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Reforming the WTO is a Long and Complicated Process

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Since early autumn 2018, the issue of reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO) has become an increasingly visible item on the global economic agenda. It was one of the central questions posited in the final communique of the G20 Summit that took place in Buenos Aires on November 30 – December 1, and the parties intend to tackle it again at the next meeting in Tokyo.

The WTO is traditionally considered the third institution of the Bretton Woods system. However, while the first two – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) – started functioning shortly after the end of World War II, it took 47 years of excruciating negotiations to create the third part, a universal trade organization. The establishment of the WTO in April 1994 following the Uruguay Round of negotiations (1986–1993) should rightly be considered the greatest event in economic relations in the 20th century. However, the tremendous success had a certain reverse side: contradictions and issues between member countries remained. This predetermined the future need to reform the WTO.

Trade Wars are a Signal for Action

The problem of the institutional reform of the WTO has been discussed at the level of experts for at least the last 15 years. However, it has never gone beyond the scope of an academic discussion, and for serious reasons too. The older generation of trade diplomats and experts remembers all too well the excruciating negotiations at the Uruguay Round, which were accompanied by crippling crises and contradictions between the parties. Hammering out compromises was a Herculean task, and the agreement on establishing the WTO crowned those compromises.

It is precisely because of these features of the WTO’s protracted birth that representatives of various countries, recognizing the need to reform the organization, were fully cognizant of how difficult and risky such a reform will be in practice. That is why each and every time discussions ended the same way: the GATT/WTO system has been functioning for 70 years, and even though it has its problems, no one can guarantee that a reform will not make things worse. Nowadays, the situation has been noticeably radicalized due to the new U.S. protectionist policies and the trade wars it started “with the entire world.”

The Administration of the 45th US President has embarked upon a course of open criticism and attacks on universal trade rules. In late February 2017, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) delivered the Trade Policy Agenda and Annual Report to Congress. The document emphasized that given the “unfair trade practices” of other countries, the United States can disregard the WTO rules and conduct a more “aggressive” trade policy in protecting its national interests.

On June 1, 2018, Washington imposed increased import tariffs on metals from the European Union, Canada and some other countries to 25 per cent for steel and 10 per cent for aluminium. The current U.S. administration believes that domestic steel production has fallen sharply in the recent years, and this threatens national security. However, Europe and Canada see the legal justification for Washington to increase tariffs as being completely unacceptable.

Partners Reject U.S. Protectionist Measures

Within the WTO, each country has its commitments based on the rules developed during the Uruguay Round. These rules allow import restrictions in three very specific situations: in cases of dumping; the use of illegal subsidies; and if there is a threat to national industries due to a sharp increase in imports. In each case, the damage from the above-stated actions of a supplier country must be substantiated. The damage is assessed in the course of an appropriate transparent investigation that involves all the parties. The current U.S. measures do not fit into any of these scenarios, and instead it is being justified by “reasons of national security.” This, however, gives the matter an entirely different legal twist.

The WTO legal framework does stipulate restricting market access for reasons of national security: appropriate measures are possible in cases of illegal trade in weapons and nuclear materials, the danger of armed conflicts, a terrorist threat, etc. Therefore, in such cases, every state itself determines the measures for restricting access to its market under Article XXI of GATT, which is devoted entirely to “reasons of national security.” The difficulty with applying Article XXI of GATT is that its application mechanism is still not quite specific; a state that introduces restrictions under this article acts as the ultimate judge in the dispute.

The United States offers a very subjective formulation of “reasons of national security” that is clearly detached from the current international rules. Washington sees a threat to national security in the sharp drop in domestic metal production, even though such a situation is essentially a consequence of regular international competition.

European countries and Canada were shocked by the fact that the United States imposes tariffs against them out of “reasons of national security.” As the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker emphasized, “these unilateral U.S. tariffs are unjustified and at odds with World Trade Organization rules. This is protectionism, pure and simple.” President of France Emmanuel Macron called the U.S. administration’s decision illegal and mistaken. Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau spoke rather sharply at the June 2018 G7 Summit in Quebec calling Washington’s measures “punitive,” “unacceptable” and “insulting.”

Following repeated attempts to convince Washington that its protectionist measures were unfounded, in late November 2018, the European Union, along with China, Canada, Norway, Mexico, Russia and Turkey, and then India and Switzerland filed a complaint against the United States with the WTO’s Appellate Body concerning the illegality of the steel and aluminium tariffs imposed by the United States. In the complaint, the plaintiffs intend to challenge the U.S. tariffs as protective and simultaneously prove that the United States cannot invoke reasons of national security. This demarche against the United States by nine countries at once is a rather convincing proof that the WTO’s leading members are resisting Washington’s attempts to revise the existing rules of international trade.

Thus, the U.S. administration believes that it can protect its domestic market and ensure its foreign trade interests on the basis of its domestic trade legislation. Over the course of 2018, Washington primarily invoked two legislative acts. Under the Trade Act of 1974, the United States can impose penalty tariffs on countries that discriminate against American goods. The second is the 1962 Trade Expansion Act that allows the United States to restrict import of goods that would “threaten to impair the national security.” This act served as a legal justification for Washington to increase import tariffs on steel and aluminium starting June 1, 2018.

Europe, Canada and Japan believe that using legal acts that are over 50 years old is odd at the very least, since in the intervening decades, international economic regulations have changed drastically, the principal change being the emergence of a full-fledged multilateral regulation institution, i.e. the WTO, which was to a great degree promoted by the United States. Strictly speaking, the moment the WTO became operative in January 1995, the United States did not invoke the provisions of those domestic acts since it believed itself to be bound, like other WTO members, by the WTO’s commitments.

Every Side has its Arguments on Reforming the WTO

In March 2018, the United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer presented the latest version of the U.S. administration’s annual agenda in trade policies. The agenda concerns such issues as reforming the WTO, trade agreements with other countries and the application of U.S trade laws. The document is critical of the trade policies of previous administrations and simultaneously claims to reach a qualitatively new level in trade policies under the Trump administration.

Lighthizer’s report states that the U.S. administration is dissatisfied with the existing rules and their application in such areas as labour conditions, competition policies and the medical equipment market. It notes the investigations of U.S. officials into China’s violations of U.S. intellectual property rights. In essence, the report justifies instances of applying U.S. trade laws from the 1960s–1970s in order to protect national security interests, which cannot but cause concerns, since these laws are applied separately from the WTO rules and the commitments that the United States has undertaken as part of the organization.

As for the current multilateral negotiations at the Doha Round, Washington has specific grievances in that area, which may be considered justified to a certain extent. For instance, the United States is not satisfied with their highly stilted character, the impossibility of achieving new agreements other than at the biennial WTO ministerial conferences, and what the United States views as the outdated agenda of the Doha Round.

What is more, in recent years, the United States has not hidden its displeasure with the position of a large group of countries within the WTO which, having joined the organization as developing countries, continue to see themselves as such today, despite the fact that they have made significant progress in a number of economic sectors and even outstripped certain developed countries. In addition to this, many developing countries have non-transparent trade policies. Consequently, those WTO members de facto use privileges that Washington deems to be unjustified, which blocks progress in developing new WTO rules and also impedes further liberalization. This is the essence of Washington’s approach to reforming the WTO: eliminate unjustified and unfair privileges held by a group of developing countries that today essentially paralyse the multilateral trade system.

As for the other major player in international trade – the European Union – it has assumed a highly proactive stance on the issue of reforming the WTO. The European Union was the first to publish a list of specific proposals (a concept) on reforming the WTO. Analysing the entire list is rather a task for trade policy experts. It would therefore be appropriate to single out the key points. Even though the European Union’s stance was originally a direct consequence of the wrongfully protectionist measures of the United States towards European manufacturers, the document contains no direct or indirect complaints against Washington, which is largely reasonable, since reforming one of the key institutions of global economic management is too grave an issue to start it by settling scores with an old trade partner.

Essentially, Brussels shares Washington’s position on the matter, as well as its grievances against that group of developing countries that has reached a rather high level of economic development, but has no wish to part with their previously gained privileges

The EU proposals also note that today’s discussions are frequently dominated by the opinion that global trade rules somehow impede trade and, therefore, developing countries need to be exempted from both current and future rules. In fact, today, the differences between developed and many developing countries are not quite as pronounced as they were 25 years ago, when the WTO was established, meaning that the above-mentioned opinion is fundamentally wrong. Obviously, some flexibility in enforcing the compliance of developing countries with the WTO rules should be preserved, but only in those cases where it is necessary. The proposals put forward by Brussels contain specific mechanisms for tackling this task.

The EU concept focuses heavily on modernizing the WTO’s Appellate Body, a crucial organ in the mechanism of resolving disputes within the WTO. The European Union’s stance on the matter was supported in November by Canada, India, Norway, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, South Korea, Iceland, Singapore, Mexico and China.

In its proposals on the Appellate Body, Brussels largely takes Washington’s grievances against its current functioning into account. In particular, the European Union proposes limiting the appeals term to 90 days, which had been stipulated earlier, yet the parties often failed to comply with the requirement.

The EU concept also contains a series of initiatives on bolstering the multilateral trade system and improving the efficiency of the WTO.

China, which has been striving to form a united front with other countries that condemn Washington’s protectionism, has also called for a reform of the WTO.

While supporting WTO reform, China has thus far limited its actions to fairly general statements, stressing that the importance and inviolability of the WTO’s basic principles and rules. It would seem that Beijing is unlikely to be unconditionally receptive of Washington’s demands that current privileges for developing countries in the WTO be abolished. In contrast, China will rather put forward the need to fight protectionism, which is a threat to free trade.

As for Russia, it wholeheartedly supports the idea of reforming the WTO. President Vladimir Putin and Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin recently declared this stance. Russia’s trade diplomacy has quite good positions to take an active part in the process.

In conclusion, we need to emphasize that the nascent process of reforming of the WTO cannot be simple and quick, since the list of problems is too variegated. Above, we have outlined only some of these problems. At a certain stage, the most difficult problem will likely be that of transforming the decision-making system. The consensus mechanism that has been in effect in the GATT/WTO for over 70 years clearly hampers decision-making today, as the organization boasts 164 member countries. However, abolishing this mechanism will not be easy either. This is probably the main challenge to the incipient WTO reform.

First published in our partner RIAC

Professor of World Economy and International Affairs Department at Higher School of Economics, Leading Researcher at RAS Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO)

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Economy

Pandemic Recovery: White House – Check-In or Check-Out Times

Naseem Javed

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Credit: Diego Rivera

Some 200 nations of the world are in serious economic pains of varying degrees; the images and narratives on social media makes the world appear small and spinning out of control, shrinking mental abilities to Tik-Tok tempo to fit small size screens. In reality, when global dialogues engage some 5000 languages, 2000 cultures, bouncing in 10,000 cities, 11,000 Chamber of Commerce, 100,000 trade associations and some five billion connected alpha dreamers extremely dynamic vibrancy appears. The world is immensely large, as only less than 5% its populace has ever travelled globally while 50% never went outside their own country. On social media, everyone is a certified global expert.

Nevertheless, some 200 nations are trying to change the world toward a better workable plateau, peaceful diversity, tolerance and some sort of balanced trade. The world is hungry seeking out untapped hidden talents of its local citizens, suppressed by the bad local policies. There are continents, oceans, jungles, animals and things, simply, so much, so large, so vast, a mind cannot fathom. Blessed are those who have open minds and souls. The rest self-imprisoned in their own minds, lost in the darkness of their own fears. The borderless world of commerce always needs colorfully smart; open to diversity to bounce in global space with national and global collaborations.  

Such doctrines lost during the last decades as economic disconnectivity blossomed under hologramic economies. Pandemic recovery, today, forces mobilization of the midsize business economy as a bold adventure on quality exportability based on upskilled citizenry. Occupationalism demands small and midsize manufacturing to uplift local grassroots prosperity. In the history of humankind, no other experiment of human endurance has ever been as successful as America; a century old, image supremacy of entrepreneurialism wasted when some 100,000 factories and Middle-Class America disappeared from the heartland. The manufacturing based economy laughed at over ‘information economy’ and hologramic adventuring. Deep study and new global age thinking is a perquisite.

Three types of new challenges

Nations without funding: It is almost a fact most governments from top to bottom are simply broke, and almost a fact most governments have already wasted their funds beyond their means. However, if we focus just on priorities, above programs are primarily not new funding dependent rather they are deployment hungry and execution starved. Any government anywhere in the world in the name of superior efficiencies can easily adopt digitization policy as a survival strategy and make all the processes highly affordable by bringing them on digital formats. The rain of free technologies is flooding the global markets. It is more about upskilling departmental leaderships to adapt to such opportunities, without fear.

Nations without infrastructure: Small percentages of nations have the infrastructure, rest assembling like Lego as they go. The internet connectivity or knowledge plug is almost everywhere. The lack of imagination and upskilling of the gatekeepers is a critical issue.

Nations without digitization: there are a majority of nations where mental attitudes are significant problems, fear of being replaced as redundant or fear of exposing lack of competence preclude any adventure on digitization. No nation will survive on economic progress without national digitization mandates.

Three types of new models: Start with the Marshall Plan thinking, the revolutionary models and national mobilization to catch up the last decade. Start with open debates and honestly frank analysis, no finger pointing. Start with a plastic award night, congratulate failures, and carry on as usual until the next pandemic.

When history becomes nothing, but agreed upon lies, culture as agreed upon fables, truth becomes taboo, dumb down narrative dominates, restless citizenry emerges.

Summary: Within next 50 days, the US Election will make global shock waves, no matter who wins…it will be the battles on acceptance and concession speech, the mail-order selection criteria my linger weeks or months in chaos… the Vaccines races may collide with bad results and delay the process to 2022. The economic recovery shaped W may bring reopening normalcy possibly in 2022. Tough and difficult times demanding critical thinking and mental endurance on all fronts. Study how national mobilization of mid size economy works in digital age.

Plan wisely and select right paths; but open bold and honest discussions, as masked and sealed lips are where most of the problems originally germinated. Move or get moved. 

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How India can get its growth back on track after the coronavirus pandemic

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The Covid-19 pandemic has led to exceptionally challenging times. World Bank projections suggest that the global economy will contract by 5.2% in the current year. India, too, is likely to be significantly impacted.

Covid-19 afflicted India when the economy was already decelerating. After growing at an average of 7% a year in the previous decade, growth decelerated to 6% in 2018-19, and fell further to 4.2% in 2019-20. Pre-Covid-19 slowdown was due to a number of factors: longstanding structural rigidities in key input markets, stressed balance sheets compounded by greater risk aversion among banks and corporates, and, more recently, growing vulnerabilities in thThe pandemic has rendered the outlook even more sombre. So is India’s growth story over?The pandemic has rendered the outlook even more sombre. So is India’s growth story over?

Two years ago, we analysed the long-term trends in India’s growth rates. Studying 50 years of data, we found that despite variations in the trend rate, growth accelerated steadily, with no prolonged reversals. Economic growth also became stable — both due to growth rates stabilising within each sector, and due to the economy’s transition toward the steadier services sector. Importantly, faster and more stable growth was evident across states without being concentrated, for the most part, in a few sectors or activities. Furthermore, periods of faster growth saw productivity gains and not just an increase in factor inputs. All these point to the long term resilience of India’s economy.

Several factors were instrumental in India’s growth story. First, India benefited from a growing working-age population. Second, its savings and investment rates continued to increase until the late 2000s. Third, the financial sector grew significantly, with a rising ratio of bank credit to GDP. Fourth, India was likely aided by its strong institutional base. Fifth, India’s trade-to-GDP ratio grew rapidly from the early 1990s, until world trade stalled due to the global financial crisis.

Finally, the macroeconomic policies, notably monetary and fiscal, were formulated under credible frameworks in the last decades, yielding impressive macroeconomic stability.

General State of Weakness

However, some of these factors have weakened in recent years. After the 2008-09 global financial crisis, specific weaknesses emerged in private investment, export performance and the banking sector. These have persisted for nearly a decade since. Investment rates and exports declined as a percentage of GDP. Worryingly, the vulnerability of the financial sector increased, resulting in anaemic credit growth.

Covid-19 has magnified these weaknesses. Disruption in economic activity has dented consumption, investment and exports. RBI’s financial stability report has cautioned that the financial sector is likely to bear a significant burden from the slowdown. What, then, is the short- and medium-term prognosis for India’s economy? How may the policy response be tailored?

As a response to Covid-19, extensive measures have been taken in the regulatory, fiscal and monetary policy areas. But there are limits to these relief and support measures, both in terms of their effectiveness and affordability. Recovery now will depend in equal measure upon unlocking the supply side, and on the containment of the virus itself.

Private investment in India is likely constrained by several factors, including financial sector inefficiencies, deleveraging, crowding out and regulatory policy framework. Removing these, and sector-specific constraints, and ensuring policy certainty will be important. While India has received healthy volumes of FDI, encouraging these further can spur both domestic investment and greater integration in global value chains (GVCs).

Exports were an important driver of growth prior to the global financial crisis. But its contribution has diminished since. The ratio of exports to GDP has been declining, with India’s share in global exports remaining stagnant, or even decreasing. India can improve its competitiveness in the world economy by boosting investment in infrastructure and bringing it at par with other global manufacturing hubs; further reforming land, labour and financial markets; upgrading the education system to equip its workforce with skills. Besides, a competitive exchange rate, deeper trade integration, and greater embedding into GVCs will assume significance.

In the financial sphere, Indian banks have seen subdued credit growth, and asset quality remains stressed. In the past few years, a number of measures have been announced — including the consolidation of banks, an asset quality review, timely resolution for specific institutions, strengthened oversight or forbearance (post-Covid-19) and equity infusions. These measures have improved the oversight of India’s financial sector and boosted financial inclusion. However, more needs to be done to improve the safety, depth and efficiency of financial intermediation.

Additional priorities include maintaining financial sector stability, undertaking specific reforms in the non-banking financial sector, deepening capital markets, enhancing the role of fintech and ensuring a more selective and strategic footprint for the public sector in the financial sphere.

Growth Rides on Reforms

There is nothing, however, that seems permanently broken in India’s growth model to warrant pessimism. Many of the deep-rooted structural factors that helped fuel the economy’s sustained growth during the past decades seem intact: demography, a large and diversified economy, still low-income levels that signify the potential to grow, a dynamic entrepreneurial class, political and geopolitical stability, a strong institutional base and credible policy frameworks.

With continued policy attention on reforms — which spur private investment, increase the economy’s competitiveness, promote greater integration into the global economy, and ensure an efficient financial sector — India can revert to the growth path of the past.

 Source: World Bank, The Economic Times

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COVID-19, major shifts and the relevance of Kondratief 6th Wave

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Covid-19 has changed the global strategic equations, it has impacted each part of human life so has it let us to ponder upon the Kondratieff cycles, as with Covid-19 there has started a new debate about sixth wave, which is about the importance of health sector, especially the biotechnology which is crucial for progress of society in future.

Henceforth, the countries that are working on these sectors know that the most important engine for our economic and social development will be health in the 21st century. For example we have USA that focused on these and now has created around 2/3rd of its jobs in health sectors along with that has invested about $3,500 billion on health sector back in 2017. Also a 2008 report said about 4,700 companies all across worked in  field of biotechnology whereby 42% were in North America, and 35% in Europe, which depicts these states long-term understanding of the emerging scenario as seen from the emergence of Coronavirus. But then the on the other side if we look into the health structure of underdeveloped states, we can easily conclude that these states will suffer the most if a global health issue emerges, and in the contemporary world it has emerged in the form of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has brought changes in the political and economic arrangement. It has not limited itself to the China from where it has been started but has impacted the whole world. The virus that is itself unseen has shaken the structure, with severe consequences for all states. No matter if it’s the USA that is the super power or any small states, the pandemic has divulged the capability and integrity of all in their response to the Covid-19. With some having the capabilities to deal with it, but most lacking in these sectors which resulted in huge loss not only of human life but also of resources. Time has come when the world is criticizing globalization at one hand because globalization is the reason for the spread of COVID-19. This has marked the end of one era with the emergence of a new one.

Mention below are some of the major shifts which Covid-19 has resulted in economic sectors in both the developed and the underdeveloped states, along with the major political shift that has led many to debate about the new structure of world after the crisis would be over.

The Covid-19 that was first reported in China, in November has changed the world completely and resulted in a lot of economic and political changes all across. For example the global economy due to Covid-19 crisis have a setback of $590 trillion. Apart from this many people lost their jobs, the household incomes have reduce, moreover World Bank report say nearly 49 million people will move into extreme poverty because of pandemic. Then World largest real estates are having economic problems, the Tourism industry has declined. An estimate showed the loss of about $1.2 to $3.3 trillion in this area of tourism all over world. Also report of International Air Transport Association predicted a loss of $63-$113billion. Moreover the oil sector also faced problem as it was for the first time that its price has gone negative. Henceforth, it can be predicted that once the pandemic is over the world will have a lot to calculate.

The impact of this crisis is seen in both core and periphery states. In core states like the US and china COVID-19 has brought huge economic impact but along with this also a question of who will act as the world saviour. As Chinese economy is expected to decline by 13% in February also the Belt and toad initiative is at halt, but still apart from the economic problem this pandemic has helped a core state like china to use the situation and move towards the status of Global power. Thus this struggle of Global saviour resulted in US and China at odds with each other. Indeed, COVID-19 has brought political repercussions along with economic consequences. When it comes to Europe the industrial production decline by 17%. Likewise USA is also effected by COVID-19 as by this pandemic about 39 million American have lost their jobs, also US economy seen to decline by 20% so US health sector has been in the eye of analyst for its failure to curtail the coronavirus. Then covid-19 has more devastating impact on peripheral states as there health care facility is not well developed. For example the GDP of Bangladesh fell by 1.1%, then many African states that look for tourism as a source of economy faced a loss of about $50 billion. Also 29 million in Latin America fell into poverty. Though they have been exploited in past but the need of the hour is that the world must help them.

Global dynamics are showing transformation amid coronavirus. The pandemic has shown how China is using its trump cards to transform the contemporary situation in its favour while bolstering its image as the “global saviour”. China’s emergence from the sick man of Asian to the positing of global saviour has opened the prospect of a tilt in the global status of Hegemon from US towards China. The question is that will the Chinese strategy amid COVID-19 will hinder the prestige of US who instead of acting as the global leader has shown a deterioration in its role in global governance.

The future of China’s pre-eminence in the global spectrum has been widened by the pandemic. All of this has been further bolstered by the broad rejection of Trump to engage in Europe and elsewhere. COVID-19 not only emerged as an impetus to shift the global dynamic but has helped China to strengthen its position. In response to the confident play by China, US hasn’t come up with any convincing tactics to prevent the increasing role of China in achieving its interest. Recently, a move by Trump administration to withhold US funds of around $400million will surely leave a gap, moreover will be an opportunity for china to bolster its position in WHO. Taking backseat in its global role amid pandemic, then the withdrawal from global treaties, and withholding of funds from WHO shows a pattern which will further create a vacuum for China to take advantage of the prevailing situation. 

The current international order set by US will be subject to testation as the changing shifts in the geopolitics have to be catalyzed by the COVID-19. For it is now the right time for us all to ponder the relevance of Kondratieff 6th wave in current scenario of Covid-19. As now the focus has diverted towards the health care system and biotechnology since the world has in current situation saw a blame game between states with few called corona virus as naturally occurring but some regarded it as ‘Chinese virus’. This has led to the realization that that warfare scenario has entered into discussion over biotechnology. So after the Covid-19 pandemic, the policy makers of both periphery and core state will work on new technological area which has the Medical technologies, Nanotechnologies, Biotechnologies etc. for the improvement in health sector will be crucial for the progress in future.

Conclusively, the current COVID-19 as a bioweapon has resulted in a clear impetus and will definitely bring a shift in the states attitude towards medical research and the multiple fields of technology in future, this is so because COVID-19 has created a ground for relevance of Kondratieff 6th wave.

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