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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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How to stabilize Pakistan’s economy?

Amjed Jaaved

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Pakistan approached International Monetary Fund for 13th time since 1988 to get a bail-out. This programme is touted as a recipe to `reduce Pakistan’s public debt’ and `stabilize the economy’. The suggested panacea is `market-determined exchange-rate’ coupled with tax-evasion. But a free-floating exchange-rate is no magic wand or panacea for economic stability.

Unresponsive exports

Devaluations are unlikely to stimulate Pakistan’s export potential as its industrial production including that of textiles, is now in shambles. They only balloon debt burden. IMF’s own 1996-Economic-issues series booklet `Moving to a Flexible Exchange Rate: How, When, and How Fast?’ cautions against over-optimism. The booklet (by Rupa Duttagupta, Gilda Fernandez, and Cem Karacadag) concludes with advice `Both fixed and floating exchange rates have distinct and different advantages. No single exchange rate regime is appropriate for all countries in all circumstances. Countries will have to weigh the costs and benefits of floating in light of both their economic and their institutional readiness’.

Effect on public debt

When the State Bank of Pakistan devalued rupee in July 2017, then finance minister, Ishaq Dar (now an absconder) claimed the State Bank of Pakistan acted without his volition. The Dar-time devaluation inflated our debt burden by Rs 2,300 crore. Again, under PTI government Rupee happened to be devalued by 3.8 per cent, or Rs5.06, to an all-time low at Rs139.05 to dollar (increasing debt burden by Rs. 3500 crore). The government devolved blame on `SBP for devaluing rupee without informing it. We have low productive capacity and depend on services. The industrial sector’s contribution to the total Gross-Domestic-Product Growth was only nine per cent and its weight in the size of the economy was 20.8 per cent. IMF puts country’s growth rate at 2.5 per cent. After witnessing a four per cent growth rate in the last fiscal year, cotton production declined 17.5%. The production of rice and sugarcane also fell by 3.3 per cent and 19.4 per cent respectively. Even the 65% debt-to-GDP ratio will be higher than the statutory limit of 60% set by parliament in the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act.

Slow growth rate, poor productive capacity and dominant services sector foretell that our rupee will further weaken vis-a-vis dollar.  Even without further devaluation, Pakistan’s external public debt was US$74 billion as of end-February 2019. It would be whopping US$31 billion in the next seven years, July 2019 to June 2026. The country’s economic growth rate has slowed down to 3.3 per cent, the lowest in nine years.  The slow pace of economic growth coupled with currency devaluation reduced size of the economy to around $280 billion from $313 billion at the end of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government’s term. Almost every sector has made negative contribution to growth rate of 3.29% during fiscal year 2018-19 ending on June 30.

India’s recent budget aims at growth rate of 12 per cent a year (8% growth discounting inflation at 4%). Pakistan’s growth rate would be minus 10 per cent a year (3% growth less 13% inflation). How could this poor growth rate stabilise economy as per text-book burden-of-debt models?

Write off `odious debts’

Pakistan should tell the IMF `we reject forced devaluations (quasi-floating exchange) and shall pay debt in rupee at contracted loan rate of about Rs. 2.5 to a dollar’. That would deflate Pakistan’s debt burden and make IMF bailout successful. Too, the IMF should write off `odious debts’. James K. Boyce and Madakene O’Donnel (eds.), in Peace and the Public Purse (. New Delhi. Viva Books 2008, p, 251) say debt forgiveness (or relief) helps stabilise weak democracies, though corrupt and incompetent.  Debt relief promotes economic growth and foreign investment. In fact, economists have questioned justification of loans given to prop up congenial regimes.  They hold that a nation is not obliged to pay such `odious debts'(a personal liability) showered upon a praetorian (p. 252 ibid.). Legally also, any liability financial or quasi-non-financial, contracted under duress, is null and void. Sachs (1989) inferred that debt service costs discourage domestic and foreign investment.  Kanbur (2000), also, concluded that debt is a drag on private investment.

FDI. Pakistan should improve `ease of doing business’ to attract foreign-direct investment. According to World Bank, Pakistan ranks 136 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings.  State Bank of Pakistan reported on February 18 that foreign direct investment (FDI) during July-Jan FY19 declined by over 17 per cent compared to the same period last year. Pakistan’s prime export sector is stagnant (overtaken by China and Bangladesh).  It suffers from low investment in modern machinery, energy shortages, and inadequate efforts to integrate into global supply and retail networks.

Learning from India

India ranks 77th. As of February 2019, India is working on a road map to achieve its goal of US$ 100 billion worth of FDI inflows. In February 2019, the Government of India released the Draft National e-Commerce Policy which encourages FDI in the marketplace model of e-commerce. According to World Bank, private investments in India is expected to grow by 8.8 per cent in FY 2018-19 to overtake private consumption growth of 7.4 per cent, and thereby drive the growth in India’s gross domestic product (GDP) in FY 2018-19.

Apart from being a, Foreign direct investment (FDI) is a debt-free primum mobile economic growth. Foreign companies invest in India to take advantage of relatively lower wages, special investment privileges, such as tax exemptions, etc. share technical know-how and generate jobs.

India relaxed FDI norms across sectors such as defence, public-sector undertakings, oil refineries, telecom, power exchanges, and stock exchanges.

Equity inflows in India in 2018-19 stood at US$ 44.37 billion. During 2018-19, the services sector attracted the highest FDI equity inflow of US$ 9.16 billion, followed by computer software and hardware – US$ 6.42 billion, trading – US$ 4.46 billion and telecommunications – US$ 2.67 billion. Most recently, the total FDI equity inflows for the month of March 2019 touched US$ 3.60 billion. During 2018-19, India received the maximum FDI equity inflows from Singapore (US$ 16.23 billion), followed by Mauritius (US$ 8.08 billion), Netherlands (US$ 3.87 billion), USA (US$ 3.14 billion), and Japan (US$ 2.97 billion). India is the top recipient of Greenfield FDI Inflows from the Commonwealth, as per a trade review released by The Commonwealth in 2018. In October 2018, VMware, a leading software innovating enterprise of US has announced investment of US$ 2 billion in India between by 2023. In August 2018, Bharti Airtel received approval of the Government of India for sale of 20 per cent stake in its DTH arm to an America based private equity firm, Warburg Pincus, for around $350 million. In June 2018, Idea’s appeal for 100 per cent FDI was approved by Department of Telecommunication (DoT) followed by its Indian merger with Vodafone making Vodafone Idea the largest telecom operator in India In May 2018, Walmart acquired a 77 per cent stake in Flipkart for a consideration of US$ 16 billion. .In February 2018, Ikea announced its plans to invest up to Rs 4,000 crore (US$ 612 million) in the state of Maharashtra to set up multi-format stores and experience centres.

Kathmandu based conglomerate, CG Group is looking to invest Rs 1,000 crore (US$ 155.97 million) in India by 2020 in its food and beverage business, stated Mr. Varun Choudhary, Executive Director, CG Corp Global.

International Finance Corporation (IFC), the investment arm of the World Bank Group, is planning to invest about US$ 6 billion through 2022 in several sustainable and renewable energy programmes in India. As of February 2019, the Government of India is working on a road map to achieve its goal of US$ 100 billion worth of FDI inflows.

In February 2019, the Government of India released the Draft National e-Commerce Policy which encourages FDI in the marketplace model of e-commerce. India is planning to allow 100 per cent FDI in Insurance intermediaries in India to give a boost to the sector and attracting more funds. Revised FDI rules allow100 per cent FDI in the marketplace based model of e-commerce. Also, sales of any vendor through an e-commerce marketplace entity or its group companies have been limited to 25 per cent of the total sales of such vendor.

In September 2018, the Government of India released the National Digital Communications Policy, 2018 which envisages increasing FDI inflows in the telecommunications sector to US$ 100 billion by 2022.

In January 2018, Government of India allowed foreign airlines to invest in Air India up to 49 per cent with government approval. The investment cannot exceed 49 per cent directly or indirectly.

No government approval will be required for FDI up to an extent of 100 per cent in Real Estate Broking Services.

In September 2017, the Government of India asked the states to focus on strengthening single window clearance system for fast-tracking approval processes, in order to increase Japanese investments in India.The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India has eased the approval mechanism for foreign direct investment (FDI) proposals by doing away with the approval of Department of Revenue and mandating clearance of all proposals requiring approval within 10 weeks after the receipt of application.

The Government of India is in talks with stakeholders to further ease foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence under the automatic route to 51 per cent from the current 49 per cent, in order to give a boost to the Make in India initiative and to generate employment.

In January 2018, Government of India allowed 100 per cent FDI in single brand retail through automatic route.

Tax on the rich

Pakistan needs to learn from India’s recent budget about innovative measures to tax the rich. With so many billionaire politicians and tycoons, it is an un-reaped bonanza.  In India’s recent budget, surcharge on individuals earning more than Rs 5 crore a year was raised up to 42.7%, even higher than US super-rich tax of 40% tax. India even contemplated imposing inheritance tax.

Pakistan’s tax structure could be reformed in light of insights in IMF’s Tax Law Design and Drafting (volume 1; International Monetary Fund: Victor Thuronyi, ed.1996.Chapter 10, Taxation of Wealth). Pakistan taxes `income-‘tax capacity, not accumulated-capital to tax inheritance and estate.

Magnetised/Chip cards 

Pakistan needs to adopt card based transactions to get rid of money-laundering and hawala (hand to hand) csh dealings.

Inheritance tax. India’s Budget 2019enhanced taxes on the super-rich bracket. However, an inheritance tax also is on the anvil. This tax suits Pakistan the most. India did away with English zamindari system (British gifts of estates) in 1948. But, Pakistan is barred from putting upper limit on private property and undertaking land reforms because of Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court decision dated August 10, 1989.  The verdict was delivered nine years after it was first filed by the Qazalbash Waqf, a religious charity based nearby Lahore. It was a 3-2 split decision and was made effective from March 23, 1990.

Inheritance tax is a tax that you pay when you receive money or property from the estate of a deceased person.  Unlike the estate tax, the beneficiary of the property is responsible for 

paying the tax, not the estate. The key difference between estate tax and inheritance tax lies in who is responsible for paying it. An estate tax is levied on the total value of a deceased person’s money and property and is paid out of the decedent’s assets before any distribution to beneficiaries. Once the executor of the estate has divided up the assets and distributed them to the beneficiaries, the inheritance tax comes into play. The tax amount is calculated separately for each individual beneficiary, and the beneficiary must pay the tax.

Basic needs

Unsupported by health-care units, the health cards in Pakistan are another hoax. Merging civil and military outfits, the government should evolve a universal health-care, education and housing system.  To begin with defence-paid military and civilians should be equally entitled at military health facilities.

India has a vision of US$5 trillion economy, with $100 million FDI to provide basic needs to its people_ tapped water supply, closeted toilet, bank account to receive aid, enhanced scholarships, creating world’s best universities, health cover, shelters and ,minimum taxes on self-built houses. Regrettably, focused on bail-outs, Pak planners have no Weltanschanschauung (world view), though it cost nothing. 

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Iran travel sector: Ups and downs since U.S. reimposed sanctions

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Last November, the Trump administration reinstated sanctions on Iran, mainly the ones that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, in order to batter Iran’s economy, however, according to official data, they have so far failed to lessen foreign arrivals to the Islamic Republic.

Although the sanctions together with anti-Iran propaganda campaigns have decreased Western tourists but the country has managed to compensate and even improve by doing its best to attract more from neighboring states.

When it comes to outbound tourism, the effect of sanctions are seemingly more obvious as sharp rises in the value of foreign currencies against rial have pushed up the costs of traveling in the country.

A total of 1,759,749 Iranians traveled abroad in the first quarter of the current Iranian calendar year (March 21-June 21), indicating a 6.5% decrease compared with 1,882,414 outbound tourists in the same period last year, financialtribune.com reported in an article released on Monday.

“Nearly 7.8 million foreign nationals visited Iran over the past year that shows a 52.5 percent increase year on year. The country hosted 5.1 million travelers in 1396 (March 2017-18),” deputy tourism chief Vali Teymouri said in April.

“One of the shortcomings in Iran’s tourism industry is the government’s issuance of work permits to travel agencies without taking into consideration the number of inbound and outbound tourists. Less than 5% of travel agencies in Iran are active in organizing inbound tours, whereas 95% of them have focused on outbound tourism,” Hormatollah Rafiei, the head of Travel Agents Guild Association, said.

To tackle such harms, the association has decided to set up a committee tasked with curtailing the number of travel agencies’ closure by channeling them toward conducting more inbound tours.

“In two months, between 30 and 50 agencies are going to direct their activities toward attracting tourists from 10 countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Armenia and China,” Rafiei added.

Regarding to the downfall of potential Western visitors, Skift Inc., a New York City headquartered media company that provides news, research, and marketing services for the travel industry, said in July article that “Despite setbacks, [international] tour operators are optimistic about long-term growth in tourism to Iran, which in recent years has stepped up efforts to increase international visitation and has the stated goal of attracting 20 million annual visitors by 2025.

While the U.S. State Department has long issued strong advisories against traveling to Iran and despite tensions between the two countries, tour operators who spoke with Skift strongly disagree, maintaining that Iran has proven to be a safe and remarkably hospitable place for travelers, including Americans.

“It is a country that is often portrayed as unwelcoming, but the reality is quite the opposite,” said Jenny Gray, the global product and operations manager of the Australia-based Intrepid Travel.

“Iranians are warm, friendly and eager to show off their country to foreigners. The feedback from our travelers is a testament to this.”

“Once they [Iranian authorities] have been approved for entry [issuing visas], people are welcomed warmly—we’ve never encountered a problem or even a cold shoulder,” said Robin Pollak, the president of Journeys International, which is offering Iran tours since 2015.

“People in Iran are very curious about visitors from a culture that is off-limits to them. They understand that American visitors do not reflect the way America is portrayed to them by their government,” she added.

To compensate the fall, Iran has turned to ease traveling for its target markets which are people from Iraq, China, Republic of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, and several other countries who arrive in Iran for medical, pilgrimage and cultural heritage purposes.

Some two million Iraqi nationals visited Iran during the first seven months of the past Iranian calendar year (ended on March 20), constituting Iran’s largest source of inbound passengers.

Mousa Tabatabai, assistant to Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad, told Al-Monitor in early July, “The number of Iraqis arriving in Iran for religious tourism and treatment is growing bigger on a yearly basis. This is added to those who travel to Iran to see their relatives. The visas are issued depending on the demand.”

“There are 2-3 million Iraqis arriving in Iran every year. Such a figure will more likely increase as the visas have become free of charge between the two countries,” Tabatabai explained.

Iran also eyes to have a bigger share of Chinese tourism, as it, in a unilateral measure, recently approved to waive the visa requirement for the Chinese passport holders.

To encourage and reassure sightseers, the Iranian government has decided not to stamp the passports of foreign tourists to help them skip the U.S. travel ban.

“President Hassan Rouhani assigned the airport police not to stamp passports of foreign tourists. Taking into consideration the fact that America is practicing the economic terrorism plans, and people who travel to Iran may feel a bit afraid that they may be pressured by America,” Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said earlier this month. He added that this can invite more tourists to Iran.

The World Travel & Tourism Council’s latest report indicates that Iraq was the main source of tourism for Iran in 2018, as Iraqis constituted 24% of all inbound visitors. Other major sources were Azerbaijan (17%), Turkey (8%), Pakistan (4%) and Bahrain (2%). The remaining 46% came from the rest of the world.

WTTC’s review of tourism spending in Iran in 2018 shows 93% of visitors spent for leisure purposes while only 7% spent on business purposes. The council ranked Iran 20th from among 185 countries in its 2017 power ranking, which evaluates countries in terms of absolute size growth measured in U.S. dollars in the field of travel and tourism.

The 2019 Travel Risk Map, which shows the risk level around the world, puts Iran among countries with “insignificant risk”, a category where the UK, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, and Finland are placed in.

The country boasts hundreds of historical sites such as bazaars, museums, mosques, bridges, bathhouses, madrasas, mausoleums, churches, towers, and mansions, of which 22 being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Currently, Iran’s constant efforts to recover the value of Iranian rial against the U.S. dollar have paid off. The national currency is strengthened about eight percent in the open market over the past month to 125,450 per dollar, traders in Tehran, according to prices compiled by Bloomberg from foreign-exchange websites.

Travel associates see better prospects for tourism sector of the country as policies for shielding the currency against the U.S. sanctions are taking effect.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Russia races for the African market

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Russia plans to offer trade subsidies and investment guarantees as an emergency support for Russian companies to penetrate into African markets, part of the strategy for the development of economic ties between Russia and Africa, according to an official report released by the Ministry of External Affairs.

The report indicated that Business Council had discussed a wide range of issues on promoting Russia and Russian businesses’ interests in Africa. Noting further that Africa has huge natural resources still untapped, all kinds of emerging business opportunities and constantly growing consumer market due to the increasing population. It has currently become a new business field for global players.

There was a lot of interesting and demanding work ahead, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the Ministry’s Business Council meeting held on July 16 in Moscow. He added “perhaps, there is a need to pay attention to the experience of China, which provides its enterprises with state guarantees and subsidies, thus ensuring the ability of companies to work on a systematic and long-term basis.”

He urged Russian entrepreneurs, both small and medium-sized, to race against other foreign players to get access to the African markets and its trading resources, be fearless of competition and rivalry but play with adequate caution to save Russia’s image in Africa.

“We find it important to estimate options for attracting small and medium-sized businesses to African markets. This segment of our cooperation is still insignificant,” he stated.

“We rely on the existing and strengthening foundation of Russian-African cooperation. This year we have significantly intensified political dialogue, cooperation between parliaments and civil societies,” Lavrov said.

“This positive groundwork allows us to convert this into increasing trade, economic and investment exchanges, to expand banking cooperation, the implementation of mutually beneficial projects,” he pointed out.

Lavrov, however, underscored the fact that trade and economic relations have reached a new level, and “the first ever Russia-Africa summit, which is to be held in October in Sochi, would give a special impetus to these processes.”

The first Russia–Africa summit scheduled to take place in Sochi on October 24 and will be co-chaired by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who currently chairs the African Union.

In June, Moscow hosted a shareholder meeting of the African Export-Import Bank, as well as the Russia-Africa Economic Conference. Early July, the Russia-Africa Parliamentary Conference was also held as part of the International Development of Parliamentarianism Forum, which took place in Moscow.

During the plenary session on Russia-Africa held July 3, the former Special Presidential Representative to Africa, Professor Alexey Vasileyev, pointed out that the level and scope of Russian economic cooperation with Africa has doubled in recent years, “but unfortunately Russian-African cooperation is not in the top five among the foreign investing players in Africa.”

Specifically about trade, Vasileyev noted that not all African countries have signed agreements with Russia, for example, on the abolition of double taxation. He urged African countries to make trade choices that are in their best economic interests and further suggested that Russia should consider the issue of removal of tariff and non-tariff restrictions on economic relations.

In order to increase trade, Russia has to improve its manufacturing base and Africa has to standardize its export products to compete in external markets. Russia has only few manufactured goods that could successfully compete with Western-made products in Africa.

The former Presidential Envoy believes that it is also necessary to create, for example, free trade areas. “But before creating them, we need information. And here, I am ready to reproach the Russian side, providing little or inadequate information to Africans about their capabilities, and on the other hand, reproach the African side, because when our business comes to Africa, they should know where they go, why and what they will get as a result,” Vasileyev told the gathering of African parliamentarians.

Interestingly, there are few Russian traders in Africa and African exporters are not trading in Russia’s market, in both cases, due to multiple reasons including inadequate knowledge of trade procedures, rules and regulations as well as the existing market conditions, he pointed out.

“The task before us, especially before the both parliaments, is to harmonize the norms of trade, contract and civil law. The parliamentarians of the two sides have the task to work together on a legislative framework that would be in the interests of both sides. This should be a matter of priority,” Vasileyev concluded.

Whether Moscow will move from mere intentions to concrete actions, with commitment and consistency, remains largely to be seen in the subsequent years, according to policy experts and observers who monitor developments between Russia and Africa. According to official reports, Russia has a positive dynamics of trade with Africa, its trade exceeded US$20 billion in 2018.

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