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The new African currency

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On June 11, 2019, during a meeting held in Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria, the fifteen members of the  Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided to coin – most likely within 2020 – a new African currency, whose name has already been chosen: “ECO”.

 The fifteen States of ECOWAS –  the association that  deals above all with part of the implementation of the CFA Franc – are the following: Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cap-Vert, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Liberia, which founded ECOWAS in 1964. Later, with the further definition of the Lagos Treaty in 1975, also Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone joined it.

 It should be noted that while Mauritania withdrew from  ECOWAS in 2000, since 2017 the Alawite Kingdom of Morocco has officially requested to join.

 However the “ECO” project, which has been lasting – at least programmatically -since 2015 and much echoes the “EURO” project, was born within a more restricted association of States than ECOWAS, namely the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ), which is composed of Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

 As can be seen, said States also belong to ECOWAS, but they intend to reach an economic and monetary union very similar to the EU’s, considering that their economies are less different than those of the whole group of countries belonging to ECOWAS.

 It should be recalled that the ECO launch has been  postponed as early as 1983 and is currently expected to take place in 2020, but again only on paper.

 Using an old formula of summer media jargon, France defines it as a “sea snake”, but we must always be very careful about oversimplifications and low esteem for friends and foes.

 Hence, certainly eight ECOWAS countries shall abandon the CFA Franc, while the other seven countries their national currency.

  As the final communiqué of the last meeting held by the fifteen Member States, a “gradual approach” is required for ECO, starting from those countries that show a more evident “level of convergence”.

 As we all know, in the case of the EU and its Euro, the convergence criteria were price stability – which is seen as the only sign of inflation, although we do not know to what extent this idea is correct – and “healthy and sustainable” public finance, which means nothing but, within the EU, means a deficit not exceeding 3% of GDP and public debt not higher than 60% of GDP.

 From this viewpoint, things are not going very well in Africa.

 Africa’s debt has just slightly exceeded 100 billion euros, after Ghana recently taking out a 2.6 billion Euro-denominated loan, in one fell swoop.

 In 2018 alone, African countries reached a total debt of  27.1 billion euros, but in 2017 Egypt, Ghana and Benin had borrowed 7.6 billion euros.

 Nigeria will reach 17.6 billion euros of debt at the end of this year.

 Ten African countries have already issued Eurobonds and  there will soon be 21 of them.

 It is equally true, however, that the African countries’ debt-to-GDP ratio is on average 53%, while in the 1990s and in the first decade of 2000 it had reached 90-100%.

 The obvious reasons underlying the recent increase in the African countries’ Euro-denominated (and dollar-denominated) debt are the following: the consequences of the global financial crisis and the structural decrease in the price of raw materials.

 Moreover, considering the very low interest level in the United States and Europe, many investors have also begun to operate in Africa.

 Currently Egypt is the most indebted country, with a total of 25.5 billion euros.

  It is followed by South Africa (18.9 billion euros), Nigeria (11.2 billion), Ghana (7.8 billion), Ivory Coast (7.2 billion), Angola (5 billion), Kenya (4.8 billion), Morocco (4.5 billion), Senegal (4 billion) and, finally, Zambia with only 3 billion euros.

 The analysts of international banks predict that, in the future, the Euro- and dollar-denominated debt will not be a problem for African countries.

Quite the reverse. According to the World Bank, the debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to fall by up to 43%, on average, in all major African countries.

 The worst standard in terms of share of Eurobonds on total debt is Senegal (15.5%), while Tunisia remains the best standard, with 6.3 billion euros of debt issued through Eurobonds.

 As can be easily imagined, other variables are the cost of debt service, which has doubled in two years up to reaching 10%, and the uncertainty of the barrel price on oil markets, considering that all these countries, except Nigeria, are net oil importers.

 Therefore, it is certainly not possible to talk about “sustainable” finance, even though many ECOWAS countries have a debt-to-GDP ratio that currently make us envious.

 As is well-know, also the exchange rate stability – required for entering the Euro area – is one of the primary “convergence” criteria.

 A 6.3% average annual GDP growth is expected for the 15-member African association, considering the expansion of oil extraction in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Ghana, while fiscal stability -which is, on average, about 1.7% higher in 2019 – is acceptable.

 Hence, if we apply the usual Euro criteria, the new ECO currency appears very difficult, but not impossible, to be created – at least in the long run.

 ECOWAS has repeatedly advocated its single currency project: it was initially theorized as early as 1983, then again in 2000 and finally in 2003. As already seen, currently there is much talk about 2020 as the possible date for its entry into force.

 Certainly there is already an agreement between ECOWAS countries for the abolition of travel permits and many of the fifteen Member States are entertaining the idea of  economic and productive integration projects.

 Nevertheless, as far as the budget deficit convergence is concerned, only five countries, namely Cap-Vert, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal and Togo can currently comply with the single African currency project, since they record  a budget deficit not higher than 4% and an inflation rate not exceeding 5%.

 Hence we cannot rule out that there will be convergence in reasonable time, but it is unlikely it will happen by the end of 2020.

 Moreover, the levels of development in the fifteen Member States are very different.

 It is impossible to even out the differences in the levels of debt, interest rates and public debt in the short term, considering that the share of manufacturing in Africa is decreasing and the economies that operate on raw materials have always been particularly inelastic.

 Furthermore, Nigeria alone is worth 67% of the whole ECOWAS  GDP – hence  the ECO would ultimately be an enlarged Naira.

 With the same problems we have in Europe, with a Euro which is actually an enlarged German Mark.

 The inflation rates range from 27% in Liberia to 11% in Nigeria, with Senegal and Ivory Coast recording a 1% “European-style” inflation rate.

 Certainly the CFA Franc is a “colonial” instrument, but it has anyway ensured a monetary stability and a strength in trade that the various currencies of the former French colonies could not have achieved by themselves.

 It should be recalled that the mechanism of the CFA Franc, envisages that the Member States must currently deposit 50% of their external reserves into an account with the French Treasury.

 However, the Euro problem must be avoided, i.e. the fact it cannot avoid asymmetric shocks.

 The Euro is a currency which is above all based on a fixed exchange rate agreement.

 We should also consider the adjustments made by Nigeria in 2016-and, indeed the inflation rates of the various ECOWAS countries are stable, but not homogeneous.

 They range from 11% in Nigeria to 1% in Senegal.

Between 2000 and 2016, Ghana had an inflation rate fluctuating around 16.92%.

 The fact is that all ECOWAS countries, as well as the other African States, are net importers.

 Furthermore the West African countries do not primarily trade among themselves.

 While single currencies are designed and made mainly to stimulate trade, this is certainly not the case.

 The CFA Franc, however, was a way of making the former French colonies geopolitically and financially homogeneous, with a view to uniting them against Nigeria – the outpost of British (and US) interests in sub-Saharan Africa.

 Furthermore, none of the ECOWAS governments wants to transfer financial or political power to Nigeria, nor is the latter interested in transferring decision-making power to  allied countries, which are much smaller and less globally important.

 The region could be better integrated not with a currency -thus avoiding the dangerous rush that characterized the Euro entry into force – but with a series of common infrastructure projects or with the lifting of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

 The largest trading partner of sub-Saharan Africa, namely the EU – with which the ECO would certainly work very well -currently records a level of trade with the ECOWAS region equal to 37.8%.

 Nigeria exports only 2.3% to the other African partners and imports less than 0.5%.

 However, if ECO is put in place, this will be made possible thanks to a possible anchorage to the Chinese yuan.

 This would avoid excessive fluctuations – probable for the new currency – but would create ECOWAS African economies’ greater dependence on the Chinese finance and production systems than already recorded so far.

 Certainly it would be a way of definitively anchoring Africa to the Chinese economy.

 From 2005 to 2018, Chinese investment increased everywhere, but in Africa it totalled 125 billion US dollars.

 Africa is currently the third global target of Chinese investment.

 17% of said Chinese investment has been targeted to Nigeria and its ECOWAS “neighbours”, especially to railways and other infrastructure.

 Moreover, in 1994, thanks to its liquidity injections China rescued the African wages from the CFA Franc devaluation, which had halved all incomes.

 Those who govern Africa will control globalization. India is now the second major investor in Africa, after China. The EU takes upon itself the disasters of African globalization, but not the dividends.

 Whoever makes mistakes has to pay. There has not been a EU policy that has “interpreted” Africa intelligently, but only as a point of arrival for ever less significant “aid”.

 Therefore China will bend the African economic development to its geostrategic aims and designs.

 China offers interest rates on loans that are almost seven times lower than Western markets, which never reason in geopolitical terms, as instead they should do.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Economy

Warning Signs in China’s Economic Outlook as COVID-19 Spreads

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New variables both within and outside of China in 2022 have placed the country’s economy under new pressure. In the first quarter, its economic growth rate was only 4.8%, which was 0.7 percentage points lower than the annual economic growth target of 5.5%, indicating that it will face challenges in stabilizing economic growth this year. Judging from the economic performance of various sectors in the first quarter, there have been some noteworthy risk signals in the country’s domestic economy. Among them, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta, the two largest regional economic pillars in China, have shown signs of slowing down in economic growth.

According to the data released by the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Statistics, the GDP of Shanghai in the first quarter was RMB 1 trillion, a year-on-year increase of 3.1%. From January to February, the city’s economic operation began rather smoothly, yet in March due to the obvious impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the growth rate of some economic indicators slowed down. In the first quarter, the added value of Shanghai’s industrial enterprises above the designated size increased by 3.9% year-on-year, 8.0 percentage points lower than the growth rate from January to February. The total sales of goods increased by 2.0%, and the growth rate dropped by 4.1 percentage points. The total investment in fixed assets increased by 3.3%, and the growth rate dropped by 9.3 percentage points. Meanwhile, the total retail sales of consumer goods changed from an increase of 3.7% in January to February to a decline of 3.8% in the first quarter. The total import and export of goods increased by 14.6%, and the growth rate was 7.4 percentage points lower than that in January-February.

On the other hand, according to data from the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Statistics, the GDP of Guangdong in the first quarter was RMB 2.85 trillion, a year-on-year increase of 3.3%. The added value of industries above the designated size was about RMB 0.98 trillion, a year-on-year increase of 5.8%. Fixed asset investment increased by 6.2% year-on-year; total retail sales of consumer goods up 1.7% year-on-year; and total import and export of goods rose by 0.6% year-on-year. In terms of finance, in the first quarter, Guangdong’s local general public budget revenue was about RMB 0.35 trillion, a year-on-year increase of 1.4%. Local general public budget expenditure has increased by 8.7%.

In the Chinese economy, the two provinces of Shanghai and Guangdong have a unique and important position.

Shanghai is not only highly crucial in China’s urban economy, but also leading the Yangtze River Delta region as well. In 2021, its GDP was RMB 4.3 trillion while the GDP of the whole of China was RMB 114.4 trillion. The total GDP of the 41 cities in the Yangtze River Delta region was RMB 27.7 trillion, accounting for 24.2% of the national GDP. There are 24 cities in the country with a GDP exceeding RMB 1 trillion, and there are 8 cities in the Yangtze River Delta (Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Ningbo, Wuxi, Hefei, Nantong) accounting for one third. Shanghai is also one of the most internationalized cities in China, which also functions as the country’s center of international economy, finance, shipping, and trade. In addition, the city also proposes to build a global science and technology innovation center.

Guangdong is China’s largest province in terms of economic scale. Its GDP in 2021 was RMB 12.43 trillion, an increase of 8.0% over the previous year. In terms of sub-regions, the GDP of the core area of the Pearl River Delta accounted for 80.9% of the province, while the eastern and western parts, as well as the northern ecological development area accounted for 6.2%, 7.0%, and 5.9% respectively. The Pearl River Delta region is also the main body of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. In 2021, the total economic volume of the Greater Bay Area was about RMB 12.6 trillion. There are 25 of the world’s top 500 companies in the region, and it has over 60,000 high-tech enterprises, most of which are located in the Greater Bay Area. As of the end of 2021, there are 5 cities with a GDP of trillions in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, with a combined GDP of RMB 10.56 trillion.

It is precisely because of the important position of Shanghai and Guangdong in the country’s economy that their signs of a downturn in the first quarter this year are worthy of attention. These two provinces represent the development of the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta respectively to a considerable extent. If there are issues in their economy, it would signify that China’s twin pillars in the most economically developed coastal areas will not be able to support the whole nation’s economy. If this happens, there will undoubtedly be a huge negative impact.

Looking back at the economic development of Shanghai and Guangdong in the first quarter of this year, the impact of the pandemic is clearly seen. In Guangdong, this is mainly due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Shenzhen in March. As Shenzhen acted quickly, and after locking down for a week, the outbreak has been brought under control and the city reopens subsequently. The situation in Shanghai is much dire. It has been a month since different urban areas are under lockdown and the city has been completely closed off in April. Based on the economic scale of Shanghai in 2021, the average daily GDP of Shanghai is about RMB 11.8 billion, and the average monthly GDP is about RMB 360 billion. If the lockdown of Shanghai continues, its economy will be enormously affected.

It should also be pointed out that with the current measures and policies against COVID-19, various areas have also seen the systematic suspension of many economic activities, especially the shutdown and interruption of logistics systems. This, in turn, has resulted in the obstruction of the flow of economic elements. This situation is still quite severe, where localized shocks in the economy are spreading or spilling over to other regions through obstruction of transportation and logistics.

As COVID-19 continues to hit Shanghai, the authority’s goal of “dynamic clearing” still faces major challenges. However, judging from the pressures China’s economy is facing this year and the development tasks it is currently undertaking, the country needs to pay more attention to economic growth in its balancing of pandemic control and the economic goal. As emphasized by China’s Central Economic Work Conference at the end of last year, “stabilizing the macroeconomy is not only an economic issue but also a political one”.

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Economy

G7’s potential should be utilized positively

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UK Government / flickr (CC-BY-ND 2.0)

The G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the High Representative of the European Union, have met in a fundamentally changed strategic and security environment. The Russian-Ukraine issue was dominating in their deliberations. As this issue has a direct regional and global impact, it was expected to remain a core issue during the G7 discussions.

G7’s share in global wealth, resources, and political influence is domination. They have been contributing to geopolitics a lot and possess the capability to transform the whole world into a better place to live.

G7 understands its potential and global responsibilities. So during the meeting, almost all burning issues were discussed:-

The climate crisis is accelerating and threatening the very existence of humanity. Together with the international community, G7 must act decisively and urgently. It reaffirmed the belief in international solidarity and the need to mitigate and overcome this existential, human-made threat.

The fight against COVID-19 and its global consequences is far from over. It is paramount to reaffirm our commitment to increased efforts to respond to the pandemic and to prevent a similar threat from emerging again. Equitable access to and provision of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics must go hand in hand with immediate support, especially in critical ’last mile’ contexts, and with a focus on humanitarian efforts as well as opportunities for green, inclusive and sustainable recovery from COVID-19.

The present and the future of this planet are at stake. Based on a strong sense of unity, the G7 is determined to uphold our values and defend our interests. It commits to preserving strong, vibrant, and innovative societies and upholding the rules-based international order to protect the rights of all, including the most vulnerable. It commits to engage with partners and multilaterally for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world, and to increase coordination on economic security.

Iran, North Korea, Palestine-Israel, Sudan etc., most of global issues were also discussed. China remains important during their discussions. Regarding China, the G7 declared its strong statement. In response to it, the Chinese authorities have expressed deep concerns;

China on Monday urged the Group of Seven (G7) to stop smearing China and interfering in China’s internal affairs. Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian made the remarks at a daily news briefing when asked to comment on the communique issued by a G7 meeting of foreign ministers, which contains various items relating to China including Hong Kong, Xinjiang, human rights, maritime issues, the situation in Ukraine, peace, and stability across the Taiwan Strait, among others.

“China’s positions on issues relating to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan, as well as maritime issues, are consistent and clear,” Zhao said, adding that China has expressed its firm opposition to the G7 presidency.

“The lengthy G7 communique is filled with preposterous allegations not even worth refuting. In total disregard of China’s solemn position and objective facts, it grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, maliciously slanders and smears China, and once again exerts pressure on China using such pretexts as the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” Zhao said.

China urges the G7 to uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core, international order based on international law, and the basic norms of international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, Zhao said. He called on the G7 to respect China’s sovereignty and to cease slandering China and interfering in China’s internal affairs in any form.

“We urge the G7 to act in the interest of world peace and development, stop applying double or multiple standards, stop sending military aircraft and warships to other countries’ doorsteps to flex muscles at every turn, stop wantonly instigating color revolutions in other countries, stop arbitrarily resorting to illegal sanctions or long-arm jurisdiction, and stop fabricating and spreading lies and rumors about China,” the spokesperson said.

He also urged the G7 to assume its responsibility, fulfill its due international obligation, safeguard true multilateralism, focus on global governance, strengthen cooperation with the UN, G20, and other multilateral mechanisms, and play a positive role in addressing global challenges and promoting world economic recovery, instead of clinging to the Cold War mentality and ideological bias, pursuing “small clique” group politics, creating confrontation and division, and bringing chaos to the world.

As a matter of fact, G7 controls the major portion of resources, economy, and trade. It possesses the potential to transform the whole world into a better place to live for everyone. It has the capacity to resolve any outstanding issue being faced for as long as several decades, like Palestine, Kashmir, etc. G7 may utilize its capabilities to save humankind and the total welfare of human beings. Bashing, threatening, and coercion, will complicate the situation further and may harm humanity. G7’s potential should be used positively.

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Economy

China’s Policy Logic and Economic Rationale

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Authors: He Jun and Wei Hongxu

Recently, Morgan Stanley mentioned that “we are standing at an important turning point in China’s economy and capital market. The resetting of the underlying logic of the economy brought about by the new goals is marked by the supervision of Internet giants. China is changing the underlying logic of economic development: shifting from priority growth to fairness”. In their view, this policy orientation, coupled with Chinese economic rationale, will have a long-term and far-reaching impact on China’s future development, business, and investment.

Since economic rationale is a part of social phenomenon, the fundamental basis of economy logic also lies in changes in demographic factors. Although human factors are crucial in economic activity, they are often overlooked due to the long-term and individual nature of changes in population quality and scale. On the contrary, industrial development and policy choices pay more attention to changes in external factors such as cost, technology, and capital. However, the underlying logic changes caused by demographic shifts are often decisive and could serve as the basis for corporate decision-making and macro-policy.

China’s transition from a high-growth era to high-quality diffusion shows that the underlying foundation of the country’s economic development has changed fundamentally. From the demand side, the past trend of counting on exports and investment as economic drivers will soon become obsolete. At the same time, driven by continuous investment on the supply side in the past, the steady growth of production capacity not only conforms to domestic demand, but also the subsequent expansion of exports has also turned China into the world’s factory, resulting in excess production capacity. After its rapid development, internal contradictions continue to accumulate, resulting in a widening gap between the rich and the poor, excessive collection of environmental resources, declining investment returns, and rising labor costs in the country. These factors have deprived China’s economy of its potential for scale expansion. On this basis, China’s economy began to turn inward. Upgrading value content and output efficiency have become the key to improving its industrial productivity and competitiveness.

From the underlying logic, China’s population structure is undergoing a trend adjustment. The declining share of labor force driven by continuous urbanization and the rural population transfer has alternated labor supply. The low-end labor force has now become relatively insufficient, while the industrial labor costs continue to rise. This makes cost-push expansion increasingly onerous. On the other hand, with the development of urbanization to a certain stage, rising land prices, housing, and education costs begin to erode the spending power of households, causing an increasingly inadequate domestic demand. These two aspects are eroding the long-term growth potential of the Chinese economy. The recent drop in China’s economic growth rate is not only caused by cyclical factors driven by demand, but also by structural factors at the supply side.

In terms of policy trends, whether it is the “13th Five-Year Plan” poverty alleviation, or the current policies on common prosperity and unification of the large market, the fairness of these supply-side structural reform policies is being strengthened. The purpose is to enhance the contribution of science and technology and human capital to the economy. By increasing household income and spending power, China’s economy can achieve endogenous economic growth. Despite increased macroeconomic pressures and the need for countercyclical policies, macro foundation has yet to change significantly. The focus remains on decisive regulation and quality improvement, which is the logic of the policy change.

While implementing the supply-side reform, the Chinese economy still needs to improve the structure of supply through incremental expansion to achieve a balance between efficiency and fairness. Morgan Stanley revealed that, on the one hand, the efficiency improvement brought about by digital industrialization is the main area for China’s future market expansion. On the other hand, further urbanization still has great significance in the market space. These two aspects will be the main essence of China’s economic growth in the future, and therefore the focus of policy support and catalyst. Overall, under the new underlying logic, increasing households’ income, reducing class gaps, and increasing the output of capital and labor would be the main lines of sustainable development in the future. This pattern suggests that economic expansion has become relatively less important in policymaking. As noted by Morgan Stanley, China “is shifting its regulatory priorities to a balance between growth, sustainability, improving social imbalances, and maintaining security. This will shift the division of economic benefits to workers and reduce corporate profits”.

Yet, the policy-oriented changes under this underlying logic could be precarious. Due to the dominant role of government policies in market supervision, education, transformation of scientific and technological achievements, as well as the allocation of public resources, the impact of policies on economic and market development is getting more pronounced. For the industry and market players, future development must consider even more policy influences. At present, education and the consolidation of internet platform companies have had a significant impact on related fields and investors. Concernedly, as policy influence continues to expand, so do the risks posed by policy excesses. Although the current policy does not emphasize “one-size-fits-all” but rather “precise regulation”, it is often strenuous to achieve “moderate” and “balance” in the current policy implementation capacity. Meanwhile, the risk of excessive supervision continues to cause harm to economic activities. Therefore, under the expanding policy influences, policy decision-making should be more cautious to prevent harm or excessive intervention in the market and economic activities.

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