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Economy

Economic competition and competitive practices

Gagliano Giuseppe

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Since enterprises are at the frontlines of geo-economic competition, they must learn how to deal with state influence in this field. They need to acquire a global understanding of the business environment and to develop new strategies to tackle stiff competition. In order to bend market rules and beat competition, economic actors developed new aggressive strategies on the model of military knowledge and underground operations.

The new competitive practices are no more aimed at adjusting to or anticipating other enterprises. Their goal is transforming the operating context and subverting the balance of power through imposing a given enterprise’s rules on its competitors. The final objective is eliminating competitors or at least preventing them from entering the marketplace.

These practices are based on the systematic acquisition of information and on its use for hostile purposes. In order to pursue innovation, export or acquire more market quotas, it is necessary to understand the business environment and to put in place effective operations. The new economic practices are therefore featured with harsh competition to dominate information platforms. The United States offers many examples of the use of offensive operations to reach commercial purposes.

In this context, companies go beyond the mere search of information. They aim at manipulating the facts through new offensive techniques of economic warfare targeting new markets and destabilizing competitors. Here are some examples of competitive strategies used for hostile purposes: offensive benchmarking (attacking a product through counterfeiting), lobbying, social learning, stretch marketing, (acquiring control through regulation, humanitarian intervention, civil and military operations and economic warfare). These practices date back to the end of the Cold War, when economic and cultural clashes replaced military and ideological conflicts.

Benchmarking consists in a comparative evaluation of services or procedures of the most successful enterprises, studying their strengths and weaknesses and identifying possible actions to match or surpass them. Benchmarking can be used for offensive purposes in order to destabilize competition through reaction tests: an alleged client evaluates all the aspects of the service provided and the weaknesses of the system; in some cases, this person purposely provokes accidents in order to have more time to study the situation. Repeated accidents clearly compromise the image of the competitor and obstruct its activities.

As far as counterfeit is concerned, it is true that copying existing products and improve them is the foundation for progress. However, some companies can decide to copy some products while decreasing their functionality, therefore realizing low quality artifacts that acquire some of the market quotas of the original product. The problem emerges when these counterfeit goods do not respect safety norms and became dangerous for the market, with a negative impact on the company producing the original goods.

Lobbying indicates all practices aimed at influencing – directly or indirectly – political, legislative, regulating actors in order to assert a given economic interest. More and more companies are adopting lobbying strategies to defend and promote their interests. Lobbying itself not only is a reprehensible activity, but its systematic use can turn it into a dangerous weapon for economic and cultural competition.

Social learning is another technique to conquer new markets that consists in an accurate psychological action setting up opinion trends to influence decision-making. Through providing what seem to be purely education services – often addressed to the future leadership of a given country – social learning techniques influence public opinion and installs a dependency relationship with the country providing social learnings services.

Stretch marketing originally consisted in coordinating Chinese family networks for business development in any field. Nowadays, this term indicates a careful observation of 1) a given socio-economic market and 2) the information exchange within a given group of partner enterprises, through which a given enterprise can better exploit its business opportunities. Therefore, on the one hand stretch marketing allows anticipating the client needs through controlling information; on the other hand, stretch marketing prevents competitors from enter the market through the sharing of both offensive and defensive techniques within a given group of partner enterprises.

Lobbying and social learning practices contribute to increasing international regulations that lead to the indirect acquisition of new market quotas. These rules represent a competitive weapon to perform technical-economic dominance practices because they prevent the other actors of the system from operating freely. This can be easily observed on the military level with the imposition of the inter-operability: pursuing a maximized standardization of military materials within NATO countries leads to the imposition of a given product or industry on the others.

Another aspect to take into account is humanitarian intelligence. In recent years, several economic domination strategies to conquer the market of developing countries have disguised as humanitarian and development missions.  It is true that development markets have impressive growth potential and can count on natural resources that the West is interested in. As a result, Western countries continuously engage in humanitarian operations and development project in order to obtain long and medium term economic advantages. Besides NGOs, there are a number of governmental organizations that combine their humanitarian mission with strategies pursuing political and economic goals.

Since developing countries often experience the devastating consequences of war, civil-military co-operations (COCIM) aim at leading the country out of the crisis situation and take care of the needs of the population. However, COCIM operations are often used to conquer the infrastructure market and acquire contracts to provide services and materials for the reconstruction of the country, while profiting from public funding. It is possible to observe that as soon as a conflict ends, companies from all over the world compete to get their share in the reconstruction of the country and they rush there in order to quickly identify its needs and to influence the terms of contracts. In order for this strategy to work, military personnel should be accompanied by experts like doctors, engineers, businessmen, teachers, sociologists, ethnologists etc., that provide a better understanding of the region together with its religious, cultural, and linguistic features.

Lastly, manipulation is also an offensive strategy and it relies on the key role played by the media. Information war can easily build or destroy the image of a given company or country through the planned and targeted use of information and telecommunication channels. Information war is based on using false information both to control and protect information sources, and to prevent the opponent from reacting. These subversive disinformation or propaganda techniques can be easily performed in every communication channel, especially the Internet. In this situation it is important to rapidly react with counter information practices and occupy media space with dominant strategies.

At the present moment in which we witness a real war of knowledge, no company is immune from this kind of competition attacks.

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Economy

Russians Need to Strategise Trade with Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Russian business lobbying groups, together with about 40 business and industry heads, have shown interest in exporting their products to markets in Africa but found it difficult to access facilitation procedures in some of the countries.

To understand some of the processes and procedures, Nonna Kagramanya, the Vice President of Delovaya Rossia (Business Russia), moderated a special seminar to constructively discuss emerging issues and possible solutions on various foreign economic tracks. Representatives of governments, development institutions, private businesses as well as Southern and Eastern African diplomats attended the event.

She said despite the relatively small trade turnover with African countries, Russian companies were very interested in establishing stable long-term contacts with African partners.

As a first step, Ms. Kagramanya proposed the creation of a permanent discussion-line for all interested participants of the seminar to discuss a set of priority problems and barriers when working with Africa.

Polina Slyusarchuk, Head of Intexpertise (St. Petersburg-based African focused Consultancy Group), questioned whether Russia has a broader Africa policy or long-term strategy in there.

“Today, Russia wants to deepen its understanding of the business climate and explore trade and partnership opportunities in Africa,” she underscored.

While meetings organised between Russia and Africa have to be used to discuss thoroughly how to trade, efforts should be made to remove or lessen some of the barriers for mutual benefits. Now Russia’s main goal is to decide what it can offer that foreign players haven’t yet been made available in the African market.

Contributing to the discussion, the General Director of Intelnexus, Anatoly Yakimenko, introduced the participants to the opportunities for the development of Russian-African business cooperation, noting the favourable and hindering factors in the African market.

He stressed the need for potential exporters of Russia to adopt high-tech production and solutions to expand initiatives for more effective positioning of high-tech companies in Africa.

The Deputy Director of the Department of Asia, Africa and Latin America of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, Alexander Dianov, spoke about the non-financial support measures for Russian companies operating within the department.

“Currently, there are 10 intergovernmental commissions between the Russian Federation and African countries,” he said.

At the same time, he said: “There are trade missions only in four African countries, and if you take sub-Saharan African countries, the trade mission operates effectively only in South Africa. It is obvious that there is something to work on in terms of developing the infrastructure to support Russian businesses. If there is a serious request from the business community, we are ready to expand the geography of our presence.”

A representative of the Russian Export Centre (REC) in Africa, Dmitry Suchkov, drew the attention of companies to the need for in-depth analysis of national programmes of economic and investment development of African countries.

He spoke about the initiatives of the Coordinating Committee for Economic Cooperation with Sub-Saharan Africa.

Natalia Zaiser, the Chairperson of the Board of the African Business Initiative, pointed to the problems of ensuring security and stable “rules of the game,” as well as the need to identify five priority areas of business cooperation on the medium and long term perspectives for individual countries.

Representatives of the embassies of Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa spoke about the integration processes on the African Continent, the potential of regional markets and national development initiatives.

Members of diplomatic missions also noted the greatly unrealised potential of cooperation between Russia and African countries, and interest in attracting investments in infrastructure, education and many other sectors.

They called for a wider interaction between African business circles and Russian businesses.

During the discussion, the participants mentioned high import duties, complicated certification procedure, high cost of products, expensive logistics, security and guarantee issues, and information vacuum as some of the barriers to Russian-African trade and economic cooperation. However, the participants agreed on the need to develop a comprehensive strategy for Russia to work with Africa.

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Economy

Curating a Vision with Young African Entrepreneurs

Jenni Jostock

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How can young people be involved in creating a future of work that is decent, equitable and bright? This November I was fortunate enough to take part in an event with this mandate at its heart.

The Youth Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment Forum (YES Forum) in Dakar, Senegal was co-organised by the ILO and our partners in the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth. It was a collaborative effort supporting young entrepreneurs in the region, and it was a joy to see this vision becoming real during the two-day event – with young entrepreneurs shining at different stages of the YES Forum.

More than 30 young entrepreneurs took on active speaking roles across the discussion sessions, a “Dragon’s Den” style pitching competition, and the Marketplace. This Marketplace offered participants the opportunity to float in between booths and to have one-on-one interactions with the presenting entrepreneurs and organisations.

The vibrant tone was set at the very start, with all participants given hand-made, customised notebooks, the product of an all-female team led by entrepreneur Ndey Fatou Njie for her business TIGA Gambia. TIGA Gambia is now an all-around fashion and accessories retailer, but originally zoomed in on providing locally-inspired swimwear – a large market gap that Ndey spotted and filled!

Not only were the TIGA Gambia notebooks a showstopper, they were also a colourful and popular extension of the empowering message of the YES Forum.

The innovative and vibrant spirit of entrepreneurs in their element was palpable all through the Forum, but shone particularly during the networking lunch and the Marketplace. It was difficult to lure the participants back into the plenary after these events, because they were so busy talking, forging synergies and building contacts.

While the young entrepreneurs embraced their speaking opportunities to the fullest, they also created a wonderfully inclusive setting that allowed everyone’s successes to be seen and recognised. I was particularly touched when the pitching competition winner, Malick Diouf, CEO of LAfricaMobile, immediately called his three competitors onto the stage to congratulate them on their incredible work.

Malick was humble about his win but his company deserves a special shout-out. LAfricaMobile serves as a digital bridge between African media publishers and organizations wanting to disseminate their content to the African diaspora. As a comms aficionado I was particularly impressed by how effortless their SMS service is in helping the African diaspora connect to what is going on in their home countries.

All in all, the YES Forum left a lasting impression on me for two reasons: Firstly because of the level of mutual support and cooperation that the young entrepreneurs showed, and secondly because the Forum truly catered for these young entrepreneurs and allowed them to share their stories and to explore collaboration. I believe it will leave a lasting result – of stronger alliances and greater empowerment.

Mariama Johm, founder of Afri Taste, a Banjul health joint that combats fruit and vegetable waste, summed up the atmosphere in her remarks during the Young Global Entrepreneurs panel: “I am glad we have the youth actually speaking here. We, young entrepreneurs, want to speak and let policymakers hear from us – not only here, but we want to make governments take into consideration what we are saying and that they should not make decisions on our behalf.”

ILO

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Easing US-China trade tensions could save millions of jobs

MD Staff

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Millions of jobs in the Asia and Pacific region have been put at risk by conflicts over trade, despite a recent agreement not to escalate tit-for-tat tariffs by the United States and China, according to a new regional UN report.

The 2018 Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report, issued by the UN’s development arm in the region, ESCAP, suggests that an escalating “tariff war” and resulting drop in confidence next year, could cut nearly $400 billion from the global gross domestic product, drive regional GDP down by $117 billion.

“As production shifts take place and resources are reallocated across sectors and borders due to the trade conflicts, tens of millions of workers may see their jobs displaced and be forced to seek new employment,” said Mia Mikic, the head of Trade, Investment and Innovation Division at ESCAP.

That said, the report also noted trade tensions have already had had a major impact, resulting in disruptions to existing supply chains and dampening investment. Trade growth slowed after the first half of 2018, and foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to the region are also expected to continue on a downward trend next year, following a 4 per cent drop overall this year.

In such a scenario, regional investment will be key to creating new economic opportunities, says Ms. Mikic, adding that “complementary policies” such as labour, education and retraining, and social protection measures must be placed high on the policymaking agenda.

This is also critical for ensuring progress on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), she said.

ESCAP has also called on countries to take full advantage of all existing initiatives to strengthen regional cooperation, including a new UN treaty on digitalizing trade procedures and enabling cross-border paperless trade in the zone.

‘Trade war’ has no winners

The report has also underscored that neither China nor the US can win a “trade war”, explaining that “both will see significant economic losses from continuing conflict.”

It also finds that implementation of mega-regional trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, among the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its six partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea – could offset much of the economic losses from trade tensions.

The 2018 report estimates that implementation of such agreements could boost exports by 1.3 to 2.9 per cent and add 3.5 to 12.5 million jobs in the Asia-Pacific.

ESCAP, or the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific is largest among UN regional commissions. Its 53 member States and 9 associate members span a geographic area from the Pacific island of Tuvalu in the east to Turkey in the west, and Russia in the north to New Zealand in the south. The region is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population.

In addition to countries in the Asia-Pacific region, ESCAP’s membership also includes France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the US.

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