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The Indian Economy 2010 to 2017: A study of the Spectacular Jig-Saw

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Authors: Krishna Raghav Chaturvedi & Vikas

Economics is a strange subject. There are many ways to define economics. The father of Economics Adam Smith characterized Economics as “An inquiry into the nature and cause of wealth of nations”. However, there is no concrete definition as no single definition is globally accepted.

So it’s prudent to have an idea about what Economics is rather than looking for a definition. The stretch of economics is vast. It may talk about some rare yet valuable source like diamond and also vastly abundant resources like air. By virtue of its scarcity, a diamond is priced high and as air is abundant so it has no price. But while we can live without diamonds, can we live without air? No doubt, this is why air is priceless and people are yet to put a price on air. Adam Smith’s studies showed that “the things which have greater value in exchange has almost negligible value in use and vice versa”. Another example water, it has great value for us. We can’t live without it, but hardly can we buy anything by bartering it. But as the human tendency is to care for scarce more so Economics and by extension, economists talk about scarcity more often than not. This is where sometimes, even a learned Economist falters in his quest to understand “real economics” and finds the need to go back to his books. At other times, even a less literate chai-walla comes up with the most ingenious of the solutions to the most typical of challenges. This may be because we tend to see “Economics” as a subject, like Physics, Chemistry or Biology with some rigid laws and theorems. However, even the laws of Physics seem to change in certain cases. Economics, on the other hand, can and should never be seen in isolation. There is caste economics, political economics, regional economics, behavioral economics, national economics, sub-divisional economics and much more. This is where many economists fail and this is where some from the real grass roots really shine.

There has been a lot of buzz about the recent slowdown in the Indian GDP growth. While the GDP growth slowdown can certainly be linked to the twin shocks of Demonetization and the implementation of the Goods & Services tax (GST), critics of the present dispensation are presenting it as an Armageddon. Yes, Economy is Economics at play in a certain region, the certain region here in question being India. Demonetization was a behavioral change and the GST, a structural change. Such radical and far reaching changes are going to have an impact on the economy and yes, they have had their pound of the flesh. But to decry the entire process and denounce the present ruling dispensation as inept requires a special kind of narrow mindedness and selective criticism, a behavioral trait that is common with the critics of the ruling political party of India, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and its leader, Shri Narendra Modi.

True, as the critics claim, the economic growth has slowed. True, jobs are been created at an abysmal rate. True, present government measure’s aimed at boosting manufacturing (Make in India) and promoting job creation (Start-up India, MUDRA etc.) have failed, some quite spectacularly. True, these signs do not bode well for the Indian economy, nor in the short term and certainly never will in the long run. Yes, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is at fault here. But not for making a mess of the economy, for which their predecessor, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) deserves full credit but for failing to bring out a white paper on the state of the economy when they took the reins of the Indian Government in 2014. For failing to show the public the true grim picture of which the UPA government left us in and the hell hole we had dug for ourselves with continuous tax evasion, black marketing and numerous scams which had dominated the public discourse (2G, Coalgate etc.) before 2014. And this is why, their defense of this lag in growth is being questioned and this is why, the present ruling dispensation and the prime minister, Shri Narendra Modi and his finance Minister, Shri Arun Jaitley must provide answers.

While this article can be far from a white paper on the state of the Indian economy in 2014 at time of the transition from the UPA to the NDA, it will no doubt portray the truth of the times and endeavor to expose the fallacies of both for the time period 2010-2017.

While GDP growth has often and more often, wrongly, cited as the criteria for growth of a country, such a calculation is far from perfect and there is a pertinent need to align growth with human parameters like living Indexes, Education, Distribution of Wealth rather than only the gross domestic value of all products and services in a country. Recently, a quarterly GDP “Growth rate” of 5.7% is cited as a slowdown (true, it a slowdown but only temporary) or a “crash landing” recession (though I doubt the critics claiming this even know the meaning of a recession).  Such irrational and biased thinking is uncalled for and while, there is truth that the GDP growth has slowed, it is nowhere near the Armageddon being projected by the critics, prominent among which is the former Prime Minister of India and a very noted economist, Dr. Manmohan Singh-ji. He claimed and quoted that the GDP will suffer a contraction by atleast 2% points in wake of the Demonetization exercise. The Demonetization, an exercise in which the current Indian Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi-ji effectively made approx. 85% of the Indian currency redundant in a bid to attack black money hoarders, formalize the economy, cripple naxalism & terrorism, promote a cash-less economy, a digital economy and send out a strong message to the common people of India that the present ruling dispensation is serious in its bid to curb corruption.   

While complete picture of the after-effects of the exercise is yet to be revealed, one thing is clear. Dr Manmohan Singh-ji was wrong. NO, the economy did not decline. No, it is neither prudent nor good economics to declare Demonetization a failure. But yes, as per the IT returns data, more taxpayers are now part of the formal economy. Certain news (unverified) emerged that poor people hired as mules to convert ill-gotten cash of some corrupt folk defrauded them of their wealth. Some mules completely decamped with the money of the corrupt. In my hometown, the state capital of India’s most populous sub-division, for the entire 50 day duration of cash exchange, not a single laborer was found in want of work. All had been hired to exchange cash from multiple banks in lieu of a daily wage. Shri Arun Shourie-ji, a noted economist and a past supporter of PM Modi has called the demonetization as the world’s biggest money-laundering scheme, I have no qualms in saying that it is indeed the world’s biggest public redistribution of wealth. While there is no reliable parameter to gauge corruption, one thing is for certain, the wrong doers will now have to think twice before thinking about stashing away their ill-gotten cash.

Inflation is an important parameter in a country’s economic growth. While the word may ring some negative connotations in our mind when heard of, it is not all bad. Like everything, too much of inflation is bad. It retards growth as buyers defer or cancel purchases as the products are too expensive, strangling the manufacturing and slowing the economy. Too little of inflation or negative inflation (Deflation) is also bad, as purchasers for various goods and services are hit by complacency, postponing purchases in hopes of more fall in prices, further constraining the demand and causing more fall in prices. Lower-than-expected inflation furthers the actual burden of debts. The lenders may benefit. However as they are more likely to save than borrowers, demand is overall reduced. It also increases rigidity in the human resources market. Workers are resistant to wage cuts in their wages, but inflation lets firms cut real wages by freezing pay in nominal terms. Deflation, by contrast, makes this problem worse (The Economist, Jan 2015).  Hence, there is a need to hit the sweet spot, the right value of inflation that will ensure not only growth but also, cost less of the citizens of the state.

It is evident here from the presented data that the inflation under the UPA government was high (at least twice and possible more in the double digits). This is a cause of concern. Here this is why it is cause of concern. Suppose you earn a hundred rupee per month (GDP). Your expenses are also a hundred rupees. Now, if in the next your wage registers a growth of 8% (GDP Growth) i.e. it becomes a 108 rupees, is it a cause of jubilation? Certainly yes but then you realize that your expenses have risen by 10% (inflation). Simply said, nominal growth reduced to the base year is the real growth. This is where the current critics, especially, the former Finance Minister, Shri P. Chidambaram are wrong. In his time under UPA, the growth rate of April-June quarter of 2014 (the transition from UPA to NDA), the existent gap between real and nominal GDP was as high (by some calculations, as high as 6.5% (Jagannathan, Jun 2015, Firstpost)). Simply put, half the growth under UPA was pure inflation. This gap started to narrow every quarter after the NDA took charge, falling to 5.2 percent in Q2, 1.5 percent in Q3 and finally to a minuscule 0.2 percent in Q4 of 2015. This Narrowing of the gap between the real and the nominal growth rates tells us exactly two stories – a positive one about the NDA’s and Modi’s big success in killing inflation even when the monsoons were weak and a comparatively less positive one on the industry’s inability to raise prices – which is good for consumers, but bad for profitability, investment and market wealth creation.

Share markets are a virtual representation of growth of the top companies of the country. Seen here is a growth of the Indian Bombay Stock Exchange for the period of 2012-2017. It must be noted that fluctuations in the stock market can have a profound economic impact on the country’s economy and everyday lives of people. A collapse in the share prices has the potential to cause widespread economic disruption. Most famous of this all is the stock market crash of 1929 which triggered the great depression of the 1930s. In everyday terms, the stock market directly impacts the people’s wealth creation, pension funds, investor confidence and further critical investment. The Indian stock market has bloomed and touched new heights under the present ruling dispensation. The critics have been quick to point out that such a growth is meaningless until it is evident on the ground. Yes, exports have reduced. But unlike what the critics portray, exports have not been hit as hard by the twin shocks and while data for 2017 is yet to come, it is a general feeling that growth will observed as already, the numbers are too low to fall any further. There are reports that Indian exports have risen for the 12th straight month, touching just over USD 21 billion in the month of September (partially propelled by the phenomenal growth of Petroleum products and Chemical products export). Pessimists, however, in their bid to defame the ruling government would also like to point that our imports are increasing too. True, our imports have reached a near high of approx. USD 33 Billion (again a major chunk of the import is crude oil and gold). But on the bright side, our foreign exchange reserves have reached an all-time of USD 400 billion.

Such a huge cash pile is enough to cover for all imports for over 10 months and possibly more.  Also, while it is true that the current account deficit has widened in the past four months, it is nowhere near as severe as the royal mess we were in the past. Even in the recent months, the CAD anomaly is mainly due to a sharp uptick in Gold imports (thank you Indian Aunties, who allegedly own more gold than most sovereign nations).

Pessimists are also pointing towards a lack of private spending and need for investment from alternative sources. Private investment in the country is hampered by the twin balance sheet problem (courtesy the past regime) and ever worsening NPA crisis, which restricts a financial institution’s lending ability (again, Thank you UPA). Yes, merchandise exports have fallen a bit and lending has taken a minor hit but this is reaction of the system adjusting to the changes, nothing more.

As stated earlier, GST was a structural change, revamping and overhauling the entire Indian indirect tax system. Modi deserves full points for his efforts to get a country as politically and culturally diverse as India on a single table and pass a radical bill like GST. While he was a chief minister in Gujarat, he found the UPA proposed form of GST indigestible for his state, a major manufacturing powerhouse. As the Prime Minister, he has ensured that even after the implementation of GST, the states losing revenue will be compensated for a short-period to accrue additional sources of revenue. His critics call him a hypocrite but all he has shown is a true maturity. He took a radical idea, ironed out the rough edges. He made it practical for implementation and went out of his way to get his rivals onboard for the passing of the GST bill. The implementation, like all things rest, is full of glitches but the official mechanism is tackling the problem both reactively and proactively. The situation will only improve in the coming future. It’s hilarious how the critics of Modi and an army of online trolls venerate any and every source that speaks against the ruling dispensation but even calls a venerable organization like the World Bank “biased” because of its favorable outlook of the GST. Furthermore, the sales of two wheelers, certain cars has already been recorded higher than before and collections under GST are improving and meeting their targets. Yes, GST is working.

 The Demonetization was a necessary exercise. One can argue that the Indian economy was weak, or dead or hale & hearty but the timing was so perfect. With anyone even catching wind of his intentions and holding fast even when all seemed lost, in one stroke and by mere words, Modi had put the fear of law back into the corrupt. People were encouraged to come forward, report their ill-gotten cash, pay a stiff penalty and let bygones be bygones. Some did take this easy way out. This was a carrot. Now, it times for the stick. Shell corporations are identified. Action has already been taken against the directors of multiple shell companies established only to launder money. Any disproportionality of income and deposits if established, leads to a notice from the income tax department notice and further inquiry. It is painful. The Indian Income tax department like all its counterparts across the globe is despised and for good reason, it is a broadsword, not a scalpel. But we need a broadsword, now that corruption and tax evasion has become an everyday part in an Indian lives.

To conclude, while the Indian economy is slowed by the twin shocks, it is resilient and in capable hands. The pessimists may have their trends but things were bad, even worse before (in the UPA as evident by the data presented here) and now that things are finally starting to smoothen, we are bound to regain our top spot as the world’s fastest growing nation. The Indian economy is a jig-saw, complex pieces dominated by regions, cultures and festivals. It is a folly to see one in isolation or use the data of a 1-2 quarters and portend grim warnings. Diwali, the Indian festival of light is fast approaching. Let this occasion be the mark of a new India, an era of economic growth and prosperity for all. The UPA government, it too had its moments of glory and yes they were aplenty, had made a grand mess of the economy and its effects persist till this date. The lack of investment in roads and railways is costing us today in terms of time, lives and growth. Their numerous scams had bankrupted the country and virtually emptied our coffers. Modi is lucky. He only has to outperform a three legged donkey. It is up to him whether he will turn the Indian Economy into a prancing pony or a galloping steed. By the looks of it, we already are a prancing pony. But can he make us the galloping steed. Unfortunately, only time will answer this, with any certainty.


The author is neither an economist nor claims to be one.

Vikas is pursuing his PhD from the Department of Management Studies, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology, Jais

The views expressed by the authors above are personal. The authors declare that all sources used in the above article are freely accessible on the internet. The images are snapshots of existing accessible data, sources of which have been acknowledged beneath every image. The authors declare no competing financial interest.

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Economy

China Development Bank could be a climate bank

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China Development Bank (CDB) has an opportunity to become the world’s most important climate bank, driving the transition to the low-carbon economy.

CDB supports Chinese investments globally, often in heavily emitting sectors. Some 70% of global CO2 emissions come from the buildings, transport and energy sectors, which are all strongly linked to infrastructure investment. The rules applied by development finance institutions like CBD when making funding decisions on infrastructure projects can therefore set the framework for cutting carbon emissions.

CDB is a major financer of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the world’s most ambitious infrastructure scheme. It is the biggest policy bank in the world with approximately US$2.3 trillion in assets – more than the $1.5 trillion of all the other development banks combined.

Partly as a consequence of its size, CDB is also the biggest green project financer of the major development banks, deploying US$137.2 billion in climate finance in 2017; almost ten times more than the World Bank.

This huge investment in climate-friendly projects is overshadowed by the bank’s continued investment in coal. In 2016 and 2017, it invested about three times more in coal projects than in clean energy.

The bank’s scale makes its promotion of green projects particularly significant. Moreover, it has committed to align with the Paris Agreement as part of the International Development Finance Club. It is also part of the initiative developing Green Investment Principles along the BRI.

This progress is laudable but CDB must act quickly if it is to meet the Chinese government’s official vision of a sustainable BRI and align itself with the Paris target of limiting global average temperature rise to 2C.

What does best practice look like?

In its latest report, the climate change think-tank E3G has identified several areas where CDB could improve, with transparency high on the list.

The report assesses the alignment of six Asian development finance institutions with the Paris Agreement. Some are shifting away from fossil fuels. The ADB (Asian Development Bank) has excluded development finance for oil exploration and has not financed a coal project since 2013, while the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) has stated it has no coal projects in its direct finance pipeline. The World Bank has excluded all upstream oil and gas financing.

In contrast, CDB’s policies on financing fossil fuel projects remain opaque. A commitment to end all coal finance would signal the bank is taking steps to align its financing activities with President Xi Jinping’s high-profile pledge that the BRI would be “open, green and clean”, made at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in April 2019.

CDB should also detail how its “green growth” vision will translate into operational decisions. Producing a climate-change strategy would set out how the bank’s sectoral strategies will align with its core value of green growth.

CDB already accounts for emissions from projects financed by green bonds. It should extend this practice to all financing activities. The major development banks have already developed a harmonised approach to account for greenhouse gas emissions, which could be a starting point for CDB.

Lastly, CDB should integrate climate risks into lending activities and country risk analysis.

One of the key functions of development finance institutions is to mobilise private finance. CDB has been successful in this respect, for example providing long-term capital to develop the domestic solar industry. This was one of the main drivers lowering solar costs by 80% between 2009-2015.

However, the extent to which CDB has been successful in mobilising capital outside China has been more limited; in 2017, almost 98% of net loans were on the Chinese mainland. If CDB can repeat its success in mobilising capital into green industries in BRI countries, it will play a key role in driving the zero-carbon and resilient transition.

From our partner chinadialogue.net

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Oil-Rich Azerbaijan Takes Lead in Green Economy

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Now that the heat and dust of Azerbaijan’s parliamentary election on February 9thhas settled, a new generation of administrators are focusing on accelerating the pace of reforms under President Ilham Aliyev, who has ambitious plans to further modernise its economy and diversify its energy sources.

Oil and gas account for about 95 percent of Azerbaijan’s exports and 75 percent of government revenue, with the hydrocarbon sector alone generating about 40 percent of the country’s economic activity. Apart from providing oil to Europe, Azerbaijan successfully completed the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) with Turkey in November 2019 to transfer Azerbaijani gas to Europe.

Yet, with an eye on the future, the country has also begun to take huge strides in renewable energy. Solar and wind power projects have been installed, with their share in total electricity generation already reaching 17 percent. By 2030, this figure is expected to hit 30 percent.

Solar power plants currently operate in Gobustan and Samukh, as well as in the Pirallahi, Surahani and Sahil settlements in Baku.

The potential of renewable energy sources in Azerbaijan is over 25,300 megawatts, which allows generating 62.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Most of this potential comes from solar energy, which is estimated at 5,000 megawatts. Wind energy accounts for 4,500 megawatts, biomass is estimated at 1,500 megawatts, and geothermal energy at 800 megawatts.

President Aliyev has supported the drive for renewable energy. He signed a decree in 2019 to establish a commission for implementing and coordinating test projects for the construction of solar and wind power plants.

Azerbaijan’s focus on renewable energy has drawn interest from its European partners, with leading French companies seeking to invest in the country’s solar and wind electricity generation.

Azerbaijan is France’s main economic and trade partner in the South Caucasus. According to French ambassador Zacharie Gross, “the French Development Agency is ready to invest in Azerbaijan’s green projects, such as solid waste management. This would allow using new cleaner technologies to reduce solid waste. This is beneficial for the environment and the local population.”

“I believe that one of the areas that have greatest development potential is urban services sector. An improved water distribution system can reduce the amount of water consumed, improve its quality, and also solve the problem of flood waters in winter,” the French ambassador added.

Azerbaijan is currently a low emitter of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. According to the European Commission, the country released 34.7 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2018, i.e. just 3.5 tons per capita. This is lower than the norm adopted by the world: 4.9 tons.

In contrast, in 2018 Kazakhstan generated 309.2 million tons of CO2, Ukraine generated 196.8 million tons,Uzbekistan101.8 million tons, and Belarus 64.2 million tons.

And the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Azerbaijan has been consistently falling. In 1990, Azerbaijan emitted 73.3 million tons, but in 2018 this had dropped to 34.7 million tons. By 2030 the country plans to reduce its annual greenhouse gases emissions by a further 35 percent.

Measures taken by the government include the early introduction of Euro-4 fuel standards in Azerbaijan, with A-5 standards to be introduced from 2021. An increasing number of electric buses and taxis are now transporting passengers in the main cities.

Another key step is the clean-up of the environmental degradation caused by over 150 years of oil production. Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR is helping to recover oil-contaminated lands in Absheron Peninsula, particularly in the once critically contaminated area around Boyukshor Lake. This involves the removal of millions of cubic metres of soil contaminated with oil.

Azerbaijan is also reducing the amount of gas it wastes in flaring. In a study funded by the European Commission, Azerbaijan ranks first among 10 countries exporting oil to the EU in the effective utilisation of associated petroleum gas.The emission of associated gases decreased by 282.5 million cubic meters from 2009 through till 2015. This is expected to fall further to 95 million cubic meters by 2022.

The government is also encouraging large-scale greening of the land. In December 2019, a mass tree-planting campaign was initiated by First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva to celebrate the 650thanniversary of famous Azerbaijani poet Imadeddin Nasimi. 650,000 trees were planted nationwide, including 12,000 seedlings that were delivered by ship to Chilov Island.

A 2018 survey, carried out in cooperation with Turkish specialists, found that forest area is 1.2 million square meters in Azerbaijan, i.e. 11.4 percent of the total area of ​​the country.A new requirement was introduced last year to halt deforestation and to reduce the negative impact of business projects on the environment.

For a country with the 20th largest oil reserves in the world, Azerbaijan could well have chosen to stick to a hydrocarbon future. But it has instead dared to think beyond oil and gas in its energy, transportation, economy and environment. The country is setting a template that should inspire other large oil producers to emulate.

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China-US: How Long Will the Phase One Agreement Hold?

Osama Rizvi

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Although the recently signed Phase One agreement between the US and China has put a halt to the ongoing trade war between the two global economic superpowers, it cannot be viewed as a long-term solution. At its best, it is a temporary truce. The language of the eighty-six page document, including its ambiguities and the unrealistic promises upon which the entire agreement is based, suggests that it is based on two unreconcilable compromises between the two parties.

Some of the main highlights of the deal include: China must give an action plan on “strengthening intellectual property protection” and it must reduce the  pressure on international companies for “technology transfer.” China has promised to increase the purchase of goods and services from US by $200 Billion over two years. Other key points include easy access to Chinese markets. The 15th December tariffs of $160 Billion have been delayed in December 2019. Tariff rates on $120 bn of goods (imposed on September 01, 2019) have been reduced from 15 to 7 percent although tariffs of $250 Billion at a rate of 25 percent will remain.

The 86 page document, when analyzed, displays an ambiguity in its language, as well as the absence of any enforcement plan and dispute settlement process. Therefore, whenever an issue might arise (and it will) there is a likelihood the deal may implode. For instance, whilst mentioning enforcement of payment of penalties and other fines, the word “expeditious” remains unclear. What is the time period and how will enforcement be accomplished? At another point, while referring to China to send a case for criminal enforcement the word “reasonable suspicion” which can be based on “articulable facts” makes it very abstract. Chad Brown, a trade expert in an article for Business Insider, says that there is no specific way mentioned in the document to penalize the party who violates any provision. Moreover, there is no body (like WTO) that will take decisions but is rather left to the USTR and discussions with Chinese counterparts – a recipe for confusion.

Then there are the promises. But we have to consider different variables. But if it turns out that China carries out its promise to buy crude oil, LNG and coal, the global commodity markets will feel the heat – in a negative way. Under the agreement China will buy an additional $52 bn of energy products in the span of coming two years- 418.5 Billion in 2018 and $33.9 in 2021. This year China will have to buy about $27 Billion energy purchases from U.S. To put this in context, China imported 14 million barrels of oil in November 2018 which is its highest ever. Assuming that China buys the same amount for 12 months it would yield only $9 to $10 billion in revenue! In a similar calculation for coal and LNG, Clyde Russell, in an article for Reuters, concludes that in order to fulfill the above target (of $27 Billion) China would have to double the amount of these imports from US!

Moreover, the Phase One agreement has a snapback clause which implies that upon quarterly reviews if the Chinese side isn’t holding true to their promises the agreement can become null and void.

Even if China fulfills its promise, the purpose wouldn’t be served:  the US. deficit won’t reduce significantly.  The US trade deficit with China for the first 10 months of 2019 was $294 Billion – in other words, roughly 40 percent of the country’s total trade gap. However, for the same period, Chinese sold goods more than four times that amount (or about $382 bn). China will need to half its exports to the U.S. for a “meaningful” drop in the deficit – something that seems highly unlikely.

Also, the US might even end up more dependent on China. Increased demand for US oil will spike its prices and might trigger other suppliers of China to increase their output in order to fight for the market share. The global energy and commodity markets could face disruption. Similarly, Brazil and other countries, beneficiaries of this trade war, can decrease soy bean prices in order to retain their market share, giving farmers in the US a tough time.

As the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said that tariffs can remain in place even after a Phase Two agreement, we, therefore, have to be patient and observe the trajectory of Phase One trade agreement carefully.  Chinese promise of $200 bn purchases, the lack of a proper dispute resolution mechanism and technical loopholes in language puts the future of the agreement in doubt.

Both sides are keeping some cards in their deck; we have yet to witness the end of this trade-war saga.

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