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Back to IMF: Whither Pakistan’s Medina Model

Amjed Jaaved

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Pakistan has been availing International Monetary Fund loan packages without stricto sensuo acting upon reforms since late 1980s. Its finance minister is now horn-locked with the International Monetary Fund ferreting out strings, a tangled skein, to a US$ 6 billion to $12 billion bailout package.    Pakistan could complete one IMF package that ended in 2016. That too with a number of requirements relaxed.

IMF’s worries

The thorny questions hovering over the instant package are opaque US$ 60 billion Chinese loans (diversion of IMF dollars to China), trimming unbridled spending,  nurturing  bloated state-owned corporations,  inaction against tax dodgers (low tax-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio), sluggish textile exports (lost out to Bangladesh), and US$7.6 billion debt-stricken energy sector. Besides, current-account and budget gaps have swelled to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product and foreign-currency reserves have plunged to the lowest in almost four years. In response authorities have devalued the rupee five times since December and hiked interest rates the most in Asia. The GDP growth of about 5.2 per cent in 2018 rolled down to 2.9 per cent in 2019 and a further decline to 2.8 in 2020.Inflation jumped from 3.9 per cent in 2018 to over 7.6 per cent in 2019. Already grey listed, Pakistan is fighting tooth and nail to wriggle out of stigma notwithstanding virulent Indian pressure to freeze it so.  

Interest-free Medina-model rhetoric

Pakistan had to go to the IMF doorstep despite cricketer-turned-prime minister Imran Khan’s reluctance. He was enamoured of Medina model as every Muslim should. Both Islam and Marxism did away with `interest’ as primum mobile of capital formation. But, Alas! Imran had to wake up about bitter reality of the economic world around. Much to his chagrin, even chairman of Pakistan’s Islamic Ideology Council has warned (October 22, 2018) him against `romanticism’.  He urged the government to set up a task force to realize a “Medina State” and suggested the formation of a task force to realize this vision., The whole of Pakistan,  with wistful eyes, looks forward to fulfillment of this dream of `new Pakistan’.

We now live in a different world.

Unlike Medina, today’s Pakistan is a complex state. Shortly after his arrival at Medina, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) built a mosque and a market place there. Like the mosque, the market place could not be privatised. There was free entry and exit of traders (akin to perfect competition under micro-economics) and caravans to the market. No monopolies, duopolies and cartels! A section of the market caravanserai was reserved for foreign traders. The whole world could sell their goods there free of any taxes.  

Some clever local traders tried to take advantage of robust trade. They used to buy caravan camel loads outside the Medina (before they reached Medina), and sell it at dictated price. Islam outlawed this practice as talaqqiur rukaban (seeing faces of riders).  Islam prohibited all types of future trading involving element of uncertainty (advance purchase of raw tree-fruit, fish in the pond, and so on). Islam prohibited usury (riba) in all its forms (loan giving at agreed interest taffazzul, or loan profiting due to delay naseea). When Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) tried to exchange his coarse-quality dates with fine-quality dates the Holy Prophet forbade him. He told him to sell his dates for cash and buy better dates at prevailing price. The Prophet did not live in a 300-kanal-and-10-marla house (like Pakistan’s prime minister). Nor did he, like our numerous politicians, own assets abroad. He bequeathed a dozen swords but no precious metals (Golda Meier). Islam globalized free-market mechanism (laissez faire). It changed attitudes and avaricious mindsets. Being a dominant religion, Islam dictated its own terms of trade.

To fulfil its promises, Pakistan’s government budgeted public-sector development- programme outlay of only Rs. 800 billion for the federation and only Rs 850 billion for the provinces. The government has a Hobson choice. With India, at daggers drawn, could it divert security allocation to welfare? Some writers described Pakistan as a `garrison state’.

For an economic turnaround, Pakistan’s visionary prime minister has to shun rhetoric, and decide upon suitable economic policies. It needs to look at the economic world around, beyond Medina.

Interest outlawed under Pakistan’s constitution

Under preamble to Pak constitution `sovereignty’ belongs to Allah Almighty, not to people themselves as under US constitution. The elected representative can wield authority within defined religious limits. Interest is outlawed under

Article 38 (f) of the Constitution of Pakistan, quoted heretofore _ Article 38 (Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people) The State shall…(f) eliminate riba

[economic interest]

as early as possible. The Islamic preamble (Objectives Resolution) was inserted in draft constitution under Pakistan’s prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s influence. Unlike Pakistan’s most `leaders’, Liaquat Ali Khan was financially scrupulous. Aside from his honesty, Liaquat Ali Khan could not foresee he would be the first to sow seeds of religious discord. Jamsheed Marker, in his book Cover Point, observes ` charge against Liaquat was that he moved the Objectives Resolution, which declared Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic State’ (ibid. p. 33)”. Unlike the US and many other secular constitutions, the Objectives Resolution (now Preamble to 1973 Constitution) states `sovereignty belongs to Allah Almighty’. The golden words of the constitution were warped to continue an interest-based economy. We pay interest on our international loans and international transactions. Do we live in an interactive world or in an ivory tower? Isn’t Islamisation old wine in new bottle?

Follow-up to `Interest’ outlawed

The Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan enforced Shariah Governance Regulations 2018. This regulation is follow-up to Article 38 (f) of the Constitution of Pakistan, and Senate’s resolution No. 393 (July 9, 2018) for abolition of riba (usury).

(extortionist interest) and normal interest/profit are indistinguishable. They disallow even saving bank-accounts. They point out that riba is anathema both as `addition’ (taffazzul) and due to `delay'(nas’ee) consequent upon fluctuating purchasing power.

The regulation is welcome but there are unanswered questions about Islamisation of finance in Pakistan. We pay interest on our loans and international transactions. The sheiks put their money in Western banks and earn hefty interest thereon.

Future trading is hub of modern commerce. Yet, it is forbidden under Islam. At International Islamic University, I learned that Islamic law of contract does not even allow advance contracts concerning raw fish, fruit, or anything involving element of `uncertainty’. Islam does not allow even tallaqi-ur-rukbaan (buying camel-loads of goods from caravan before they had reached Madina open-market. Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) forbade Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) to exchange poor-quality dates with superior-quality dates. He was advised to sell off his dates in open market for cash and then buy better-quality dates with money so earned.

Interest-based real world

Complex `interest’-based world

Gnawing reality of complex interest-based economic world has now dawned on the government. To quote a Murphy Law `nothing is as simple as it seems at first’. Pakistan needs to review the whole gamut of its economic structure (feudal lords, industrial robber barons, money launderers, and their ilk) and International Monetary Fund conditions. In his lifetime, even our Holy Prophet had to engage in commercial partnerships with the non-Muslim also.

Even Marx did not live in Utopia. He, also, constantly searched for solutions to the problems of the real world around. Disgusted at the simplistic interpretations of his ideas, he cried in boutade: “If this is Marxism, what is certain is that I am not a Marxist”. Keynese offered panacea of deficit financing with concomitant inflation to swerve 1930-Depression unemployment and stagnation. He also reacted to mis-interpretation of his ideas, saying `I am not a Keynesian’.

Keynesian theories preceded a lot of discussion about Gold Exchange Standard, stable prices.  To create more money, deficit financing (paper money) was resorted to. As a result the hydra-headed monster of inflation was unleashed. Keynes believed inflation was a `short run phenomenon typical of a full- employment stagnant economy’. But, it became a long run phenomenon. Keynes postulated `With perfectly free competition, there will always be a strong tendency for wage relates to be so related to demand that everyone is employed at level of full employment’. When Keynes was asked about persistence of inflation (too much money chasing too few goods), he replied `In the long run we are all dead’. Post-Keynesian economists coined the term `stagflation’ to explain the phenomenon. With visible massive joblessness, Pakistan is far from a full-employment economy. The paltry household income has to bear the brunt of forced reduction in purchasing power due to rising price level, or falling rupee value.

We adopted floated exchange rate that ballooned our debt burden. No economist has ever applied his mind to effect, positive or negative, of international debt burden on Pakistan economy. No-one ever visualized even the idea of `odious debts’.

Pak government discourages savings

Keynes postulated savings are equal to investment. But, Pakistan discourage savings and encourage consumerism by reducing profit on saving deposits, and increasing taxes on small savings. Locke and others say government can’t tax without taxpayer’s consent. In Pakistan, the govt. picks people’s pockets through withholding taxes and reduction in National Saving Schemes profits. Even unissued bonds lying in Pakistan’s State Bank vaults are included in each draw.  The prizes on such bonds are devoured by State Bank, a body corporate, without buying them. Pakistan’s hidden economy is more than the monetized one. It needs to evolve politico-religious milieu and macro-economic theories that suit our country best. It should promote savings while blocking illegal cash flows by introducing magnetic-card transactions in everyday life.

Pakistan’s burgeoning interest-based debt burden

External Debt in Pakistan increased to US$ 95097 million in the second quarter of 2018 from US$ 91761 million in the first quarter of 2018. External Debt in Pakistan averaged US$ 54065.23 million from 2002 until 2018, reaching an all-time peak of 95097 US$ Million in the second quarter of 2018 from a record low of US$ 33172 million in the third quarter of 2004. International Monetary Fund expects Pakistan’s external debt to climb to US$103 billion by June 2019. Pakistan Government Debt to GDP 1994-2018 presents a dismal picture. Pakistan recorded a government debt equivalent to 67.20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2017. Government Debt to Gross Domestic Product in Pakistan averaged 69.30 percent from 1994 until 2017. It reached peak of 87.90 percent in 2001 and a record low of 56.40 percent in 2007. Successive Pakistan governments treated loans as free lunches. They never abode by revised Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act. Nor did our State Bank warn them about the dangerous situation. State Bank however passively reported, every Pakistani owed over Rs115, 000 as the country’s burden of total debt and liabilities increased to Rs. 23.14 trillion by the end of December 31, 2016.

Pakistan’s debts not payable being `odious’?

Pakistan’s debt burden has a political tinge. For joining anti-Soviet-Union alliances (South-East Asian Treaty Organisation and Central Treaty Organisation), the USA rewarded Pakistan by showering grants on Pakistan. The grants evaporated into streams of low-interest loan which ballooned as Pakistan complied with forced devaluations or adopted floating exchange rate. Soon, the donors forgot Pakistan’s contribution to break-up of the `Soviet Union’. They used coalition support funds and our debt-servicing liability as `do more’ mantra levers.

Apparently, all Pakistani debts are odious as they were thrust upon praetorian regimes to bring them within anti-Communist (South East Asian Treaty Organisation, Central Treaty Organisation) or anti-`terrorist’ fold.  To avoid unilateral refusal of a country to repay odious debts, UN Security Council should ex ante [or ex post] declare which debts are `odious’ (Jayachandaran and Kremer, 2004). Alternatively, the USA should itself write off our `bad’ debts.

But Pakistan and its adversaries are entrapped in a prisoner’s dilemma. The dilemma explains why two completely rational players might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. .The ` prisoners’ dilemma’ was developed by RAND Corporation scientists Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher and was formalized by Albert W. Tucker, a Princeton mathematician.

No demand raised for forgiveness of `odious debts

Several IMF and US state department delegations visited Pakistan. But, Pakistan could not tell them point-blank about non-liability to service politically-stringed debts. The government’s dilemma in Pakistan is that defence and anti-terrorism outlays (26 per cent) plus debt-service charges leave little in national kitty for welfare. Solution lies in debt forgiveness by donors (James K. Boyce and Madakene O’Donnell(eds.), Peace and the Public Purse.2008. New Delhi. Viva Books p, 251).

Debt forgiveness promotes growth

Debt forgiveness (or relief) helps stabilise weak democracies, though corrupt, despotic and incompetent.  Research shows that debt relief promotes economic growth and boosts foreign investment. Sachs (1989) inferred that debt service costs discourage domestic and foreign investment. Kanbur (2000), also, concluded that debt is a drag on private investment.

In fact, economists have questioned justification of paying debts given to prop up a regime congenial to a dominant country.  They hold that a nation is not obliged to pay such `odious debts’ (a personal liability) showered upon a praetorian individual (p. 252 ibid.). Legally also, any liability financial or quasi-nonfinancial, contracted under duress, is null and void.

No economist to steer economy

Economics is mumbo jumbo to Pakistan’s finance minister. Renowned economist Atif Mian could not take over as finance minister because of uproar against his Ahmediyya/Qadiani religious belief. In protest, another cabinet-slot nominee Khwaja Asim also regretted to assume office formally (though continuing informal help ).

Pakistan’s economy: Back to basic

Economics remains a match between limited resources vis-à-vis unlimited wants (Lionel Robbins). What are our resources or factors of production (land, labour and socio-economic milieu, capital and organisation)?  Through what system these resources could interplay to start capital accumulation (growth/development/technical progress) in our country?

Our agriculture is exposed to vagaries of nature (floods, famines, etc.). Besides, productivity of our agricultural sector is low because of disguised unemployment (farmers produce less as compared to their ilk in advanced countries).

People are shy of investing in productive capacity because they could earn more in marketing and other business lines (even in real estate).

We have to determine optimal balance between public and private sectors. We have to balance constraints of security and welfare.

Manufacturing sector, not agriculture, produced Asian Tigers. Studies reflect that there is

correlation between manufacturing sector and economic development in our country. We need to adopt such polices as make manufacturing primum mobile of our economic development.Let some industries be croissance des fleures and improve some nuclei (one school, one university, one hospital) before expecting to transform the whole country through a magic wand (Waterston, Development Planning: Lesson of Experience).

Lessons for an economic turnaround

We need to realize that economics is a social, an inexact, science, but responsive to dynamic environment. Keynesian post-1930-Great-Depression macro-economic policies understood that unemployment is not due to un- or under-utilised productive capacity. It is due to under-spending and lack of effective demand to buy over-produced goods.

Mega housing project to promote capital formation Pakistan government has announced to build a million houses under Naya Housing Project . The scheme smacks of Ragnar Nurkse (Capital formation in underdeveloped countries). Will effective demand increased through mega housing projects will spill over into increased buying of goods imported from China and other countries?

A faulty project

To solve any problem, its nitty-gritty (features) should be first identified: (a) Shelter-providers are highly stratified. (b) Defence Housing Authority caters for shelter needs of military officers. It strictly adheres to its formula of allotment of flats and plots. But, it excludes `civilians paid out of defence services estimates’ (c) The Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (and affiliate Pakistan Housing Authority) is supposed to allot plots to retired employees. But, it does not follow the date-of-birth criteria. Now only Grade 22 employees (including judges) get plots. Those in Grade 17 to 21(septuagenarians like me or even octogenarians and nonagenarians) may die without a plot or a flat.  (d) The FGEHF misuses hardship clause which favours not so hard-up people. For instance, a Customs collector on deputation to National Accountability Bureau was quickly obliged with a plot. He was allotted plot first and asked to submit illness certificate later (e)  It is eerie that FGEHF’s definition of `employees’, now, has infinity as its limit. It includes non-employees like legal fraternity, including Supreme Court Bar Association. (f) According to media reports, the FGEHF reeks of corruption and favouritism. (g) Shelter for general public needs careful study, beyond rhetoric of market demand and supply _ The Korangi Town Project, Lyari Expressway Projects, Khuda Ki Basti, ‘Home Ownership Scheme for the People’(1964), and ‘The National Housing Policy’ 2001.Trusting FGEHF for `naya housing’? `A cat’s a cat and that’s that’. The new government should have the nerve to merge all shelter providers (in khaki and mufti) and devise a national housing policy, instead of focusing on `houses’.

China should change consumerist Pakistan into a productive economy

Let China help expand Pakistan’s manufacturing capacity and thereby reduce unemployment in Pakistan. All policymakers should act in unison. They include policy formulators (prime minister, finance minister, et. al), policy detailers (chief economic adviser, statisticians) and technocrats. The policy-makers should decide upon balance of priority. agriculture or industry, “closed” economy with import substitution, “living within means” and balanced budget or deficit budget. Will increased spending “crowd in” or “crowd out” private investment? Monetary policy objectives and the role of the central bank_ stability of employment and inflation, growth rate, balance-of-payments issues Role of foreign-direct investment and “non-bank financial institutions? Their impact on capital formation, consumption trends, and other macroeconomic aspects.

Technocrats, being apolitical unlike policy formulators, could implement policies single-mindedly. Our precious borrowed dollars should not be frittered away into increased imports.

Pakistan’s economic system?

During Ayub era, capitalist growth had a free hand.  That led to rise of 22 nouveau rich families. A university mapped them in `Concentration of wealth and economic power in Pakistan’. Dr. Mahbubul Haq, himself the architect of laissez faire growth strategy, identified his mistakes in `Seven Sins of Economic Planners in Pakistan’. During post-Ayub period, we experimented with Bhutto-brand socialism. Later we embraced Islamic mode of financing mostly by packing old wine in new bottle (PLS sharing for `interest’, modarba,  musharika for partnership, so on). At the same time we kept paying debt service and contracting new loans under capitalist international system.

The downtrodden remained so in our Islamic system. The international exploitative capitalist system, on the other hand, delivered goods. Rapid economic growth with substantial amelioration in lot of the common man.  Soviet brand collectivism collapsed into oblivion.

Capitalism accepts inequality in incomes as a fait accompli. So do studies by political philosophers like Aristotle, Tacitus, Moska, Michel, Marx, Pareto and C. Wright Mill. Yet, sans uniform health care, education, and other basic facilities to masses, life in Pakistan is more miserable than in the West. Why? Soul searching needed by rulers and ruled alike.

Islamic modernism

A fetter to Pakistan’s rapid economic growth is debate between radical Islamists (fundamentalists) and liberal reformers The liberals, like Farag Fuda and Abu Zayd (Egypt), read the sources of Islamic sharia in terms of time and place (historical relativism). They advocate reading holy texts in our own terms, interpreting them in accordance with spirit and intentions. The radials (conservatives) regarded the liberals as heretics or apostates. Farag was murdered in 1992 and Abu-Zayd exiled in following years.

The conservatives say `Islam is complete’. The man in the street sees no undisputed Islamic model in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan or anywhere. We `circumcised’ some banking, civil and criminal laws to show case them as Islamic. For instance, we introduced PLS, modarba, musharika. Practically, there was no tangible impact on society, economy or polity. In international aid and trade, we conformed to secular principles. We continued to interest-based loans and pay debt service. Islamic punishments, introduced by Ziaul Haq had questionable impact. Sami Zubaida points out in his book Law and Power in the Islamic World (p. 224), “It is ironic that so-called Islamic punishments are described as `medieval’, when in fact, medieval jurists and judges showed great restraint   in their application while modern dictators flaunt them as a religious legitimacy”.

The Islamisation of laws is regarded by critics as hypocritical. Pakistanis have a long list of Constitutional rights. But, a proviso makes them non-enforceable through courts. Pakistan’s qanun-shahadat (evidence law) defines qualifications of a witness (tazkia-tus-shahood). But, it softens its Palladian to accept any witness if the ideal witness is not available. The less said about sadiq and ameen clauses, the better. Under these clauses, even a three time priminister was sacked by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. 

A judge has to decide according to law not according to his conscience and divine authority. An example is ban on gambling like circuses by one judge. The decision was turned down on appeal as it is Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, not the court to adjudicate such matter.

Conclusion

Pakistan could not emerge as an Asian tiger because of indecision about what system to follow. The vested interests, particularly religious obscurantists, often smother dissent from so called enlightened moderators. Rampant sectarianism in Pakistan with concomitant effects on economy is an offshoot of lacunae in religious interpretations by vested interests.

Pakistan has abolished interest (riba) in accordance with its fundamental law. Yet its banking sector and international transctions are interest based.

Let Pakistan face the truth. It needs to evolve and show case a politico-economic model of Islam that is compatible with international practices. Or else, dispense with hypocritical patchwork, and go for secularist IMF model.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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China’s Descending Rise

Todd Royal

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China is in a sustained economic slowdown. This is causing malignant unease among the political and economic leadership of the communist party in Beijing that governs China. Investing in China will be different, because:

“The country’s first sustained economic slowdown in a generation. China’s economic conditions have steadily worsened since the 2008 financial crisis. The country’s growth rate has fallen by half and is likely to plunge further in the years ahead, as debt, foreign protectionism, resource depletion, and rapid aging take their toll.”

Chinese social structures are under duress over their aging society. Formerly in the 1990s-early 2000s: “China had the greatest demographic dividend in history, with eight working-age adults for every citizen aged 65 or older.”

Once societies age, marital numbers decrease, and overall productivity plunges. China’s explosion of older citizens versus working-age will bring unique circumstances for global consumers. Factual evidence of slower productivity is evident throughout China, and will have to be considered for any financial or economic decision for decades ahead. The Chinese economic miracle bursting is largely due to aging demographics.

No one in western or eastern economic analysis circles or think tanks realistically saw this coming former President’s Deng Xiaoping opening of China. This was termed, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics (and/or) ‘socialist market economy,’” still ongoing. This slowdown will have deep ramifications for the global investment community, liberal order in place for over seventy-five years, and Chinese financial wealth that now spans the globe.

When countries age, and use reproductive rights to control populations, they become more assertive abroad, and repressive to its citizenry; this describes China’s social, political and economic philosophies that govern over a billion people. Since its one-child policy was enacted, Chinese economic productivity will plummet, “because it will lose 200 million workers and young consumers and gain 300 million seniors in the course of three decades.”

Suppressive economies have difficulty innovating, producing enough goods domestically, and integrating into world economic mechanisms that intends to distribute wealth globally. But this isn’t the first time these warnings have been made publicly.

Former Premier, Wen Jiabao gave a prescient declaration in March 2007 during the long march of economic progress when Mr. Jiabao had misgivings about China’s growth model by stating, “(Chinese growth had become) ‘unsteady, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable.” Recent numbers indicated China’s official GDP “has dropped from 15 percent to six percent – the slowest rate in 30 years.”

Expansionary Chinese growth hasn’t experience this level of downturn since the end of the Mao into post-Mao era. What this does for the Belt and Road Initiative that is paving the way for investments into Central Asia up to the Arctic Circle is uncertain? Deep investment difficulties could witness China stopping the flow of billions of infrastructure projects into countries and continents such as Africa desperate for growth.

Public figures from the Chinese government generally have the economy growing at six percent, but many analysts and economists peg the number(s) at “roughly half the official figure.” China’s GDP has consisted of bad debt that typical financial institutions and western governments will transfer from the state to public sector and ultimately costs passed onto consumers. For China’s wealth to increase when so much domestic wealth is spent on infrastructure projects to increase GDP these official numbers need context.

China has bridges, and cities full of empty office and apartment buildings, unused malls, and idle airports that do not increase economic productivity, and if that isn’t the case then infrastructure increasing economic measurements will decrease. Unproductive growth factors officially known are: “20 percent of homes are vacant, and ‘excess capacity’ in major industries tops 30 percent.” According to official Chinese estimates the government misallocated $6 trillion on “ineffective investment between 2009-14.” Debt now exceeds 300 percent of GDP.

What’s discovered is the amount of China’s GDP growth “has resulted from government’s pumping capital into the economy.” Private investments have trouble overtaking government stimulus spending, and Foreign Affairs ascertains “China’s economy may not be growing at all.”

Chinese economic growth – post-Mao – saw the country’s self-sufficiency in agriculture, energy, and water almost complete by the mid-2000s. Through economic malfeasance, population control, and resource decimation, “water has become scarce, and the country is importing more food and energy than any other nation.” Environmental degradation is destroying the basic necessities for every day survival.

This is where the world community and financial resources of east and west can meet needs, and grow interconnected, global economies. Energy is one of the biggest areas that China will engulf global energy supplies

The U.S. Energy Information Administration believes China will continue being the largest natural gas user in non-OECD Asia, and by 2050:

“Expects that China will consumer nearly three times as much natural gas as it did in 2018. China’s projected increase in natural gas consumption is greater than the combined growth of natural gas consumption in all other non-OECD Asian countries.”

Opportunities for liquid natural gas (LNG) facilities to be built globally, and in China to spur domestic and international economic activity are unlimited. As China goes, so goes Asia, and the world is now in the “Asian Century.” Investors, geopolitical strategists, and anyone concerned with global security should never believe it is wise to let China continue to falter economically and societally. Setting up investment mechanisms and diplomatic vehicles that benefit China, and the world community is a prudent choice.

When military choices defeat sound fiscal and monetary polices, the past 150 years have brought “nearly a dozen great powers experienced rapid economic growth followed by long slowdowns.” Normal, civilized behavior was pushed aside. What’s needed for Chinese economic growth is the free flow of information, managed wealth, consumer goods, and research/innovation.

Decades ahead, and current economic realities point to China being a great power that is under pressure, but still needs capital. A weak, unsecure China who isn’t satisfied with its place in the Asian hemisphere or global economic system isn’t good for continued prosperity. It would be smarter to engage and invest within China in the areas of energy, water, agriculture, and electricity where opportunities still abound.

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Agribusiness: Africa’s New Investment Frontier

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Authors: Mariam Yinusa and Edward Mabaya*

In the past decade, a stroll along the aisles of any African supermarket is revealing: there is a new wave of home-brewed brands that are fast becoming household names. Products like Dangote rice from Nigeria, Akabanga pepper oil from Rwanda and Tomoca coffee from Ethiopia attest to the gradual but persistent evolution towards greater agro-processing and value addition in the domestic agriculture sector.

Africa’s agribusiness sector is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030, so there is certainly cause for optimism. Consumer demand for food in Africa is growing at an unprecedented rate. But what is fuelling this growth?

First, size matters. At a population of 1.2 billion people, Africa is currently the second most populous continent in the world, superseded only by Asia. According to United Nations projections, Africa’s population could reach 2 billion by 2030 and 2.5 billion by 2050. This means that one in five consumers globally will be African.

Second, quality counts. Sustained GDP growth rates in several countries across the continent have translated into rising incomes for some segments of the population. According to the African Development Bank’s African Economic Outlook Report, the middle-class population is expected is projected to reach 1.1 billion by 2060 which will make up 42% of the population. The average African middle-class consumer is becoming relatively more affluent, sophisticated and discerning in the food they choose to buy and eat. Concerns about price/quality trade-offs, convenience, nutritional content and food safety, amongst others, are central in their minds.

Third, concentration can be powerful. Although most growth poles are small to medium cities, megacities with populations of over 10 million inhabitants, such as Cairo, Lagos and Kinshasa, have gained increased prominence. These metropoles offer ripe opportunities for investment, as a result of the triad of high consumption, concentrated spending power, and agglomeration (i.e. lower and fixed distribution costs).

On the supply side, there is significant untapped potential. Over 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa.

Policy makers recognize the huge opportunities these trends present and are making concerted efforts to create and maintain an enabling business environment to attract both local and foreign investors. The African Development Bank is at the forefront of this coalition of the “ready” to transform African agriculture.

Under its Feed Africa Strategy, the Bank is supporting its regional member countries to address both demand and supply side constraints along agricultural value chains. Through initiatives like the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), the Bank is boosting historically low yields in priority commodities such as rice, maize and soybeans. In Sudan for example, the TAAT-supported heat-resistant wheat variety has increased wheat self-sufficiency from 24% in 2016 to 45% in the 2018-2019 farming season.

At the same time, Special Agro-Processing Zones (SAPZs) are attracting both hard and soft infrastructure and creating value addition to increased agricultural produce. Together with partners, including Korea-Exim Bank and the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank has invested $120 million in SAPZs in Guinea, Ethiopia and Togo, which will significantly expand local agro-processing activities along numerous agricultural value chains.

Along with these key investments in Africa’s agricultural value chains, the continent is starting to consolidate its wins. A case in point is regional integration, exemplified by the recent ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which has the potential to make Africa the largest free trade area in the world.

Agribusiness has already caught the eye of investors. Last year, it was one of the main attractions at the inaugural Africa Investment Forum conference, which is becoming the continent’s premier marketplace for global and pan-African business leaders, and an innovator in accelerating deals.

Agriculture was one of the nine sectors that attracted investor interest at the 2018 Africa Investment Forum. The sector held its own against big hitters like financial services, infrastructure, energy, and ICT. One such transaction was the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) deal in which $600 million loan financing was mobilized from the African Development Bank and other investors to boost annual production of cocoa beans from 880,000 tons to 1.5 million tons. Within the next three years, the project is also expected to promote growth in the domestic cocoa value chain by increasing processing capacity two-fold from 220,000 tons to 450,000 tons per annum.

Africa’s expanding consumer base will undoubtedly lead to more spending on food and beverages on the continent. This should be enlightening for would-be investors in food processing and value addition ventures.

The front door to these opportunities is the Africa Investment Forum, scheduled for November 11-13 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

*Edward Mabaya, Principal Economist and Manager, respectively, in the Agribusiness Development Division of the African Development Bank.

AfDB

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Asian Reserve Managers Navigate Increasingly Complex Risks

Ingrid van Wees

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Reserve asset management in Asian economies is becoming more and more complex. 

There has been a marked shift in the reserve currency asset markets over the last year. Central bankers in developed markets have moved from policy normalization to an easing bias mainly due to macro-economic risks. This has resulted in a downward trend in yield curves of traditional reserve assets, and some asset markets have even sunk deeper into negative yield territory. The stock of negative yielding debt has doubled globally to $17 trillion as of August 2019 from $8 trillion as of December 2018. 

The US Treasury market is one the last remaining positive yielding traditional reserve asset markets. Given this environment, reserve managers have ventured into “riskier” asset classes, including equities, exchange traded funds, corporate credits, and commodities for greater diversification and expected returns. 

In fact, gold as a reserve asset has regained popularity. According to IMF data, central banks held 34,000 tons of gold as of Q1 2019, making it the third largest reserve asset in the world. 

The current environment is marked by economic uncertainty as the effects of deepening trade tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China are being felt across Asia. Other risks—including the potential for a sharper slowdown in major advanced economies and rising geopolitical tensions in some other regions—have intensified investor anxiety and increased financial market volatility. This uncertainty has exacerbated the several challenges already faced by reserve asset managers in the previous years.

Foreign exchange reserves are a key component of the monetary and exchange rate policies in most countries. Developing economies have accumulated reserves at an impressive pace, after the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. Global holdings of reserves have grown at annualized rate of 4.8% since 2008 and now stand at $12.4 trillion. Asia has accounted for more than 55% of the total growth, mostly because of the trade dynamics in Asia and the importance policy makers place on reserve accumulation. 

Traditionally, reserves are kept by emerging economies as a precautionary measure to build confidence in the currency, and as a stabilization mechanism against disorderly markets. However, reserve managers must now balance these with other motives as well. These include supporting the conduct of monetary policy; accumulating assets for intergenerational purposes; or influencing the exchange rate for export competitiveness. 

Given the different motivations for holding reserves, the question of reserve adequacy and the associated cost of holding reserves assumes greater importance. 

The growth of reserves has brought to the fore risk management issues like liquidity and concentration for the preservation of capital to be balanced with return considerations. Adequacy of reserves must be assessed against each objective and the portfolios segmented to address them.

Sovereign wealth funds, or SWFs, have grown as a structure to segment return objectives and provide the governance structure to achieve them. Globally, as of 2018, assets under management of SWFs have grown to $8 trillion. Governance standards around the management of SWFs have emerged as the Santiago principles set out a common global set of international standards regarding transparency, independence, and accountability for SWFs.

Reserve adequacy must consider assessments of developing risks through forward-looking scenario analysis. Such scenario analysis must consider the evolution of factors that drives reserve needs. However, each country is different. Advanced economies need different adequacy measures compared to emerging economies. The lessons from the global financial crisis has taught us that no country is immune from external or internal shocks. Reserves provide a valuable buffer in these stress events.   

Reserve managers face a complex task in investing these resources. With emerging risks clouding the outlook for the global economy, balancing risks with return expectations and with the mandate to provide liquidity during market dislocations has become a more delicate predicament for them. 

They must constantly monitor the operating environment as it can change quite dramatically in a short period of time with new challenges such as the emergence of new crytocurrencies. Challenges of reserve adequacy, asset concentration, and risk management will need to be assessed for sound and effective management of reserves. The role of reserve managers will assume even greater importance going forward.

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