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Trade Negotiations: Geo-economics and Geopolitics

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Trade negotiations have been increasingly used as a political tool. This is the first thing that comes to mind when one is trying to understand what is happening around the trade war unleashed by the administration of Donald Trump practically on all fronts: against the EU, China, Russia, Mexico and Canada.

On the eve of a visit to Washington of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Trump suggested that the EU, at the same time as the USA, abandon customs duties, barriers and subsidies. He said in his Twitter account that he suggests this because they will refuse just the same …

The visit ended with the conclusion of a trade deal, including the deal on duties on car industry products, but the question remained: of course, geo-economics and geopolitics are strongly interrelated, but is it permissible to use trade negotiations as an instrument of political bargaining, and why do we increasingly see this?

Just before Junker’s visit the European Union and Japan signed world’s largest free trade agreement, the volume of which is estimated at one-third of the World gross product (GWP), and which directly affects about 600 million people. In contrast to the actions of the Trump Administration, which recently tightened import tariffs, this was seen as an important step in protecting free trade.

It was also reported that the European Commission is completing negotiations on the establishment of a free trade zone (FTA) with MERCOSUR, which in its scale can exceed the FTA with Japan (the members of this trade and economic union account for 250 million people and over 75% of Latin America’s total GDP ). Again, the question arises: is there still an immediate political context here, since the negotiations on the establishment of the FTA have been going on for years, if not for decades, and why is it announced right now about their triumphant conclusion?

The USA has a recent experience of large-scale trade negotiations, the politicization of which ended in a fiasco. The issue is the establishment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), which implied the borders expansion and the deepening of interstate agreements on the unification of the legal field. It was planned to supplement the agreements on the liberalization of trade in goods and services under the norms of free trade agreements with the legal regulations on investment, innovation exchanges, protection of intellectual property, labor relations, management of migration flows, environmental standards and competition standards.

The USA tried to involve many Asian and Pacific countries in the creation of the TTP, but China, the main economic entity in Asia, was excluded from this union. For China, with its state protectionism in sensitive industries that provide economic growth and employment (and therefore important for political stability), the conditions of the TTP were initially unacceptable. Beijing, not without reason, suspected that the USA wanted to create a trade bloc in Asia without the participation of the PRC in order to kick China out of integration processes. That’s why China has tried to create an alternative to the TTP by promoting its project – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

As we recall, Donald Trump “buried” the TTP as a legacy of Barack Obama, and now this partnership under the “TTP Plus” brand is already living its life without the participation of the United States. The main thing is that after the TTP deal any other initiative of this kind (for example, the idea of the Indo-Pacific partnership) automatically raises fears among its potential participants: whether they will be drawn into confronting China, whose trade and economic relations are so important for many countries in South-East and South Asia.

The experience and lessons of US trade negotiations are, of course, important for Russia, but mainly in “how not to do.” In the same Asia-Pacific region, a large number of trade agreements operate, differing in the depth of liberalization and in the number of participants, which creates the potential danger of dividing the region into separate competing associations. Therefore, for Russian participants in trade negotiations, the choice is unambiguous: to avoid their unnecessary politicization and to act on the basis of transparency and openness, with mutual consideration of the interests and capabilities of the parties, by relating any possible agreements with the multilateral trading system of the WTO.

Russia’s participation in the negotiations on the creation of free trade zones and integration projects is determined by its long-term geo-economic and geopolitical considerations, and at present, when Russia is in search of an “entry point” to this process, the latter can be assessed as the most relevant.

Equally, and perhaps even more important for Russia is the fact that, unlike such trade and economic “giants” as the United States and China, it is now not so much interested in the development of liberalization of regional trade (trade liberalization), as in the strengthening of its transparency and trade-economic interconnection (trade facilitation), the creation of a fair, stable and balanced trade and economic system, including in Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific region, which responds to the priorities and development level of the Russian economy, especially its export-oriented commodity-producing industries.

That is why Russia has taken a course in upholding the priorities of transparency and interrelatedness of trade and economic relations since this is what helps it become an active and interested participant in the discussion of new rules for regional and world trade.

Such a course is consistent with the long-term geo-economic and geopolitical interests of Russia, primarily in such a priority area as Eurasian integration and the development of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

And here it is necessary to remember the lessons of the recent past connected with excessive politicization. The intensification of Russia’s and the EU policy towards the countries of the region of their “common neighborhood” led to the fact that some of them (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova) were faced with a tough choice in favor of the priority development of relations with the EU or the Eurasian association. In a number of countries, this has greatly reduced the opportunities for the traditionally conducted by their governments maneuvering strategy between Moscow and Brussels and led to an internal political escalation.

In Moscow, this was well understood, and there were no contradictions between the processes of Eurasian integration and the development of relations with the European Union, if the EEU and the European Union began to base their interaction on the principles of free trade and compatible regulatory systems.

However, the European Union held the view that the obligations within the framework of the Customs Union exclude for its members the very possibility of introducing a free trade zone (FTA) with the European Union – in contrast to the CIS Multilateral Free Trade Zone (based on a treaty signed in October 2011 by Kazakhstan, Russia, Byelorussia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine), which does not presuppose the work of supranational bodies. From Moscow’s point of view, such obstacles can be lifted if one follows the path of establishing an FTA between the EU and the EEU.

In the article published by the German newspaper  “Süddeutsche Zeitung” in November 2010, Vladimir Putin (at that time the Russian prime minister) put forward a long-term plan for the construction of a free trade zone between Russia and the EU (by the way, at that time the World political vocabulary acquired the term “conjugation”).

Unfortunately, this idea, dictated by absolutely economic logic, was coolly received in European political circles, and the reply from Brussels was, not without political arrogance, that the EU’s relations with the above countries do not require Russia’s participation. Show Europe then a little more foresight, many undesirable events in the post-Soviet space could have been avoided …

Russia is still trying to convince its partners to abandon the opposition of European and Eurasian integration in favor of conjugating both projects. So far, unfortunately, neither the post-Soviet integration, nor the EU is consistent with these aspirations.

However, the dynamic development of integration processes in the Asia-Pacific Region offers Europe and Eurasia a new challenge. Given the geographical situation of the post-Soviet countries between Europe and Asia, the development of infrastructure networks and cross-border transport projects with access to China and other countries, the APR would create conditions that would ensure a more favorable external environment for the conjugation of Eurasian and European integration and strengthen the competitiveness of these integration entities.

And here economic logic would help to gradually overcome political contradictions. The solution of the accumulated geopolitical problems could be the creation of a common free trade zone of the EU, the EEU, Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries associated with the EU. However, in addition to political will, it takes time to solve a large number of purely economic and technical issues. Effectively, such a project can be facilitated by the fact that all the countries involved are either WTO members or are planning to become them in the near future.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Ph.D. in Political Science, An active member of the Academy of Military Science, Chief Researcher, Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IFES RAS)

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Afghan crisis: Changing geo-economics of the neighbourhood

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The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has caused a rapid reshuffle in the geo-economics of South, Central and West Asia. While the impact on the Afghan economy has been profound, triggering inflation and cash shortage, it’s bearing on Afghanistan’s near neighbourhood has wider far-reaching consequences. The US spent almost $24 billion on the economic development of Afghanistan over the course of 20 years. This together with other international aid has helped the country to more than double its per capita GDP from $900 in 2002 to $2,100 in 2020. As a major regional player, India had invested around $3 billion in numerous developmental projects spanning across all the 34 provinces of Afghanistan. Indian presence was respected and valued by the ousted Afghan dispensation. With the US, India and many other countries deciding to close their embassies in Afghanistan and the US deciding to freeze Afghanistan’s foreign reserves amounting to $9.5 billion, the economy of the country has hit a grinding halt. IMF too has declared that Kabul won’t be able to access the $370 million funding which was agreed on earlier. The emerging circumstances are ripe for China and Pakistan to cut inroads into the war-torn country as the rest of the world watches mutely.

Beijing’s major gain would be the availability of Afghanistan as a regional connector in its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) linking the economies of Central Asia, Iran and Pakistan. Afghanistan is already a member of the BRI with the first Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016. Only limited projects were conducted in Afghanistan under the initiative till now due to security concerns, geographic conditions and the government’s affinity towards India. Chinese officials have repeatedly expressed interest in Afghanistan joining the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), a signature undertaking of the BRI. CPEC is a $62 billion project which would link Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province to China’s western Xinjiang region. The plan includes power plants, an oil pipeline, roads and railways that improves trade and connectivity in the region.

China also eyes at an estimated $1 trillion mineral deposits in Afghanistan, which includes huge reserves of lithium, a key component for electric vehicles. This mineral wealth is largely untapped due lack of proper networks and unstable security conditions long-prevalent in the country. Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted Taliban representatives in late June in Tianjin to discuss reconciliation and reconstruction process in Afghanistan. Taliban reciprocated by inviting China to “play a bigger role in future reconstruction and economic development” of the country. After the fall of Kabul, China has kept its embassy open and declared it was ready for friendly relations with the Taliban. It had also announced that it would send $31 million worth of food and health supplies to Afghanistan to tide over the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Pakistan, a close ally of China, has on its part has sent supplies such as cooking oil and medicines to the Afghan authorities. Pakistan having strong historical ties with the Taliban will possibly play a crucial role in furthering Chinese ambitions..

The immediate economic fallout of the crisis for Iran is its reduced access to hard currency from Afghanistan. After the imposition of US sanctions, Afghanistan had been an important source of dollars for Iran. Reports suggest that hard currency worth $5million was being transferred to Iran daily before the Taliban takeover. Now the US has put a freeze on nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to Afghan Central Bank and stopped shipment of cash to the country. The shortage of hard currency is likely to affect the exchange rates in Iran subsequently building up inflationary pressure. Over the years, Afghanistan had emerged as a major destination for Iran’s non-oil exports amounting to $2billion a year. A prolonged crisis would curb demand in Afghanistan including that of Iranian goods with a likely reduction in the trade volume between the two countries. In effect, Iran would find itself increasingly isolated from foreign governments and international financial flows.

India had been the wariest regional spectator watching its $3 billion investment in Afghanistan go up in smoke. Long-standing hostility with Pakistan has prevented land-based Indian trade with Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republic’s (CAR’s). Push by India and other stakeholders for setting a common agenda for alternate connectivity appears susceptible at the moment. India has been working with Iran to develop Chabahar port in the Arabian sea and transport goods shipped from India to Afghanistan and Central Asia through the proposed Chabahar-Zahedan-Mashhad railway line. India is also working with Russia on the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200 km long multi-mode network of ship, rail and road routes for freight movement, whereby Indian goods are received at Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar, moves northward via rail and road through Iran and Azerbaijan and meets the Trans-Siberian rail network that will allow access to the European markets. According to the latest reports, the Taliban declined to join talks with India, Iran and Uzbekistan on Chabahar port and North-South Transport Corridor, which has cast shadow on the Indian interests in the region. India’s trade with Afghanistan had steadily increased to reach the US $1.5 billion in 2019–2020. An unfriendly administration and demand constraints may slow down the trade between the two countries.

With the US withdrawal, the CARs would find their strategic and economic autonomy curtailed and more drawn into the regional power struggle between China and Russia. While China has many infrastructure projects in Central Asia to its credit, Russia is trying to woo Central Asian countries into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), though so far it was able to rope in only Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. CARs would need better connectivity through Afghanistan and Iran to diversify their trade relations with Indo-Pacific nations and to have better leverage to bargain with Russia and China. Uzbekistan, the most fervent of the CARs to demand increased connectivity with South Asia, expressed its interest in joining the Chabahar project in 2020, which was duly welcomed by India. The new developments in Afghanistan would force these countries to remodel their strategies to suit the changed geopolitical realities.

The fact that Iran is getting closer to China by signing a 25-Year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership cooperation agreement in 2020 adds yet another dimension to the whole picture. India’s hesitancy to recognize or engage with the Taliban makes it unpredictable what the future holds for India-Afghan relations.

The hasty US exit has caused rapid reorientation in the geopolitical and geo-economic status-quo of the region. Most countries were unprepared to handle the swiftness of the Taliban takeover and were scrambling for options to deal with the chaos. The lone exception was China which held talks with the Taliban as early as July, 28 weeks before the fall of Kabul, to discuss the reconstruction of the war-torn country. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also took a high-profile tour to Central Asia in mid-July which extensively discussed the emerging situation in Afghanistan with Central Asian leaders. Since the West has passed the buck, it’s up to the regional players to restore the economic stability in Afghanistan and ensure safe transit routes through the country. Any instability in Afghanistan is likely to have harrowing repercussions in the neighbourhood, as well.

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Turkish Economy as the Reset Button of Turkish Politics

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Democracy has a robust relationship with economic growth.  Barrington Moore can be seen as one of the leading scholars focusing on the relationship between political development and economic structure with his book titled “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy” first published in 1966. According to Moore, there are three routes from agrarianism to the modern industrial world. In the capitalist democratic route, exemplified by England, France, and the United States, the peasantry was politically impotent or had been eradicated all together, and a strong bourgeoisie was present, and the aristocracy allied itself with the bourgeoisie or failed to oppose democratizing steps. In Moore’s book, you can find out why some countries have developed as democracies and others as dictatorships.

It can be argued that economic development facilitates democratization. Following this argument, this article is an attempt to address the Turkish case with the most recent discussions going on in the country. One of the most powerful instruments used by the political opposition today is the rhetoric of “economic crisis” that has also been supported by public opinion polls and data. For instance, the leader of İYİ Party Meral Akşener has organized lots of visits to different regions of Turkey and has been posting videos on her social media account showing the complaints mostly centering around unemployment and high inflation. According to Akşener, “Turkey’s economic woes – with inflation above 15%, high unemployment and a gaping current account deficit – left no alternative to high rates.”

Another political opposition leader, Ahmet Davutoğlu raised voice of criticism via his social media account, saying “As if monthly prices hikes on natural gas were not enough, they have introduced 15% increase on electricity costs. It is as if the government vowed to do what it can to take whatever the citizens have.”

A recent poll reveals that about 65 percent think the economic crisis and unemployment problem are Turkey’s most urgent problems. Literature on the relationship between democracy and economic well-being shows that a democratic regime becomes more fragile in countries where per capita income stagnates or declines. It is known that democracies are more powerful among the economically developed countries.

The International Center for Peace and Development summarizes the social origins of democracy in global scale as the following:

“Over the past two centuries, the rise of constitutional forms of government has been closely associated with peace, social stability and rapid socio-economic development. Democratic countries have been more successful in living peacefully with their neighbors, educating their citizens, liberating human energy and initiative for constructive purposes in society, economic growth and wealth generation.”

Turkey’s economic problems have been on the agenda for a long time. Unlike what has been claimed by the Minister of Interior Affairs Süleyman Soylu a few months ago, Turkish economy has not reached to the level which would make United States and Germany to become jealous of Turkey. Soylu had said, “You will see, as of July, our economy will take such a leap and growth in July that Germany, France, England, Italy and especially the USA, which meddles in everything, will crack and explode.”

To make a long story short, it can be said that the coronavirus pandemic has exerted a major pressure on the already fragile economy of Turkey and this leads to further frustration among the Turkish electorate. The next elections will not only determine who will shape the economic structure but will also show to what level Turkish citizens have become unhappy about the ongoing “democratic politics.” In other words, it can be said that, Turkish economy can be seen as the reset button of Turkish politics for the upcoming elections.

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Finding Fulcrum to Move the World Economics

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Domenico Fetti / Wikimedia Commons

Where hidden is the fulcrum to bring about new global-age thinking and escape current mysterious economic models that primarily support super elitism, super-richness, super tax-free heavens and super crypto nirvanas; global populace only drifts today as disconnected wanderers at the bottom carrying flags of ‘hate-media’ only creating tribal herds slowly pushed towards populism. Suppose, if we accept the current indices already labeled as success as the best of show of hands, the game is already lost where winners already left the table. Finding a new fulcrum to move the world economies on a better trajectory where human productivity measured for grassroots prosperity is a critically important but a deeply silent global challenge. Here are some bold suggestions

ONE- Global Measurement: World connectivity is invisible, grossly misunderstood, miscalculated and underestimated of its hidden powers; spreading silently like an invisible net, a “new math” becomes the possible fulcrum for the new business world economy; behold the ocean of emerging global talents from new economies, mobilizing new levels of productivity, performance and forcing global shifts of economic powers. Observe the future of borderless skills, boundary less commerce and trans-global public opinion, triangulation of such will simply crush old thinking.

Archimedes yelled, “…give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world…”

After all, half of the world during the last decade, missed the entrepreneurial mindset, understoodonly as underdog players of the economy, the founders, job-creators and risk-taker entrepreneurs of small medium businesses of the world, pushed aside while kneeling to big business staged as institutionalized ritual. Although big businesses are always very big, nevertheless, small businesses and now globally accepted, as many times larger. Study deeply, why suddenly now the small medium business economy, during the last budgetary cycles across the world, has now become the lone solution to save dwindling economies. Big business as usual will take care of itself, but national economies already on brink left alone now need small business bases and hard-core raw entrepreneurialism as post-pandemic recovery agendas.

TWO – Ground Realities:  National leadership is now economic leadership, understanding, creating and managing, super-hyper-digital-platform-economies a new political art and mobilization of small midsize business a new science: The prerequisites to understand the “new math” is the study of “population-rich-nations and knowledge rich nations” on Google and figure out how and why can a national economy apply such new math. 

Today a USD $1000 investment in technology buys digital solutions, which were million dollars, a decade ago.Today,a $1000 investment buys on global-age upskilling on export expansion that were million dollars a decade ago.  Today, a $1000 investment on virtual-events buys what took a year and cost a million dollars a decade ago. Today, any micro-small-medium-enterprise capable of remote working models can save 80% of office and bureaucratic costs and suddenly operate like a mini-multi-national with little or no additional costs.

Apply this math to population rich nations and their current creation of some 500 million new entrepreneurial businesses across Asia will bring chills across the world to the thousands of government departments, chambers of commerce and trade associations as they compare their own progress. Now relate this to the economic positioning of ‘knowledge rich nations’ and explore how they not only crushed their own SME bases, destroyed the middle class but also their expensive business education system only produced armies of resumes promoting job-seekers but not the mighty job-creators. Study why entrepreneurialism is neither academic-born nor academic centric, it is after all most successful legendary founders that created earth shattering organizations were only dropouts.  Now shaking all these ingredients well in the economic test tube wait and let all this ferment to see what really happens.

Now picking up any nation, selecting any region and any high potential vertical market; searching any meaningful economic development agenda and status of special skills required to serve such challenges, paint new challenges. Interconnect the dots on skills, limits on national/global exposure and required expertise on vertical sectors, digitization and global-age market reach. Measuring the time and cost to bring them at par, measuring the opportunity loss over decades for any neglect. Combining all to squeeze out a positive transformative dialogue and assemble all vested parties under one umbrella.

Not to be confused with academic courses on fixing Paper-Mache economies and broken paper work trails, chambers primarily focused on conflict resolutions, compliance regulations, and trade groups on policy matters.  Mobilization of small medium business economy is a tactical battlefield of advancements of an enterprise, as meritocracy is the nightmarish challenges for over 100 plus nations where majority high potential sectors are at standstill on such affairs. Surprisingly, such advancements are mostly not new funding hungry but mobilization starved. Economic leadership teams of today, unless skilled on intertwining super-hyper-digital-platform-economic agendas with local midsize businesses and creating innovative excellence to stand up to global competitiveness becomes only a burden to growth.

The magnifying glass of mind will find the fulcrum: High potential vertical sectors and special regions are primarily wide-open lands full of resources and full of talented peoples; mobilization of such combinations offering extraordinary power play, now catapulted due to technologies. However, to enter such arenas calls for regimented exploring of the limits of digitization, as Digital-Divides are Mental Divides, only deeper understanding and skills on how to boost entrepreneurialism and attract hidden talents of local citizenry will add power. Of course, knowing in advance, what has already failed so many times before will only avoid using a rubber hose as a lever, again.  

The new world economic order: There is no such thing as big and small as it is only strong and weak, there is no such thing as rich and poor it is only smart and stupid. There is no such thing as past and future is only what is in front now and what is there to act but if and or when. How do you translate this in a post pandemic recovery mode? Observe how strong, smart moving now are advancing and leaving weak, stupid dreaming of if and when in the dust behind.

The conclusion: At the risk of never getting a Nobel Prize on Economics, here is this stark claim; any economy not driven solely based on measuring “real value creation” but primarily based on “real value manipulation” is nothing but a public fraud. This mathematically proven, possibly a new Fulcrum to move the world economy, in need of truth

The rest is easy  

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