Lack of credit support and investment guarantees from the Russian government and financial institutions have been cited as the major impediments for Russian companies willing to invest in the African continent. These setbacks have culminated in the world’s biggest country by size lagging behind such economic powerhouses as the United States and China in expanding a footprint in Africa.
Companies from Russia, the Eurasian country, are said to be seeking to expand its business ties with Africa, most particularly in line with the country being grouped alongside South Africa in the BRICS (acronym Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa bloc, a formation of the world’s fastest growing economies.
In an interview, business leaders said the lack of credit lines and guarantees were stumbling blocks, recommending this had to change through political authorities and Russian financial institutions systematically working out a comprehensive policy plan towards improving the economic engagement with Africa.
“An increased economic partnership between Russia and African countries is necessary and will reaffirm the desire to continue developing business dialogue with interested companies in efforts to pursue active involvement in international programmes and projects for Africa,” said Dmitry Golovanov, Chairman of the Management Board of Eximbank of Russia.
In addition, he raised some specific proposals necessary for facilitating business between Russia and Africa. Besides, joint implementation of projects in the area of infrastructural development will positively influence development of contracts between Russian and African companies, he said. Golovanov, however, pointed out that transparency and possibilities for medium and small business to access contracts within the framework of implementation of major projects are required.
Such projects, said, generally had significant multiplicative effect in terms of comprehensive development of territories. One more direction of stimulation of cooperation may be provision of Russian and African companies with assistance in creation of value-added chains, including creation of joint ventures which base their competitive potential on the use of country advantages, Golovanov added in an interview.
“Russia is a large developing market with growing purchasing capacity, interested in development of competition and improvement of quality of products supplied from abroad. We often face a problem that companies willing to enter international markets cannot simply find foreign purchasers for their products,” said Golovanov.
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, concurred.
“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,” he added. Firsing highlighted the crucial role played by American institutions like their Export-Import Bank that supports American companies and their expansion into African markets.
These readily provided credits for American investors seeking to expand into this continent, a stance Firsing said was worth adopting by the Eximbank of Russia.
A good example of the continued willingness to fund American companies willing to invest in Africa, President Barack Obama’s latest African Power Initiative sees the Export-Import Bank granting up to US$5 billion in support of US exports for the development of power projects across sub-Saharan Africa.
“Russia can learn a lot from the approach of these countries,” said Firsing.
In an emailed response, Dr Martyn Davies, the Chief Executive Officer of the South African-based Frontier Advisory (Pty), suggested the adoption of a model by China to readily fund its companies interested in investing in Africa. He explained that the Chinese model of financing various infrastructure and construction projects in Africa had enhanced investments by the Asian country into the continent.
China, the world’s second-biggest economy after the United States, is currently Africa’s largest trading partner. There are an estimated 800 Chinese corporations doing business in Africa, most of which are private companies investing in the infrastructure, energy and banking sectors.
Davies pointed out and the main factor that had assisted this speedy market engagement between Africa and China was that Russian banks had “de-risked” the projects in Africa from a financial perspective.
“Russia’s banking sector operates quite differently” Davies said. He highlighted that When the former Chinese President, Hu Jintao, while delivering a speech at the opening ceremony of the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Beijing in 2012, he indicated explicitly that “China will expand cooperation in investment and financing to support sustainable development in Africa.”
China has provided US$20 billion of credit line to African countries to assist them in developing infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and small and medium-sized enterprises.
Comparatively, Japan has 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). TICAD is a conference held every five years in Tokyo, Japan, with the objective “to promote high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and development partners.”
Comparatively, apart from a $4 billion investment in an oil refinery in Uganda and $3 billion in a platinum mine in Zimbabwe, Russian investments in Africa are not as prominent as United States, the United Kingdom, France and China eclipse it.
Professors Aleksei Vasiliev and Evgeny Korendiasov, both from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of African Studies (IAS), believe that that the situation in Russian-African foreign trade will considerably 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.
231,000 New Jobs Added in Western Balkans amid Ongoing Economic Challenges, Emigration
A 3.9 percent increase in employment over the last year has led to the creation of 231,000 new jobs throughout the six countries of the Western Balkans, according to the “Western Balkans Labor Market Trends 2018” report, launched today by the World Bank and the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (wiiw). Unemployment also fell from 18.6 percent to 16.2 percent, reaching historic lows in some countries.
Leading the way for employment in the region was Kosovo, which saw an increase of 9.2 percent, followed by Serbia (4.3 percent), Montenegro (3.5 percent), Albania (3.4 percent), FYR Macedonia (2.7 percent), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (1.9 percent). Despite this progress, however, low activity rates – particularly among women and young people – along with high rates of long-term unemployment and a prevalence of informal work, continue to pose challenges for sustained economic growth in the region.
“The region has made great strides in improving labor market outcomes over the last year – meaning more people are finding jobs,” says Linda Van Gelder, World Bank Country Director for the Western Balkans. “However, we continue to see high rates of people who are not in employment, education or in training programs and we need to find ways to link them to future opportunities.”
Youth unemployment of 37.6 percent is a key challenge for the region. However, this rate is down from last year and nearly every country in the region is experiencing the lowest levels of youth unemployment since 2010. Country rates range from 29 percent in Montenegro and Serbia, to more than 50 percent in Kosovo. According to the report, it may be difficult for young people who become detached from jobs or education for long periods to reintegrate into the labor market. They also face a wage gap, earning up to 20 percent less than those who find employment sooner.
The report also notes that female employment rates are on the rise but they still remain low by European standards. The employment rate for women across the region stands at 43.2 percent, varying from a low of 13.1 percent in Kosovo to a high of 52.3 percent in Serbia. The gender gap in employment has also narrowed since 2010, ranging from 28.9 percentage points in Kosovo to 9.8 percentage points in Montenegro.
“Economic trends in the region look to be headed in the right direction,” says Robert Stehrer, Scientific Director of the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies. “Getting more people, particularly young and women into employment remains one of the key challenges in the region to sustain economic and social convergence.”
A number of obstacles to employment need to be addressed to reduce ongoing emigration from the region, especially common among young, educated people. In order to address this, further knowledge is needed. Countries in the region should synchronize their data on emigration and improve the registration and publication of migration statistics. By utilizing high-quality data that is in-line with international standards on workforce composition – both domestically and internationally – will produce accurate analysis of labor market dynamics in the region and allow for the design of policies that can simultaneously address the challenges of emigration and reap the benefits of migration.
Better linkages between secondary graduates and the labor market, as well as earlier interventions to retain students, can improve opportunities for employment. Policies, such as child care, care facilities for the elderly, flexible work arrangements and more part-time jobs would also promote labor market integration among women.
The report was produced with financial support from the Austrian Ministry of Finance.
Economic Growth in Gulf Region Set to Improve following a Weak Performance in 2017
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region witnessed another year of disappointing economic performance in 2017 but growth should improve in 2018 and 2019, according to the World Bank’s biannual Gulf Economic Monitor released today in Kuwait.
The region eked out growth of just 0.5% in 2017 – the weakest since 2009 and down from 2.5% the previous year. The GCC region’s economies experienced flat or declining growth as lower oil production and tighter fiscal policy took a toll on activity in the non-oil sector. External debt issuance continued to rise to help finance large fiscal deficits.
Economic growth is expected to strengthen gradually, helped by the recent partial recovery in energy prices, the expiration of oil production cuts after 2018, and an easing of fiscal austerity. The World Bank expects growth to firm to 2.1% in 2018 and rise further to 2.7% in 2019. Growth in Saudi Arabia is expected to rebound close to 2% in 2018-19 and to strengthen similarly elsewhere in the region.
“Policy attention is shifting towards deeper structural reforms needed to sever the region’s longer-term fortunes from those of the energy sector,” said Nadir Mohammed, World Bank Country Director for the GCC. “While the recent increase in oil prices provides some breathing space, policy makers should guard against complacency and instead double down on reforms needed to breathe new life into sluggish domestic economies, to create jobs for young people and to diversify the economic base. Any slippage could negatively impact the credibility of the policy framework and dampen investor sentiment.”
Looking forward, there are several downside risks that may weigh on activity. Lower than expected oil prices could exert pressure on the OPEC producers to extend or deepen their production reduction agreement and dampen medium-term growth in the GCC countries.
Although fiscal and current account balances are improving, the region continues to face large financing needs and remains vulnerable to shifts in global risk sentiment and the cost of funding. Geopolitical developments and relations within the region could slow growth prospects. Slippage in the implementation of country reform plans arising from weak institutional capacity will rob the GCC of the benefits of fiscal adjustment and of deeper structural reforms that aim to diversify their economies.
Over the longer term, the enduring dominance of the hydrocarbon sector in the GCC economies argues for the vigorous implementation of structural reforms. The terms of trade shocks in 2008-09 and in 2014-16 barely dented the dominance of the hydrocarbon sector in the GCC, with the bulk of the adjustment so far driven by spending cuts rather than the emergence of other traded sectors.
Structural reforms should focus on economic diversification, private sector development, and labor market and fiscal reforms. The GCC states’ long-term ambitions are articulated in various country vision statements and investment plans, and aspire to build competitive economies that utilize the talents of their people.
Implementing these structural transformation programs requires continuing political commitment from the GCC governments.
Saudi Arabia has shown considerable leadership in this regard: the 12 “vision realization plans” associated with its Vision 2030 aspirations aim to significantly transform the economy over the next 15 years by lifting the private sector share of the economy from 40 to 65% and the small and medium enterprise contribution to GDP from 20 to 35%.
“Transforming from an oil-dependent economy to a self-propelled, human capital-oriented one requires some fundamental changes in the mindset; some also call this a new social contract,” said Kevin Carey, Practice Manager at the World Bank. “GCC countries do not need to discard their existing social contracts but rather to upgrade them to reflect new realities of low for long oil prices, increasing global competition and the long-term threats from technological and climate change.”
As with other Arab countries, the GCC states also face sustainability, equity and welfare challenges related to their pension systems. These issues need to be addressed urgently to prevent any negative impact on economic growth, fiscal sustainability, and labor market stability.
Among the potential solutions that could help improve pension outcomes, the Gulf Economic Monitor underscores the importance of improving efficiency by reducing the prevailing fragmentation in many of the GCC pension systems; making access and contributions as simple and systematic as possible through the strengthening of ID and IT systems and the capabilities of pension administration bodies; and strengthening the governance of pension institutions. If GCC countries wish to attract global talent, they will also need to consider potential solutions for expatriates that help to meet their long-term pension and financial security needs.
Poland: Build on current economic strength to innovate and invest in skills and infrastructure
Poland’s economic growth remains strong. Rising family benefits and a booming jobs market are lifting household income while poverty rates and inequality are falling, says a new OECD report.
In its latest Economic Survey of Poland, the OECD encourages policy-makers to build on the country’s current economic strength and social progress in order to tackle major remaining challenges. To sustain rising living standards Poland has to develop its capacity to innovate and invest in skills and infrastructure, as is acknowledged in the government’s Strategy for Responsible Development. The report says that the level of expenditure on research and development, despite recent welcome rises and tax incentives, remains weak. Vocational training suffers from limited business engagement which is hindering many of the country’s plentiful small enterprises from modernising and improving productivity.
Poland is also ageing rapidly. The working age population is projected to decline markedly over the coming decades. The lowering of the retirement age risks increasing poverty among the elderly, particularly women, says the OECD. Women often have patchy career paths and their retirement age is now set to remain unusually low. Workers should be made aware of the benefits of working longer for their future pension income, the report says.
Despite efforts to improve childcare, it remains insufficient and expensive, especially in rural areas. More investment in childcare is required as part of a range of measures to help combine work and family life and strengthen the number of women in employment.
Presenting the Survey in Warsaw, OECD Deputy Secretary-General Mari Kiviniemi said, “Poland is in a strong position. A dynamic job market together with the Family 500 + programme has helped make economic development more inclusive. Many people now benefit from new opportunities and rising incomes.”
“The time is ripe to ensure that living standards continue to rise. Strengthening innovation, improving infrastructure and investing in skills will be crucial. With rising labour and skills shortages, many employers now realise how important it is to invest in training. The government must seize this opportunity to engage with them.”
Measures to improve tax compliance have succeeded in shrinking the public deficit despite higher spending on social benefits. But more resources – or shift in how they are used – will be needed to raise spending in priority areas such as public infrastructure, healthcare and higher education and research.
Limiting reduced VAT rates, increasing environmental taxes and giving a stronger role to the progressive personal income tax would raise additional revenue while contributing to more equity and a greener environment.
Plans to reform higher education and improve research excellence and industry-science co-operation are welcome, the report says. The general health status of Poles and access to healthcare are very unequal, while environmental quality is below the average of OECD countries. Tax rates on air and water pollution and on CO2 emissions are low and many environmentally harmful fuel uses are exempt from taxation. Raising environmental taxes would provide stronger incentives to replace ageing coal-intensive equipment with greener alternatives.
A clear immigration policy strategy is also needed to better monitor integration of foreigners in line with labour market needs, the protection of their rights and their access to education and training.
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