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The petroyuan

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Many oil futures denominated in yuan were launched on the Shanghai market at the end of March 2018 and quickly traded for 62,500 contracts – hence for a notional value of 27 billion yuan, equivalent to 4 billion US dollars.

The financial process of the new petroyuan, however, had already begun as early as 2016.

Hence there was obviously the danger of an internal financial bubble in China, but linked to the crude oil price –  yet the Chinese government had decided that the fluctuation allowed for those contracts had to be only 5%, with a maximum 10% fluctuation only for the first day of trading.

Furthermore considering the average level of oil transactions in China, we can see that oil and gas imports could back financial operations totalling over 200 billion yuan.

According to industry analysts, the level of Chinese oil  imports is expected to increase by approximately 2.1 million barrels per day from 2017 until 2023, which implies that the Chinese market will change the future level of oil barrel prices – be they denominated in dollars or in another currency.

Hence, from now on, China will explicitly challenge the “petrodollar” to create its petroyuan – with an initial foreseeable investment by the Chinese government, which will take place on the sale of a 5% shareholding of Saudi Aramco.

Nevertheless the prospect of an IPO on the Saudi “jewel in the crown” – which was also at the core of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, all focused on the Kingdom’s economic diversification – has been postponed to at least 2019.

The Saudi Royal Family is not at all homogeneous, both politically and for its different financial interests.

This is demonstrated by the attack – obscure, but thwarted with some difficulty -on Riyadh’s royal palace, launched by some armed units on April 21 last.

Should the sale of a 5% shareholding of Saudi Aramco finally take place, however, it would be the biggest IPO ever.

The magnitude of the deal is huge: according to the latest Saudi estimates, the company is worth 2 trillion US dollars – hence a 5% shareholding is at least equal to 100 billion dollars.

Moreover, China is doing anything to make Saudi Arabia accept payments in yuan –  the first step to replace the old petrodollar.

If Saudi Arabia did not accept at least a large share of Chinese payments in yuan, it could be “blackmailed” and witness a decrease in an essential share of its oil exports. Not to mention the fact that – also with reference to Saudi Aramco-as the saying goes, sovereign funds and Chinese state-owned companies have “deeper pockets” than many prospective Western buyers.

Moreover President Trump is doing anything to make the IPO on Saudi Aramco end up in US hands. However, it cannot be taken for granted that he will succeed. In spite of everything, Mohammed bin Salman is not the heir of the old Saudi bilateralism vis-à-vis the United States.

Nonetheless, in his visit to China last March, Prince Mohammed bin Salman already signed contracts with his  Chinese counterparts to the tune of 65 billion US dollars –  and they are only petrochemical and energy transactions.

Furthermore this major Saudi oil company is considering the possibility of issuing yuan-denominated bonds, at least to cover part of the trade between the two countries.

Moreover, the US imports of Saudi oil have been steadily declining for some time, which makes the US role in the future post-oil diversification of the Saudi economy – the real big deal of the coming years – more difficult.

Over the next few months, however, the Chinese financiers are preparing to launch on the market a yuan-denominated oil future convertible into gold.

According to Chinese sources, it will be open to foreign investment funds and to the various oil companies.

Hence if the use of the dollar is gradually avoided, it will be possible -also for Russia and Iran, for example – to circumvent the sanctions imposed by the USA, the EU and the UN and fully re-enter -precisely through the yuan – the global oil and financial markets.

Moreover, the “petroyuan operation” is rapidly expanding to Africa.

Just recently, we heard about the definition of a three-year currency swap between China and Nigeria worth over 2.5 billion yuan.

As is well-known, the currency swap is a special derivative contract with which two parties exchange interest and sometimes principal in one currency for the same in another currency. Interest payments are exchanged at fixed dates through the life of the contract.

Hence 2.5 billion yuan are exchanged with 720 billion Naira.

Obviously, also in this case, there is no need for either of the two contracting parties to buy US currency for trading and exchanges, while Nigeria is currently China’s largest trading partner in Africa and China is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria.

All this happens in Nigeria, with African exports to China  mainly consisting of oil and raw materials, exactly what is needed to keep China’s rate of development (and the yuan exchange rate) high.

The internationalization of the Chinese currency, however,  is mainly stimulated by the following factors: the expansion of the cashless economy, which favours large Chinese and global operators such as AliBaba (Alipay) or WeChatPay; the Belt and Road Initiative, which pushes China’s   investment and combines it with other monetary areas; the very fast globalization of Chinese banks and their adoption of the SWIFT gpi system; finally the development of the Interbank Paying System between China and the countries with which it trades the most.

Nonetheless there are some factors which still need to be studied carefully.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is still the largest clearing center for the transactions denominated in yuan-renmimbi – with 76% of all transactions that currently pass through the island still under the Chinese special administration.

Still today the renmimbi account only for 1.61% of all international settlements, while 22 Chinese banks are  SWIFT-connected.

Many, but not enough.

Moreover, as much as 97.8% of the yuan trading is still as against the US dollar, while the exchange between the yuan and the other currencies other than the US dollar is worth very little in terms of quantities of cash and liquidity traded.

Still today 80.47% of payments whose last beneficiary resides in China is denominated in dollars.

As to the international renmimbi reserves, it all began when, in September 2016, the International Monetary Fund announced that, for the first time, the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) would include the renmimbi.

In June 2017, the European Central Bank converted the value of 500 million euro into dollars (557 million US dollars)  and then into renmimbi – equivalent to 0.7% of the total portfolio of ECB’s currencies, while in January 2018 the German Central Bank decided to include the renmimbi among its reserves.

Nowadays only 16% of China’s international trade is traded in the Chinese currency.

The real problem for the dollar is still the euro.

In fact, the transactions in US dollarsfell from 43.89% of total transactions in 2015 to 39.85% in 2017 while, in the same period, those denominated in euro rose from 29.39% to 35.66%.

However, as Vilfredo Pareto said, currencies are “solidified politics”.

In fact, China wants to use the renmimbi-yuan also in the Pakistani port of Gwadar and in its Free Economic Zone, which is the first maritime station of the Belt and Road initiative.

Furthermore the payments in yuan between China and the USA, which is still China’s largest trading partner – account for 5% only, while Japan – the second largest country by volume of transactions with China – already operates 25% of its transactions with the yuan-renmimbi.

Only South Korea – another primary commercial point of reference for China – does use the Chinese currency for a very significant 86% of bilateral transactions.

Certainly the oil market remains essential for the creation of petroyuan or, in any case, for the globalization of the Chinese currency.

Since 2017 China has overtaken the USA as the world’s largest oil and gas importer.

Furthermore, as early as 2009, the Chinese authorities have criticized the use of the US currency alone as a basis for international trade.

In fact, the Chinese political leadership would like to define a monetary benchmark among the main currencies and later build the progressive de-dollarization of trade on it.

Obviously the expansion in the use of the Chinese currency in global transactions, which peaked in 2015, corresponded to the phase when the yuan was undervalued and gradually and slowly appreciated as against the US dollar.

After the two devaluations of the yuan-renmimbi in the summer of 2015, the profitability of replacing the US dollar with the Chinese currency has clearly diminished.

Moreover, since the possession of the yuan is still subject to restrictions and checks, the globalization of the Chinese currency cannot fail to pass through the full liberalization of China’s currency and financial markets.

A project often mentioned  by President Xi Jinping and implemented by the Central Bank, especially with maximum transparency on transactions and the end of the capital “shares”, in addition to the quick acceptance of a price-based financial system.

Moreover, all the currencies with which China trades in the oil markets are still pegged to the US dollar and, for the Chinese authorities, this is  another difficulty to replace the US currency.

On the domestic side, the yuan has a big problem: it is a matter of investing Chinese savings, which are currently equal to 43% of GDP.

If we consider a similar investment rate, the Chinese economy is no longer sustainable.

Therefore, either all investment abroad is liberalized – but, for China, this would mean the loss of control over domestic savings – or the yuan becomes a new international currency, thus using it for long-term loans in the Belt and Road Initiative and for creating a market of yuan-denominated  oil futures.

Hence, unlike petrodollars, the petroyuan is not a US internal way to use the Arab capital stemming from the energy market, but a large internal reserve of capital to meet the needs of an expanding economy and support China’s fresh capital domestic requirements.

For Swiss banks, however, the flow of renmimbi-denominated contracts will radically change the energy financial market, but in the long run, thus obliging many global investors to invest many resources only in the Chinese financial market.

It is worth reiterating, however, that the Chinese currency has not fully been liberalized yet – nor, we imagine,  will it be quickly liberalized in the future.

In essence, China wants to govern its development and it does not at all want to favour the US single pole.

Hence either a small monetary globalization, like the current one, or the large and progressive replacement of the dollar with the renmimbi – but this presupposes the liberalization of the entire financial market denominated in the Chinese currency.

Moreover – but this would be fine for the Chinese government -foreign and domestic investors’ full access to the Chinese capital market should be granted.

It already happened in 2017 but, nowadays, it becomes vital for the geopolitical and financial choices made by President Xi Jinping’s China.

Hence, it is likely that in the future China would play the game that Kissinger invented after the Yom Kippur War, i.e. the game of the dollar surplus in the Arab world that is reinvested in the US market.

Obviously, this has kept the US interest rate unreasonably low with an unreasonably high US trade surplus.

A monetary manipulation made using one’s own strategic and military leverage.

Hence, with petrodollars, the USA has invented the monetary perpetual motion.

Therefore, if most of the Chinese oil market is denominated in yuan-renmimbi, a strong international demand for Chinese goods and services will be created or there will be a huge amount of capital to invest in the Chinese financial markets.

This will obviously change the role and significance of China’s engagement in the world.

With significant effects for the dollar market, which could be regionalized, thus highlighting the asymmetries which currently petrodollars hide: the US super-trade surplus and the simultaneous very low interest rate.

What about the Euro? The single European currency has no real market and it shall be radically changed or become a unit of account among new infra-European currencies.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Economy

The CIIE: A gorgeous chorus of integrated world economy

Chang Hua

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The 2nd China International Import Expo (CIIE) will be held in Shanghai, China from November 5th to 10th. Iran will participate in Country Exhibition, Business Exhibition and Hongqiao International Economic Forum (HIEF). Here, I would like to introduce the CIIE to Iranian friends.

The 1st CIIE achieved great success. On November 5th to 10th, 2018, the first CIIE was successfully held in Shanghai, China, with a profound influence around the world. First, the scale of the exhibition was large. Covering a total area of 300,000 square meters, 172 countries and international organizations participated, and 3,617 overseas companies took part in the exhibition, fully reflecting the strong appeal of the Chinese market. Second, the level of the exhibition was high. More than 220 of the world’s top 500 companies participated in the exhibition, and more than 300 new products and technologies were first released. Third, the result of the exhibition was rewarding. More than 800,000 exhibitors and purchasers attended the conference, concluding contracts over  US$57.8 billion.

During the 1st HIEF, Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the opening ceremony and delivered a keynote speech. More than 30 foreign heads of states and international organizations delivered speeches and more than 4,500 delegates attended the forum. The Country Exhibition covered all five continents, including developed countries, developing countries and least developed countries. The Country Exhibition pavilions had different styles, highlighting their own characteristics, and making full use of high-tech means and diverse forms to display their unique regional culture and distinct advantageous industries, including goods trade, service trade, industrial development, investment, tourism and specialty.

The second CIIE is quite worth expecting. Namely, its scale will be even larger. The exhibition area has increased from 300,000 to 330,000 square meters. More than 170 countries, international organizations, over 3,000 exhibitors and 400,000 purchasers have signed up for the exhibition. There will be more than 200 supporting and facilitating activities, such as interpretation of economy policies, release of research reports, international cultural exchange, corporate promotion, as well as sellers and buyers’ matching negotiations. Its quality will be further upgraded. The exhibitors are more diversified. The number of companies in the world’s top 500 and leading industrial enterprises exceeds that of the first CIIE, and there will be even more visitors and international purchasers. Professional, high-quality, cutting-edge and featured exhibits will be more concentrated and the quality will be further improved. Its innovation will be much stronger. This year, for the first time, the CIIE news release platform will be set up. The Chinese ministries and local governments will jointly interpret important policies. International organizations and research institutions will release annual reports and industrial reports respectively. The CIIE will continue to be chosen as an ideal platform by participating companies to launch their products and technologies, the number of which is expected to overpass last year’s. Innovative exhibition forms such as quality life, technology life, and artificial intelligence will give participants a first-class experience.

As a major feature and highlight of the CIIE this year, there will be more than 60 countries participating in the Country Exhibition, covering an area of about 30,000 square meters. The theme of HIEF this year is “Openness, Innovation, Cooperation, and Win-win”. More than 50 important speakers from political, business and academic fields including WTO Director-general, UNCTAD Secretary-general, Nobel laureate in economics and leaders of global top 500 enterprises, will jointly explore the new trend of global economic development, share their views and insights on meeting new challenges, overcoming difficulties, and finding ways for further developing globe economy in the new era.

The open and cooperative CIIE will never end. The CIIE was first initiated, planned, deployed, and promoted by President Xi Jinping in person. As an event to be held on an annual basis, the CIIE will feature good performance, good results and continued success in the years to come. Adhering to the global governance concept of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, the CIIE welcomes countries to share China’s development dividends. It provides new opportunities for countries to expand exports to China, but also develop trade relations with third countries. It builds a new platform for countries to demonstrate national development achievements and to explore global economic and trade issues. It injects new impetus to global trade and world economic growth. Upholding the spirit of openness and cooperation, the CIIE is not a China’s solo show, but rather a chorus of countries of all over the world. Working together with the international community, China is willing to develop the CIIE into an effective channel for the goods, technologies and services from the world to enter the Chinese market, an open and cooperative platform for countries around the world to strengthen cooperation and exchanges and conduct international trade, an international public product to promote economic globalization. China is willing to make joint efforts with the world to construct an open world economy, build a community with a shared future for mankind, and facilitate better development of global trade and world economy.

I believe that Iranian companies participating in this year’s CIIE will be warmly welcomed with the world-famous Persian carpets, saffron, handicrafts and etc…The Iran Country Exhibition High-Tech Pavilion will open a new window for China and other countries as well to perceive and further understand Iran’s technological strength and advanced products with its featured products in the fields of IT, energy, environment, nano, biology and health. As an important hub along the Silk Road , Iran’s voice and view will be heard at HIEF and spread to the rest of the world.

Here, I wish CIIE a gorgeous chorus of the integrated world economy and having a long-lasting profound impact of the world.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Economy

Modi’s India a flawed partner for post-Brexit Britain

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With just two weeks to go until Britain is scheduled to exit the European Union, Boris Johnson and his ministers are understandably focused on the last-minute dash to formulate a workable Brexit deal with the EU. Once this moment has passed, however, either Johnson or whoever replaces him as PM will come under intense pressure to deliver the trade deals Brexit side supporters have so talked up since 2016.

One such envisaged deal is with India. Seven decades after securing independence from Britain’s colonial empire, New Delhi has the world’s seventh-largest economy and one of its fastest growth rates. The prospect of deeper trade ties with Asia’s third-largest economy has been a major feature of the pitch for a “Global Britain” that extends the UK’s reach beyond the continent, and Johnson himself made a big thing of expanding economic ties with India while campaigning to become PM.

Unfortunately, any plans to kickstart trade agreements with India will run into problems, and not just over immigration and visa issues. India is on the verge of a serious economic downturn, hit by job losses and decreasing levels of foreign investment. With growth slowing down, Indian PM Narendra Modi has fallen back on his aggressive brand of Hindu nationalism to galvanise public support, a gambit that has most recently resulted in his government’s controversial move to strip automony from Kashmir.

Bad time for a UK-India trade deal

Whereas only a few years ago India was held up as one of the world’s fastest growing economies and an enticing prospect for global trade and investment, Moody’s new projection of a 5.8% growth rate represents a danger to Narendra Modi’s promise of a $5 trillion economy. Recently released figures show India’s GDP growth falling for the fifth successive quarter, to a six-year low of 5.2%.

India’s economic woes are reflected in patterns of foreign investment. Around $45 billion has been invested in India from abroad over the last 6 years. The downturn in the country’s economic fortunes has seen a record $4.5 billion of shares sold by foreign investors since June this year. These economic problems are linked to Modi’s failure to carry through on economic reforms promised when he came to power in 2014, when a number of structural problems were seen as inhibiting external trade relationships.

India currently has over 1,000 business regulations and more than 3,000 filing requirements, as well as differing standards for social, environmental and human rights. These have been sticking points in the moribund trade deal negotiations between India and the EU, and Brexit advocates have not explained how they plan to overcome these hurdles.

Hostility to foreign companies

Structural issues are only part of the problem. Another key concern is the Indian government’s adversarial attitude towards foreign investors. Despite Modi’s promises to make India an attractive place to do business, his government has continued protectionist policies that throttle the country’s ability to attract outside capital.

One issue is retrospective taxation. Under Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh, several British and international firms were hit with sizeable, legally dubious tax bills by the Indian government. Modi came to power on a promise of ending retrospective tax bills being imposed on overseas companies, and yet British firms such as Vodafone and Cairn Energy still find themselves pursued through the courts for back-dated tax bills, despite the protections they should enjoy under the bilateral investment treaty between India and the UK.

Vodafone’s case involved its 2007 acquisition of a stake in cellular carrier Hutchinson Essar. While the deal did not take place in India, New Delhi determined Vodafone still owed $5 billion in taxes on the overseas transaction. After the Indian Supreme Court dismissed the claim in 2012, India’s previous government introduced a new law to tax transactions of this nature that retroactively applied to cases going back to 1962. Modi attacked this “tax terrorism” at the time, but his government has continued its dogged pursuit of Vodafone in the courts.

Cairn Energy has faced an equally arduous struggle with the Indian Ministry of Finance, which in 2014 blocked the British firm from selling its 10% stake in Cairn India and subsequently demanded $1.6 billion in taxes. Indian officials used the 2012 law to justify their actions, violating the bilateral investment treaty and breaking one of Modi’s own campaign promises in the process.

Immigration laws a further sticking point

This recent history should already give British businesses pause, but the most obvious obstacle in any trade negotiations between UK and India will be the issue of immigration. The Centre For European Reform has argued post-Brexit trade will be closely linked to opening up UK borders to workers from partner countries, but a UK Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee report in June highlighted how Britain’s immigration restrictions on Indian workers, students and tourists has already impacted bilateral trade relations. The report noted how the UK has slipped from being India’s 2nd largest trade partner in 1999 to 17th in 2019, adding that skilled workers, students and tourists are deterred from coming to the UK by the complicated, expensive and unwelcoming British migration system.

It is unlikely the Modi government will agree to any UK-India trade deal that doesn’t guarantee a relaxing of immigration rules that will allow a free flow of people as well as goods and capital between the two countries. The question is whether the British government, which has veered ever more closely towards a Brexit-fuelled populism at odds with relaxed border controls, will be flexible enough to sign up to this.

Given these issues, are Britain’s hopes for a post-Brexit dividend in Indian trade dead on arrival? Unless Modi’s government starts living up to international standards and honouring his country’s investment agreements with British companies, “Global Britain” may not get much further with India than it has with the US.

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Economy

A more effective labour market approach to fighting poverty

Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon

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Gainful employment is still the most reliable way of escaping poverty. However, access to both jobs and decent working conditions remains a challenge. Sixty-six per cent of employed people in developing economies and 22 per cent in emerging economies are in either extreme or moderate working poverty, and the problem becomes even more striking when the dependents of these “working poor” are considered.

Thus, it is not just unemployment or inactivity that traps people in poverty, they are also held back by a lack of decent work opportunities, including underemployment or informal employment.

Appropriate labour market policies can play an important role in the fight to eradicate poverty, by increasing access to job opportunities and improving the quality of working conditions. In particular, labour market policies that combine income support for jobless people with active labour market policies (ALMPs).

The new ILO report What works: Promoting pathways to decent work  shows that combining income support with active labour market support allows countries to tackle multiple barriers to decent work. These barriers can be structural, (e.g. lack of education and skills, presence of inequalities) or temporary (e.g. climate-related shocks, economic crises). This policy combination is particularly relevant today, at a time when the world of work is being reshaped by global forces such as international trade, technological progress, demographic shifts and environmental transformations.

Policies that combine income support with ALMPs can help people to adjust to the changes these forces create in the labour market. Income support ensures that people do not fall into poverty during joblessness and that they are not forced to accept any work, irrespective of its quality. At the same time, ALMPs endow people with the skills they need to find quality employment, improving their employability over the medium- to long-term.

New evidence gathered for this report shows that this combination of income support and active support is indeed effective in improving labour market conditions: impact evaluations of selected policies indicate how people who have benefited from this type of integrated approach have higher employment chances and better working conditions.

One example of how this combined approach can produce results is the innovative unemployment benefit scheme unrolled in Mauritius, the “Workfare Programme”. This provides workers with access to income support and three different types of activation measures; training (discontinued in 2016), job placement and start-up support. The programme was also open to those unemployed people who were previously working in an informal job. By extending coverage to the most vulnerable workers, the scheme has helped reduce inequalities and unlock the informality trap.

Another success came through a public works scheme implemented in Uruguay as part of a larger conditional cash transfer programme, the National Social Emergency Plan (PANES). The programme was implemented during a deep economic recession and carefully targeted the poorest and most vulnerable.

Beneficiaries of PANES were given the opportunity to take part in public works. In exchange for full-time work for up to five months, they received a higher level of income support as well as additional job placement help. This approach reached a large share of the population at risk of extreme poverty and who lacked social protection. The report indicates that providing both measures together was critical to the project’s success.

The effects of these policies on poverty eradication cannot be overestimated. By tackling unemployment, underemployment and informality, policies combining income support with ALMPs can directly affect some of the roots of poverty, while enhancing the working conditions and labour market opportunities for millions of women and men in emerging and developing countries.

ILO

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