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Interview: Russia’s business and investment opportunities in Africa

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With new trends and directions in global business, African countries have to look to the Eurasian region as a huge market for exports as well as make efforts to consolidate and strengthen economic cooperation, says Tatiana Cheremnaya, the President of ANO “Center for Effective Development of Territories” and Head of the working group on public-private partnership “Business Union of Eurasia” in this wide-ranging interview.

She further discusses Russia’s economic relationship, challenges and untapped potential business and investment opportunities with Africa. She spoke recently in this interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah, an independent research writer on Russian-African affairs in Moscow.

How important is Eurasian market for African countries?

The Eurasian marketplace, in scale and capital intensity, is huge. It includes some countries of Europe and post-Soviet countries and rather fast-growing Asian countries. It is obvious that the interest among African countries for access to these markets is enormous both in the context of just entering the market of a particular country and implementation of joint interstate projects. In this case, first of all, we are talking about high requirements in the implementation in Africa of infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges, pipelines, electricity and the search for alternative sources of energy, communication, without which it is impossible to imagine a dynamic and systematic development of the economies of African States.

The implementation of such projects can be possible with the introduction of public-private partnerships. Here you can define several main points of contact between the Eurasian and African companies:

1. The implementation of joint projects in the framework of BRICS. We know that the unit includes one African country – South Africa. Today in the framework of the unit formed the New development Bank BRICS, the funding of joint transnational projects. In 2016, the Bank has approved the financing of the first investment projects in the BRICS countries totaling more than $1.5 billion.

2. Joint cooperation between the units of the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union. It is qualitatively new direction in the cooperation between the two blocs was laid in July 2016, when in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, the delegation of the Eurasian Economic Commission held talks at the African Union Commission. It is worth noting that the African Union itself includes the 54 African States, and in the area of Eurasia includes 89 countries. The scale of the Eurasian-African cooperation is evident.

3. Giant cross-country infrastructure projects, which can be safely attributed to the project Great Silk Road. Here the role of the Eurasian economic Union and the project “Economic Belt Silk Road” is the formation of a common economic space, institutional capacities mates, and the possible components of a proactive commercial and economic strategy of Russia and its Eurasian Economic Union partner. Project financing is also being implemented in the framework of interstate financial institutions creates a system of regional-global financial institutions with total capital to date $240 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, development Fund of Silk Road.

How challenging, of course, is this market?

Of course, to enter the Eurasian markets from Africa is quite difficult. Here we are talking primarily about the high-tech, and the competitiveness of African business. That is, on one hand, we have a cheap labor force, good climate, really good opportunities all appearing for business development on the African continent. But, on the other hand, it often happens that a business can’t compete with the Eurasian giants. However, in time within such a community as BRICS, or the cooperation between the Eurasian economic Union and the African Union, can be reached certain agreements on implementation of joint projects and the release of African companies into the Russian market, what needs to be done.

Do you also think that industrialists and business directors from the Eurasian region can cooperate with other foreign investors on projects in Africa?

Of course, we can talk about cooperation between the African and Eurasian investors. Generally, in the age of globalization, cooperation is a basic and necessary condition for the development of cooperation among countries and enhanced the pace of development of the economies of some African countries gives reason to predict the emergence of truly important and profitable joint projects.

It is worth noting that according to the World Bank, in 2013, among the 50 economies that have improved their economic performance since 2005, about a third owned by the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Studies conducted over the past three years also show that Africa today is no longer perceived as a backward region. It becomes an attractive investment and Eurasian countries see it as a place for prospective business.

It is worth noting that the basis for cooperation, for example, Russia and Africa are already actively created. So, in 2014, the visit of the official Russian delegation to Zimbabwe, where they discussed a number of key bilateral agreements designed to provide preferential treatment to investment from Russia. Russian companies interested in developing major infrastructure projects in the African region, primarily in the mining industry, and have the necessary experience, technology and expertise for the development of industrial and infrastructure projects.

Between countries today are considered joint projects that can participate in such major Russian companies as KAMAZ, Russian Railways, ALROSA, Uralvagonzavod and “Inter RAO”. In addition, to the infrastructure of the Russian-African partnership is also planned in other areas, such as automotive, agricultural production, implementation of joint projects in the sphere of development of agriculture, education and tourism.

Specifically, there is an investment in the republic of Ghana “One District, One Factory”. Opportunities to attract investment from the Eurasian countries have in most African States. For example, South Africa is the infrastructure in Zimbabwe and high-tech projects, and Ghana is the implementation of the “One District, One Factory”. All projects are very important for economic development of the African continent. But in each case for the investor is important, and profitability of such projects. For example, for the “One District, One Factory”, each individual plant will be measured from the point of view of expediency of investment of the investor. Here one should not expect miracles, but you need to work on each project with the Eurasian partners.

Do you think potential investors from the Eurasian region face competition for investment projects with other foreign players in Africa?

Yes, of course, investors of the Eurasian region are interested in implementation of joint projects. It is worth noting that today for the African continent, plays an increasingly important role in the foreign policy of the developed countries, is real struggle among the major powers of the world. For example, countries such as the United States, England, France, China, and India are gradually increasing its economic and political influence on the African continent. The interest of the developed world to Africa is, of course, largely from the increased need of their industry in the extraction of raw materials, which are present on the continent of Africa.

Furthermore, Africa is still untapped market for technology products and consumer goods. Also other Eurasian countries have interest in the continent; we can hardly compete with the leading world powers. Russian business is very interested in business development and their presence in Africa.

So in the near future can predict the development of the Eurasian-African cooperation in the field of business. In this situation it is necessary to search for effective forms of cooperation that have a solid foundation for the cooperation of business, addressing the goals and objectives of the Eurasian countries and Africa

So these Russian companies such as KAMAZ, Russian Railways, ALROSA, Uralvagonzavod, “Inter RAO”…how do you assess their influence or activities in Africa? What are their levels of operations in Africa? For instance, Russia Railways, how do you measure this company’s success as compared to China in Africa? China has completed railway lines in a number of African cities including Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

With regard to the participation of Russian companies in infrastructure projects in Africa, they are already there and as I wrote, will increase significantly. So, for example, Russian Railways is increasing its influence and implementation of joint projects in the field of railways, as Africa is actually very poorly developed railway infrastructure. If we consider the railway infrastructure in Africa, we note, for example that Algeria has an extensive network of railways in the north of the country; the rail infrastructure of Angola was virtually destroyed during years of civil war; in Botswana, Chad, the Gambia and Burundi passenger railways in general no; in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Guinea, Ghana and the Congo, there is one rail that is in poor condition; railroad developed only in Egypt, Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe.

There has been much activity in the railway sector in East Africa. From an economic point of view, it is a very profitable business. On the one hand, there is access to global markets and with another – stimulates regional trade. The countries themselves certainly can’t afford to implement such capital intensive projects, so come to the aid of other countries. And if the past is largely in the construction of railways helped the European countries, now in road infrastructure often puts China. Of the ongoing projects, it is worth noting the railway Mombasa – Nairobi to Kigali (Rwanda) and Juba (South Sudan), the road between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. The construction financing deals with Export-Import Bank of China. Except for the road construction, China also supplies and most of the rolling stock, including locomotives.

But the Russian Railways company is also one of the participants of the market of road infrastructure projects in Africa. In particular, the Sudanese government suggested that Russia participate in construction of Trans-African railroad from Dakar (capital of Senegal), in Port Sudan in the Red sea, which would connect many countries from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. In the future, this railway will connect the capital of Senegal, with the port of Djibouti. The management of Russian Railways said that the company is interested in participation in infrastructure projects in Ethiopia. The Russian Railways, in fact, can become a consultant or general contractor of the project in Africa, as the team has the necessary experience and knowledge.

As for the Russian company “KAMAZ” it is necessary to note that “KAMAZ” works in countries on the African continent since the days of the Soviet Union, the machine “Soviet-style” still can be seen on the roads of Africa. The share of the African continent in the global economy in the near future will increase, and the management of “KAMAZ” seeks to take advantage of a favorable situation. The company “MAZ” – the Russian manufacturer of trucks – in November 2016 began to put Africa right-hand drive trucks. While we are talking only about South Africa, but in the future cooperation is planned with countries such as Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia.

However, the Russian production is not always able to compete with the Chinese, because in many areas of work in Africa, China has the best position. But currently, Russia is strengthening its position in Africa, these projects that implement only experienced Russian companies.

How important is Russian Export Center for Africa? Which Russian products “Made in Russia” are being promoted in Africa market currently, again compared to India and China whose various products including consumer goods, pharmacy and automobiles very common in Africa?

The importance of the Russian Export Center is difficult to overestimate. Indeed, the Center is doing a great job for development, including the African market. According to the report of the Russian Export Center, export of Russian goods to the African continent increased by more than 50 percent in 2016. In Africa, the demand for Russian goods, while their exports to other countries, by contrast, only falls. Given that the difficult economic situation in Russia contributed to a significant decline in exports in almost all countries of the world, has shrunk by nearly a third to US$129,7 billion and in African countries we are seeing demand growth, contrary to the general trend of demand for Russian goods. The maximum growth of exports showed Algeria (US$556 million), Angola (US$298 million) and Egypt (US$178 million).

It should be noted that the attractiveness of African markets is associated with a low level of competition because the market is actually free for low-end products. As for China, here directly is not a competitor to Russia because Russia is a strong player and China is interested in markets with much greater capacity. For Russia as a country that traditionally exported only raw materials, Africa is a very good place to start. However, we know that African countries are fast growing. So, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts by 2016 economic growth in Tanzania 6%, Zimbabwe 3%, while, for example, in the USA only 2%. That is, for Russia, the African market is very interesting and we can talk about expanding cooperation with African countries to export products “Made in Russia” in various segments.

So what are the key problems and impediments to developing practical and active Russian-African business, especially in the manufacturing and consumer sectors, not theories but real active bilateral economic cooperation? What should be done from both sides, from Russian side and from African side?

The problems of effective cooperation between Russia and Africa are political in nature. Thus, the strengthening of Russia’s position leads to the strengthening of its influence in the world, including in Africa and vice versa, sectional policy has significantly reduced Russian exports.

The second problem for the development of Russian-African business is the lack of competitiveness of Russia which allows working only in the low-budget segment. This is due to structural problems in the Russian economy, the need for modernization, the bulk of the products produced during the Soviet Union.

The third problem is the unwillingness of the African market to cooperate, due to the strong backlog of the country in socio-economic aspects, for example, we are talking about the lack of qualified personnel, low standard of living of the population and hence the low effective demand.

The fourth problem is competition from the United States, China and India as more developed countries with more advanced technological solutions, and from the European countries as the former “patrons” of African countries. However, these barriers can be gradually removed by constant open dialogue between African governments and Russia, as well as directly between interested companies of the two countries. For cooperation with Russia is necessary to develop competitive solutions in terms of infrastructure development and proposals for the supply of consumer goods, as well as the removal of bureaucratic barriers. African countries need not only steps on the path to economic growth, but also political decision-making directed at improving living standards and increasing the stability of the political and economic systems of African countries which could significantly reduce risks for investing in African projects.

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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Economy

Role of WTO in Regularization of International Trade

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International trade is one of the main features of the globalized world and global economy. There it needs also a well-organized institutional mechanism to regulate it. World Trade Organization is an international organization established in 1995, whose main objective is to facilitate trade relations among its member countries for their mutual benefits. Currently 164 states are its members. The activities and works of WTO are performing by a Secretariate of about 700 staff located in Geneva, Switzerland, led by the Director General. English, Spanish and French are the official languages of World Trade Organization. The annual budget of WTO is about 180 million dollars.

Since its creation it is playing an important role in the regularization of international trade. It offers a forum and facilitation for negotiating trade agreements in order to reduce the barriers in the way of smooth international trade among member countries. Thus, the role of this organization is playing very important role in the regularization of international trade which is contributing to economic development and growth of member countries in this globalized world. The World Trade Organization also offers an institutional structure and legal framework for the execution and supervising of the international trade related agreements which are very helpful in regularization of international trade. It also settles disputes, disagreements and conflicts occurring during the interpretation and execution of the components of the international agreements related to international trade. During the past 60 years, the World Trade Organization and its predecessor organization the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) have assisted to establish a solid and flourishing global trade system, by this means helping to extraordinary international economic development.

The WTO is regularizing international trade more specifically through negotiating the decrease and finally elimination of barriers to trade among countries and try to make smoothly the working of the rules and principles governing the international trade e.g. tariffs, subsidies, product standards, and antidumping etc. It also administers and monitor the execution of the World Trade Organization’s determined guidelines for trade in services, goods as well as intellectual property rights related to international trade. It also monitors and review the member states international trade policies as well as make sure the transparency in bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. Likewise, it also solves disputes arising among members related to trade relations or related to the explanation of the provisions of the trade agreements. It also offers services to the governments of the developing states in the fields of capacity building of officers in matters related to international trade. WTO is also doing research on matters related to international trade and its related issues and collect data in order to find better solutions of the problems and obstacles in regularization of international trade. It is also trying to bring into the organization the 29 states who are yet not members of the organization aimed to assist and regulate their international trade according to the international standard.

One of the main barriers in way to international trade is disputes between the engaged parties. Since long this was a very critical issue limiting the trade among states. The WTO is playing very good and instrumental role in the solution of trade related disputes. Since the establishment of WTO in 1995 over 400 disputes related to trade have been brought by its member countries to WTO. The increasing number of bringing trade related disputes to WTO is showing the faith of member countries in the organization. Close trade relations have massive advantages but also create disputes and disagreements. With the increase of international trade, the possibility of its related disputes also increases. Previously, such problems and disagreements have caused in severe disputes. But at present, in the era of WTO the international trade related disputes are decreased because the member states have now dispute’s solution platform, and they are turning to the World Trade Organization to solve their trade related disagreements and disputes. Before the World War Second, there was not any such international organization or forum which could facilitate international trade and its related affairs, and there was also noany legal framework for solving trade related disputes among states of the word.

One of The World Trade Organization’s guiding principal is to continue the open boundaries for trade, ensure the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status among member countries and stop discriminatory behaviour of members towards other member(s) and bring transparency in doing international trade. It is also assisting counties to open their indigenous markets to global trade, with justified exemptions or with suitable flexibilities, promote and support to durable growth, reduce trade deficit, decrease poverty, and promote economic stability. It is also working to integrate different international trade policies and principles. The member countries of WTO are also under the compulsion to bring their trade related disputes to this organization and avoid unilateral actions. WTO is the central pillar of the current international trade system.

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Russia and France to strengthen economic cooperation

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On April 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin held videoconference with leaders of several French companies-members of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France-Russia) to discuss some aspects of Russian-French trade, economic and investment cooperation, including the implementation of large joint projects as well as the prospects for collaborative work.

Putin noted that the Economic Council of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is still operational in spite of difficulties, and the late April meeting was the fourth time since 2016. From the historical records, France has been and remains a key economic partner for Russia, holding a high but not sufficiently high, 6th place among EU countries in the amount of accumulated investment in the Russian economy and 5th place in the volume of trade.

Despite a certain decline in mutual trade in 2020 (it went down by 14 percent compared to 2019) the ultimate figure is quite acceptable at $13 billion. French investment in Russia is hovering around $17 billion, while Russian investment in France is $3 billion.

Over 500 companies with French capital are operating in various sectors of the Russian economy. French business features especially prominently in the Russian fuel and energy complex, automobile manufacturing and, of course, the food industry. “It could have been more if the French regulatory and state authorities treated Russian businesses as Russia is treating French businesses. We appreciate that in a difficult economic environment, French companies operating in Russia have not reduced their activity,” Putin pointed out.

The Russian Government established the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, which includes six French companies. Further, there is an opportunity to discuss specific issues related to the economic and investment climate in Russia, and that opportunity is traditionally provided at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which will be held on June 2-5.

French companies are involved in the implementation of globally famous landmark projects, such as the construction of the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 facilities and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. This, Putin regrettably said “We are aware of and regret the amount of political speculation concerning the latter. I would like to point out once again that it is a purely economic project, it has nothing to do with present-day political considerations.”

Russia intends to increase assistance to the development of science and technology. Funds will be directed primarily to innovation sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, nuclear and renewable energy, and the utilisation of carbon emissions.

“We are interested in involving foreign companies that would like to invest in Russia and in projects we consider high priority. In order to do this, we will continue to use preferential investment regimes and execute special investment contracts, as you know. A lot of French companies successfully use these tools on the Russian market. For example, more than one third of 45 special investment contracts have been signed with European, including French, partners,” he explained during the meeting.

He also mentioned continuous efforts to attract foreign companies to localise their production to state purchases and to implementing the National Development Projects, as well as existing opportunities for French businesses in special economic zones. Today there are 38 such zones created throughout the Russian Federation.

Russia pays particular attention to attracting high-quality foreign specialists. Their employment is being fast-tracked, and their families can now obtain indefinite residence permits. There is a plan to launch a special programme of ‘golden visas’ whereby to issue a residence permit in exchange for investment in the real economy, a practice is used in many other countries.

Taking his turn, Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Gennady Timchenko, noted that the pandemic has changed the world, people and business, and that French companies in Russia are responsible employers and socially responsible members of Russian society.

Despite the crisis and the geopolitical situation, a number of French companies have launched production in 2020–2021. Companies such as Saint-Gobain and Danone have renewed their investments. French companies have increased their export of products manufactured in Russia; they are investing in priority sectors of the Russian economy. For example, this year the French company Lidea is launching a plant called Tanais to produce seeds. Russia is dependent on the import of 30 to 60 percent of these seeds, according to various estimates.

Despite the current geopolitical conditions and information field, there are important signals for French business and the Russian side to strengthen economic cooperation, attract investment, and create partnerships on a new mutually beneficial basis.

Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Patrick Pouyanne, noted that the meeting has become an excellent tradition, the presence of 17 CEOs and deputy CEOs of French companies shows the importance of these joint meetings, and further reflect the deep interest of French business in Russia.

In addition, Patrick Pouyanne further offered some insights into Russia-French cooperation. By 2020, twenty members of the Economic Council invested a total of 1.65 trillion rubles, supporting 170,000 jobs. These companies have operated in Russia for decades and continue investing in the Russian economy despite the sanctions and the epidemic. These companies help France maintain its status as the second largest investor in Russia. In 2020, France invested over $1 billion in Russia despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Concluding his remarks, Patrick Pouyanne stressed that the economic operators believe everyone will benefit if Russia, France and all of Europe are not divided or isolated. This is the challenge today. Indeed, diplomacy has to continue playing an important role in settling differences, and businesses are convinced that meetings like this create bridges between Russia and France to strengthen investment and economic cooperation.

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Iran’s Economic Diplomacy through CPEC

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U.S. sanctions against Iran are characterized by strategic flexibility and adaptability. They are designed to have maximum negative and deterrent effect on Iran’s military, economic and diplomatic growth.  Tehran is exploring ways to counter these sanctions most probably by economic engagements with the regional countries. Iran’s perception of CPEC lends some credit to this argument.

Since the initiation of CPEC, the regional perception has already started to change as many countries have begun to see the project within the domain of their national interests. Iran has expressed its long-standing interests to join the CPEC viewing the corridor as a cornerstone for the country economic prosperity and regional connectivity.

Iran solely focuses more on the economic aspect of CPEC. Regional connectivity through CPEC can boost Iran’s stake in the global output. In 2015, on the sidelines of the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) address, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani expressed a desire to be the part of CPEC. He emphasized the importance of connectivity projects for the region. Iran’s initial reluctance to CPEC was transformative in nature and heavily came down with the unfolding of new geoeconomic realities.

Iran’s inclination for the CPEC project even becomes the part of official discourse. Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Monardost showed keen interest to participate in the CPEC and named it as one of the greatest projects in the history of the region. He envisioned a great boost to bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran under the framework of this regional connectivity corridor. In 2017, Iran’s economy minister Ali Tayyebnia participated in the New Silk Road summit. He praised the New Silk Road concept for regional connectivity.

Iran’s economy is already clutched due to the international sanctions invoked by the Trump administration after pulling back from the Iranian Nuclear Agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018.Downplaying the perception of geopolitical competition between Gwadar and Chabahar, Iran higher officials negated the impression of competition falsely exaggerated by International and India media and insisted on the complementary nature of two ports.

In 2016,Iran and India signed an agreement for the development of Chabahar port and it was view as the counterweight to Gwadar port. Without explicitly mentioning India by name, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Syed Mohammad Ali Hoseeni defended the decision of his country to drop out India from the project in Chabahar by stating “when some foreign governments found reluctant in their relations with Iran and need other’s permission for even their normal interactions, for sure they would not be capable of planning and implementing such long-term cooperation contracts”.

The same rhetoric appears in the views of Chinese leadership. Brushing aside the allegations of Iran’s perceived resistance to CPEC and Gwadar port, Iran’s foreign minister Jawad Zarif dismissed the allegations and supported growth and development anywhere in Pakistan.

Chabahar is often seen as a rival to Gwadar port. However, Indian discourse has got an altogether different lease of life in the media compared to the Iranian one. Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi honardoost utterly disregarded the narrative of competition of two ports. He invited both Pakistan and China to closely work in Chabahar port.

China considers Iran as an important country for its energy security, BRI and in the larger context of global competition with USA. China dual role both in Gwadar and Chabahar, according to the analysts, will likely reduce the impression of competition between two ports. Chinese stance on the Chabahar port also complement the Iran’s position on Chabahar. Chinese premier Le Keqiang rejected the notion that Chabahar port is in competition with the Gwadar. He is convinced with the idea that both ports have the potential to complement each other.

Tehran global status goes upward with the emerging financial and diplomatic backing of China. Beijing openly backs Tehran in the face of U.S. might.  On March 26, 2021, China and Iran signed an agreement expressing a desire to increase cooperation and trade relations over the next 25 years. Wang Yi, Chinese foreign minister, said that USA should rescind the sanctions against Iran. The 25 years deal is considered as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to Tehran Times analysts Peyman Hassani and Ammar Hossein Arabpour, this deal is considered a relief to Iran’s gas and oil sector against USA sanctions.

USA sanctions forcefully bar the countries from purchasing oil from Iran. The US Department of Defense’s report notes that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) focus on pipelines and port construction. Pakistan’s reluctance to follow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline which is stalled due to American pressure can be reviewed, too much sigh of relief for Tehran’s energy export.

Triangular relations of China, Pakistan and Iran will likely put Iran on the strong footing. Richard Caplan, a professor of international relations at the university of Oxford, notes, “The agreement which predates Biden, undercuts U.S. efforts to isolate Iran economically and, to some extent, diplomatically.

Diplomatic and economic isolation remain at the center of Iran’s foreign policy under the severe U.S. sanctions. Iran’s perceptions of CPEC revolves around the same fact that through regional engagements under CPEC and BRI, it can tackle its global problems to some extent.

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