and steering role of the state is at this stage the key to success and the best form of development of cooperation of Russia with African countries.

An important factor in the expansion of Russian-African relations – the establishment of development institutions such as the Russian export center and Roseximbank. CCI of Russia is making serious efforts to unite the business community of the country for development of interaction with African countries.

On the initiative of the Chamber and with the support of Russian state, public and private organizations in 2009, established a Coordinating Committee on Economic Cooperation with Africa (south of Sahara) popularly referred to as AfroCom. Today, it unites more than 120 Russian organizations and companies interested in developing relations with Africa.

With the participation of the Committee are regularly conducted business activities, which are important both for the deepening of bilateral relations with individual countries, and to strengthen Russia-African relations in general. The Committee pays special attention to information work. The site completely devoted to the economy of the African continent and the development of Russian-African economic relations.

As a further step, the Africa Business Initiative (ABI) in partnership with the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, are also attempting to bring together key representatives from large Russian companies, government and the academic community as a working group to focus on helping Russian companies to enter and work in Africa.

There is still high optimism. “Russia has a large scientific and technical potential, and the Moscow regions also are historically developed as industrial and scientific centers and have good opportunities to develop their export potential to Africa. I would not want to associate the current crisis in the West and in Europe with the development of relations between Russia and African States,” Lyubov Demidova wrote me in an emailed interview.

She further informed that the new regional committee will include representatives of Russian organizations and companies, from government, public and business organizations in Russia, major Russian companies which already occupied a niche in Africa, and those who plan to transact business in Africa.

The main directions of its work are to inform members of the committee, to explore the possibilities of establishing a mechanism of financial support for Russian entrepreneurs, the organization of various business activities, including conferences, seminars, business meetings to establish contacts with potential partners.

One of the most important directions in the committee’s work is working on the information back-up of the image. It consists of several components: forming a positive image of Russia and its business community, the provision of necessary business information about Africa, including the dissemination of information on tenders declared in Africa, analysis of the peculiarities of economic and socio-cultural development in Africa, reference materials about Russia and about the potential of Russian-African cooperation.

In order to bolster trade and raise economic cooperation, another new Regional Council for the Development of Economic Relations with African countries (RCDRA) was created early this February which will serve as a good mechanism for the development of fruitful cooperation in various fields.

For its part, the newly created Council will make every effort to establish large-scale, long-term and mutually beneficial cooperation and hopefully will meet the some positive results on the part of African States.

The main obstacle is insufficient knowledge of the economic potential, on the part of Russian entrepreneurs, needs and opportunities of the African region. For this, the Council hopes to help members of the business community of all African countries to address systematically issues of effective cooperation.

“The main task is to shift to a more comprehensive approach, using the extensive territorial network of the Russian Chamber of Commerce. Russia’s business should be provided with full information on economic development in African countries and their needs in order to establish an ongoing Russia-African mutually beneficial business dialogue,”she suggested.

The most promising option for solving the problem of intensification of bilateral contacts is the practical work to establish links between individual companies and business associations from both sides, which will gradually accumulate positive experience of working together, to understand the capabilities and needs of each other leading to the development of the economy with Russian and with the African side, Demidova concluded.

Currently, the turnover of trade between Russia and Africa is estimated at $2.5 billion, while imports of non-primary goods to the African continent already aggregate to $430 billion and are growing at 10-15 % a year. Nearly, in all economic sectors in African countries, Russia’s major competitors are from foreign countries especially Asia, western Europe and European Union.

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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Reskilling Revolution: Leaders Preparing 1 Billion People for Tomorrow’s Economy

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Investing broadly in the skills of the future for both today’s and tomorrow’s next-generation workforce could add an additional $8.3 trillion in increased productivity to the global economy by 2030.

The Reskilling Revolution initiative, a coalition of 50 CEOs, 25 ministers and 350 organizations committed to realizing these gains for their economies, societies and organizations, marked two years of progress at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos today. Their work will benefit over 100 million workers on their journey towards reaching 1 billion people by 2030 with better education, skills and economic opportunity.

Accelerating the Reskilling Revolution

Global inequities in lifelong learning and childhood education, a pandemic that closed schools and workplaces and rapid technological change are highlighting the need to double down on reskilling, upskilling and the future of learning. The Reskilling Revolution initiative, launched at the World Economic Forum’s 50th Annual Meeting in January 2020, is working to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills and economic opportunity by 2030.

At its heart is a commitment from over 50 CEOs to inspire global business leadership on the upskilling, reskilling and human capital investment agenda. By working together with a growing network of national-level country accelerators launched to date in 12 countries – Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Georgia, Greece, India, Oman, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, with knowledge support from Denmark, Finland, Singapore and Switzerland – the Reskilling Revolution has mobilized a multistakeholder community of over 350 organizations across 12 countries and is on track to benefit 100 million people on its journey towards 1 billion.

“In an era of multiple disruptions to the labour market – the pandemic, supply chain changes, the green transition, technological transformation – the one ‘no regret’ investment all governments and business can make is in education, reskilling and upskilling. It is the best pathway to expanding opportunity, enhancing social mobility and accelerating future growth,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.

Enabling Education 4.0

Two years into its work the initiative will expand beyond adult reskilling and upskilling and integrate a focus on education for children and youth. These efforts will be taken forward by a new Education 4.0 Alliance, bringing together 20 leading education organizations at the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2022.

A new report from the project, Catalysing Education 4.0 Investing in the Future of Learning for a Human-Centric Recovery, focuses on preparing today’s generation of school-age children with better collaborative problem-solving that could add $2.54 trillion – over $3,000 per school-age child – from this one skill alone.

The report, developed with support from the LEGO Foundation and in consultation with leading education experts from the public, private and educational sectors, finds that investment in the skills of the future for primary and secondary school learners would create an additional $489 billion in Europe, $458 billion in South Asia, $333 billion in East Asia, $332 billion in Latin America, $266 billion in the Middle East, $235 billion in North America, $179 billion in sub-Saharan Africa, and $163 billion in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, China ($356 billion), the United States ($218 billion), Brazil ($143 billion), Mexico ($80 billion) and Italy ($72 billion) are the five countries standing to gain the most, while the benefits relative to the size of their economies today would be greatest in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

To unlock this education transformation, the Education 4.0 initiative will focus on three key investment areas: new assessment mechanisms; adoption of new learning technologies; and empowerment of the teaching workforce.

Expanding the Accelerator network

Complementing the Skills Accelerators, the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting also featured the official launch of the first school-age focused Education 4.0 Accelerator, a national-level public-private collaboration platform for action. The Education Accelerators – complementing a network of successful Closing the Skills Gap Accelerators – aim to mainstream technology-enhanced learning experiences, implement new measurement mechanisms, empower educators and mobilize investment in the sector.

Bangladesh will be the first country to pioneer this new model in Asia. Dipu Moni, Minister of Education, Bangladesh, said: “Bangladesh is committed to ensuring high-quality education for all children and youth. We are delighted to partner with the World Economic Forum to launch the first Education Accelerator in South Asia and to be part of this global network to advance the Education 4.0 agenda.”

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Sanctions against Russia: do they have any point?

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It’s hard to recall a day since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine when there was no mentioning about new sanctions being imposed against Russia. On May 9th, the EU announced that it had almost finished preparations for the sixth package of sanctions, and rumors on the Internet are already mentioning the seventh.

What are sanctions?

In brief, sanctions are a list of political and economic decisions applied by states and organizations in order to protect national interests, international law, and defense from threats to international peace and security. As a rule, they are temporary and are removed when the cause/threat has been eliminated.

According to the EU’s official website, “Restrictive measures (sanctions) are an essential tool in the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP), through which the EU can intervene where necessary to prevent conflict or respond to emerging or current crises. In spite of their colloquial name ‘sanctions’, EU restrictive measures are not punitive. They are intended to bring about a change in policy or activity by targeting non-EU countries, as well as entities and individuals, responsible for the malign behaviour at stake.”[1]

How many sanctions have been imposed against Russia in total?

On May 8th, the Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Volodin shared a post on his Telegram channel that “10 128 sanctions have been imposed against our country. More than against any other state in the entire history of their existence.”[2] From this number, 2,754 were introduced in the period from 2014 (the Crimean issue) and before the beginning of the special operation in Ukraine.[3] The rest – more than seven thousand – were introduced in a short three-month period. According to The Castellum.AI, a service which takes a record of sanctions and updates weekly, as of May 9, their number has already exceeded 7,600, making Russia the state with the largest number of sanctions imposed. For comparison: 3,161 sanctions have been imposed against Iran, 2,608 – against Syria, and 2,077 – against North Korea.[4] Other states can “boast” with the list containing less than 1,000 sanctions. Thus, in a short period of time, Russia not only got on the list of sanctioned countries, but also topped it.

The sanctions have affected almost every sector of Russia – from individuals, which list already counts numbers in the hundreds, to the spheres of energy, economy, trade… The enumeration can go on for a long time. It can be said that there is practically not a single area left that wasn’t affected by sanctions: for example, one of the articles published by the Atlantic Council had the heading “What’s left to sanction in Russia?” And yet, at almost all the examples given, it is mentioned that sanctions have already been imposed in this area.[5]

So is there anything else that can be included in the sanctions lists? The question itself is good, but alas – it will take quite a long time to search for the answer: sanctions are already everywhere.

So is there any point in sanctions?

This is quite an interesting question, although in this situation it would be more accurate to say that sanctions have not only a point, but also consequences.

As it was mentioned above, sanctions are usually temporary, but Russia has been living with almost 3,000 sanctions imposed against it for more than 8 years. Has it brought any tangible results in influencing Russia? No. Have those who introduced them achieved the result what they had introduced those sanctions for? No. Have these sanctions been lifted? No. Therefore, is there any point in imposing them on Russia? The answer is still the same – no, because as it can be observed,  these sanctions are in the list of existing ones, and Russia still continues to exist, quite successfully adapting to them. And there are a lot of sanctions – 2,754 (for the period before the Ukrainian issue), but the thing is that the country against which they were introduced does not complain about its size and capabilities either.

There is a point in sanctions, and first of all – for Russia.

Following numerous bans on the export of various kinds of products, as well as the departure of many companies operating in various fields, the Russian government introduced a number of measures to support different areas, and which have already started to show positive results. According to Rosstat, several sectors of the Russian economy showed positive dynamics as soon as measures were introduced (compare to the same period of 2021): the mining industry grew by 7.8%, energy, heat and gas supply – by 1.5%, water supply and waste disposal – by 7.2%.[6] There is also an increase in the food sector – by 1.1%, and medical production increased by as much as 46.8% compared to March 2021, and turned out to be 9.1% higher than in February 2022. As Rosstat data shows, according to a preliminary estimate of the country’s GDP for the 1st quarter 2022, there is a positive growth of 103.5% compared to the same period last year.[7] The Economist noted that “as imports slide and exports hold up, Russia is running a record trade surplus.”[8] The Institute of International Finance estimates that “in 2022 the current-account surplus, which includes trade and some financial flows, could come in at $250bn (15% of last year’s gdp), more than double the $120bn recorded in 2021”. As a result, the world sees that rather than damaging Russia, sanctions are contributing to its strengthening. [9]

The consequences of the sanctions, however, were faced not only by Russia and Belarus (which also got quite an amount of them because of good relations with Russia), but also by the rest of the world, including even the part that had nothing to do with this issue. And the consequences of those 7 thousand+ recently imposed sanctions are especially severe.

Some countries are already complaining about food shortages, as their supplies have been seriously reduced due to sanctions. People are dissatisfied with the increase of prices for various products and goods, but this is caused by the increase of fuel prices – which people are also dissatisfied with. Shocks and turmoil in the social and economic sectors started to affect the political situation both within countries and their international policies, as they have to choose whether to join the sanctions or try to stay away.

Why “try”?

Even at the first weeks of the conflict, the United States were seen trying to put pressure on states to either join the sort of “sanctions coalition” or stay away, preventing any attempts to help Russia. As it turned out, one of these countries was China: back in April 2022, the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that the sanctions imposed against Russia should give China (and President Xi personally) an idea of the consequences that it could face in case of providing assistance to Russia: “<it> gives President Xi, I think, a pretty good understanding of what might come his way should he, in fact, support Putin in any material fashion.”[10] If there was an attempt to put pressure on China, which is far from being the last figure in the international arena, then what can be said about other states – especially European ones?

Hungary is now becoming one of the stumbling blocks, as it refuses to support sanctions with regard to the embargo on fuel imports. According to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, it will be equal to an atomic bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy, since it simply will not have time to adapt – it will take at least five years and a large number of investments. Nevertheless, he noted that Hungary is ready for negotiations – if the proposals are consistent with the interests of the state.[11] However, according to information, a video conference between Ursula von der Leyen and Viktor Orban, held on Monday last week, did not lead to a compromise, thus delaying the adoption of the sixth – the heaviest, according to EU representatives – package of sanctions.[12] Against this background, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki expressed the opinion that the sixth package of sanctions could be adopted in a reduced form, since “we must observe unity in the EU.”[13]

So…what can be expected in the future?


[1] https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/banking-and-finance/international-relations/restrictive-measures-sanctions/overview-sanctions-and-related-tools_en

[2] https://t.me/vv_volodin/427

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/banking-and-finance/international-relations/restrictive-measures-sanctions/sanctions-adopted-following-russias-military-aggression-against-ukraine_en

[4] https://www.castellum.ai/russia-sanctions-dashboard

[5] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/whats-left-to-sanction-in-russia-wallets-stocks-and-foreign-investments/

[6] https://rosstat.gov.ru/folder/313/document/163079

[7] https://rosstat.gov.ru/folder/313/document/165370

[8] https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2022/05/13/russia-is-on-track-for-a-record-trade-surplus

[9] https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2022/05/13/russia-is-on-track-for-a-record-trade-surplus

[10] https://www.reuters.com/world/us-says-china-could-face-sanctions-if-it-supports-russias-war-ukraine-2022-04-06/

[11] https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/hungary-cannot-support-new-eu-sanctions-against-russia-present-form-pm-orban-2022-05-06/

[12] https://www.ft.com/content/abba000b-992a-45a3-941a-3616e335ccc5

[13] https://tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/14676015?utm_source=yandex.ru&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=yandex.ru&utm_referrer=yandex.ru

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Anglo-American Axis Needs Common Market, not Common Alliance

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With the eruption of the war in Ukraine, and considering the post-war situation, the alliance system in the West and its future should be something worthy of concern.

Anglo-American Axis is a concept that I proposed well before Brexit, and such an axis has already been fully formed today. With Brexit, the United Kingdom is now no longer part of the continental European alliance. It has instead re-aligned with the United States, and reverted to being a maritime nation that it used to be.

Such an axis would not be moved by the independence inclination of France, the wish of Germany to become the leader, nor the ambition of Turkey to be a regional hegemon. It cares even less about countries like Israel, Iran, and India. What the Anglo-American Axis focuses is to control the high ground of fundamental values, so that it can win the historic future as long as civilization continues to progress. Wars in other regions do not carry much significance to it. For NATO to play a role, it must negotiate conditions with the United States. It is not the Anglo-American Axis that needs NATO, but that NATO needs the Anglo-American Axis.

The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the former members of the Commonwealth, have formed the largest single market in the world, with a coordinated monetary policy for the U.S. dollar and British pound. Such a market can consider certain African and South American countries, as long as they remain stable, and this usually means some “friendly dictatorships with open economies”, similar to Chile in the past.

Civilization is a dynamic force. Although many have studied monetary issues and finance, they fail to link these with civilization. In fact, these are appendages of civilization, and they are products of it. Humanity will inevitably move towards civilization.

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