[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] J [/yt_dropcap]ust a week after his official installation at the White House, Donald J. Trump lashed out at China, accused of manipulating its currency to “win the globalization game”, but also at Germany which, as the President of the new National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, said “is exploiting both its neighbours and the United States with the euro”.
The accusation is not new. In the early 1970s the United States accused the old European Monetary System (EMS) of keeping the currencies adhering to it artificially high.
Inter alia, the EMS – with fixed exchange rates but with predefined fluctuations within it – was the European response to the US-prompted end of the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement.
Nevertheless, it was also Europe’s reaction to the planned weakness of the dollar during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, when precisely the dollar area sent huge capital flows into Germany, which had a “high” Mark, thus pressing it against the French Franc and hence destabilizing the entire European internal monetary exchange system.
Furthermore, in the early 1980s, the British Labour Prime Minister, Denis Healey, got convinced that the EMS was a real German “racket”, considering that the German Finance Minister had told him that his country planned to have a comparative advantage precisely by limiting the depreciation of the other European currencies.
This happened because Germany had lower labour cost-driven inflation rates and, hence, a currency with fixed rates would have anyway ensured export-driven surpluses only to Germany.
However also the G20 long negotiations have never led to any result: currently, in absolute terms, the German export-led surplus is much larger than China’s, namely 8.6% of the German GDP.
In fact, according to IMF estimates, the surplus is equal to 271 billion US dollars, a huge sum capable of changing all global trade flows.
Finally Chancellor Angela Merkel replied to Trump (and to Navarro) by recalling that the European Central Bank is the institution issuing the euro, but it is not lender of last resort. Nevertheless, she has not contradicted the US President about the fact that the Euro is really undervalued.
Furthermore, when we look at the currencies undervalued as against the US Dollar, we realize that the most undervalued currency is the Turkish Lira, followed by the Mexican Peso, the Polish Zloty, the Hungarian Forint, the South Korean Won and, finally, our own Euro.
Finally, when we look at the number and size of transactions denominated in euros, the European currency is already the second most traded currency in the world.
Hence, probably the undervaluation of the Euro against the US Dollar originates more from the expansionist policy of the European central Bank than from Germany’s actions for its exports and monetary parities.
Certainly Germany gains in having a currency that is much weaker than it would be if it were only a German currency but, on the other hand, with a Euro artfully devalued, the “weakest” Eurozone countries succeed in having lower interest rates than they could obtain with their old or new national currencies.
Moreover, it is worth recalling that Germany exports profitably both in countries where the currency is stronger than the Euro and in regions where the currency is even more depreciated as against the US Dollar, such as Japan.
According to last year’s data, the United States have a trade deficit with Germany equal to 60 billion US dollars.
Germany exports mainly cars, which account for 22% of their total exports to the United States.
It also exports – in decreasing order – machine tools, in direct competition with Italy, electronics, pharmaceuticals, medical technologies, plastics, aircraft and avionics, oil, iron and steel, as well as organic chemicals. All German exports are worth 35% of its GDP.
Why, however, is the Euro depreciated because of Germany?
Firstly, since 2000 the German cost of labour has grown by 20-30% less than in the Eurozone’s German competitors.
Hence German products were ipso facto 20% more competitive than those of the others, without any exchange rate manipulation.
If Germany still had had the Mark, it would have automatically appreciated by 20%.
The appreciation of this hypothetical Mark would have changed demand, by reducing exports and increasing imports by the same percentage.
In that case, the ideal would have been a floating exchange rate – and this should also be the case for a re-modulated Euro compared to the current situation.
A fluctuation prefiguring the creation of a new monetary “basket” with the major currencies, with exchange rates floating within a certain range, but much more realistic than the current ones.
A further cause of the current account surplus in Germany is the intrinsic strength of its exports – hence Germany does not suffer the competition of low-tech economies, such as Italy’s.
Another reason for the excessive German surplus is the low domestic demand, with the relative increase in private savings.
An additional cause of the surplus is the fact that savings have long been higher than investment.
In 2015, German savings amounted to 25% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while investment was worth only 16% of the GDP.
Obviously, another decisive reason for the accumulation of such a large German surplus was the fall in oil prices.
Therefore, the vast German surplus and the Euro undervaluation foster its exports, but block the exports of the other Eurozone countries.
In fact, according to our calculations, if Germany stimulated its domestic demand, thus allowing its inflation to increase, this would be enough for the final stimulus of global demand and, above all, it would make the Eurozone economies under crisis get out of their predicament.
Hence the real problem of too high a Euro is not so much for the United States, which can devalue as against the Euro whenever they want and anyway have still their own autonomous monetary policy, but rather for the single currency countries in the Mediterranean, which are experiencing a downturn caused by too low domestic demand.
Could we also do as Germany? No, we could not.
It is not possible for anyone in the Eurozone to create an 8% surplus, such as Germany, and not all countries could benefit from a devalued exchange rate of the European currency.
As many politicians say, restructuring the production system to increase productivity means – in a nutshell – years of deflation and high unemployment, which create a negative multiplier effect.
We cannot afford so – the social and economic conditions have already reached the breaking point.
Hence, let us put our minds at rest, the ”two-speed Europe” will last generations and it would be better if this could also be reflected in the single currency.
Or better in a series of two-three currencies deriving from the Euro with pre-fixed exchange rates floating within a range.
Furthermore, Germany will certainly replace China as the “bad” currency manipulator and there will be increasing competition between it and the rest of Europe.
Therefore, the German export surplus actually leads to an unfair competitive advantage over the Eurozone countries and, in other respects, over the North American exports.
This is the sense of the struggle against the Euro waged by President Trump and his future Ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch, who has stated that the Euro may “collapse” over the next eighteen months.
The Euro is certainly undervalued.
According to a study carried out by Deutsche Bank, the Euro is allegedly the most undervalued currency in the world, according to the criteria of the Fundamental Equilibrium Exchange Rates (FEER).
And the Euro is undervalued even if we look at its external value and the mass of transactions of the individual countries currently adopting it.
Hence, not only can Germany be accused of managing an improper comparative advantage over the dollar and the other major currencies but, according to the FEER data, the accusation holds true even for Italy and for the other single currency European countries.
With a view to solving the issue, some analysts – especially North Americans – think it should be Germany to leave the Euro.
On the one hand, Germany cannot revalue its currency (which is also a political problem – suffice to think of German savers) without the Euro appreciating also for the Eurozone weak economies, such Italy and Spain.
The World Bank believes that the German trade surplus is at least 5% too high and, hence, the German exchange rate is largely undervalued by at least 15%.
In fact, the differential between the German Euro and the Euro of the Eurozone weakest countries is 20%.
This means that, in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), the Italian or Greek Euro is worth 20% less than the German one.
The issue could be solved with an equivalent 20% Euro revaluation, combined with an expansionary fiscal policy.
However, this cannot be done as long as Germany is within the Euro. This means that Germany cannot revalue the exchange rate without doing the same in the other 17 countries that adopt the European single currency.
This would mean definitively destroying the Italian, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish economies.
Therefore, if Germany came out of the Euro, its new currency would appreciate as against the non-German Euro and the other countries would have a devalued currency, which could help them in exports.
There are two ways in which the German trade surplus creates deflation – and hence crisis – in the rest of the Eurozone.
Obviously the first is by pushing up the value of the European currency.
A strong euro weakens the demand for European exports, especially for the most price-sensitive goods of the Eurozone Mediterranean economies.
Moreover, the high value of the European currency reduces the price of imported goods, thus negatively reinforcing the price fall – another deflationary mechanism.
And the German inflation which, as everyone knows, is lower than in the other Eurozone countries, further weakens the peripheral economies.
Hence a landscape marked by low domestic demand and national markets’ production crisis.
However, in Navarro’s and in Trump’s minds, there is the implicit belief that trade imbalances can be solved in a context of free-floating currencies.
It is not always so and, however, fluctuations apply only when there are structural changes in trade systems – in principle all players envisage and operate, for sufficient time, with fixed or maybe slightly floating rates.
Therefore, reading between the lines, what both Trump and Navarro really tell us is that the very Euro membership is an act of monetary manipulation.
Hence, what is done?
The unity of the European economy is broken, with unpredictable effects and further global chaos, while the United States acquire exports that were previously denominated in euros.
Or the United States could impose quotas or specific tariffs for Germany, which is illegal in WTO terms but, above all, would expose the United States to a series of reprisals and retaliation by Germany and probably also by the rest of the Eurozone.
There is no way out: therefore, again reading between the lines, probably Trump is telling to the Eurozone weak economies that they should leave the single currency, which is only in Germany’s interest, and create new post-Euro currencies, which will be somehow pegged to the US Dollar.
Or Trump and Navarro could define a new relationship between Euro, Dollar, Yuan, Ruble, Yen and some other primary currencies on the markets and impose a predetermined fluctuation between them, but obviously the Euro would enter this new “Bretton Woods” by being valued in line with the markets and not being overvalued as today.
Europe, however, shall put back in line and tackle all trade and political issues with Trump’s America, which will make no concession to anyone and, most importantly, does no longer want to favour Europe militarily, strategically, financially and commercially.
In particular, Donald J. Trump has in mind the big game with Russia and China. He is scarcely interested in a continent, such as Europe, which is not capable of defending itself on its own and shows severe signs of structural crisis.
Is Myanmar an ethical minefield for multinational corporations?
Business at a crossroads
Political reforms in Myanmar started in November 2010 followed by the release of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and ended by the coup d’état in February 2021. Business empire run by the military generals thanks to the fruitful benefits of democratic transition during the last decade will come to an end with the return of trade and diplomatic sanctions from the western countries – United States (US) and members of European Union (EU). US and EU align with other major international partners quickly responded and imposed sanctions over the military’s takeover and subsequent repression in Myanmar. These measures targeted not only the conglomerates of the military generals but also the individuals who have been appointed in the authority positions and supporting the military regime.
However, the generals and their cronies own the majority of economic power both in strategic sectors ranging from telecommunication to oil & gas and in non-strategic commodity sectors such as food and beverages, construction materials, and the list goes on. It is a tall order for the investors to do business by avoiding this lucrative network of the military across the country. After the coup, it raises the most puzzling issue to investors and corporate giants in this natural resource-rich country, “Should I stay or Should I go?”
Crimes against humanity
For most of the people in the country, war crimes and atrocities committed by the military are nothing new. For instances, in 1988, student activists led a political movement and tried to bring an end to the military regime of the general Ne Win. This movement sparked a fire and grew into a nationwide uprising in a very short period but the military used lethal force and slaughtered thousands of civilian protestors including medical doctors, religious figures, student leaders, etc. A few months later, the public had no better options than being silenced under barbaric torture and lawless killings of the regime.
In 2007, there was another major protest called ‘Saffron Uprising’ against the military regime led by the Buddhist monks. It was actually the biggest pro-democracy movement since 1988 and the atmosphere of the demonstration was rather peaceful and non-violent before the military opened live ammunitions towards the crowd full of monks. Everything was in chaos for a couple of months but it ended as usual.
In 2017, the entire world witnessed one of the most tragic events in Myanmar – Again!. The reports published by the UN stated that hundreds of civilians were killed, dozens of villages were burnt down, and over 700,000 people including the majority of Rohingya were displaced to neighboring countries because of the atrocities committed by the military in the western border of the country. After four years passed, the repatriation process and the safety return of these refugees to their places of origin are yet unknown. Most importantly, there is no legal punishment for those who committed and there is no transitional justice for those who suffered in the aforementioned examples of brutalities.
The vicious circle repeated in 2021. With the economy in free fall and the deadliest virus at doorsteps, the people are still unbowed by the oppression of the junta and continue demanding the restoration of democracy and justice. To date, Assistant Association for Political Prisoner (AAPP) reported that due to practicing the rights to expression, 1178 civilians were killed and 7355 were arrested, charged or sentenced by the military junta. Unfortunately, the numbers are still increasing.
Call for economic disengagement
In 2019, the economic interests of the military were disclosed by the report of UN Fact-Finding Mission in which Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (MEHL) were described as the prominent entities controlled by the military profitable through the almost-monopoly market in real estate, insurance, health care, manufacturing, extractive industry and telecommunication. It also mentioned the list of foreign businesses in partnership with the military-linked activities which includes Adani (India), Kirin Holdings (Japan), Posco Steel (South Korea), Infosys (India) and Universal Apparel (Hong Kong).
Moreover, Justice for Myanmar, a non-profit watchdog organization, revealed the specific facts and figures on how the billions of revenues has been pouring into the pockets of the high-ranked officers in the military in 2021. Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE), an another military-controlled authority body, is the key player handling the financial transactions, profit sharing, and contractual agreements with the international counterparts including Total (France), Chevron (US), PTTEP (Thailand), Petronas (Malaysia), and Posco (South Korea) in natural gas projects. It is also estimated that the military will enjoy 1.5 billion USD from these energy giants in 2022.
Additionally, data shows that the corporate businesses currently operating in Myanmar has been enriching the conglomerates of the generals and their cronies as a proof to the ongoing debate among the public and scholars, “Do sanctions actually work?” Some critics stressed that sanctions alone might be difficult to pressure the junta without any collaborative actions from Moscow and Beijing, the longstanding allies of the military. Recent bilateral visits and arm deals between Nay Pyi Taw and Moscow dimmed the hope of the people in Myanmar. It is now crystal clear that the Burmese military never had an intention to use the money from multinational corporations for benefits of its citizens, but instead for buying weapons, building up military academies, and sending scholars to Russia to learn about military technology. In March 2021, the International Fact Finding Mission to Myanmar reiterated its recommendation for the complete economic disengagement as a response to the coup, “No business enterprise active in Myanmar or trading with or investing in businesses in Myanmar should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw [the military], or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members…”
Blood money and ethical dilemma
In the previous military regime until 2009, the US, UK and other democratic champion countries imposed strict economic and diplomatic sanctions on Myanmar while maintaining ‘carrot and stick’ approach against the geopolitical dominance of China. Even so, energy giants such as Total (France) and Chevron (US), and other ‘low-profile’ companies from ASEAN succeeded in running their operations in Myanmar, let alone the nakedly abuses of its natural resources by China. Doing business in this country at the time of injustice is an ethical question to corporate businesses but most of them seems to prefer maximizing the wealth of their shareholders to the freedom of its bottom millions in poverty.
But there are also companies not hesitating to do something right by showing their willingness not to be a part of human right violations of the regime. For example, Australian mining company, Woodside, decided not to proceed further operations, and ‘get off the fence’ on Myanmar by mentioning that the possibility of complete economical disengagement has been under review. A breaking news in July, 2021 that surprised everyone was the exit of Telenor Myanmar – one of four current telecom operators in the country. The CEO of the Norwegian company announced that the business had been sold to M1 Group, a Lebanese investment firm, due to the declining sales and ongoing political situations compromising its basic principles of human rights and workplace safety.
In fact, cutting off the economic ties with the junta and introducing a unified, complete economic disengagement become a matter of necessity to end the consistent suffering of the people of Myanmar. Otherwise, no one can blame the people for presuming that international community is just taking a moral high ground without any genuine desire to support the fight for freedom and pro-democracy movement.
The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage
The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.
The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.
In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.
In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.
The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.
From our partner RIAC
Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal support and fragile health systems. The pandemic has plunged the continent into its first recession in over 25 years, and vulnerable groups such as the poor, informal sector workers, women, and youth, suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunities and unequal access to social safety nets.
Fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine acquisition—alongside widespread testing, improved treatment, and strong health systems—are critical to protecting lives and stimulating economic recovery. In support of the African Union’s (AU) target to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, the World Bank and the AU announced a partnership to assist the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources, allowing countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million Africans. This extraordinary effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising cases in the region.
I am convinced that unless every country in the world has fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we will not stem the spread of the pandemic and set the global economy on track for a steady and inclusive recovery. The World Bank has taken unprecedented steps to ramp up financing for Malawi, and every country in Africa, to empower them with the resources to implement successful vaccination campaigns and compensate for income losses, food price increases, and service delivery disruptions.
In line with Malawi’s COVID-19 National Response and Preparedness Plan which aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, the World Bank approved $30 million in additional financing for the acquisition and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This financing comes as a boost to Malawi’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project, bringing World Bank contributions in this sector up to $37 million.
Malawi’s decision to purchase 1.8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines through the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) with World Bank financing is a welcome development and will enable Malawi to secure additional vaccines to meet its vaccination target.
However, Malawi’s vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs. These concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fueling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic’s impact on the health and welfare of billions of people. The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60 percent by the end of 2023 from the current 2.2 percent.
Government leadership remains fundamental as the country continues to address vaccine hesitancy by consistently communicating the benefits of the vaccine, releasing COVID data, and engaging communities to help them understand how this impacts them.
As we deploy targeted resources to address COVID-19, we are also working to ensure that these investments support a robust, sustainable and resilient recovery. Our support emphasizes transparency, social protection, poverty alleviation, and policy-based financing to make sure that COVID assistance gets to the people who have been hit the hardest.
For example, the Financial Inclusion and Entrepreneurship Scaling Project (FInES) in Malawi is supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises by providing them with $47 million in affordable credit through commercial banks and microfinance institutions. Eight months into implementation, approximately $8.4 million (MK6.9 billion) has been made available through three commercial banks on better terms and interest rates. Additionally, nearly 200,000 urban households have received cash transfers and urban poor now have more affordable access to water to promote COVID-19 prevention.
Furthermore, domestic mobilization of resources for the COVID-19 response are vital to ensuring the security of supply of health sector commodities needed to administer vaccinations and sustain ongoing measures. Likewise, regional approaches fostering cross-border collaboration are just as imperative as in-country efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. United Nations (UN) partners in Malawi have been instrumental in convening regional stakeholders and supporting vaccine deployment.
Taking broad, fast action to help countries like Malawi during this unprecedented crisis will save lives and prevent more people falling into poverty. We thank Malawi for their decisive action and will continue to support the country and its people to build a resilient and inclusive recovery.
This op-ed first appeared in The Nation, via World Bank
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