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What to do about the Euro

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]fter the North American subprime crisis, European countries suffered two simultaneous shocks: the customers of those “toxic” assets – mainly European assets – discovered that most of their assets were completely presumed, while the US economic crisis made the substantial EU exports to that market decrease significantly.

As usual, recession leads to an increase in public deficit, because tax revenue decreases while, in time of crisis, public expenditure for subsidies and welfare cannot but increase.

Hence the global recession of 2007, caused by the United States, led to the first real crisis of the Euro.

When adjustments of exchange rates are no longer possible, in the Eurozone the mitigation of imbalances is entrusted to the EU structural funds for low-income regions – funds scarcely suitable for specific needs and too complex to be used by local governments.

Hence the Euro was born as an intrinsically deflationary currency and the only nation winning the single currency battle was Germany which, shortly before the start of the European single currency phase, had depressed wages severely and had created the well-known “mini-jobs”.

With an inflation rate and a labor cost already lower than those of the other future Euro members, it immediately created an optimal and stable differential as against the ”South’s Euro”.

Currently the Euro conceals, but not solves this asymmetry.

Hence very low inflation in Germany and a related very low interest rate, which have further increased German competitiveness compared to the South’s Euro area.

Therefore the EU Member States which had not prepared themselves for the single currency recorded inflation rates much higher than the German ones but, thanks to the single currency, recorded lower interest rates, thus financing the cost of crisis with debt.

The Euro was a good currency for incurring debt, but a bad currency for exporting.

Furthermore, this was the reason why the public debt increased also in Italy but, unlike the lira time, the Italian debt securities were held in the Eurozone surplus countries and not by the Italian customers of public debt securities.

At that juncture, the crisis broke out in Greece which, with the then Prime Minister Papandreou, had overtly and naively “cooked the books”.

Instead of funding Greece immediately at a low cost, so that it could overcome the crisis, and then allowing it to redress its accounts, the Sarkozy-Merkel axis imposed very harsh “austerity measures” on Greece which had to pay very high rates on the market. Hence, for international markets, the Greek default became a very concrete possibility.

If Strauss-Kahn had not been unfairly defamed by a special relationship between Sarkozy and Obama – who was afraid of a brave EU showing guts – the low-interest loan to Greece would have been a reality and there would not have been the first “Euro-branded” default. A default which paves the way for others.

It will be the project in progress for other “weak” economies, the rush towards bankruptcy and default.

International markets have got so accustomed to gain money quickly and easily from a national default of the Eurozone that they are rubbing their hands in view of the next country falling into that spiral.

Hence the Euro is a currency which amplifies internal crises between high rates and rising national deficits. It also signals to financial markets that there exists a great chance of short-term high profits – almost usurious ones, if usury were not a criminal offense also on international financial markets.

Hence while the Euro, as conceived today, is a sign of the end for the weakest countries of the single currency area, it is not true that over-spending by the countries already weakened by the Euro has worsened the crisis, as the current economic theories make us believe.

Data shows that, after 2007, the countries called PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) had a debt/GDP ratio fully comparable with the one preceding the Euro introduction. Hence we do not accept explanations on “immoral” countries which “spend beyond their means.”

The crisis broke out and expanded because a currency created for the monetarily strongest countries, with remarkable trade surpluses, was not suitable for nations having different productive configurations and very little surpluses.

Therefore the crisis of the single currency and its economies does not result from the “non-restrictive” and profligate policies of some PIIGS governments.

A that juncture, the quite unusual idea emerged among European bureaucracies that deficit spending of the public sector – the only known driver to stimulate the economies under crisis – had the immediate effect of increasing taxes, thus leading to an increase in savings and a reduction in consumption.

This is the expansionary austerity school of thought, which is currently the best known one in contemporary economic analysis.

It is generally based on subjective (and psychologically questionable) assessments which are transposed into the macroeconomic environment, where everything is very different from the people’s spending or saving attitudes.

You cannot infer the behavior of an entire organism from one single cell, as it is well-known that all organisms are not simply clusters of similar cells.

Again according to the expansionary austerity school of thought, it is believed that deficit reduction will be interpreted by taxpayers as a reduction in taxes to pay.

It is a shaman-style reasoning – however, without avoiding media influencing citizens or without thinking they save or not for reasons other than the irrational bet on the reduction in State deficit, which anyway depends on a political choice.

Hence as long as the governments’ interest rates to refinance their debt are set by unspecified “markets,” which are interested in increasing interest rates to enhance their gains, there is no way out.

So, what can be done? If the Euro countries were funded directly by the ECB, at rates similar to those used by the private banking system, financial resources equal to 5% of GDP would be released.

Even a uniform tax system among the Euro countries would be essential for this purpose.

However, neither the first nor the second option is possible in the current Euro regulatory framework. Hence what can be done?

This is the reason why the exit of some countries from the Eurozone and their return to national currencies must be considered without making an issue of it and overdramatizing.

By calculating the loss of competitiveness of a post-Euro lira or peseta, we record a comparative loss of approximately 14% – hence nothing very severe.

Provided, however, that the Bank of Italy has well-designed plans already available for the possible exit from the Euro – something in which we do not believe at all.

Unfortunately Guido Carli passed away.

Hence, it is worth reiterating that Euro crisis was generated by excessive private and public debt held by non-European hands.

Therefore, as from 2010, all the countries hit by the Euro crisis had accumulated current account deficits while, coincidentally,   those which had current account surpluses did not record financial crises.

In fact, the crisis materialized with a sudden stop of capital flows between the Eurozone countries.

A stop which took the form of a generalized increase in risk premiums.

The end of flows immediately raised doubts on the solvency of banks and governments which depended on foreign loans from abroad, for example those who were accumulating current account deficits.

Inevitably the crisis also increased the debt/GDP ratio.

The monetary union enabled global imbalances to expand rapidly without anyone noticing it, because the Euro “conceals” the differences between the countries using it.

Hence, also as a result of the inefficient European bureaucracy, the loss of trust vis-à-vis the countries recording deficits increased.

Hence, without a “lender of last resort”, each monetary shock tends to be amplified and the Euro is precisely a currency without a lender of last resort.

A currency in which no international investor believes, unless it represents the individual economies and the single public debt of the Eurozone countries.

Therefore the crisis is bound to get worse, considering that the increase in risk premiums and interest rates produces a budget deficit which, in turn, increases the risk premium and interest rates.

It is worth adding that the countries’ typical and natural response to this situation would be devaluation which, obviously, is not possible with the Euro.

Has a currency which cannot be devalued ever existed?

It is still the “Napoleonic myth” of the single currency for the whole Europe which, however, the French Emperor supported with bayonets, just as the US dollar is currently backed with the North American Armed Forces’ global rayonnement.

Therefore, the debt denominated in Euros is increasingly similar to a foreign currency debt, as in those sudden stop crises which often occurred in Third World countries.

Hence the link between banks and governments in the Eurozone has amplified the crisis.

The cost of financing the deficit increased and this made the deficit rise.

Only Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes” at the end of July 2012 made the Euro a “safe haven currency”, because he made it clear that the “lender of last resort” existed and was the ECB Governor. In the meantime, however, the other major international currencies had been depreciated by 30%.

Furthermore, the proposals to solve the single currency crisis are often paradoxical.

They range from Joseph Stiglitz, who wants Germany to leave the Euro so as to enable the old remaining single currency to devalue.

With the same current rules? It is impossible.

Hence shall we wait for a courtesy by Germany, which would have no interest in leaving the single currency, which deprives it of European competition?

Naivety of the New World. Germany will never leave the Euro, which enables it to bring dangerous competitors for exports into line (such as Italy).

While President Ciampi – an extraordinary man who has recently passed away and whom I still regret – was visiting the Great Wall, the German Prime Minister, Schroeder, arrived in China to sign the agreements for the expansion of the German car-making industry in China.

Better and more autonomous intelligence would be needed to defend ourselves from competitors-allies.

According to Paolo Savona and Luigi Zingales, two Euros should be created, one for the “rich” North and the other for us poor countries of the South.

Furthermore, sometimes Zingales speaks of various Euros. Would they all have the same value?

Possibly becoming quasi-national currencies? Nevertheless also the countries in the South have significant budget and debt differences, as well as different production logics.

Certainly better than before, with the Euro, but not much better.

Conversely Basevi thinks of a European Debt Agency (EDA) purchasing – on the secondary market (where raiders have already made good profit) – up to 60% of debt in relation to each EU country’s GDP.

On the basis of these securities, it issues its own bonds, the blue bonds, while for the part exceeding their debt over the 60% acquired by EDA, the countries issue their red bonds autonomously.

The blue bonds would be “liquid” and safe (Why? Where is the EDA underlying fund?), while the red bonds would have a higher risk profile and thus would pay a higher interest rate.

However, the global market of financial securities is not made up of fools.

And it is not clear from where the premium for the blue bonds would come.

And where the red bonds would be sold, with such an interest as to rapidly recreate the old huge public debt.

Hence if we leave the Euro and a new lira is recreated, devaluation would be approximately 27% as against the European currency.

The price of raw materials could rise by the same rate, but we should consider the length of contracts and the specific role played by ENI for oil and energy.

Bank deposits could still be denominated in euros – the law permits to have bank deposits in foreign currencies – and the new lira could have legal tender as the old currency designed by Silvio Gesell which the more stood “still”, the greater value lost.

The drive towards exports would be important, but there would be enough euros available to buy technologies or other items abroad.

In short, we need to think rationally to an upcoming withdrawal from the Euro, without pro-European myths and with an accurate analysis of our national interest in the short and medium term.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Economy

Russian-Nigerian Business Council Reviews Performance

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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The Russian-Nigerian Business Council, with participation of a delegation from Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Nigerians in the Diaspora in Europe (NIDOE), held its annual meeting, pledged to strengthen cooperation in various economic sectors after reviewing the performance for the year 2018.

The Russian-Nigerian Business Council was established to facilitate a constructive dialogue between Russian and Nigerian entrepreneurs interested in developing business cooperation between the two countries, and to enhance the role of the Russian business community in implementing state policy concerning the Russian-Nigerian economic ties.

The primary objective of the organization is to establish contacts and cooperation with non-governmental associations of Russia and Nigeria that have an active position on trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, and to provide information services and consulting support to Russian and Nigerian businesses. At present, the Business Council unites more than 30 Russian companies from various sectors of industry and trade.

The Vice-President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Vladimir Padalko, noted in his welcoming speech, that Nigeria is one of the three largest trade partners of Russia among sub-Saharan African countries and the positive trends emerging in Russian-Nigerian relations need to be developed.

And for developing this, it is necessary to give the domestic business a factual information, especially on business safety and profitability in Nigeria. By the end of 2018, trade with Nigeria reached almost US$600 million, but still seen as far below the full potential of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.

Padalko, however, pointed to prospective areas including the exploration and production of hydrocarbons and solid minerals, the supply of engineering and chemical products, aircraft technology, cooperation in the nuclear industry, energy, and others.

Dmitry Osipov, Chairman of the Russian-Nigerian Business Council, General Director of PJSC Uralkali (this company is one of the world’s largest producers of potash fertilizers) stressed that the Council regards Africa in general and Nigeria in particular as a promising market.

“The Business Council provides the companies from both countries, regardless of their form of incorporation, with an additional opportunity to expand and diversify business cooperation, including joint investment and business projects. Uralkali is no exception. We see Africa as a whole and Nigeria in particular as a very promising market where we could implement several projects within the framework of ensuring global food security,” he said.

In this case, the interests of the Russian business and the Nigerian leadership coincided as both chose agriculture as one of the pivotal points of growth of the country’s economy.

Dmitry Osipov further informed the meeting that the Business Council includes representatives made of thirty-four Russian companies and practically each of them has its own business interests in Nigeria.

RUSAL is the largest Russian investor in this African country. LUKOIL investments in Nigeria now exceed US$450 million, and the company plans to bring them up to US$6 billion. Other well-known companies work in this market, including the largest Russian producer of agricultural machinery, Rostselmash.

However, the range of economic spheres can be extended. And here, the Russian-Nigerian Business Council should play its role, among them identifying the most important tasks, analyzing the existing problems and the development of a consolidated position of domestic business in the areas of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. It also sees as important the organization of business interaction with representatives of Nigerian authorities, the establishment and expansion of business contacts with Nigerian entrepreneurs.

Abuja Chamber of Commerce President, Adetokunbo Kayode, traced the history of Russian-Nigerian trade relations, and objectively noted that much has changed. He said that the Federal Government of Nigeria has created a favorable business climate to attract foreign investors to Nigeria. Nigeria is developing rapidly. Now it is the largest market of the continent. The population growth presents a large market for consumer products. Therefore, the presence of Russian business in the heart of Africa is welcomed.

Mercy Haruna, Minister-Counsellor of the Nigerian Embassy in Russia; Rex Essenowo, Chairman of the Russian Branch of Nigerians in the Diaspora in Europe (NIDOE); Kirill Aleshin from the Institute of African Studies; Oleg Svistonov from Rusal Company in Nigeria and other speakers noted the importance of intensifying development of trade and economic relations between Russia and Nigeria.

The NIDOE-Russia was established as a forum for Nigerian professionals residing in Russian Federation to participate in the development of Nigeria. It works closely with the Presidency, the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Senate’s Committee on Diaspora Affairs and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Moscow.

The meeting finally made specific proposals on the work of the Business Council. An agreement on cooperation (that aimed at expanding and developing business cooperation between Russian and Nigerian entrepreneurs) was signed between the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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Economy

E-commerce: Helping Djiboutian Women Entrepreneurs Reach the World

MD Staff

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Djiboutian women entrepreneurs attended the launch of We-Fi MENA e-commerce, November 13, 2018. Photo: World Bank

Look around any café, bus, doctor’s waiting room or university campus and you will see heads down, fingers tapping as people immerse themselves into their screens. Increasingly, people are using their devices for shopping, with retail sales via e-commerce set to triple between 2004-2021.

Although significant gender gaps exist with internet use, and although online sales are currently dominated by US-based tech giants, this growing e-commerce trend presents an interesting opportunity for small businesses, and more specifically women’s businesses in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

This is a region where women’s economic empowerment is a significant challenge. With a female labor force participation rate of 19 percent, women’s participation in firm ownership at only 23 percent, and a rate of only 5 percent women top managers of firms across MENA’s non-high-income countries, there is significant scope for improving women’s participation in business and employment.

Access to finance also remains a problem, where 53 percent of women-led small and medium enterprises (SMEs) do not have access to credit and 70 percent of surveyed MENA female entrepreneurs agree that lending conditions in their economy are too restrictive and do not allow them to secure the financing needed for growth.

Several obstacles stand in the way of women’s entrepreneurship and access to markets, such as social norms, family care duties, and transportation issues. Not being able to physically access markets to sell their goods or to participate in international trade fairs to market their products is also a challenge.

This is where e-commerce can play a role, allowing women to circumvent these obstacles and sell their products online. For this, they need to rely on e-commerce platforms connecting them to clients around the world, on performant and affordable logistics, and on reliable payment systems. Building the e-commerce ecosystem will be key to allowing women entrepreneurs to access markets and grow their business, thereby employing more women, as data shows that firms run by women tend to employ more women.

The situation for women in Djibouti is no different. Gender inequality in the labor market remains substantial, with less than a third of women between the ages of 15 to 64 active in the labor market. Unemployment among both genders is high, with a rate of 34 percent for men but it is considerably higher for women at close to 50 percent.

Djiboutian women are also at a disadvantage in terms of education and skills to access economic opportunities. Women in Djibouti typically run small and informal firms in lower value-added sectors, which are less attractive to creditors, thus impeding their access to finance. Women entrepreneurs face difficulties accessing finance and launching formal enterprises.

There are, however, opportunities to increase women’s economic empowerment. Over 57 percent of inactive women in Djibouti say that they do not work because of family and household responsibilities. However, they also indicated they are generally not discouraged or prevented from accessing training or work opportunities by male family members, and there are no legal barriers against women’s entrepreneurship.

Years of research have shown, that when women do well, everyone benefits. Research has found women tend to spend more of the income they earn on child welfare, school fees, health care, and food for their families. Empowering women is an important path to ending poverty.

It’s vital to enable women to participate constructively in economic activities in Djibouti. More entrepreneurship will allow Djibouti to benefit from the talents, energy, and ideas that women bring to the labor market.

To help address this issue, on November 13, 2018, the World Bank launched a $3.82 million regional project called “E-commerce for Women-led SMEs.”  The project targets small and medium enterprises run or managed by women that produce goods marketable via e-commerce.

This project is at the crossroads of women’s entrepreneurship and the digital economy, which are two levers for the economic transformation of the region, and that it was very opportune to be able to launch it at the digital economy days of Djibouti.

The launch event took place with the participation of the Minister of Women and Family, the Minister of Economy, the Minister of Communication, the Head of the Women Business Association, and several Djiboutian women entrepreneurs.

The project will contribute to development of women’s entrepreneurship, digital commerce, and the economy in Djibouti and across the region. It will facilitate access for women-led SMEs to domestic and export markets through better access to e-commerce platforms. This will be done by training e-commerce consultants who, in turn, will train and help women-led SME’s access e-commerce platforms.

The project will also aim to ease access to finance for these SMEs by connecting them to financial institutions lending to women, particularly the IFC’s Banking on Women network. It will also work to create an ecosystem conducive to e-commerce by diagnosing regulatory, logistical, and e-payment constraints and supporting governments to lift them.

This launch comes following a successful pilot program in Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan where women entrepreneurs were enabled to export handicrafts, organic cosmetics, and garments to several overseas destinations including Australia, Europe, and the United States.

The development of women’s entrepreneurship and the digital economy—including better access to domestic markets and exports—are essential levers for the development and economic diversification of the MENA region that the Women Entrepreneurs and Finance Initiative (We-Fi) e-commerce project strives to support. The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) is a collaborative partnership launched in October 2017 that seeks to unlock billions of dollars in financing to tackle the full range of barriers facing women entrepreneurs.

World Bank

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Economy

Getting around sanctions with crypto-rial

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In April 2018, the Central Bank of Iran banned domestic banks and people from dealing in foreign cryptocurrency because of money laundering and financing risks.

However, the CBI decided to take a more moderate stance toward the digital money and blockchain technology following the imposition of a new round of U.S. sanctions, hoping that the digital technology would facilitate Iran’s international money transfers and let the country evade the sanctions.

Meanwhile, as an oil producer with an oil-reliant economy dominated by petrodollars, Iran settled on the plan to utilize cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology to make up for any drop in oil revenues due to the economic sanctions designed to cut its oil sales.

Moving on the same track as China, Russia and Venezuela, Iran also hopes that blockchainization of state-backed fiats would lead to the demise of the dollar and put an end to the tyrant U.S. policies.

Under the toughest U.S. sanctions ever and blacklisting of Iran from the Belgium-based international financial messaging system (SWIFT), the country’s plan to create an indigenous cryptocurrency is improving incrementally and thanks to highly dynamic nature of the cryptocurrency, it can act as a good means for Iran to skirt certain sanctions through untraceable banking operations.

The CBI has been working with domestic knowledge-based companies to develop a digital currency, called crypto-rial, supported by HyperLedger Fabric technology.

As reported, the Informatics Services Corporation, affiliated to the CBI but run by the private sector, has accomplished development of rial-based national cryptocurrency and when the CBI approves the uses of national cryptocurrency, it will be issued to financial institutions such as banks to test payments and internal and interbank settlements.

Transactions at the state-backed virtual currency are carried out on an online ledger called a blockchain, just the same as Bitcoin, but since the infrastructure is privately-owned it will not be possible for people to mine it.

In fact, Iran is mainly aimed at testing the potentials of blockchain and crypto technology in running its financial system, making banks able to use the tokens as a payment instrument in transactions and banking settlement at the first phase of the blockchain banking infrastructure. The country seems inclined to enjoy the new virtual currency businesses which includes little notice or footprint and has also prepared the required infrastructure for trading cryptocurrency in its stock exchange.

However, in spite of the CBI’s prohibition from trading cryptocurrencies, Iranians had commenced using cryptocurrency and Bitcoin mining for transactions with the rest of the world before its use was banned by the CBI in the country.

Individuals and businesses in Iran have had access to virtual currency platforms through “Iran-located, internet-based virtual currency exchanges; U.S. or other third country-based virtual currency exchanges; and peer-to-peer (P2P) exchangers,” according to reports.

But the U.S. embargo on a number of cryptocurrency exchange platforms, including Binance and Bittrex, restricted Iran from receiving services, however, no assets belonging to Iranians were blocked. U.S. sanctions have also ensnared Iranian bitcoin traders.

Furthermore, in December, the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as Fincen, issued a warning in an advisory to assist U.S. banks and other financial actors such as cryptocurrency exchanges in identifying “potentially illicit transactions related to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Bitcoin.com reported.

Fincen claimed that since 2013 Iran’s use of virtual currency includes at least $3.8 million worth of bitcoin-denominated transactions per year. The organization noted that “while the use of virtual currency in Iran is comparatively small, virtual currency is an emerging payment system that may provide potential avenues for individuals and entities to evade sanctions.”

Fincen believes that P2P cryptocurrency exchangers are a significant means through which Iran can dodge economic sanctions.
Following the Fincen’s announcement, the United States lawmakers introduced a bill (HR 7321) to impose more sanctions on Iranian financial institutions and the development and use of the national digital currency, Cointelegeraph reported.

The act prohibits transactions, financing or other dealings related to an Iranian digital currency, and introduces sanctions on foreign individuals engaged in the sale, supply, holding or transfer of the digital currency.

In the wake of the U.S. restrictions, thus, cryptocurrency trades are limited into Iran’s domestic market and not possible at the international level and Bitcoin is sold at a significant premium relative to the global average price in Iran.

Unfortunately, the basic and premier regulations of using cryptocurrencies have not been ratified in Iran and Iranians are obliged to refer to stock exchange shops abroad to do their crypto-transactions, most of which are American obedient to U.S. regulations and of course, sanctions.

To make using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology legal and official in the country, the Iranian government is drafting a policy framework by the help of the CBI and the Stock Exchange Organization which clarifies all its regulations and policies over cryptocurrency and mining.

Being legislated, it is believed that SWIFT can be replaced by the digital money, i.e. the rial-pegged national currency, and transactions would be done faster and at lower prices.

Due to a lack of required regulations, cargos of equipment for mining cryptocurrency are seized by the customs administration. They are said to be released as soon as the government legalizes cryptocurrency use in the country.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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