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US-China trade war? Not likely

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Commenting on recent the US and China tit-for-tat tariff disputes, Prof. Larry Backer says that the deep structures of economic integration cannot be undone by a series of shocks with offers of renegotiation.

As the US and China ratchet up a tit-for-tat tariff dispute, it has been said often in the last few weeks that no one wins a trade war.

The issue was discussed with Larry Backer, Professor of Law and International Affairs in Penn State University.

How will President Trump’s decision to boost tariffs impact US domestic steel and aluminum producers?

My apologies, the answer to this question will be the longest of this interview precisely because the simplest questions may pose the subtlest problems. In contrast to many experts, and others, who might be eager to provide a simple and direct answer to this simple and direct question, I can only offer complexity and contingency. At the greatest level of generalization, it is not clear, even to experts and policymakers, whether the tariff boost will have a positive or negative effect. Steel and aluminum production are now part of integrated production chains only a portion of which concerns steel and aluminum production. The idea appears to be that the tariffs will protect US based steel and aluminum production by making the import of like products more expensive—and thus US producers will substitute domestic production over foreign. That may well work for domestic production and consumption but may not work for domestic production for export—especially where other states match the tariff to equalize pricing (and reduce the foreign subsidy) that the tariff represents. And yet domestic production and consumption is an important element of US macro-economic policy and may produce positive short-term effects in terms of domestic investment and employment.

Yet the tariff discussion must also be understood within a more complex context produced by the deep embedding within global production and ownership chains. The key here is that there is no identity between the location of production (in this case steel and aluminum production) and the nationality of ownership (that is, the “citizenship” of the apex enterprise that owns or controls the steel or aluminum production chain with respect to which production might be located in any number of states). It has been reported, for example, that some US companies may be negatively affected because they are subsidiaries of foreign enterprises from which, for example they receive steel for finishing and then export. And the effect will have little to do with the nationality of the owners of steel production. Consider the irony of these tariffs if, as a result, foreign owned enterprises establish factories in the US for steel production, boosting US production while repatriating the profits of that enterprise back to the home states of parent company. That insight, in turn, produces some variations in the answer to the question you posed.

Larry Backer

First, even if the tariffs have an effect (positive or negative), it is not clear that the extent of that effect will be large. Again, the issue of tariffs can only be viewed in a vacuum within the cloistered towers of those who find such detached analysis useful for purposes of advancing policy without relation to real world effects. Thus, the amplitude of the effect may be difficult to distill apart from the ecology within which tariffs may have both direct and indirect effects.  This provides an opportunity to seek to distill effects using a variety of techniques all of which will be dependent of a set of assumptions and approaches that might well skew the results in ways that serve objectives. These effects, of course, are further complicated by the distinction between the effects on domestic production (an objective of the tariffs, of course) and the effects of the nationality of the benefits of this production. It is not clear how one deals with the situation where domestic production increases (and increases local economies) while the profits of that production are repatriated elsewhere.

Second, even if there is significant effect, it is not clear whether the effect will be generally felt or will affect different parts of the country, and different industrial sectors differently. To speak of the effects of the tariff boost generally produces an answer that aggregates effect. But aggregated effects only serve political interests, it does not reflect the reality within a large country like ours.  It is much more likely that the effects will be felt differently, positively and negatively in different parts of the country and with respect to different industries and companies. Yet that might well have been the point—to ensure a targeted boost to economic activity within specific portions of the US with the hope that this boost in activity will then have indirect effect over a broader area.

Third, the answer to the question must take into account the time horizons for change and the sectors with respect to which differing time horizons might matter. Thus, for example, to the extent that the tariff is meant to foster greater steel and aluminum production, that effect will take years to be felt in terms of actual significant increases in production. Also important here is the question whether that production can be sustained. Tariffs as subsidies may have an immediate effect on decisions to invest in production (and hire labor to aid in its production), but eventually the sector and the heightened production will have to be economically viable—especially since over the middle and long term global consumers and producers may adjust their activities to take the tariffs into account.

Fourth, on the other hand, the immediate effects of the tariffs have already been felt—not in the changes to the location of steel and aluminum production (inside or outside the US), but in the reactions of financial markets, lenders, political leaders and the like. And perhaps that is the most telling part of tariff policy in the contemporary age—tariffs appear to have greater effects on global finance than on global production, on the allocation or distribution of the placement of portions of the production of commodities (in the long term), and on its value in mobilizing mass opinion to some political end or other. In that respect, tariffs may not pose the same problems that they produced a century ago in the European inter-War period. Globalization has substantially reduced the power of tariffs precisely because the borders necessary to make them effective have been substantially eroded—and it is unlikely that they will be reconstructed in the manner of 1920s thinking.

Fifth, the impact will vary from the short to the long term. Most people may be tempted to consider the question in light of immediate or short-term impact. Indeed, global analytics have tended to increasingly favor short term thinking and reaction rather than long term or strategic responses or adjustment. And the short-term impact—politically—will be significant. One sees that already as the “usual suspects” have already aligned themselves and their media outlets to amplify their support or opposition to the tariffs, and to begin to seek to mobilize mass opinion to some end or other. Yet it is the long term strategic adjustments that are far more important and most likely to be missed by a media and analytic culture with a short attention span.

How will it actually impact the aluminum and steel industries globally then?

There are two answers here. The direct answer is that impact will be a function of the way industry and states respond. Industry might be able to avoid the effects of the tariff by strategic shifting of the operations of their global production chains to minimize the effects of the tariffs—but such adjustments might take time. States, on the other hand, are less flexible. They will either support their own industries or risk losing them. If they do not reciprocate tariffs, they might be induced to apply enough support to their industries to wash out the price effects of tariffs. The indirect answer, however, may be more important. The impact to states and enterprises will depend on the ability of both to mitigate the effects of tariffs through changes in the ownership of the producers of tariffed goods. Thus, for example, if Chinese enterprises own or can acquire (direct or indirectly) steel and aluminum production facilities in the US, the net effect of the tariff will be small. Over the long term, and in the absence of waivers from tariff, there may be a gradual shift of production—but not necessarily to the US Instead the shift may move production to other states which have successfully negotiated tariff waivers.

You’ve mentioned some of the beneficiaries behind his decision are their other internal or external beneficiaries in addition to the companies in America, or is it just wholly these American companies who are going to benefit from this decision?

What is an American company today? The notion of national companies is now essentially obsolete in a context in which most economic activity is connected to global flows of production. Companies of a variety of nationalities are organized to manage and participate in global production (in steel and aluminum and other products). The economic enterprise that tends to manage or control the process of production and the role of other enterprises within that production process tends to be characterized as the representative or incarnation of a multinational enterprise, and to lend its nationality to that system of global production. But realistically, that represents an oversimplification of the realities of production. Thus, American apex companies may benefit from the tariffs.

On the other hand, US apex companies who have invested heavily in steel and aluminum production enterprises outside the US may suffer. Conversely, a Russian or Chinese enterprise that owned steel or aluminum production facilities in the US might profit significantly from the tariffs.  Because of this quite large divide between the nationality of the place of production and the nationality of the ownership of production (up the production chain) it is difficult in many cases to point to a generalizable nationality for winners and losers.  And that is the great insight of this effort—states can control generally the production of things within their territory and use their borders to exact a cost of entry (or exit).  But that control of the consequences of production within or outside a state has absolutely nothing to say about the nationality for the beneficiaries of these policies.  If all steel production abroad is owned by US companies, then steel import tariffs would affect US companies negatively because it adds costs to their global allocation of the elements of their production chains.

How much will this decision to increase tariffs affect countries like China, Japan and South Korea then?

There are two questions here.  The first deals with reciprocal tariffs. This is a simple one—if the US raises tariffs on aluminum and steel, then other countries would seek to do the same on US steel and aluminum. Yet the impact on the US may be negligible if it is a net importer of these products. And thus, more effective may be what I might call retaliatory tariffs. Thus, if the US imposes tariffs on steel and aluminum that affects national industries elsewhere, those states might impose duties on US agricultural products or some other product in a sector where US exports are large. But in a global economy that might only produce short term pain, as those in control of production chains can, at some cost, realign their trade routes in ways that might soften the blows of tariffs. And again, where one thinks only of short term effect, one misses the essential element of a more benign long-term effect within a global context in which capital and investment still moves fairly freely. And, indeed, rather than approach the imposition of tariffs with retaliatory tariffs, China, Japan and Korea would be better off buying US: steel manufacturers, increasing production of un-tariffed steel and then exporting that commodity for finishing in their own home states.

How likely is the European Union to retaliate by imposing tariffs on US products?

This is an excellent question.  While the initial emotional response, one fanned by the global media, might have tilted toward retaliatory tariffs on vulnerable US products, that course may not be followed once tempers are calmed.  The principle reason for this is that the Trump Administration has made it clear that it would entertain bilateral negotiations on waivers of tariffs.  This is not a small matter.  Indeed, one can see in this Tariff imposition-negotiated waiver approach an essential feature of the Trump Administration’s movement away from its old approach of globalized system building multilateralism to the new America First Initiative. Thus, consider the dynamics of the tariff imposition in context.  The United States has commenced building its own trade network in a manner that links up with the US enterprise’s management or control of certain production chains.

That requires a reorienting of trade relations from a multilateral form without a center to an aggregated bilateral form with the US at the center.  To effect this reorientation of the foundations of trade the US must first re-center its position in global trade networks (not all of them but those of vital interest or with respect to which there is an ambition). To that end, certain shocks are necessary. These include withdrawal form multilateral agreements (including Paris and TPP) and the disruption of old free trade alignments. But mere withdrawal does not produce re-centering—the offer to renegotiate the terms of bilateral relations (and in the process restore relations or waive action) is the driving element of realignment. At the end of the process, if carried out systematically and with a clear long term vision, the US might well produce a trading system that looks substantially the same as the Chinese One Belt One Road Initiative. If that is the case, then the future of global trade is not manifested in tariffs, but through these tariff and other shocks, a new global trade system, built around control of production chains, will emerge in which most roads lead either to Washington, or to Beijing.

Will Mr. Trump’s acts result in a trade war between the US and world’s other economic powers? What can be the consequences of such possible war for world?

No trade war is likely. The deep structures of economic integration cannot be undone by a series of shocks with offers of renegotiation. And trade war does not seem to be the intent (though one must disregard certain of the President’s tweets to acquire assurance on that point). And America First Initiative is not the same as the isolationist policies adopted from near the end of the 1920s—it is rather the reverse, the effort to encourage muscular expansion but now oriented from key home states, rather than by building a community of similarly situated actors all competing in the global markets for engagement with portions of emerging production chains. And indeed, while the ineptitude of national leaders might, through comedies of errors and personal vanity, move key states toward trade wars, the result would not further state power. Trade wars are particularly dangerous in contemporary politics precisely because they would produce two types of instability. First, trade wars would produce instability among the lower reaches of production chains. Those states would suffer substantial impacts in employment that would lead to political unrest, and more likely substantial migration that would then destabilize neighbors and eventually the apex states to which migration will flow, particularly in the West. Second, trade wars would destabilize apex nations as well. The stability of the political orders in the United States and China depend in large part on the fulfillment of a promise of a baseline economic prosperity. Where that disappears then both states might well be subject to the vagaries of populism which, though it might not overthrow either’s system in a formal sense, would substantially corrupt them.

The US and the Europeans cooperation after world war was based on trade, security and military regimes like NATO. Don’t you think possible trade war between the US and Europe can spill over other security and military fields, too?

I agree, of course, that a trade war would spill over to other vectors of state to state relations. But only suicidal states and mad leaders without substantial popular or institutional checks, could possibly move the US-EU relationship dangerously in that direction. The US and its European allies have had tiffs and have made grand gestures of disapproval against each other with some regularity since the 1960s. One need only remember the antics of Charles De Gaulle (quite effective both within Europe and in the effect on NATO relations). And in any case, the bad behavior of states on the periphery of the US-EU “entente” may ensure the strength of the core alliance militarily and work against economic policy foolishness.

Rising of rightist in Europe is a threat to the future of the EU and from the other side this can result in more independent trade relation without the EU considerations. Considering this fact how do you see the future of EU?

Many people fear the ghosts of the past, and even more people believe that it is important to fight past battles over and over.  But like the analogy with the trade wars of the 1920s, analogies with the rise of fascist movements in Europe in the 1930s may be misapplied in this case. Yes, indeed, the ultra-right movements have risen again after several generations of muscular suppression in Europe, and ridicule (effective) in the US But that suppression, in part, might well have contributed to the re-emergence of the virus of right wing extremism in the face of a largely unchecked left wing extremism that has tended to be the darling of the political and intellectual sets in the US and Europe since the great social rebellions of 1968.

That cultural moment plays differently in Eastern Europe, of course, and produces a return to the comforts of authoritarian nationalism that can easily be characterized as either left or right to suit the agenda of the commentator. At some point balance must be restored, of course, or the EU will flounder. And that may be likely in the medium term. For the moment, however, the rise of rightists as against an unchecked culture of leftism may produce the sort of instability that marked the early Weimar Republic. But at its base, the EU is suffering a version of 2nd generation malaise. The rising elite never experienced the trauma that produced European solidarity in the face of a half century during which Europe virtually committed suicide. They do not know hunger, and fear, nor do they worry about the penetration of larger powers to undermine their own autonomy and independence (those are worries left for the detritus of empire). And thus, they can indulge the privilege of dismissing the institutional structures on which their own prosperity and security are based. To that end, indeed, it is not the rise of the right, but the effects of ennui, that may have a substantial deleterious effect on the solidity of the EU.

The US also recently imposed tariffs and other measures against the People’s Republic of China.  Do you see the possibility of a trade war or more adversarial relations between the US and China with respect to trade issues?

I would suggest that the recent and very quick tariff exchange between the United States and the People’s Republic of China illustrates the character of these tariff moves by the Trump Administration and the way that they have been received once governments finish producing the appropriate responses required for public consumption by their internal and external audiences. Consider what happened when in mid-March 2018 President Trump moved to levy tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese imports, in addition to those imposed on solar panels, steel and aluminum. Initially, the Chinese reacted aggressively and publicly in the expected way, utilizing all of their networks to aid in that effort. The Chinese indicated an intention to levy tariffs on about $3 billion of US imports, including soybeans or aircraft, major trade goods.

The effect was immediate—global financial markets fell dramatically over the course of a week. Yet, after the necessary public drama, one discovered that the tariffs imposed on both sides appeared to serve as an invitation for both the US and China to begin to renegotiate their trade relations. The Americans sent a letter indicating the changes that they sought in the wake of the tariff impositions, with an emphasis on trade and intellectual property issues, including what for the US amounted to coercive technology and know-how transfer rules. Premier Li Keqiang spoke publicly about the need for China and the United States to continue negotiations and reiterated pledges to better open their internal markets and perhaps to target purchases of specified US goods. Negotiations continue.

When news leaked of those steps, global markets responded appropriately. And thus one can begin to see the contours of the way in which tariffs have become an instrument rather than the objective of trade policy. The US may now use tariffs as a critically important tool in the reframing of US trade policy in the form of the “America First” Initiative. The object is not to destroy trade—the US President and his advisors have been very clear about that (it is only that people have chosen not to listen)—but to reframe the basis of the global trading system from the forms that emerged after the 2nd World War to a new form whose characteristics will be shaped both by the Chinese One Belt One Road Initiative and its American counterpart, the “America First” Initiative.

It was the Iranian leadership itself which almost a decade ago pointed to the end of the post-World War II era and its structures.  Few paid attention at the time.  That was a pity. For it seems that in retrospect they were correct and that the global community will continue to see manifestations of the new system emerge as the first order powers realign their visions, reach accommodations with each other and reorder the hierarchies of power and production for the first part of this century.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

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Flourishing Forex Market amidst Covid pandemic

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The Covid-19 outbreak has halted the normal channel of life, people losing their livelihood and income has dwindled over the past eight months all over the world. However, in the tailspin the world has faced, the Forex accounts have witnessed a phenomenal growth over the pandemic-ridden months. Month-on-month growth has been recorded as close as 25-50% while the total volume has expedited at an all-time high of 300% growth. Over the past decade such a phenomenal growth was hardly ever seen since the last record high was a close to 40% which is mere compared to the colossal figure posted on the stage in June 2020.

The developing markets, however, post a lucrative section to invest in since the region has been the biggest contributor to the FX rise: close to 60% being the beneficiary of Europe, Africa and South Asian countries. Safe to say that this trend has been so steep largely due to the investors being ridden with optimism over the volatile prices of many of the commodities that were rendered stagnant over the previous decades. This includes the oil prices, gold valuation and even the real estate market that despite being involved in a price bubble leading to the worst financial crisis of the millennial, still stood relatively steady over the past 11 years.

The FX market is oozing optimism to say anything about the trend which could be directly associated to the unprecedented financial climate and the looming atmosphere of recession and financial crisis pushing people towards adopting a new income stream. As conventional income channels come to a dead stall and people having time and focus to spare towards trading, the large volume of cumulative accounts could be further expected to extrapolate since price volatility and unexpected events both in the trade and world affairs have had a conducive effect on even the layman to dip into the trading cycle: FX market being the coherent choice due to safe commodity and currency investments and quick gains.

Exacting one’s mind towards the milestones achieved this year, be it the plunge of global oil prices to the negative scale of the exchange or the sharp fall and sudden rise of DJI or even the injection of one of the largest stimulus packages in the United States since the infamous financial crisis, this year marks the focal point of risks and opportunities. The prospects of a new vaccine are still trailing to the second quarter of 2021 despite some countries picking up the pace to vaccinate early means the trend in the market is not short term unless a breakthrough is imminent. On the market front, the interest rate crunch with UK expected to nudge the rates in the negative along with global relief to debt financing, traders have a global ticket on both the borrowing and the lending front to turn up abnormal gains. However, reliable brokers are a tough nook to find since the uncertainty also grips the traders regarding investments in the skewed conditions as such. Moreover, with naïve traders entering the market, small scale brokers clustering the exchanges and limited physical interactions due to social distancing protocols are all but exhaustive factors that could easily deteriorate the growing trend and bring about a financial crisis much sooner than expected if not regulated efficiently.

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Public Council Sets New Tasks to Support Russia-Africa Relations

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In this interview with Armen Khachatryan, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Programme Director at the Roscongress Foundation, and now a member of the newly created Public Council under the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum, argues that the first Summit held in October 2019 ultimately seeks to inject a new dynamism in the existing Russia-Africa relations.

According to him, as the African continent undergoes positive transformation, platforms for dialogue between Russia and Africa are profoundly changing too. The Russia–Africa Summit demonstrated the sheer enormity of potential that exists for collaboration across various areas, and one of the outcomes of that historic event was the establishment of the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum. The Secretariat further created a Public Council, the body also incorporates a Coordinating Council, Research Council and Media Council.

Speaking with Kester Kenn Klomegah early January 2021, Armen Khachatryan unreservedly stressed that building on the existing relations and all that have been achieved over the past few years, needs new platforms such as the Public Council. This Public Council aims primarily to uplift and solidly support the relations into a new stage, change perception among the public and give it an entirely new outlook into the future. Here are the interview excerpts:

A meeting of the Public Council of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat took place early November 2020. What were the main outcomes of the event?

It was the first kick-off meeting held last year. We determined the objectives facing the Public Council of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat. Specifically, these were to do with implementing the decisions of the inaugural Russia–Africa Summit and organizing the second summit, which is planned to take place in 2022. We discussed the current state of Russian-African relations in the humanitarian sphere, as well as the potential to develop them further. We also set out the council’s plan of action.

In your opinion, what social initiatives were prioritized – particularly at this time when Russia is seriously looking to focus on Africa?

Humanitarian cooperation has recently played an increasingly significant role in the development of Russian-African relations. The lively discussions at the Russia–Africa Economic Forum in October, 2019, in Sochi are testament to the importance of joint social initiatives, and to the shared desire to implement them. I believe this is with good reason, as collaboration in this area can help build an atmosphere of mutual trust. It isabsolutely essential to forge sustainable partnerships in different spheres with Africa.

In terms of priorities, areas in which we have traditionally collaborated include education, healthcare, culture, the environment, safety and security and so forth. All of these fields possess enormous potential for Russia and Africa to work together, and our country is ready to share its experience and expertise on mutually beneficial terms. Unlike some other countries, Russia wants a strong Africa with genuine sovereignty and a competitive economy. With this in mind, I would place particular emphasis on education. From my point of view, Africa’s most valuable asset is not its natural resources, but its people.

Young people currently make up a significant percentage of the population across the African continent. And that figure is going to increase further still. The population of the continent has already passed the 1.3 billion mark, with a median age of about 20. Around 60% of the population are young people under the age of 25. And according to forecasts, by 2050 the elderly will account for just 9% of the population. Given these numbers, we not only need to increase quotas for African students looking to study in Russia, but also open branches of our universities in African countries. That would allow us to offer a Russian education to many more African students as well as establish student exchange programmes.

By all appearances, aspects to do with education and professional training – and issues of humanitarian nature – are currently being examined in keeping with the course that has been delineated. Do you think that civil society should be involved in extending the reach of public diplomacy between Russia and Africa?

There is no doubt that collaboration between Russia and Africa should extend across the board, and take place at various levels. It should not be limited to ties between government officials and members of the business community. In any country, ordinary citizens make up the majority of the population, and for countries to collaborate effectively with one another, there needs to be an understanding of their perspectives and wishes. Therefore, as we look to establish direct ties and foster an environment conducive to regular dialogue with the people of various African nations, it is vital to involve civil society more closely.

It would appear sensible to provide more opportunities to people in Africa in terms of volunteering and doing internships at large Russian companies that are looking to build their presence on the African continent. The aim would be for these people to potentially be offered jobs at the companies’ African branches. Human resources need to be at the heart of our efforts, given their potential role in strengthening ties in both industry and science.

For our part, the Roscongress Foundation, as a socially oriented non-financial development institution, is open to proposals and is ready to provide assistance in promoting Russia’s image in African countries. This includes through organizing business, cultural and sporting events. As far as this is concerned, I imagine that the Foundation will receive support from Russian embassies and Rossotrudnichestvo’s offices in African countries.

Do you envisage any problems during attempts to better leverage Russias soft power and to strengthen public diplomacy in Africa? Do you view competition from other foreign players as a challenge?

I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate to use the term “soft power” in this instance. In this regard, I am of the same opinion as Yevgeny Primakov, Head of Rossotrudnichestvo. The term I take issue with is “power”, which implies pressure of some kind. We have no intention of pressurizing anyone. We are in favour of equal relations with all of our partners, and this includes African nations. In particular, we are guided by the principle of “African solutions to African problems.”

Obviously, there is competition, but I would not call that a challenge as such. Our main objective is not to compete with someone, but to offer our own perspectives on certain issues, communicate our values, and build a positive image of Russia in the eyes of people in Africa. Let me explicitly reiterate here, we are not exerting power in any way. People in Africa will have the benefit of several alternative perspectives, and will be able to choose the approach they feel is closest to them. This, in my opinion, is the principle of equality and mutual respect.

Of course, there are things that are hampering efforts to implement a systemic Russian humanitarian policy in Africa. For example, Rossotrudnichestvo has only eight offices across Africa’s 54 nations. It would appear that Russian-African ties would benefit from Russia opening new diplomatic missions in the region. If we want Russia’s voice to be heard on the African continent, special attention needs to be given to this issue.

In terms of the media landscape, what steps need to be taken to improve the work done by various outlets? How can we better inform society about events in both parts of the world? Why, for example, news in Africa rarely reported on in Russia?

In terms of working with the African continent, I believe that raising awareness on both sides is one of the most important issues we face. It is difficult to talk about joint ventures, for example, to develop the SME sector, when the African continent remains so little known in Russia, and in Africa, there is only a vague notion of what Russia is. The Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum played a crucial role in addressing this, as did the 2018 FIFA World Cup. That event saw many people from Africa visit Russia for the first time. They were able to see with their own eyes what our country is like, instead of being presented an image by the Western media. People were following events using various information resources.

These events played a huge role in helping to shape the media landscape. However, this exchange of information needs to be done on a more permanent basis. It’s worth pointing out that in today’s world, awareness can be raised in more ways than just via the media. Given the spread of social media, the student exchanges I mentioned earlier could, over time, play a much more important role in cultivating Russia’s image than conventional media channels. However, in order to achieve this, it is vital to work with young people in both Russia and Africa.

Going back to conventional media, I believe that first of all, Russian news agencies need to expand their network of correspondents in Africa. That would allow our journalists to work with primary sources, rather than rely on material put together by foreign news agencies. It will also be important to get Russian and African journalists working together, for example, through placement programmes, master classes, roundtables and so forth.

To answer the question on news in Africa being reported on in Russia, things are developing. Telegram channels dedicated to the African continent are appearing, for example, so it is possible to stay up-to-date with key events. One organization which is doing much to leverage Telegram channels is the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS). Its members include the Roscongress Foundation, which has considerable experience in developing and implementing humanitarian initiatives. AECAS is also currently working to build an integrated space for people in Russia and Africa to obtain information. This appears to me to be a very promising area. Admittedly, when it comes to large news agencies, the problem is that there are not enough events to report on which would garner widespread interest. However, I am in no doubt that as Russian‑African relations develop further, things will improve in this area.

The second Russian-African Public Forum took place in November 2020. In his welcome address, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said that amendments needed to be made topolicy initiatives in order to respond to changing realities in Africa. What was he referring to, and what is your take on “changing realities” in Africa?

First of all, I would say that the African continent has undergone an enormous transformation over the last few years. Across all areas, Africa has become much more profoundly involved in the economic processes driving globalization. Partners in Africa are implementing a programme to ease the movement of goods, capital and people, and to employ new technology in business and marketing. This has made the African economy more open and attractive to foreign investors.

The first Russia–Africa Economic Forum in Sochi served as yet another clear demonstration to the Russian and global community that the African economy is becoming more organic. It served as proof of Africa’s increasingly significant role in the global economy. Indeed, the continent has a direct bearing on global growth, and on progress in science and technology. Africa’s economic ties with the rest of the world are certainly no longer solely about supplying raw materials and being a market for finished products.

The socioeconomic growth we are witnessing, together with the global economy’s accelerated transition to a new wave of tech innovation, has meant that Africa’s role and position in the global economy has shifted significantly. The continent is also becoming an important growth pole in terms of global demand. Consumer spending on the continent has already reached US$ 680 billion. According the World Bank, this figure is set to grow to US$ 2.2 trillion by 2030.

As the continent undergoes this transformation, platforms for dialogue between Russia and Africa are profoundly changing too. The Russia–Africa Summit demonstrated the sheer enormity of potential that exists for collaboration across various areas. It was a historic milestone for Russian-African cooperation. One of the outcomes of the event was the establishment of the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum. In addition to a public council, the body also incorporates a coordinating council, research council, and media council. Never before in Russia’s modern history has there been such a serious mechanism for bringing together expertise and best practices from all sides and across all areas. It is set to act as a foundation to develop all aspects of Russian-African partnership, and to effectively position Africa’s transformation, which we briefly discussed earlier.

The high-level summit also led to the establishment of the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States, which will serve as a platform to strengthen business ties between Russia and Africa.

The situation is so diverse – politics, economy and culture – in Africa. In your opinion, what are the best pathways for promoting policy initiatives, as well as the social aspects of diplomacy with Africa?

That is quite important, but I don’t think we should try to identify a single “best” or “universal” pathway. It’s important to understand that Africa is a diverse continent – every country is unique, and requires an individual approach. And that’s before we consider that methods and initiatives that are employed in one region of the world – for example, Europe – are not at all necessarily appropriate for countries in Africa. We need to meticulously analyse each initiative, and be sure to draw the greatest possible benefit from them.

Generally speaking, there needs to be a focus on working with people, and in particular, with young people in Africa. These efforts should be based upon the needs of the population. And as I mentioned earlier, the pathways to achieving our aims could look very different from one another. Africa, just like Russia, is blessed with a wealth of extremely young talented people: some make films, others dance, others draw. But that’s not the important thing. What’s important here is to do everything we can to connect the lives of people in Africa with our country –we show that Russia is ready to help develop their talents. After all, these people could well become the thought leaders of the future, as well as ambassadors for Russian-African relations. These people could help foster a positive image of Russia in their respective countries. We are ready to engage and cooperate with intergovernmental organizations, civil society and African partners, work constructively to consolidate the results from the first summit and what both Russia and Africa further set inthe joint declaration in Sochi, in October 2019.

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The role of economic warfare in understanding contemporary geopolitics

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Despite Fukuyama’s theses, the traditional war is not over: especially in Europe, from the former Yugoslavia to Ukraine. As for economic relations between states, these – with all due respect to the Austrian school – do not amount to “soft trade”. Indeed, as early as 1990, Edward Luttwak heralded the age of geoeconomics when Bernard Esambert published The World Economic War. German surpluses against French deficits, weak dollar against strong euro, difficult negotiations between the United States and the European Union on the subject of the transatlantic treaty, the world yesterday as today is an arena. Economic warfare is so pervasive that expression is a victim of its success. It is therefore necessary to precisely define this new theoretical and practical object, to evaluate its real scope and its mode of action.

It should be clear, looking carefully at the contemporary dynamics, to affirm that economic war is the daughter of globalization

Although economic warfare in the broadest sense of the term is not new, its contemporary form has relatively recent roots. We can consider that after the Second World War, with the revival of an international monetary system and the signing of the GATT agreements in 1947, the rules for commercial competition between largely national economies were established within the Western bloc. Thus, the economic struggles that have taken place in recent years have been confined to an arena of limited size.

Furthermore, when Bernard Esambert published Le Troisième Conflit mondial in 1968, he traced the contours of an economic war with positive virtues: not only did this “soft” war replace the real war in the West, but it was also a stimulus for industrialized countries, engaged in a profitable competition for all. Furthermore, the Cold War forced the nations of the Western bloc into a de facto solidarity that further limited the effects of their economic rivalries.

It was precisely this balance that was upset in 1991 with the fall of the USSR and the end of communism. From that moment on, nothing stood in the way of the capitalist and free trade model which, until then, represented only one of the two economic systems at work on the planet. Now the arena is global and hardly anyone challenges the rules of the game, but at the same time the end of the war does not bring down the politics of power; it moves them from the military and geopolitical terrain (clash of blocs, peripheral conflicts, etc.) to the economic and commercial terrain (rivalry between powers over resources, the struggle for market share, etc.). According to Luttwak, “in the future, fear of economic consequences could settle trade disputes, and certainly more political interventions motivated by powerful strategic reasons.” If Luttwak probably underestimated the importance that geopolitical issues would maintain, he underlined the new dimension of our globalization: that of economic competition between nations Far from thinking like the men of the Enlightenment that trade softens morals, it believes that trade is only one of the modes of war when its armed side weakens.

Winners of the Cold War, the United States was in fact the first to take stock of the change that the world was going through. Basically, the Cold War gave them the opportunity to subsidize entire segments of their economy.

But if at the beginning of the 90s, the geopolitical argument collapsed, the economic discourse remains in all its purity. In the same year, Secretary of State Warren Christopher officially declared that “economic security” was to be elevated to the top foreign policy priority of the United States of America.

In other words, the winners of the Cold War have officially declared economic war on the rest of the world. The perspective is certainly largely liberal; everyone has their chances and can win this game, but the discourse is ambiguous because it is tinged with the defense of national interests. In the end, it mixes both liberal and mercantilist rhetoric, principles hardly compatible in the eyes of economists but perfectly legitimate for politicians.

In order for a country to be fit to fight in economic warfare, it needs a state, that is – Esambert would say – a resolute warlord, who knows the profession of arms and who reduces the morale and spirit of conquest to the economy.

Yet in the 1980s and 1990s, in the era of neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus, the state had been mistreated; it was seen as an obstacle to economic development and therefore President Reagan was not afraid to say that “the problem is the state”. Financial globalization, the transnationalization of companies, the intensification of international trade have rung the death knell for this relic of the past. Not only has the state resisted the neoliberal potion, it is now making a comeback. The state continued to play its role of overseeing the private space by creating a favorable legal, fiscal and infrastructural environment for the economy. In our current context, states have also taken on the role of military leaders, to conquer markets and resources, both to secure their power and to enrich their businesses and their fellow citizens.

In fact, the state has a certain number of prerogatives or capabilities that companies are naturally lacking. The state can think long-term, finance long-term when companies prefer the short or medium term. Furthermore, it can implement expensive tools at the service of its companies to distinguish the sectors of the future, the fields in which they have an interest in investing; in short, the state has a far better view of the battlefield than any of its troops. The Japanese example of the MITI has a paradigmatic value, as demonstrated by the pioneering studies of the Paris school of economic warfare directed by Christian Harbulot.

It is also the state that guides the dynamics of tomorrow by setting goals: thus, the Lisbon strategy that the EU member countries adopted in 2000 intends to make the Union “the first knowledge economy” by 2010 by explicitly linking this goal to that of full employment. Only a state can tackle these kinds of tasks, the scope of which far exceeds the financing capabilities and motivations of a business.

States don’t wage wars without troops. These are businesses, large and small.

But what does all this mean specifically?

First of all, it concerns a simple but at the same time extremely delicate question in an era of globalization: the nationality of companies. Isn’t it an illusion to say that more and more multinational companies, owned by foreign capital, are American?

Indeed, economists have shown that, despite the logic of transnationalization, the idea of “corporate nationality” is not obsolete. First, because a number of strategic companies are protected by states: directly when they are shareholders indirectly when they are guarantors their independence from foreign companies. We recall, for example, that in 2006 the Bush administration forced the Dubai Port World company to sell to AIG International the management of the six large American ports carried out by the P&O company that DPW had purchased. Likewise, advertising firm China National Offshore Corporation was prevented in 2005 from acquiring the US company Unocal. What does this mean if not that states easily recognize national companies, even if their capitalization is now international?

In short, even in the era of the “Global Players”, we can speak of nationality of companies.

Secondly, we can assimilate the present large companies, even more so the multinationals, to the legions of the late Roman Empire; mixed, variegated, composed of Roman cadres and barbarian troops, they are nevertheless the army of the Empire. Today’s companies, despite their global character, still maintain a national foothold. Furthermore, the recent Peugeot bailout around an alliance between the family, the French state and the Chinese manufacturer Dongfeng illustrates well that the idea of a national company did not die with globalization, it is only more complex than in the past. .

Returning to contemporary economic warfare this can be read as a traditional conflict, with its war objectives. The first is to defensive carette: saving industrial jobs. This challenge has become an obsession as relocations or subcontracting to low-wage countries are draining our industrialized countries.

Why this obsession with industrial jobs in our outsourced world? It is because our post-industrial societies, in the sense that most of the GDP no longer comes from the secondary sector, are no less industrialized than they have ever been. Not only do industrial jobs generate tertiary employment, but there are also many that require a qualification. Bernard Esambert speaks of an “industry-service symbiosis” to designate this pair formed by the high-tech industry and the service sector that accompanies it. Losing the former to the advantage of the new industrial powers means losing the latter and risking regress, not to mention the risk of unemployment or underemployment, which no democracy can bear in the long run. Advocates of economic warfare therefore believe that industrial employment must be defended and even maintained . Beyond the economic debates about their cost-benefits, the destruction of jobs is difficult to accept in the eyes of voters and, therefore, decision makers.

The other objective of the war, decisive for the states, is no longer defense but the conquest of markets and scarce resources. Economic warfare scholars have clearly demonstrated the intensification of the war for the control of natural resources, mainly for the control of hydrocarbons.

Perhaps nothing better than this example illustrates in the eyes of its proponents the obviousness of economic warfare: oil is a scarce and limited resource. Every drop gained by one is lost by the other. Therefore, as it is the basis of development, it is necessary for each state to ensure a secure and continuous supply. The inexorable struggle that the United States and China are waging for African oil but also for the other resources of the subsoil of this continent is an example of this. Absent in Africa 25 years ago, China is now the third largest trading partner after the United States and France; for two thirds it imports oil, but also metals, cotton and precious stones.

This war for natural resources is the scene of a reversal of the balance of power between Western countries on the one hand and emerging and / or developing countries on the other. The rise of China, of the BRICS, the rise of sovereign wealth funds in the Arab oil exporting countries would demonstrate this. In economic warfare, resources are powerful ammunition. And everything suggests that this conflict will escalate.

The International Energy Agency estimates that energy needs will increase by 50% by 2030, in part due to Indian and Chinese growth. The search for raw materials will in fact become a crucial issue for the States. As early as 2007, the Committee on Critical Mineral Impacts on the US Economy published a report in which it lists eleven minerals that are particularly crucial to the American economy due to their scarcity, their need in high-tech industries … the more coveted, is rhodium, used in particular in catalytic converters, and found in Russia but also in South Africa, a much better ally than Moscow. Rare metal, today it is the subject of struggles in which states and multinationals fight side by side. As guarantor of the national economy, each State is called upon to draw up, in its own way, a list of the resources that are or will be essential for it.

The “scarce resources” also include companies that today more than ever are falling prey not only to their private counterparts but also to governments. As such, the crisis has facilitated the entry into the capital of very large companies in the countries of the South through powerful sovereign wealth funds. The large investment funds of the United Arab Emirates, in particular Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have invested extensively in favor of the economic crisis in prestigious companies in difficulty: EADS, AMD, Sony, Citigroup … The Chinese sovereign fund holds almost 10% by Morgan Stanley. As for the Singapore fund, it entered the equity of Merril Lynch at the same level. Here we find the idea of revolution in the North / South hierarchy: winning in the economic war is not a legacy. The newcomers are shaking up the old hierarchy. Saudi Arabia is estimated to be responsible for 5% of US GDP thanks to wealth creation made possible by the use of Arab oil. Suffice it to say that Riyadh has a strategic advantage over its powerful economic partner.

Finally, there is a scarce and strategic commodity that constitutes a relatively new objective of the war: information. It is now important that companies and states know their opponents, their exact technological level, their strategy, in order to be able to anticipate them. Sometimes we speak of cognitive warfare to refer to the advanced weapon of economic warfare. In fact, the acquisition of information with high added value is also essential for the development of the tango economic activity as much as the accumulation of financial capital and the coordination of human skills. If states now want to help their companies gain market share, they must equip themselves with economic intelligence programs, otherwise they will lag considerably behind in a form of struggle that appears increasingly crucial as all the immense theoretical and operational work done by Ecole du guerre economique founded by Chrustian Harbulot.

In short, our time is woven of contradictions; on the one hand, the states hold an official speech supporting, sometimes with nuances, a multilateralism supported by the main international institutions such as the UN, the WTO, the IMF. On the other hand, everyone can see that the states are developing quite different reasoning. The imperative of solidarity in the financial field advocated by the G20 t new response to the need not to lose market share in a context of tension. In the midst of the crisis, the logic of competitiveness requires the conquest of foreign markets.

It is up to Christian Harbulot to have clearly shown this shift from Cold War Manichaeism to the multilateral economic war that states are waging today. According to him, the ally / opponent pair replaced the partner / competitor one. This transformation of possible alliances is accompanied, according to Harbulot, by a reorganization of the field of partners and competitors in geographical terms. The two blocks of the Cold War would have succeeded three blocks: the first is the degraded space of the Western world from which we can possibly extract the United States, the second is the expanded room for maneuver of the new powers, the third, finally, is space of survival of other countries. Each of these spaces follows very different power strategies. Furthermore, the members of each block are not necessarily allies as we have just seen.

Therefore, any peremptory statement becomes impossible. The United States and China are waging a relentless war over Africa’s resources. But China, through the purchase of US Treasuries, is the country that allows the United States to live on credit. Another example, China and Taiwan are political enemies but economic partners.

If economic warfare is a struggle, it is based on weapons and countermeasures. In covert warfare, a large number of tools count as weapons. The first of all is undoubtedly training: in our constantly changing societies, initial training helps create a workforce or managers prepared for change.

Likewise, the importance given to research is fundamental. Since 2010, China has more researchers than the United States, although the latter enjoy, thanks to the practice of brain drain, the sharpest minds on the planet. In this context, public-private collaboration is fundamental: in the United States, the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 provides that patents financed with public funds – by universities or public research centers – are assigned mainly in the form of exclusive rights to private companies American.

In other words, in the eyes of states in economic warfare, the search for patents is truly a national affair, a guarantee of productivity, a decisive weapon in the perspective of a trade struggle between nations. These tools are at the service of competitiveness, this ability to face competition on external and internal markets. As for the attractiveness – which could be understood as the competitiveness of a territory – it is the object of particular attention by many states that the disputes between the European Commission and Ireland regarding Apple have brought to light.

The ultimate hidden weapon of warfare is economic intelligence. It is similar both to a weapon, which anticipates the enemy’s movement to surprise him and steal his victory, but also to a defense tactic because it anticipates enemy moves, practicing disinformation for example. The United States is the main player in this information war. We now know that the NSA, initially created in a counterintelligence logic during the Cold War, would have used the Echelon network to know the position of the European Union in 1994 during the final negotiations of the Uruguay Round. In 2014, the New York Times revealed that the agency had spied on an American law firm defending a foreign country in a trade dispute with the U.S. Information has become one of the key issues of the economic war.

As states move from covert warfare to open warfare, weapons change. These attacks can take the form of geoeconomic retaliation in response to a geopolitical crisis; this is for example the case in the fruit and vegetable embargo between the European Union and Russia.

Voluntary import restrictions also amount to retaliatory measures. The well-known example of the restrictions imposed by the United States on Japanese cars in the 1980s testifies to the violence of the conflict. Faced with rising Japanese car sales, Washington sought to protect the “Big Three”. Rather than proceed unilaterally, the US government has asked the Japanese to limit their exports. Tokyo preferred to negotiate this perfectly anti-liberal measure rather than run the risk of even more unfavorable restrictions being imposed: this is the voluntary restriction agreement of 1980.

A series of disputes between states led to the adoption of tariff peaks in retaliation; for example, the United States decided in January 2009 to triple tariffs on Roquefort in response to a ban on exports of hormone-containing beef in Europe. In each of these cases, the best offense was the defense.

When worried about avoiding frontal conflicts, states prefer an alternative approach which is to facilitate the assault of their companies on foreign markets. For this reason the political power is an ardent promoter of its companies. This ancient practice has been systematized in the United States in the form of “commercial diplomacy”. This is based on three principles: preparing the ground by liberalizing trade with the destination country; use economic intelligence, industrial and commercial intelligence to provide American companies with all the data on the ground to be conquered; finally, to set up ad hoc structures such as the War room. This offensive public strategy is entirely in the service of the private corporations that are the strength of the United States. It is in the same perspective that Washington has increased the number of bilateral free trade treaties: with most of the countries of Central America in the 2000s, with Morocco in 2006, South Korea in 2010.

Finally, there is one last weapon that, individually, is now almost the prerogative of a few emerging countries: sovereign wealth funds. Although they deny themselves, these funds take hold in sometimes strategic groups and help guide their strategy.

To cope with these dangers, those involved in economic warfare have developed policies that resemble shields or even counterattacks. In a context where customs barriers are historically low, there are other means to preserve its market: export subsidies, standards, favoritism given to national companies in one form or another (think of the Small Business Act which reserves some public procurement for SMEs) In short, all means are good.

So it is with money, which has long been – and continues to be – a defensive weapon in the hands of states, especially in the form of devaluation. The UK gave us a recent example of the geo-economic use that could be made of a currency: at the height of the crisis, London let the pound slip while the euro remained strong. In this way, British exports were stimulated. We could reproduce the analysis for the yuan or even the yen at a time when Shinzo Abe has launched a policy of monetary expansion.

For large Western states, it is primarily about protecting their markets at a time when old-fashioned protectionism is almost outlawed. For emerging countries, the stakes are different: by increasing the number of regulatory sources (state, international, private, public, etc.), they weaken the universal legal system designed by the dominant states. Paradoxically, the desire to unify world trade has led to a legal fragmentation of the latter.

The rules of trade have become a battleground in a few decades. Witness the emergence in France of the notion of “economic patriotism”. Spread out in 2005 by Dominique de Villepin, then Prime Minister, the doctrine of economic patriotism is based on the idea that it would be up to the state to defend companies considered to belong to strategic sectors. In practice, success is mixed: while Suez was married to GDF in 2008 to deal with a potential takeover by Italy’s Enel, Arcelor was absorbed by Mittal.

Looking at the world today, it is tempting to provocatively conclude that war has a bright future; economic warfare of course, but also traditional warfare. But there is also a more dramatic scenario, namely that tomorrow’s economic wars can degenerate into armed conflicts.

In short, yesterday as today, historical reality is an ocean of forces that are opposed to each other, in a dynamic that determines a perpetual flow that now leads to ascent now to decline.

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