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Restructuring Libya’s finance and economy

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Last August the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) moved its Tripoli’s offices to the now famous Tripoli Tower.

The traditional financial institution of Gaddafi’s regime currently manages approximately 67 billion US dollars, most of which are frozen due to the UN sanctions.

Said sanctions shall be gradually removed and replaced with a system of market controls, as the Libyan economy finds its way.

Right now that, after intimidation and serious and often armed threats, LIA has moved to the safer Tripoli Tower.

However, how was LIA established and, above all, what is it today? The Fund, which has some characteristics typical of the oil countries’ sovereign funds, was created in 2006, just as the EU and US economic and trade sanctions against Gaddafi’s regime were slowly being lifted.

The idea underlying the operation was simple and rational, just like the one that had long pushed Norway to create the Government Pension Fund Global, i.e. using the oil profits to avoid the post-energy crisis in Libya and preserve the living standards of the good times.

Hence investing in its post-oil future using the huge surplus generated by the crude oil sales.

From the beginning, LIA had to manage a portfolio of over 65 billion US dollars, but with three policy lines: firstly, 30 billion dollars to be invested in bonds and hedge funds; secondly, business finance and thirdly, the temporary liquidity secured in the Central Bank of Libya and in the Libyan Foreign Bank.

The funds of those two banks soon acquired a value equal to 60% of all LIA assets.

All the companies having relations with foreign markets, from Libya, fell within the scope of the Libyan Investment Fund.

Currently LIA has over 552 subsidiaries.

Nevertheless, there are no documents proving it with certainty. To date there are not even archives that credibly corroborate the LIA budgets and statistics.

Since 2012 it has not even undergone any auditing activity.

There were and there are no strategies for allocating investments nor a plan. The only criterion followed by the Fund managers – now as in the past – is to invest the maximum sums of money in the shortest lapse of time.

The first serious audit was finally carried out by KPMG in June 2011, in the heat of the battle for the survival of Gaddafi’s regime.

At the time, high-risk derivatives transactions were worth as much as 35% of LIA’s total investments – which was incredible for the other global funds.

According to the most secret but reliable sources, however, in 2009 the losses of the Libyan Fund exceeded 2.4 billion US dollars.

What happened, however, in 2011, after the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime? How did LIA and the Libyan African Investment Portfolio (LAIP) act?

In fact, neither company could carry out any operations.

In 2014 alone, LIA’s losses were at least 721 million US dollars.

Moreover, LAIP still holds in its portfolio the Libyan Arab African Investment Company (LAICO), which manages investments –  particularly in the real estate sector – in 19 African countries, with specific related companies in Guinea Bissau, Chad and Liberia.

Furthermore, Oil-Libya still operates as a network manager and extractor in at least 18 African countries.

On top of it, the Libyan Fund still owns Rascom Star, a satellite and telephone network connecting much of rural Africa.

Within LAIP there is also FM Capital Partners LTD, another real estate Fund.

Nevertheless, as early as the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime, the internal policy lines of LIA and of the other companies separated: 50% of managers wanted to continue the activity according to the classic rules of the Company’s Management, while the others thought they should mainly follow the new political equilibria within Libya.

The last audit carried out by Deloitte also demonstrated that the over 550 subsidiaries were the real problem of the Fund.

Deloitte also assessed that at least 40% of those companies were completely uneconomic and had to be sold quickly.

In this bunch of lame ducks there were, for example, the eight refineries – one of which managed by Oil invest in Switzerland – which also paid penalties to the Swiss government for obvious environmental reasons.

Allegedly the refinery in Switzerland stopped its activities in 2017.

The traditional investment line of the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (LAFICO) has always been linked to LIA, which currently has over 160 billion US dollars avaialble, including oil, personal income and old foreign investment of Colonel Gaddafi, once again only partially reported to international authorities.

Moreover, according to the LIA managers of the time, the various companies within the Fund did not communicate one another and hence their strategies overlapped.

And the same held true for the interests of their different political offspring.

Moreover, in 2011 an old independent audit showed that the losses before the sanctions that preceded the uprisings amounted to approximately 3.1 billion US dollars.

Gaddafi’s regime started to collapse – a regime which, according to the international narrative, had allegedly accumulated all the money taken by LIA and its subsidiaries.

Obviously this is not true – exactly as it is not true that the “deficit” in Italy’s public finances before the “Bribesville” scandal was caused only by the greed and voracity of the ruling class.

In the countries where there is a destructive psywar and an offensive economic war, these are now the usual models.

It is not by chance that on December 16, 2011 the UN Security Council lifted the specific sanctions against the  Central Bank of Libya and the Libyan Foreign Bank (which is not LAFICO) because they had supported the uprisings against Colonel Gaddafi.

In 2014 LIA initiated legal proceedings against Goldman Sachs, which cost it 1.2 billion US dollars, with a bonus for the intermediary bank of 350 million dollars.

The proceedings ended in 2016 and the British judges decided in favour of Goldman Sachs that was entitled to a compensation amounting to one million US dollars.

There was also another legal action brought against Société Générale, which had started in 2014 and later ended with LIA’s partial defeat.

As to the 2018 national budget, for example, the Central Bank of Libya has envisaged the amount of 42,511 billion dinars, broken down as follows: 24.5 for salaries and wages; 6.5 billion dollars for petrol subsidies and 6.7 billion dollars for “other expenses”.

On average the dinar exchange rate is 1.3 as against the dollar, but it is much lower on the black market.

And public spending is all for subsidies and salaries. Very little is spent for welfare – that was Colonel Gaddafi’s asset for gaining consensus. Social wellbeing can be achieved with good stability of oil prices and revenues, which is certainly not the case now.

Moreover, General Haftar militarily conquered the oil sites of the Libyan “oil crescent” on June 14, 2018, after having held back the attacks of the Petroleum Defence Guards of Ibrahim Jadhran, the commander of the force protecting the oil wells and facilities.

According to General Haftar, the condition for reopening wells, as well as storage and transport sites, was the replacement of the Governor of the Central Bank of Libya, Siddiq al-Kabir, with his candidate, namely Mohammad al-Shukri.

Siddiq al-Kabir stated that the Central Bank of Libya has lost 48 billion dinars over the last 4 years and rejected the appointment – formally made by the Tobruk-based Parliament – of his successor, al-Shukri.

Moreover, Siddiq al-Kabirhas also been accused of having pocketed a series of Libyan public funds abroad.

Later General Haftar attacked the Central Bank of Libya in Benghazi to collect funds for the salaries of his soldiers.

Hence the current Libyan financial tension lies in the link between banks and oil revenues – two highly problematic situations, both in al-Serraj’s and in the Benghazi governments, as well as in General Khalifa Haftar’s ranks.

It is certainly no coincidence that the Presidential Council decided to impose a 183% tax on currency transactions with banks.

In addition, taxation was introduced on the goods imported by companies before the current tax reform, which is linked to the reform of the allocation of basic commodities to the Libyan population.

The idea is to stabilize prices and hence make the exchange rate between the dinar and the dollar acceptable, which is another root cause of the economic crisis.

The Libyan citizens often demonstrate in front of bank branches, which are constantly undergoing a liquidity crisis. Prices are out of control and the instability of exchange rates harms also oil transactions, as can be easily imagined.

Nevertheless, even the area controlled by the Tobruk-based Parliament and General Haftar’s Forces is not in a better situation.

In fact, Eastern Libya’s banking authorities have already put their banknotes and coins into circulation, which are already partly used and were printed and minted in Russia.

Pursuant to al-Serraj’s decision of May 2016, said banknotes are accepted in the Tripoli area.

Four billion dinars, with the face of Colonel Gaddafi portrayed on them, and of the same dark colour as copper.

According to the most reliable sources, the reserves of the Central Bank of Libya in Bayda – the city hosting the Central Bank of Eastern Libya – are still substantial: 800 million dinars, 60 million euros and 80 million dollars.

Not bad for an area destroyed by war.

Obviously the simple division into two of the Central Bank – of which only the Tripoli branch is internationally recognized – is the root cause of the terrible Weimar-style devaluation of the Libyan dinar, which, as always happens, they try to patch up with the artificial scarcity of the money in circulation.

As Schumpeter taught us, this does not solve the problem, but shifts it to real goods and services, thus increasing their artificial scarcity and hence their cost.

Meanwhile, the economic situation shows some signs of improvement, considering that the 2017 data and statistics point to total revenues (again only for Tripoli’s government) equal to  22.23 billion dinars, of which 19.2 billion dinars of oil exports; 845 million dinars of taxes; 164 million dinars of customs duties, above all on oil, and 2.1 billion dinars of remaining revenue.

At geopolitical level, however, the tendency to Libya’s partition – which would be a disaster also for oil consumers and, above all, for the Libyan economy, considering that the oil crescent is halfway between the two opposing States – is de facto the prevailing one.

Egypt openly supports General Khalifa Haftar and the tribes helping him.

The Gharyan tribe and many other major ones, totalling 140, now support the Benghazi Government, since at the beginning of clashes, they had often been affiliated to Tripoli and its Government of National Accord.

Tunisia has always tried to reach a very difficult neutral position.

Algeria strongly fears the intrusion of the Emirates’ and Qatar’s Turkish intelligence services into the Libyan economic, oil and political context, but it endeavours above all to limit the Egyptian pressure to the East.

The European powers support General Haftar- with France that, as early as the first inter-Libyan fights, sent him the  Brigade Action of its intelligence services. Conversely, Italy is rebuilding its special relationship with al-Serraj’s government – like the one it had with Gaddafi – but with recent openings to General Haftar.

If we want to reach absolute equivalence between the parties, we must avoid doing foreign policy.

Great Britain and the United States tend to quickly withdraw from the Libyan region, thus avoiding to make choices and not tackling the economic and social crisis that could trigger again a war, with the jihad still playing the lion’s share and precisely in the oil crescent.

The United States should not believe that its great oil autonomy, which also pushes it to sell its natural gas abroad, can exempt it from developing a policy putting an end to the unfortunate phase of the “Arab Springs” it had started – of which Gaddafi’s fall is an essential part.

Currently the Libyan production share is around 1% of the total OPEC production.

Everyone is preparing for the significant increase of the oil barrel price, which is expected to reach almost 100 US dollars in the coming months.

If this happened – and it will certainly happen – the Libyan economy could be even safe, but certainly corruption and the overlapping of two financial administrations and two central banks, as well as political insecurity, could still stop Libya’s economic growth.

Hence, for the next international conference scheduled in Palermo for November 12-13, we would need a common economic and financial policy line of all non-Libyan participants to be submitted to both local governments.

Probably General Haftar will not participate – as stated by a member of the Tobruk-based Parliament – but certainly Putin will not participate.

The presence of Mike Pompeo is taken for granted, but probably also the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, will participate.

Certainly the Italian diplomacy focused only on “Europe” has lost much of the sheen that has characterized it in Africa and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, we could start with a working proposal on the Libyan economy.

For example, a) a European audit for all Libyan state-run companies of both sides.

Later b) the definition of a New Dinar, of which the margin of fluctuation with the dollar, the Euro and the other major international currencies should be established.

Some observers should also be involved, such as China.

Furthermore, an independent authority should be created, which should be accountable to the Libyan governments, but also to the EU, on the public finances of the two Libyan governments.

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. “

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Turkey and Trump’s sanctions-based “political economy”

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By the end of last year, the Turkish economy had slipped into a technical recession, boosting in 12 months by only 2.6%, despite the fact that a year ago the government expected GDP to grow by 3.8%. The slowdown is particularly striking against the background of sustainable development over the past seven years: in 2010, the country’s GDP grew by 8.5%, in 2011 – by 11.1%, in 2012 – by 4.8%, in 2013 – by 8.5%, in 2014 – by 5.2%, in 2015 – by 6.1%, in 2016 – by 3.2% and in 2017 – by 7.4%  This trend has turned Turkey into one of the fastest developing economies, earning it 17th position worldwide in nominal GDP and 13th in the GDP value regarding purchasing power parity.

The situation changed by the middle of 2018, when relations with Washington deteriorated to the point of a trade war. The Trump administration resorted to the much-practiced method of targeting the “dissenters”: it raised drastically customs duties on steel and aluminum imported from Turkey (which, however, did not prevent the United States from becoming the second buyer of Turkish metallurgical produce by the end of the year). On August 1 the US introduced sanctions against Turkish Interior and Justice Ministers. At that time, the main stumbling block (at least on the surface of it) was Turkey’s refusal to release American priest Andrew Brunson who was detained in 2016 on charges of  espionage and links to Fethullah Gulen’s movement along with the Kurdistan Workers ’Party. For some time Donald Trump’s propaganda slogans were dominated by the maxim “to save rank-and-file pastor Brunson”.

Turkey responded by slapping import duties on American goods: cars, alcohol, tobacco, cosmetics. And, of course, it put two US ministers on its sanctions list.

But the forces were clearly far from equal. As a result, the Turkish lira collapsed. At the beginning of 2018 one dollar traded for 3.8 liras, whereas by the end of the year it sold for 5.3 liras. Moreover, at the peak of the weakening of the national currency, the dollar cost almost 7 liras. The Central Bank of Turkey was forced to raise the interest rate, even despite opposition from the country’s omnipotent president. Today, the rate has climbed up to the red level of 24%. Consequently, there has been a drop in the sales of real estate, cars, and a number of other industrial goods. Prospects for inflation have materialized too – in October, inflation hit a fifteen-year high, exceeding 25 percent.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan put the blame for the crisis on Turkey’s foreign ill-wishers. This time – with a lion’s share of truth.

In October, the court sentenced Branson to imprisonment for exactly the time he had already served. The pastor returned home, mutual sanctions were lifted, which partly calmed the markets. But only partly.

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TSI), the country’s GDP increased by 2.6% by the end of the year. At the same time, the service sector grew by 5.6%, agrarian – by 1.3%, industrial – by only 1.1%. Exports, compared to the previous year, increased by 7% – to 168 billion dollars (a record figure in the entire history of the Turkish Republic). Foreign trade deficit, amid a boost of imports prices,  decreased by 28.4% to $ 55 billion, while imports proper dropped by 4.6% to 223 billion dollars. Tourism revenues increased by 12.3% to 29.5 billion

At first glance, the situation is far from critical, but, according to the TSI, over the year, per capita GDP dropped from $10,597 to $ 9,632; household expenditures, although going up by 1.1% on the year, went down by 8.9% in the fourth quarter. In December unemployment rate among the able-bodied population reached 13.5% – more than 4.3 million people.

Nevertheless, Berat Albayrak, Minister of Treasury and Finance of Turkey, sounded optimistic: “The worst days for the economy are over. The government is confident that the growth of the Turkish economy in 2019 will match the forecasts laid down in the New Economic Program. ”

In general, the above-mentioned program envisages the implementation of reforms that will protect export-oriented small and medium-sized enterprises, strengthen their competitiveness, stimulate the economy to secure a high level of added value. An important part of the document is a clause that stipulates cutting government spending on expensive infrastructure projects, often designed to foster the image rather than the economy.

Specialists differ in assessing the prospects for the Turkish economy: forecasts vary from a slight increase to a further decline. In particular, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “Economists expect the cooling to continue. The OECD forecasts a further reduction in the economic growth of (Turkey-author) for 2019 to minus 1.8 percent.” So far, the trend is as follows: industrial production, for example, in January 2019 fell by 7.3% against January last year.

Among the chronic illnesses of the Turkish economy is a deficit of the balance of payments, which the government traditionally tries to compensate with foreign loans and foreign investment – these primarily provided economic growth in previous years. Now this source seems nearly exhausted as investors worldwide are growing increasingly wary of developing markets. The position of Turkey is aggravated by the uncertainty of foreign capital about the independence of the Central Bank, its concerns about the unpredictability of the country’s policy and the adequacy of its economic course (first of all, its adherence to ambitious projects with questionable economic efficiency).

Also, potential investors are deterred by the strained relations between Ankara and Washington. For many, President Trump’s recent treat to “ruin” Turkey for its policy on Syrian Kurds and his recent decision to abolish customs preferences for a number of Turkish goods came as signaling the continuation of a trade war. Significantly, these statements were made after the Turkish leadership confirmed its determination to acquire Russian air defense systems, thereby making it clear that pursued a course towards independence in strategic decision-making.

For Turkey, the United States is a fairly important trading partner, which in 2018 accounted for almost five percent of Turkish exports ($ 8.3 billion) and more than five percent of imports ($ 12.3 billion).

The recession in the Turkish economy has a certain negative impact on Russian-Turkish economic results. Last year, Turkey became Russia’s sixth largest trading partner. In particular, it accounts for a considerable share of Russian exports of metals, grain and, most importantly, energy carriers (the second, after Germany, importer of oil in the world). In February, according to Gazprom, the export of Russian gas to non-CIS countries decreased by 13% in annual terms. The company said the main reasons behind the decrease were the warm weather in Europe and the crisis in Turkey.

The Russian economy has succeeded in adapting to the extensive sanction pressure from Washington and, it looks like the Trump administration has now chosen to “attack from the flank”, targeting one of Moscow’s major foreign economic partners. It would not be a mistake to assume that the ability of the Turkish leadership to resist pressure from its “strategic ally” and NATO partner in the near future will largely determine not only economic, but also political relations between Moscow and Ankara. 

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Ambiguity in European economic leadership

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Europe’s economic situation remains uncertain! The European economic crisis and austerity policies remain in place. On the other hand, there is no sign that the EU is passing through the current situation. Two conservative /Social Democrats in Europe have not been able to effectively counteract the economic crisis over the last few years.

 This same issue has led to anger by European citizens from traditional European parties. Subsequently, the trend of European citizens to nationalist and extremist parties has increased in recent years.

The events that have taken place in France in recent months have led to disappointment with the eurozone leaders over the current deadlock.The most important point is that Macron was planned to assume the title of the Europe’s economic leader in the short term, and that was to be after succeeding in creating and sustaining economic reforms in France and the Eurozone.

 Meanwhile, European citizens expressed their satisfaction with the election of Macron as French President in 2017. They thought that the French president, while challenging austerity policies, would strengthen the components of economic growth in the European Union. Moreover, EU leaders also hoped that Macron’s success in pursuing economic reforms in France would be a solid step in pushing the entire Eurozone out of the economic crisis.

 In other words, in the midst of anti-Euro and extremist and far-right movements in Europe, Macron was the last hope of European authorities to “manage the economic crisis” which was raising inside the Eurozone: the hope that has soon faded away!

The main dilemma in France is quite clear!”Failing to persuade French citizens” on his economic reforms, and Macron’s miscalculations about the support of French citizens for himself, were among the important factors in shaping this process. Macron had to give concessions to protesters to prevent further tensions in France.

 After the country’s month-long demonstrations, Macron was forced to retreat from his decision on raising the fuel price. Besides, he had no way but to make promises to the French citizens on issues such as raising the minimum wages and reducing the income tax. This had but one meaning: Macron’s economic reforms came to an end. Right now, European authorities know well that Macron is incapable of regaining his initial power in France and the Eurozone by 2022 (the time for the France general elections).

 Therefore, Macron has to forget the dream of EU’s economic leadership until the last moments of his presence at the Elysees Palace. Of course, this is if the young French president isn’t forced to resign before 2022! The European authorities and the Eurozone leaders have no alternative for Macron and his economic reforms in Europe. That’s why they’re so worried about the emergence of anti-EU movements in countries such as France and Germany.

 For example, they are well aware that if Marin Le Pen can defeat Macron and come to power in France during the upcoming elections, then the whispers of the collapse of the Eurozone, and even the European Union, will be clearly heard, this time with a loud voice, all over the Europe.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Economic integration: Asia and the Pacific’s best response to protectionism

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

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Deepening economic integration in Asia and the Pacific is a longstanding regional objective. Not an end in itself but a means of supporting the trade, investment and growth necessary to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is a priority for all member states of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP). China has a valuable contribution to make so I am beginning 2019 with a visit to Beijing. One to discuss with Chinese leaders how we can strengthen our collaboration and accelerate progress.

The case for deeper integration in Asia and the Pacific is becoming increasingly apparent. Recent trade tensions highlight Asia and the Pacific’s vulnerability to protectionism from major export markets. UN ESCAP analysis shows how regional supply chains are being disrupted and investor confidence shaken. Export growth is expected to slow and foreign direct investment to continue its downward trend. Millions of jobs are forecast to be lost, others will be displaced. Unskilled workers, particularly women, are likely to suffer most. Increasing seamless regional connectivity – expanding the infrastructure which underpins cross border commercial exchanges and intraregional trade – must be part of our response.

We should build on the existing Asian transport infrastructure agreements UN ESCAP maintains to further reduce regulatory constraints, costs and delays. For instance, UN ESCAP members are working to improve the efficiency of railway border crossings along the Trans-Asian Railway network. There is great potential to improve electronic information exchange between railways, harmonise customs formalities and improve freight trains’ reliability. The recent international road transport agreement between the governments of China, Mongolia and the Russian Federation grants traffic rights for international road transport operations on the sections of the Asia Highway which connect their borders. We should expand it to other countries. There is also huge opportunity to develop our region’s dry ports, the terminals pivotal to the efficient shipment of sea cargo to inland destinations by road or rail. A regional strategy is in place to build a network of dry ports of major international significance. UN ESCAP is looking forward to working with China to implement it.

Sustainable energy, particularly cross-border power trade, is another key plank UN ESCAP member States’ connectivity agenda. Connecting electricity grids is not only important to meet demand, ensure energy access and security. It is also necessary to support the development of large-scale renewable energy power plants and the transition to cleaner energy across Asia and the Pacific. The fight against climate change in part depends on our ability to better link up our networks. ASEAN’s achievements in strengthening power grids across borders is a leading example of what political commitment and technical cooperation can deliver. At the regional level UN ESCAP has brought together our region’s experts to develop a regional roadmap on sustainable energy connectivity. China is currently chairing this group.

For maximum impact, transport and energy initiatives need to come in tandem with the soft infrastructure which facilitates the expansion of trade. UN ESCAP analysis ranks China among the top trade facilitation and logistics performers in our region. This expertise contributed to a major breakthrough in cross-border e-commerce development and ultimately led to a UN treaty on trade digitalisation. This has been adopted by UN ESCAP members to support the exchange of electronic trade data and documents and signed by China in 2017. Now, UN ESCAP is working to support the accession and ratification of twenty-five more countries who recognise the opportunity to minimise documentary requirements, promote transparency and increase the security of trade operations. Full implementation of cross-border paperless trade in Asia and the Pacific could reduce export costs by up to 30 percent. Regional export gains could be as has high as $250 billion.

As we look to the future and work to accelerate progress towards the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals, economic integration must remain a priority. A strong UN-China sustainable development partnership is essential to take this agenda forward and strengthen our resilience to international trade tensions and economic uncertainty. Working with all the countries in our region, we have a unique opportunity to place sustainability considerations at the heart of our efforts and build seamless regional connectivity. That is an opportunity, which in 2019, UN ESCAP is determined to seize.UNESCAP

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