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Euro – 20 years on: Who won and who lost?

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The common European currency – the euro – came into being 20 years ago. Since January 1, 1999, the euro has been widely used in cashless money transfers. On January 1, 2002, banknotes and coins were introduced into circulation. How did the European countries benefit from the single currency? How many profited from its introduction?

In the early 1990s, the European Community entered a new stage of development which was characterized by a transition to a higher level of integration within it and expansion to include more members. This was provided by the Treaty on European Union, which was signed on February 7, 1992 in the Dutch city of Maastricht and entered into force on November 1, 1993. The Maastricht agreements and the subsequent decisions of the EU’s governing bodies – the European Council and the Council of the EU –formed a groundwork for a gradual, stage-by-stage creation of a monetary union and the introduction of a single currency, the euro.

At the time the decision on the introduction of the euro came into effect it was believed that the main objectives of the transition to a single monetary policy and the replacement of national banknotes with a single European one were the following. First of all, a monetary union was supposed to put the finishing touches to the formation of a common market and was to transform the EU territory into an economic space with equal opportunities for all players. A single currency was expected to facilitate the transition of the EU to a common economic policy, which, in turn, was seen as indispensable for moving to a new level of political integration. Many also viewed a single currency as vital for cementing European integration and a symbol of the economic and political integrity of the region. It was assumed that the euro would keep European countries “in the same harness” even in times of crisis and would help them to overcome differences and even resist outbursts of nationalism.

The second goal was to prevent losses caused by continuous fluctuations in the rates of Western European currencies. Once the euro was established, risk payments for possible losses in different-currency transactions became a thing of the past. It was assumed that stable and low interest rates would bring down inflation and stimulate economic growth. Thirdly, it was thought that fixed exchange rates within the euro zone with no more fluctuations would boost investment activity and, as a result, would improve the situation on the labor market. In addition, a better economic performance was to make it easier for countries to enter the EU and adapt to the new reality. A better economic performance was supposed to make European products more competitive in world markets.

Fourth, a single currency was supposed to significantly cut circulation costs. At the end of the 1990s, the existence of various national currencies cost the EU countries 20-25 billion ECU (26-33 billion dollars) annually, including the cost of keeping records of currency transactions, insuring currency risks, conducting exchange operations, drawing up the price lists in various currencies, etc. Finally, fifthly, the initiators of the single currency hoped that the euro would become one of the international reserve currencies. The introduction of the euro was supposed to change the balance of strength between the United States and united Europe in favor of the latter. In the long run, it boiled down to ensuring more independence of the EU economic policy since interest rates on long-term loans would be less dependent on American ones.

What is happening at present? Not surprisingly, the greatest difficulties emerged  while grappling with the most pressing and large-scale agenda involving the ambitious plans of the political and economic transformation of the EU and the strengthening of its global geo-economic role. Indeed, since the late 1990s, the economic and financial spheres of the EU have undergone dramatic changes. In 2004 and 2007, the majority of Central and Eastern European countries joined the Union (an increase in social dumping). The current EU “bears little resemblance” to that of 20 years ago. “Not only the currency has become different, but the entire European economy has changed.”

Nevertheless, as predicted by those who criticized the approved version of transition to a single European currency, chances for meeting the criteria of eurozone membership in case the global economy followed an unfavorable scenario are pretty slim for most countries of the eurozone. As economic and financial crises sweep Europe one after another, the presence of the euro and the unprecedentedly high level of the European Central Bank’s autonomy and its extensive powers are restricted by the “possibility of influencing the economy” of separate states. Since inflation rates vary from country to country, the interest rate suggested by the ECB (about 2%) turns out to be too low for countries with high inflation (which leads to financial bubbles) and too high for countries with low inflation (which has a negative impact on investments).

As a result, the economic slowdown in European economies in the 2000s through 2010s led to increases in budget deficits. According to the requirements of the eurozone, governments have to raise taxes or cut spending, even if it damages national economy. Formally, there exists a procedure to tackle economic upheavals in this or that country of the eurozone to minimize their consequences for other members. From the point of view of abstract macroeconomic indicators this procedure is functioning well. But, judging by what happened in Spain, and then in Greece and Italy, its social, economic and subsequently, political costs are too high. In the first place, we talk about social upheavals, which became one the main reasons for the rise of “right-wing populists” across Europe.

The euro is running into problems mainly because it hinges on politics, rather than economics. On the one hand, it is this that largely keeps it from the collapse. The EU leadership is ready to sustain any financial or economic losses to preserve the single currency.  However, from the economic viewpoint, the ECB’s readiness for currency interventions has ruined market discipline. In March this year the German Wirtschafts Woche stated that the euro had failed to become either an effective currency or an EU stability enhancing tool. What proves it is the fact that without “billions and billions in financial injections on the part of the European Central Bank and European governments to save the euro the single currency would have long sunk dead”. The 2008 financial crunch quickly triggered the crisis of the eurozone which culminated in the Greek debt crisis of 2010. As a result, “the dispute over how to save the single currency laid bare purely political differences across Europe”.

As skeptics forecast, membership in the eurozone, sought by countries with different levels of economic development regardless of the tough requirements and selection criteria, resulted in a situation in which a setback in the global economic performance hit weaker members the hardest. Citing the IMF, Le Figaro points out that “the euro exchange rate is too high for France and Italy (which deals a blow on their competitiveness), and is too low for Germany (by about 20%)”.  This provided the German economy with a clear edge over other EU members and secured a “huge foreign trade proficit”. Moreover, in the course of the eurozone crisis in 2009 there emerged a vicious circle: Germany’s domineering position in the EU enabled Berlin to dictate its policy of austere budgetary measures to the greater part of the rest of Europe, which, in turn, gave rise to an outburst of anti-German sentiment in a whole range of countries, including Greece and Italy.

Therefore, in 20 years of its existence the euro has made Germany yet more powerful economically than it used to be. Simultaneously, it has become a major factor that contributed to Germany’s isolation in Europe. Critics say that while drafting the euro project its authors meant to weaken Germany. Instead, the single currency “strengthened it, providing it with competitive advantages through a “weak” euro”. Central Europe has become a supplier of spare parts for German businesses thereby putting into practice the Mitteleuropa Doctrine in the 21st century. The rest of the EU countries have become a market for German goods. Meanwhile, Germany has to pay for economic failures of an ever greater number of its EU partners. In such a way, Germany’s economic might has all but become a major threat to European integration. Pessimists fear the current economic and geopolitical trends will sooner or later push the Germans into pursuing a more “egoistic” and “aggressive” policy, in every sense of the word. Everyone remembers what this kind of policy ended with in a period from the mid19th to the mid20th century.

As for the second and third points of the objectives of a single currency, the results are contradictory. Inflation in the eurozone is indeed at an all-time low. There has occurred a unification of the common market of goods, capitals and workforce. At the same time, measures which are being taken by the European Central Bank to fight low inflation have more than once driven a number of EU countries into recession and sovereign debt crises. Living standards in EU countries have not been growing steadily over the past few years. A rise in wages has turned out to be much smaller than predicted in the late 1990s.  Most European banks still prefer holding debt obligations of their countries only, which, in case of financial crisis, is fraught with banking problems and could ruin national economy. As for competitiveness, the appearance of a single market “in the first place, aggravated competition between  EU countries”. Simultaneously, the introduction of the same standards and requirements for all countries of the eurozone “cemented their differences, rather than brought them together”.

The fourth point can be considered fully implemented. Economic transactions have been simplified, cost less and have got rid of exchange-related risks. According to the British The Economist, three out of five residents of eurozone countries consider the euro useful for their country. And 75% of Europeans are sure that the single currency benefits the EU. Meanwhile, the removal of barriers to capital movements has led to a significant imbalance in investments, especially in the industrial sector. The main benefits went to countries located in the center of the EU while the geographical “periphery” of the eurozone has lost some of its former investment attractiveness. But the presence of the euro makes it impossible for the less fortunate countries to stimulate the economy by bringing down the currency value.

As for the fifth point, some of the ambitious plans have been implemented. The euro has already made a significant contribution to the weakening of the position of the US dollar in the global economy. According to the European Commission, one-fifth of the world’s currency reserves are denominated in the single European currency. “340 million citizens use it daily, 60 countries and territories link their currency to it”. On the other hand, 10 years of 20 years of its history the eurozone has devoted to the struggle against an “unprecedented crisis”. By now, experts say there has been a “fragile recovery.” Nevertheless, unlike its main competitors, the dollar and the yuan, the euro has no solid foundation. The EU budget is used mainly for paying subsidies to member countries, while the years-long disputes over prospects for creating a common EU ministry of finance all but fuel differences between 19 eurozone governments.

Thus, according to optimists, criticism of the euro is first of all the result of profound differences on the fundamental issues of European economic policy. The single currency consolidated the leaders of Europe, provided them with the common goal of creating a more integrated, a more attractive for trade and business, and a globally competitive, economy. However, a further stable existence of a single currency mechanism in Europe calls for urgent reforms, which European politicians are either not ready for or are not capable of. According to critics, the single currency has driven the different economies of the EU countries into the Procrustean bed of all-fitting standard format. The single currency mechanism completely ignores, if not completely denies, the geographical, historical and cultural specifics of the member states. Overall, the current model of economic and monetary integration in the EU mindlessly forces countries whose national economies do not match the general format “to carry out endless reforms,” which all but aggravate their long-standing inherent problems.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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Results of the Afreximbank Annual Meetings 2019

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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The Afreximbank Annual Meetings 2019 and the associated Russia–Africa Economic Conference have come to a close. The events ran from 18 to 22 June in Moscow and became an important international discussion platform in the lead up to the Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum (23–24 October, Sochi). The events were organized by the Roscongress Foundation, African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), and the Russian Export Center.

The Afreximbank Annual Meetings and Russia–Africa Economic Conference were attended by over 1,500 delegates from 81 countries, including: Russia, Algeria, Angola, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bulgaria, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, the United Kingdom, the (British) Virgin Islands, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Germany, Djibouti, Egypt, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Israel, India, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Cameroon, Canada, Qatar, Kenya, Cyprus, China, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Liberia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Mauritania, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco and Mozambique.

The rest were Namibia, Nigeria, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Senegal, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, the United States of America, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Finland, France, Chad, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Sweden, Equatorial Guinea, eSwatini, Estonia, Ethiopia, the Republic of South Africa, South Sudan, and Japan Over 290 Russian and international journalists from 25 countries registered to take part in the Russia–Africa Economic Conference.

Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev spoke at the Opening Ceremony of the 26th Annual General Meeting of Shareholders of Afreximbank. He noted that Russian and African relations have a solid historical foundation, which they can use to their advantage as they move forward and find solutions to today’s challenges.

“Another objective reason for our rapprochement is the similar tasks facing our economies. Russia and all African countries have tremendous natural resources. According to some estimates, they account for 50 percent of the planet’s resource potential. We must use these resources effectively and simultaneously expand cooperation in this and other fields,” added the Prime Minister. Dmitry Medvedev met with President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the African Export-Import Bank Benedict Okey Oramah on the side-lines of the Afreximbank Annual Meetings.

The business programme events were attended by representatives of executive government bodies. On the Russian side, they included Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation Denis Manturov. African representatives included: Chief Minister of the Republic of Sierra Leone David Francis, Permanent Secretary of the Political and Economic Affairs Office of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Gabriel Tanimu Aduda, and Minister of Trade and Industry of the Republic of Rwanda Soraya Hakuziyaremye.

The panel sessions featured the participation of the heads of high-profile international and foreign organizations: Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Vera Songwe, African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert M. Muchanga, Member of the Board and Minister in Charge of Trade at the Eurasian Economic Commission Veronika Nikishina, Chief Executive Officer of the International Islamic trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) Hani Salem Sonbol, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Egypt Gamal Mohamed Abdel-Aziz Negm, and African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy Amani Abou-Zeid.

A total of over 20 business events were held as part of the Afreximbank Annual Meetings and the Russia–Africa Economic Conference. Participants discussed the building of partnerships between African SMEs in the Russian market, trade between emerging markets and Africa’s integration into the global economy, the financing of trade under difficult global financial conditions, digital solutions and cybersecurity for state and municipal operations, food security, healthcare, and education.

Stressing the importance of the further development of multilateral cooperation, Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation, Executive Secretary of the Organizing Committee for the Russia–Africa Summit in the Russian Federation in 2019 and other Russia–Africa events Anton Kobyakov said, “Under current conditions, multilateral cooperation with rapidly growing African economies is of primary importance in Russia–Africa relations. At the fore is demand for scientific and technological progress, comprehensive integration, and application of Russian innovative developments in sectors of the African economy such as agriculture, green energy, healthcare, and municipal management. Proof thereof is the heightened interest of experts, businessmen, and heads of African government agencies, who have come to Moscow for the Afreximbank Annual Meetings.”

During his speech, Chief Executive Officer of the Russian Export Center Andrey Slepnev expressed his confidence that Russia has met all of the conditions to strengthen its position in the region through investment in existing and developing economic chains, which would allow the country to secure a longer-term presence in Africa.

“We have every reason to talk about the sustainable growth of Russian exports to Africa. Since 2015, we’ve seen a 23% annual increase in exports on average. Africa currently has enormous potential as a sales market. Today’s economic modernization is paving the way for serious infrastructure changes, which means that the need for high quality, competitive products is growing. Consequently, African countries are our strategic trade partners. Our research has shown, that Russian products in a number of industries are fairly competitive in Africa. It’s vital that Russian businesses have the necessary skills to successfully enter this fast-growing market, and the REC is creating all of the conditions to make that possible,” said Slepnev.

Key events on the side-lines of the Afreximbank Annual Meetings included: the Meeting of the Board of Directors of Afreximbank, the launch of the Afreximbank Strategy for Export Trading Companies, the launch of the 2019 African Trade Report, and the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders of Afreximbank.   

A number of documents were signed during the economic conference, including:

•  A Memorandum of Understanding between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and Sinara-Transport Machines JSC (STM);

•  A Memorandum of Understanding between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Transmash Holding JSC, and Russian Export Center JSC;

•   A Memorandum of Understanding between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Avelar Solar Technology LLC, and Russian Export Center JSC;

•  A Memorandum of Understanding between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Chelyabinsk Pipe Plant PJSC, and Russian Export Center JSC;

•  A Memorandum of Understanding between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Kolon World Investment, and Opaia SA;

•  A Cooperation Agreement between the Roscongress Foundation, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), and Russian Export Center JSC.

In addition to a packed business programme, the organizers of the Afreximbank Annual Meetings and the Russia–Africa Economic Conference arranged a rich tour and cultural programme for guests and delegates.

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Armenia’s historic vision for responsible mining

MD Staff

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Armenia, named country of the year by the Economist Magazine in 2018, has led a peaceful transition of power, introducing significant reforms in an inclusive and democratic manner. Nikol Pashinyan, MP and opposition leader, was elected Prime Minister on May 8, 2018. The new administration has identified anti-corruption efforts, free and fair parliamentary elections, and greater equity as its priorities.

Armenia’s economy is gaining strength, growing at over 5.2% in 2018. The growth has been supported by global recovery and a strong rebound in domestic demand. However, the country remains plagued by the twin evils of high unemployment and poverty. The fruits of growth are not shared across the nation.

A country rich in natural resources, particularly copper, molybdenum, gold and dimension stones, Armenia has 27 metal mines. These mines employ 9,000 people in rural areas, while metals and gems represent over 60% of total exports. Indeed, copper ore alone accounts for over a third of all exports. While Armenia has the accurate regulatory and legal framework in place to support the sector in a way that benefits its citizens, enforcement is far from ideal. 

Early challenges 

Against this backdrop and recognizing that extractive industries can drive economic growth and poverty reduction, the Prime Minister at the time, Hovik Abrahamyan, announced on July 28, 2015 the government’s commitment to make Armenia become compliant with the globally recognized transparency standard in the extractives sector, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The government met with both the mining industry and civil society, inviting them to participate in the process by presenting nominees for a Multi-Stakeholder Group. Such a group had never been created before to agree a joint approach to the mining sector.

With issues of trust from civil society and apprehensions from industry, it appeared that the EITI process might fail to engage all parties. Following a stalemate of many months, the World Bank, funded by the Extractives Global Programmatic Support (EGPS) Multi-Donor Trust Fund, organized a workshop which brought together government, industry and non-governmental organizations for the first time. Stakeholders agreed to create a multi-stakeholder group to implement the EITI standard, with equal voting power for each party. Armenia’s first EITI report was approved and published in January 2019, covering 2016-2017 fiscal years.

Beyond Transparency

The multi-stakeholder group chose to go beyond the remit of transparency and sought to develop a common vision for responsible mining that would shape the future of every mine across the country. With the help of the EGPS Multi-Donor Trust Fund, government, industry and civil society groups are now working together to develop a Mineral Sector Policy, a policy framework to guide mining operations. The policy will outline the country’s vision for the mining sector and articulate what responsible and sustainable mining looks like. 

The Policy will be based upon the results of two ongoing assessments of the sector: an economic assessment and an environmental and health analysis. The economic assessment will assess the mining sector’s contribution to local, regional and national development, and the potential to develop stronger economic linkages along the supply chain. The environmental and health analysis will assess the health and safety of communities and workers, and examine the existing standards, capacity and institutions to effectively address these issues through a Mineral Sector Policy.

Alongside these assessments are ongoing consultations across government representatives, mining companies, civil society organizations and affected communities, which will be used to inform the creation of the Mineral Sector Policy. 

The assessments and consultations will help to build a shared and inclusive vision of Armenia’s future mining sector.

 Electronic reporting

Armenia is one of the few EITI countries to have a fully electronic reporting system up and running, receiving reports from government and companies. Given paper-based reporting has prevailed to date, this marks a significant step forward, minimizing technical errors in reports, decreasing required time for collection of reports and their reconciliation and creating a unique system of searching and downloading open data for users by applying appropriate filters. 

World Bank

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The impact of US-China Trade war

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It is highly unlikely, that any tangible solution to the Trade war between Beijing and Washington will emerge in the short run. In May 2019, Trump increased the tariffs on commodities worth 200 Billion USD, from 10% to a whopping 25%. So far, US has imposed tariffs of about 250 Billion USD on China. While China, has retaliated with tariffs on US goods estimated at well over 100 Billion USD (110 Billion.)

It would be pertinent to point out, that trade disputes have not been restricted only to Washington and Beijing.  Imposition of tariffs has been a bone of contention with US allies including Japan.

Off late, trade issues have resulted in major differences between New Delhi and Washington. Even though there are convergences between both countries on numerous strategic issues, resolving the differences between both sides on trade related matters is likely to be an onerous responsibility.

 In response to tariffs imposed by Washington, New Delhi retaliated, and has imposed tariffs, estimated at 200 Million USD, on 29 commodities (including Apples, Almonds and Chickpeas). India’s decision was a response to US’ decision to impose tariffs, of 10% and 25% on Aluminium and Steel in May 2018. Last year, New Delhi refrained from imposing tariffs, but did raise import taxes on a number of US goods to 120%, after Washington declined to exempt New Delhi from higher steel and aluminium tariffs. The key propelling factor for India’s recent imposition of tariffs was the US decision to  scrap the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for India from June 5, 2019. India benefitted immensely from this scheme, as it allowed duty-free exports of upto $5.6 billion from the country.

Pressure on Trump

Even though no solution is in sight, there are a number of lobbies in the US, especially Trade groups and US businesses which have been repeatedly urging the Trump Administration to find a solution to the current impasse with China.

Only recently for instance, 600 companies, including Walmart in a letter  to the U.S. President Donald Trump urged him to resolve trade disputes with China, stating that tariffs were detrimental to the interests of American businesses and consumers. The letter was sent as part of the ‘Tarriffs Hurt the Heartland’ campaign.

To underscore the detrimental impact of trade wars on the American economy some important estimates were provided. The letter stated that tariffs of upto 25% on 300 billion USD worth of goods, could lead to the loss of 2 million jobs. Costs for an average American family of 4 would also rise to an estimated 2000 USD, if such tariffs were to be imposed.

Reports indicating the challenges to the US economy and FDI from Chinese companies in US

A number of surveys and reports illustrate the profound challenges which the US economy is facing as well as a drop in FDI from China.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index also revealed a drop in consumer sentiment from 100 in May to 97.9 in June. This was attributed to trade wars between China and the US.

According to a survey released by the China General Chamber of Commerce USA, investment by Chinese companies in the United States has witnessed a significant decline since 2016 ( including a sharp drop in 2018 and early 2019)

A number of important events have been held recently, where efforts were made to draw more Chinese investments to the US. One such event was the Select USA Summit. Speaking at the Summit, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stated:

‘We welcome investment from any place as long as it’s investment that poses no challenges for national security,”

US states and FDI

What was clearly visible at the Select USA Summit was the fact, that a number of US states pitched for expanding economic ties with China, and drawing greater Foreign Direct Investment.

The state of North Carolina sought to attract investments in areas like IT, Aviation and biotech. The US headquarters of Lenovo are in the state of Carolina. Trump’s trade wars have hit the state in a big way, and one of the sufferers have been Soy bean farmers. As a result of a 25 percent imposition of tariffs the price of a bushel of Soy bean has dropped to 8 USD, from 10 USD in 2018.

 Other US states brought to the fore the impact of tariffs on their respective economies. According to a senior official from the state of Louisiana for instance, Don Pierson, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development the state it has suffered immensely as a consequence of the imposition of tariffs. Agricultural commodities from Middle America to China are imported through export terminals in Louisiana. Pierson said that the agricultural economy of the state, as well as the logistics economy of the state have taken a hard hit as a consequence of the trade wars. Pierson also spoke about the possibility of exporting LNG from Louisiana to China. Major investments in the state of Louisiana include Yuhuang Chemical Group (Shandong’s) decided to invest US$1.85 billion in a methanol production complex (this was one of the largest Chinese direct investments in US). Wanhua Chemical Group invested over 1 Billion (1.2) USD in a chemical manufacturing complex in South Eastern Louisiana

A number of Chinese companies have also begun to realise, that there is need to adopt a nuanced approach too are still tapping certain US states for investment.

Another important event was the Select LA Summit. The Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Lenny Mendonca, chief economic adviser to the California governor assured overseas investors of all possible support from the town of LA, as well as the state of California.

Impact of trade disputes and Washington’s stance vis-à-vis Huawei

US States and Chinese Provinces have been at the forefront of improving economic ties between both countries. Both are likely to suffer as a consequence of not just the trade war between both countries, but also the US ban on Huawei. The tech company, according to a report published in 2016, contributes 7% of the GDP of the town of Shenzhen (Guangdong Province). Affiliates of Huawei provide employment to an estimated 80,000 people while a research facility in a nearby city of Dongguan, provides employment to well over 3,000

Conclusion:

In conclusion, it is important for all stakeholders, not just businesses from both countries, to play their role in resolving economic and technological disputes between China and the US.  It is also important for Chinese Provinces as well as US states to play a pro-active role in reducing tensions. Both governments while realising the importance of federating units have set up official dialogues and set up other mechanisms for sub-national exchanges. It is important that these platforms now contribute towards reducing the divergences between both countries. While all eyes are on the political leadership of both countries, it is important to realise that the stakeholders in the US-China relationship are not restricted to Beijing and Washington DC.

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