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“Made-in-Russia”: Securing Russia’s economic interests

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Squeezed between the United States and European Union sanctions, Russia has been exploring effective ways to increase exports of its industrial products under “Made-in-Russia” program to traditional markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The primary strategic goal is to secure Russia’s economic interests abroad while at the same time support Russian industries in raising revenue to modernize Soviet-era industries. But increasing exports especially to African markets, Russia has to confront market competition from western players and Asian countries such as China, India and the Gulf states.

In a recent interview, Peter Fradkov, general director of the Russian Export Center (REC), has explained that Russia has been making every effort to avoid the “raw-materials” export model and focus on developing export-oriented industries and the launch of the Russian Export Center was a key step towards the development of a full-fledged national export support system.

The Soviet Union made a significant contribution to the social and economic development of African countries by building large industrial and infrastructure facilities and helping to establish national education and health care systems. However, in the 1990s the Russian-African relations came virtually to a standstill. At present, Russia’s foreign trade turnover with Africa is about 12 billion US dollars, which is a rather modest achievement. Nevertheless, the African continent remains a rather promising market for Russian industrial goods.

Admittedly, the Government authorities, and both Inter-Governmental Commissions and the REC, are primarily concerned with removing barriers for Russian exporters and opening up foreign markets for them in Africa. Reinforcement of positions of Russian exporters in Africa requires creation of certain conditions and the key task is penetration into the global market. For this purpose, the Russian Export Center has launched a program to promote Russian goods and services under a single country brand “Made in Russia” and in this context, Africa is a very important partner for us, though not an easy one.

He underscored the fact that “Russian manufacturers have a number of specific competitive advantages. Let’s take, for example, agricultural machinery. The main advantage of Russian products as compared to the counterparts by major foreign manufacturers is a lower price and almost the same level of capacity, quality and useful life.”

On the other hand, there are some difficulties still inherent in the Russia-African business partnership. According to Fradkov there are still insufficient awareness of the real economic opportunities, market conditions and specific counterparts in African markets by Russian businesses and poor awareness of capabilities of Russian partners for Africans.

“We are often faced with discriminatory barriers, which are there not because we are from Russia, but because we have just not thought about how to remove these barriers. Our primary task is to gradually change the thinking of Russian entrepreneurs, who are often skceptical about entering foreign markets, including Africa. Secondly, we strive to promote the image of Russia as a producer of diverse and high-quality products,” he underlined in the interview.

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” based in Moscow.

Cheremnaya discussed here three main points and are as follows: 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 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.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking part in a congress during the 11th Russian Business Week organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE) early February, discussed how innovative technology is reshaping the global business landscape. He, however, encouraged Russian industrialists and businesses participating in the forum to improve their business approaches in order have competitive advantages in the global market.

“This is the most important thing. And fundamentally fresh markets for goods and services will become available, and new leaders will appear as well. Naturally, competition will exacerbate. Clearly, in a situation like that, no one will be playing fair with their competitors, including in the global business environment,” Putin said.

Russia has trade centers established in Africa. But these Russian trade centers must necessarily embark on a “Doing Business in Africa” campaign to encourage Russian businesses to take advantage of growing trade and investment opportunities, to promote trade fairs and business-to-business matchmaking in key spheres in Africa.

Maxim Matusevich, an associate professor and director, Russian and East European Studies Program, at the Seton Hall University, told me in an interview that “in the past decade there was some revival of economic ties between Africa and Russia – mostly limited to arms trade and oil/gas exploration and extraction. Russia’s presence in Africa and within African markets continues to be marginal and I think that Russia has often failed to capitalize on the historical connection between Moscow and those African elites who had been educated in the Soviet Union.”

“It is possible that the ongoing crisis in the relations between Russia and the West will stimulate Russia’s leadership to look for new markets for new sources of agricultural produce. Many African nations possess abundant natural resources and have little interest in Russia’s gas and oil. As it was during the Soviet times, Russia can only offer few manufactured goods that would successfully compete with Western-made products. African nations will probably continue to acquire Russian-made arms, but otherwise, I see only few prospects for a diversification of cooperation in the near future,” added Maxim Matusevich.

Former Ethiopian ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation, professor Teketel Forssido has also explained that Russian businessmen think that business can be done from government to government levels (at the state levels) but in many countries business at the state levels has been complimented by private participation. Using government as an umbrella could be alright, countries such as India, China and others run businesses without government in Africa. The government, of course, has to clear the way for smooth business transactions.

“Russians are counting on the authorities to do business, but if they always rely on the state, business can be ineffective. That’s why Russians businessmen are slow as we have seen it,” he said.

According to Forssido Russia has to open its market for Africa and there are various ways to this. One surest way is to use the existing rules and regulations. The preferential treatments for agricultural products exist but Africans don’t use them. Then, individual countries have to negotiate with Russian government for their products to enter the market.

Further, the African regional economic blocs can be useful instruments because these blocs are very important and can work with their counterparts to facilitate trade between Africa and Russia. For instance, in COMESA and SADC zones in Africa, goods and services move freely, and now I think these blocs should look into the line of working as regional economic blocs with Russia.

“At the moment, China has done a lot in Africa despite worldwide criticisms. China is not the only player on the continent, but also India, Turkey and other serious players. But, when we talk about Russia, I think it’s not comparable. China has largely involved in Africa, practically in all sectors as we can see. We expect that Russia can do more if they want to, looking at their huge potential capability. They still have their own priorities, anyway,” he pointed out assertively.

As already known, Moscow’s long term goals include developing investment cooperation with African countries, widening the presence of Russian companies in the African markets through increased deliveries of industrial and food products, and enhancing Russian participation in driving the economic development of Africa. At the same time, Russia needs to look at simplifying access to its market for African countries.

In one of his speeches posted to the official website, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov noted frankly in remarks: “it is evident that the significant potential of our economic cooperation is far from being exhausted and much remains to be done so that Russian and African partners know more about each other’s capacities and needs. The creation of a mechanism for the provision of public support to business interaction between Russian companies and the African continent is on the agenda.”

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

Trade in fake Italian goods costs economy billions of euros

MD Staff

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Global trade in fake Italian goods such as luxury handbags, watches, foodstuffs and car parts is taking a bite out of Italy’s economy equivalent to around 1-2% of GDP in terms of lost sales, according to a new OECD report.

Trade in counterfeit goods and the Italian economy estimates the total value of counterfeit and pirated Italian goods sold worldwide at over 35 billion euros for 2013, equivalent to 4.9% of global Italian manufacturing sales. This resulted in over 25 billion euros in lost sales by Italian companies in a year when Italy’s GDP was 1.6 trillion euros.

Past OECD analysis of data from nearly half a million customs seizures around the world over 2011-13 has shown that trade in counterfeit goods is worth nearly half a trillion dollars a year, or 2.5% of global imports. US, Italian and French brands are among the hardest hit, and with an economy that thrives on producing high-value products, protected by intellectual property rights and trademarks, Italy is especially vulnerable.

As well as examining the impact of trade in fake Italian products, the report also looks at the impact on Italy of imports of counterfeit goods. It finds that fake imports were worth over 10 billion euros, or 3% of imports, in 2013 and resulted in foregone domestic sales by Italian wholesalers and shops of around 7 billion euros. The fake items were imported mainly from China (50%) and Hong Kong (29%), followed by Greece (6%), Singapore (4%) and Turkey (2%).

The combination of trade in fake Italian products and imports of counterfeit goods resulted in a loss of public revenues in Italy equal to 10 billion euros, or 0.6% of Italian GDP. Counterfeiting and piracy also led to the loss of at least 87,000 jobs in Italy in 2013, equivalent to 2% of the country’s full-time equivalent employees.

The highest losses in sales, in euro terms, in the Italian wholesale and retail sectors due to counterfeit and pirated imports in 2013 were for high-tech electronic, electrical and optical products, followed by clothing, footwear, leather and related products. In terms of market share, the biggest losses were in the watch and jewellery sector, where the counterfeit market caused a 7.5% loss in sales.

The report shows that around half of the fake goods smuggled into Italy in 2013 were sold to consumers who were aware they were buying fake products, with the remaining share purchased unknowingly. The share of fakes bought knowingly in Italy ranges from 15% from food items to 60% for watches and IT and communications devices.

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A contemplation on Washington-Beijing trade war

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The decision of the Trump’s government to start its research on the devastating effects of China’s measures on the American economy has led to a sharp reaction by the new generation of Beijing Communists. It is clear to everyone that Donald Trump and his companions at the White House have challenged the “open doors” policy of Mao’s sons.

What attracts the attention more than anything else amid this conflict, is the insistence of the US president on protectionist policies on one side, and Beijing’s resistance to these policies on the other side. In other words, Washington and Beijing are going to enter a full-fledged trade war during the presidency of Donald Trump. What has happened so far has only provided the basis for such a controversy. Here are some point that need to be taken into consideration:

Firstly, the withdrawal of the United States from multilateral trade rules in the international system, and the insistence on unilateral economic protectionism, is the result of a special outlook which is dominant at the White House ruling. Economic unilateralism and the pursuit of protectionist policies are two main indicators of Trump’s economic approach in the field of global trade and international economics. Obviously, Trump will firmly stand against the Chinese charges of unilateral protectionism. Beyond that, Trump knows well that if he can institutionalize his unilateral protectionist policies within the eight years of his possible presence at the White House, next American governments will have a very difficult job to change this irregular (but smart) structure. Therefore, the charge of “protectionism” can’t force Trump to retreat from its economic policies towards Beijing and other powerful international players.

The second point is that Trump has entered a new economic confrontation with Beijing which relies on the possible violation of intellectual property rights and other issues related to technology.  Pursuing his goals, Trump didn’t resort to changing exchange rates, creating administrative and bureaucratic barriers, anti-dumping laws, direct subsidies to US domestic companies, import quotas, and most importantly, customs tariffs. Rather, on his economic confrontation with Beijing, he focused on the least costly way which was intellectual property rights. This equation is somewhat complicated: The fact is that the President of the United States intends to use terms such as intellectual property in the field of invention and trade as a cover for applying nationalist protectionist policies. In order to complete this process, Trump will further strengthen bureaucratic administrative law in the near future as opposed to importing Chinese goods. In short, Trump’s short-term goal is to create bureaucratic obstacles so that it would be difficult for China to import goods and products to the US .

The third point is about the introduction of customs tariffs against Chinese goods. The Trump government has also increased tariffs on some of the imported goods from China. Trump also subsidizes American producers. However, it is not yet clear that granting industrial subsidies to domestic factories and manufacturers in the United States could lead to lower commodity prices, and more importantly, to increase the productions’ quality.

Basically, this is the critique that comes with protectionism. Accordingly, making barriers to imported goods and the introduction of punitive tariffs can endanger consumers and even the government in the long run. Due to lack of competition with imported goods, the owners of such industries practically have no incentive for increasing the quality of their manufactured goods, and the competition formed in the domestic market is also not usually a dynamic one. This rule also applies to the imposition of punitive tariffs on Chinese goods.

China is buying the most Treasurys at the US government auctions since 2011. It wasn’t without a reason that politicians like Hillary Clinton, the Democrat candidate in the 2016 presidential election, have warned against economic opposition with China. In such a situation, the United States full-fledged trade war with Beijing can be interpreted as a major business and economic mistake.

Undoubtedly, the open-door policy is against the approach taken by trump based on protectionist economy. Since 1899, China has been pursuing an open door policy for its economic development. The open-door policy would allow for a system of trade in China  open to all countries equally, and no country has particular privilege over other countries. This approach is in contrast to the monopolistic economic thinking (based on unilateral protectionism). Unilateral protectionism is not only opposed to the open door policy, but also directly targets the principles of liberal economics.

Finally, the adoption of unilateral protectionist policy by the Trump’s government will be followed by the Chinese retaliatory measures, which will further lead to a devastating trade war between Beijing and Washington. Many American economists warn against this economic confrontation. Many American economists have argued that Trump has embarked on an economic war with China, without creating the necessary requirements inside the country. Hence, Trump’s protectionist policies can’t improve the US domestic industry. Alan Tennyson, a well-known American businessman who has been supporting Trump during the presidential competitions, is now firmly opposing the imposition of punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and believes that it would be an unplanned intervention in the US economy.

Many American economists are criticizing of Donald Trump’s protectionist approach in this equation: all these economists are warning about a major economic war between the United States and China. The conflict between Washington and Beijing, based on Trump’s unilateralist policies, can redefine the economic ideas of both countries. “The emergence of modern protectionism” or “redefining open door policy” can be the objective outcome of this conflict. On the other hand, China and the United States will probably both use the tools and methods in the economic conflict, which contradicts their economic red lines in recent years.

In such a situation, we will witness a lot of changes in the economic and business structure of both countries. It should not be forgotten that in the field of economics and commerce, many revisions occurred during international disputes, and not in the stabilized international markets. It should be acknowledged that this conflict isn’t going to be limited to Washington and Beijing, and their trading partners, voluntarily or involuntarily, will enter this war.

First published in our partner MNA

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Deeper reforms in Korea will ensure more inclusive and sustainable growth

MD Staff

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Short-term prospects for the Korean economy are good, with an uptick in world trade and fiscal policy driving growth, but productivity remains relatively low and the country faces the most rapid population ageing in the OECD area, according to a new report from the OECD.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of Korea looks at recent economic developments, as well as the challenges to ensure that the benefits are shared by all. The Survey projects growth of about 3% for the 2018-19 period, and lays out an agenda for ensuring broader-based and more inclusive growth going forward.

The Survey, presented in Sejong by the head of the OECD Korea/Japan Desk, Randall Jones, highlights the need for new policies to help the government overhaul the traditional export-led growth model and to promote innovation led by SMEs and start-ups. It discusses reforms to the large business groups (chaebols), to achieve higher productivity and more inclusive growth, and proposes policies to enhance dynamism in SMEs and boost entrepreneurship. It also outlines the key challenges for reaching higher levels of well-being.

“Korea has rebounded after several years of sub-par growth, and the expansion is expected to continue,” Mr Jones said. “However, the traditional economic model of manufacturing and export-led growth is running out of steam. The challenge going forward will be to develop a new growth model that addresses today’s economic and social polarisation and leads to a more sustainable and inclusive economy for all Koreans.”

Despite the important role of the large business groups in Korea’s economic growth, the Survey says that a more balanced economy with larger roles for services and SMEs would promote inclusive and sustainable growth. The Survey suggests that strengthening product market competition, by relaxing barriers to imports and inward foreign direct investment and liberalising product market regulation, would reduce rent-seeking behaviour by large firms. Corporate governance reform is also necessary.

Beyond chaebol reform, the Survey identifies measures that would enhance dynamism and productivity growth in SMEs, including regulatory reforms, better access to credit, changes to the insolvency framework and improvements to the vocational education system.

The Survey proposes a range of potential reforms to boost well-being in Korea, including measures to expand female employment; labour market reforms to break down the segmentation between regular and non-regular workers; policies to reduce elderly poverty; and the use of economic instruments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

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