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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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The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage

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coronavirus people

The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.

In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.

In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.

From our partner RIAC

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Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery

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Lunzu market in southern Malawi. WFP/Greg Barrow

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal support and fragile health systems. The pandemic has plunged the continent into its first recession in over 25 years, and vulnerable groups such as the poor, informal sector workers, women, and youth, suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunities and unequal access to social safety nets.

Fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine acquisition—alongside widespread testing, improved treatment, and strong health systems—are critical to protecting lives and stimulating economic recovery. In support of the African Union’s (AU) target to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, the World Bank and the AU announced a partnership to assist the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources, allowing countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million Africans. This extraordinary effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising cases in the region.

I am convinced that unless every country in the world has fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we will not stem the spread of the pandemic and set the global economy on track for a steady and inclusive recovery. The World Bank has taken unprecedented steps to ramp up financing for Malawi, and every country in Africa, to empower them with the resources to implement successful vaccination campaigns and compensate for income losses, food price increases, and service delivery disruptions.

In line with Malawi’s COVID-19 National Response and Preparedness Plan which aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, the World Bank approved $30 million in additional financing for the acquisition and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This financing comes as a boost to Malawi’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project, bringing World Bank contributions in this sector up to $37 million.

Malawi’s decision to purchase 1.8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines through the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) with World Bank financing is a welcome development and will enable Malawi to secure additional vaccines to meet its vaccination target.

However, Malawi’s vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs. These concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fueling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic’s impact on the health and welfare of billions of people.  The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60 percent by the end of 2023 from the current 2.2 percent.

Government leadership remains fundamental as the country continues to address vaccine hesitancy by consistently communicating the benefits of the vaccine, releasing COVID data, and engaging communities to help them understand how this impacts them.

As we deploy targeted resources to address COVID-19, we are also working to ensure that these investments support a robust, sustainable and resilient recovery. Our support emphasizes transparency, social protection, poverty alleviation, and policy-based financing to make sure that COVID assistance gets to the people who have been hit the hardest.

For example, the Financial Inclusion and Entrepreneurship Scaling Project (FInES) in Malawi is supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises by providing them with $47 million in affordable credit through commercial banks and microfinance institutions. Eight months into implementation, approximately $8.4 million (MK6.9 billion) has been made available through three commercial banks on better terms and interest rates. Additionally, nearly 200,000 urban households have received cash transfers and urban poor now have more affordable access to water to promote COVID-19 prevention.

Furthermore, domestic mobilization of resources for the COVID-19 response are vital to ensuring the security of supply of health sector commodities needed to administer vaccinations and sustain ongoing measures. Likewise, regional approaches fostering cross-border collaboration are just as imperative as in-country efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. United Nations (UN) partners in Malawi have been instrumental in convening regional stakeholders and supporting vaccine deployment.

Taking broad, fast action to help countries like Malawi during this unprecedented crisis will save lives and prevent more people falling into poverty. We thank Malawi for their decisive action and will continue to support the country and its people to build a resilient and inclusive recovery.

This op-ed first appeared in The Nation, via World Bank

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An Airplane Dilemma: Convenience Versus Environment

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Mr. President:  There are many consequences of COVID-19 that have changed the existing landscape due to the cumulative effects of personal behavior.  For example, the decline in the use of automobiles has been to the benefit of the environment.  A landmark study published by Nature in May 2020 confirmed a 17 percent drop in daily CO2 emissions but with the expectation that the number will bounce back as human activity returns to normal.

Yet there is hope.  We are all creatures of habit and having tried teleconferences, we are less likely to take the trouble to hop on a plane for a personal meeting, wasting time and effort.  Such is also the belief of aircraft operators.  Add to this the convenience of shopping from home and having the stuff delivered to your door and one can guess what is happening.

In short, the need for passenger planes has diminished while cargo operators face increased demand.  Fewer passenger planes also means a reduction in belly cargo capacity worsening the situation.  All of which has led to a new business with new jobs — converting passenger aircraft for cargo use.  It is not as simple as it might seem, and not just a matter of removing seats, for all unnecessary items must be removed for cargo use. They take up cargo weight and if not removed waste fuel.

After the seats and interior fittings have been removed, the cabin floor has to be strengthened.  The side windows are plugged and smoothed out.  A cargo door is cut out and the existing emergency doors are deactivated and sealed.  Also a new crew entry door has to be cut-out and installed. 

A new in-cabin cargo barrier with a sliding access door is put in, allowing best use of cargo and cockpit space and a merged carrier and crew space.  A new crew lavatory together with replacement water and waste systems replace the old, which supplied the original passenger area and are no longer needed.

The cockpit gets upgrades which include a simplified air distribution system and revised hydraulics.  At the end of it all, we have a cargo jet.  If the airlines are converting their planes, then they must believe not all the travelers will be returning after the covid crisis recedes.

Airline losses have been extraordinary.  Figures sourced from the World Bank and the International Civil Aviation Organization reveal air carriers lost $370 billion in revenues.  This includes $120 billion in the Asia-Pacific region, $100 billion in Europe and $88 billion in North America.

For many of the airlines, it is now a new business model transforming its fleet for cargo demand and launching new cargo routes.  The latter also requires obtaining regulatory approvals.

A promising development for the future is sustainable aviation fuel (SAP).  Developed by the Air France KLM Martinair consortium it reduces CO2 emissions, and cleaner air transport contributes to lessening global warming.

It is a good start since airplanes are major transportation culprits increasing air pollution and radiative forcing.  The latter being the heat reflected back to earth when it is greater than the heat radiated from the earth.  All of which should incline the environmentally conscious to avoid airplane travel — buses and trains pollute less and might be a preferred alternative for domestic travel.

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