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EAEU, MERCOSUR and Integration

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The transformation of international trade has significantly picked up pace as of late. Sanctions and protectionism (and its rather aggressive variant used by the United States) prompt states to create alternative institutions and integration alliances based on the principles of liberalism, equality and openness.

Acting together is the only way for states to withstand such a disturbance of the balance in the global trade system and satisfy their interests.

Integration initiatives emerged a long time ago and are now developing successfully: the global geopolitical space is permeated with a network of regional integration groups. The number of such groups is growing, and their trade ties are becoming deeper.

Compared to Europe, the Asia Pacific, Latin America and other regions, the post-Soviet space has far less experience of the type of integration known as “international economic integration.”

The situation is certainly changing. The founding of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and its work towards concluding free trade agreements have introduced adjustments to existing trade relations. However, since the EAEU was founded in 2015, only one full-fledged free trade agreement was signed with Vietnam.

The EAEU and MERCOSUR: Institutional Grounds for an Alliance

The agreements concluded with Vietnam, China and Iran suggest that the basis for a new stage in moving into Eastern markets has been formed.

The EAEU’s trade cooperation with MERCOSUR, the world’s third largest and third most influential trade bloc, could become a very profitable strategic alliance. The market potential of Latin American countries is tremendous, and it is unused today.

If mutually beneficial terms of cooperation are achieved, such an economic alliance could have every chance of becoming a mega-bloc and, most importantly, the embodiment of a new model that is based on best and more advanced practices.

The EAEU’s trade and economic dialogue with a Latin American partner could occupy a unique place in the structure of global economic cooperation as a whole. It would make it possible to overcome certain limitations in inter-country economic cooperation and use regional “economies of scale.”

Together with regional integration alliances, this structure could serve as the missing link in the “South–South” cooperation line and resolve the so-called “gaps” in the cooperation balance. The problem of the global economy we are now part of stems from the sharp transition from bilateral economic integration to mega projects. Countries do not have enough time to find their bearings and amend their national legislation, and this often slows down the dialogue on establishing global institutions.

The Advantages of Cooperation between the EAEU and MERCOSUR

An integration dialogue between MERCOSUR and the EAEU would allow the EAEU to solve the task posited to all its member countries, one that is similar to MERCOSUR’s own strategic goal of finding its rightful place in the so-called “sixth technological order” where leading positions will be held by countries that actively use the “ten emerging technologies”.

In this regard, the specific features of MERCOSUR, whose member countries have historically never received large-scale technology transfer (as happened, for instance, in the United States) and consequently formed a “secondary” model of innovative development that is mostly associative and fragmentary and has large areas of stagnation, are of particular interest in terms of building business ties with EAEU companies.

The advantages are mutual.

The Eurasian Economic Union started developing contacts with Latin American countries back in 2012. The first arrangements on cooperation were achieved with Chile, an associate member of MERCOSUR.

Later, the Commission signed a memorandum on cooperation with Peru, also an associate member of MERCOSUR.

In late 2018, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) and MERCOSUR signed a memorandum on cooperation in trade and economy on the side-lines of the MERCOSUR summit in Montevideo (Uruguay).

Promising Areas of Cooperation

The FTZ+ trade agreement format would appear to be the most suitable institutional basis for deeper economic collaboration between the EAEU and MERCOSUR. Such an agreement would involve in-depth integration, emphasizing reduced non-tariff barriers, an improved regime for trade in services and investments, measures to increase trade, regulatory alignment and standardization, and, most importantly, identifying promising areas of cooperation and creating special conditions for individual projects

Without dwelling on such obvious contractual components as zero duties, customs cooperation, technical barriers in trade and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, etc., issues are proposed for consideration that may be debatable as far as the readiness of the parties to implement them is concerned, yet at the same time constitute particularly advantageous areas for mutual development.

Both the MERCOSUR and EAEU countries are interested in developing the following areas: marine research; bioeconomics research; renewable energy sources; etc.

Given the common interest in developing the above-stated areas, the strategic tasks of tapping the markets of MERCOSUR for EAEU businesses may be implemented by building similar institutional mechanisms.

The issue of technology transfer (TT) and innovations becomes ever more pressing, both on the bilateral level and on the level of global trade relations. With increasing frequency, this item is being put on the agenda of global forums such as the United Nations (UNCTAD), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

MERCOSUR countries are also actively working in this area. Initially, the general policy on technology transfer was based on the South Korean model, with innovations introduced in major companies.

The trade aspects of e-commerce should clearly become a fundamental issue. The greatly increasing data flow in the cost and supply chain and the rapidly growing digitization of global trade that now involves millions of customers make this issue a priority.

Vectors of Collaboration between the Leading Countries in the EAEU and MERCOSUR

The research activities of individual MERCOSUR countries, for example Brazil (the organization’s economic leader), creates opportunities for implementing joint investment projects (for instance, in the mining industry).

“Joint manufacturing of machine tools in Russia is another promising cooperation project that in which Russia is greatly interested.”

However, some experts note that the positive dynamics in the export of technological solutions is very weak due to the outdated contractual framework for cooperation between countries. The present scale of the presence of EAEU companies and the pace at which joint projects in innovations are developing are linked to the low level of state support for exports, unstable partnerships that in many cases stem from the absence of a long-term legal basis, and inconsistencies between collaboration plans and programmes and real results.

Conclusion

Summing up, we can confidently state that the integration cooperation between the EAEU and MERCOSUR could become an example of a radically new cooperation format based on a FTZ+ trade agreement. The advantage of such cooperation will lie, among other things, in a “technological step forward compared to territorial and exclusive regionalism.”

It is apparent that the integration of integrations requires the creation of a contractual framework for the emerging trade and economic alliance. Such a framework could develop a network of promising joint projects buttressed by independent institutional platforms for each strategic area, which will create a micro-level foundation and thus boost the macro-level potential of the integration alliance.

Fitting such collaboration formats into the traditional order of the functioning of FTZs might shift the emphasis from trade liberalization to building a foundation for integration and cooperation.

A “pin-pointed” search for possible production collaborations and bilateral investment initiatives could become an effective way for pooling the parties’ efforts. The basis for deepening existing projects and launching new ones is already in place: major Russian companies are working actively in joint projects being carried out in individual Latin American countries and the Caribbean: Rostec, Rosneft, INTER RAO UES, Power Machines, KAMAZ, Russian Helicopters and VEB.

Ultimately, the performance results of such an intercontinental trade and economic project will depend on how effectively the strategic bilateral projects that are intended to ensure cooperation synergy and liberalize mutual trade are coordinated.

First published in our partner RIAC

Economy

The Monetary Policy of Pakistan: SBP Maintains the Policy Rate

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The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced its bi-monthly monetary policy yesterday, 27th July 2021. Pakistan’s Central bank retained the benchmark interest rate at 7% after reviewing the national economy in midst of a fourth wave of the coronavirus surging throughout the country. The policy rate is a huge factor that relents the growth and inflationary pressures in an economy. The rate was majorly retained due to the growing consumer and business confidence as the global economy rebounds from the coronavirus. The State Bank had slashed the interest rate by 625 basis points to 7% back in the March-June 2020 in the wake of the covid pandemic wreaking havoc on the struggling industries of Pakistan. In a poll conducted earlier, about 89% of the participants expected this outcome of the session. It was a leap of confidence from the last poll conducted in May when 73% of the participants expected the State Bank to hold the discount rate at this level.

The State Bank Governor, Dr. Raza Baqir, emphasized that the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has resorted to holding the 7% discount rate to allow the economy to recover properly. He added that the central bank would not hike the interest rate until the demand shows noticeable growth and becomes sustainable. He echoed the sage economists by reminding them that the State Bank wants to relay a breather to Pakistan’s economy before pushing the brakes. The MPC further asserted that the Real Discount Rate (adjusted for inflation) currently stands at -3% which has significantly cushioned the economy and encouraged smaller industries to grow despite the throes of the pandemic.

Dr. Raza Baqir further went on to discuss the current account deficit staged last month. He added that the 11-month streak of the current account surplus was cut short largely due to the loan payments made in June. The MPC further explained that multiple factors including an impending expiration of the federal budget, concurrent payments due to lenders, and import of vaccines, weighed heavily down on the national exchequer. He further iterated that the State Bank expects a rise in exports along with a sustained recovery in the remittance flow till the end of 2021 to once again upend the current account into surplus. Dr. Raza Baqir assured that the current level of the current account deficit (standing at 3% of the GDP) is stable. The MPC reminded that majority of the developing countries stand with a current account deficit due to growth prospects and import dependency. The claims were backed as Dr. Raza Baqir voiced his optimism regarding the GDP growth extending from 3.9% to 5% by the end of FY21-22. 

Regarding currency depreciation, Dr. Baqir added that the downfall is largely associated with the strengthening greenback in the global market coupled with high volatility in the oil market which disgruntled almost every oil-importing country, including Pakistan. He further remarked, however, that as the global economy is vying stability, the situation would brighten up in the forthcoming months. Mr. Baqir emphasized that the current account deficit stands at the lowest level in the last decade while the remittances have grown by 25% relative to yesteryear. Combined with proceeds from the recently floated Eurobonds and financial assistance from international lenders including the IMF and the World Bank, both the currency and the deficit would eventually recover as the global market corrects in the following months.

Lastly, the Governor State Bank addressed the rampant inflation in the economy. He stated that despite a hyperinflation scenario that clocked 8.9% inflation last month, the discount rates are deliberately kept below. Mr. Baqir added that the inflation rate was largely within the limits of 7-9% inflation gauged by the State Bank earlier this year. However, he further added that the State Bank is making efforts to curb the unrelenting inflation. He remarked that as the peak summer demand is closing with July, the one-way pressure on the rupee would subsequently plummet and would allow relief in prices.

The MPC has retained the discount rate at 7% for the fifth consecutive time. The policy shows that despite a rebound in growth and prosperity, the threat of the delta variant still looms. Karachi, Pakistan’s busiest metropolis and commercial hub, has recently witnessed a considerable surge in infections. The positivity ratio clocked 26% in Karachi as the national figure inched towards 7% positivity. The worrisome situation warrants the decision of the State Bank of Pakistan. Dr. Raza Baqir concluded the session by assuring that despite raging inflation, the State Bank would not resort to a rate hike until the economy fully returns to the pre-pandemic levels of employment and production. He further assuaged the concerns by signifying the future hike in the policy rate would be gradual in nature, contrast to the 2019 hike that shuffled the markets beyond expectation.

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Reforms Key to Romania’s Resilient Recovery

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Over the past decade, Romania has achieved a remarkable track record of high economic growth, sustained poverty reduction, and rising household incomes. An EU member since 2007, the country’s economic growth was one of the highest in the EU during the period 2010-2020.

Like the rest of the world, however, Romania has been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the economy contracted by 3.9 percent and the unemployment rate reached 5.5 percent in July before dropping slightly to 5.3 percent in December. Trade and services decreased by 4.7 percent, while sectors such as tourism and hospitality were severely affected. Hard won gains in poverty reduction were temporarily reversed and social and economic inequality increased.

The Romanian government acted swiftly in response to the crisis, providing a fiscal stimulus of 4.4 percent of GDP in 2020 to help keep the economy moving. Economic activity was also supported by a resilient private sector. Today, Romania’s economy is showing good signs of recovery and is projected to grow at around 7 percent in 2021, making it one of the few EU economies expected to reach pre-pandemic growth levels this year. This is very promising.

Yet the road ahead remains highly uncertain, and Romania faces several important challenges.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of Romania’s institutions to adverse shocks, exacerbated existing fiscal pressures, and widened gaps in healthcare, education, employment, and social protection.

Poverty increased significantly among the population in 2020, especially among vulnerable communities such as the Roma, and remains elevated in 2021 due to the triple-hit of the ongoing pandemic, poor agricultural yields, and declining remittance incomes.

Frontline workers, low-skilled and temporary workers, the self-employed, women, youth, and small businesses have all been disproportionately impacted by the crisis, including through lost salaries, jobs, and opportunities.

The pandemic has also highlighted deep-rooted inequalities. Jobs in the informal sector and critical income via remittances from abroad have been severely limited for communities that depend on them most, especially the Roma, the country’s most vulnerable group.

How can Romania address these challenges and ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery for all?

Reforms in several key areas can pave the way forward.

First, tax policy and administration require further progress. If Romania is to spend more on pensions, education, or health, it must boost revenue collection. Currently, Romania collects less than 27 percent of GDP in budget revenue, which is the second lowest share in the EU. Measures to increase revenues and efficiency could include improving tax revenue collection, including through digitalization of tax administration and removal of tax exemptions, for example.

Second, public expenditure priorities require adjustment. With the third lowest public spending per GDP among EU countries, Romania already has limited space to cut expenditures, but could focus on making them more efficient, while addressing pressures stemming from its large public sector wage bill. Public employment and wages, for instance, would benefit from a review of wage structures and linking pay with performance.

Third, ensuring sustainability of the country’s pension fund is a high priority. The deficit of the pension fund is currently around 2 percent of GDP, which is subsidized from the state budget. The fund would therefore benefit from closer examination of the pension indexation formula, the number of years of contribution, and the role of special pensions.

Fourth is reform and restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises, which play a significant role in Romania’s economy. SOEs account for about 4.5 percent of employment and are dominant in vital sectors such as transport and energy. Immediate steps could include improving corporate governance of SOEs and careful analysis of the selection and reward of SOE executives and non-executive bodies, which must be done objectively to ensure that management acts in the best interest of companies.

Finally, enhancing social protection must be central to the government’s efforts to boost effectiveness of the public sector and deliver better services for citizens. Better targeted social assistance will be more effective in reaching and supporting vulnerable households and individuals. Strategic investments in infrastructure, people’s skills development, and public services can also help close the large gaps that exist across regions.

None of this will be possible without sustained commitment and dedicated resources. Fortunately, Romania will be able to access significant EU funds through its National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which will enable greater investment in large and important sectors such as transportation, infrastructure to support greater deployment of renewable energy, education, and healthcare.

Achieving a resilient post-pandemic recovery will also mean advancing in critical areas like green transition and digital transformation – major new opportunities to generate substantial returns on investment for Romania’s economy.

I recently returned from my first official trip to Romania where I met with country and government leaders, civil society representatives, academia, and members of the local community. We discussed a wide range of topics including reforms, fiscal consolidation, social inclusion, renewably energy, and disaster risk management. I was highly impressed by their determination to see Romania emerge even stronger from the pandemic. I believe it is possible. To this end, I reiterated the World Bank’s continued support to all Romanians for a safe, bright, and prosperous future.

First appeared in Romanian language in Digi24.ro, via World Bank

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Economy

US Economic Turmoil: The Paradox of Recovery and Inflation

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The US economy has been a rollercoaster since the pandemic cinched the world last year. As lockdowns turned into routine and the buzz of a bustling life came to a sudden halt, a problem manifested itself to the US regime. The problem of sustaining economic activity while simultaneously fighting the virus. It was the intent of ‘The American Rescue Plan’ to provide aid to the US citizens, expand healthcare, and help buoy the population as the recession was all but imminent. Now as the global economy starts to rebound in apparent post-pandemic reality, the US regime faces a dilemma. Either tighten the screws on the overheating economy and risk putting an early break on recovery or let the economy expand and face a prospect of unrelenting inflation for years to follow.

The Consumer Price Index, the core measure of inflation, has been off the radar over the past few months. The CPI remained largely over the 4% mark in the second quarter, clocking a colossal figure of 5.4% last month. While the inflation is deemed transitionary, heated by supply bottlenecks coinciding with swelling demand, the pandemic-related causes only explain a partial reality of the blooming clout of prices. Bloomberg data shows that transitory factors pushing the prices haywire account for hotel fares, airline costs, and rentals. Industries facing an offshoot surge in prices include the automobile industry and the Real estate market. However, the main factors driving the prices are shortages of core raw materials like computer chips and timber (essential to the efficient supply functions of the respective industries). Despite accounting for the temporal effect of certain factors, however, the inflation seems hardly controlled; perverse to the position opined by Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

The Fed already insinuated earlier that the economy recovered sooner than originally expected, making it worthwhile to ponder over pulling the plug on the doveish leverage that allowed the economy to persevere through the pandemic. The main cause was the rampant inflation – way off the 2% targetted inflation level. However, the alluded remarks were deftly handled to avoid a panic in an already fragile road to recovery. The economic figures shed some light on the true nature of the US economy which baffled the Fed. The consumer expectations, as per Bloomberg’s data, show that prices are to inflate further by 4.8% over the course of the following 12 months. Moreover, the data shows that the investor sentiment gauged from the bond market rally is also up to 2.5% expected inflation over the corresponding period. Furthermore, a survey from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) suggested that net 47 companies have raised their average prices since May by seven percentage points; the largest surge in four decades. It is all too much to overwhelm any reader that the data shows the economy is reeling with inflation – and the Fed is not clear whether it is transitionary or would outlast the pandemic itself.

Economists, however, have shown faith in the tools and nerves of the Federal Reserve. Even the IMF commended the Fed’s response and tactical strategies implemented to trestle the battered economy. However, much averse to the celebration of a win over the pandemic, the fight is still not through the trough. As the Delta variant continues to amass cases in the United States, the championed vaccinations are being questioned. While it is explicable that the surge is almost distinctly in the unvaccinated or low-vaccinated states, the threat is all that is enough to drive fear and speculation throughout the country. The effects are showing as, despite a lucrative economic rebound, over 9 million positions lay vacant for employment. The prices are billowing yet the growth is stagnating as supply is still lukewarm and people are still wary of returning to work. The job market casts a recession-like scenario while the demand is strong which in turn is driving the wages into the competitive territory. This wage-price spiral would fuel inflation, presumably for years as embedded expectations of employees would be hard to nudge lower. Remember prices and wages are always sticky downwards!

Now the paradox stands. As Congress is allegedly embarking on signing a $4 trillion economic plan, presented by president Joe Bidden, the matters are to turn all the more complex and difficult to follow. While the infrastructure bill would not be a hard press on short-term inflation, the iteration of tax credits and social spending programs would most likely fuel the inflation further. It is true that if the virus resurges, there won’t be any other option to keep the economy afloat. However, a bustling inflationary environment would eventually push the Fed to put the brakes on by either raising the interest rates or by gradually ceasing its Asset Purchase Program. Both the tools, however, would risk a premature contraction which could pull the United States into an economic spiral quite similar to that of the deflating Japanese economy. It is, therefore, a tough stance to take whether a whiff of stagflation today is merely provisional or are these some insidious early signs to be heeded in a deliberate fashion and rectified immediately.

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