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The new African currency

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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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

Doing Business Report 2020: Soaring Changes with Soaring Doubts

Sisir Devkota

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As Narendra Modi brands his government of making new leaps; similarly, the World Bank’s annually published report, “Doing Business” has largely become a tool to evaluate economies. Both Mr. Modi and the institution have things in common. Upon his election in 2014, the Prime Minister made it clear that India was going to climb the rankings under the same report. This year’s report insists that many countries, including India, have made good leaps. Amidst such table success, there are many questions over the serviceability of the report itself. For a start: consider why the subtitle of Doing Business 2020 is “Comparing Business Regulation in 190 Economies”.

Nevertheless, many leaders like Mr. Modi are lurking towards performing the charts. Perhaps, a psychological competition engulfs bigger nations like India. Kosovo and Cyprus are ahead of Mr. Modi’s people in terms of the ease of doing business. Adding fuel to the insecurities, the report also highlights a fact-based decrease in the cost of starting new businesses in developing countries. Unquestionably, nation states are in a race. Whether investors investigate such results is an altogether different case.

One example is how the report has defined entrepreneurial ease to tackle obstacles. The 2020 report claims that more than fifty-five economies have eliminated the need to pay minimum capital amount to start a new business. Such rate of change will raise eyebrows; history suggests that often, openings like that are a result of financial desperation. Clearly, there is a lack of something in the stated fifty-five economies; investors will hope that it is not market demand. Retrospectively, besides how institutions like the World Bank or the charming speeches of leaders like Modi would imply otherwise; investors will be careful of such data. After all, there is a huge difference between an easy business environment without any scope and a conducive environment with healthy competition. Because the report also suggests that many nations instead reduced the cost of capital launch; economists will be doubtful in even trying to handle such information. It will be left to seen whether the report will also affect the nature of successful markets and goods.

Similarly, 40% of low and middle-income nations now prohibit the use of fixed-term contracts for permanent jobs. The staggering changes this year is a news that is too good to be true. Assumedly, as the report claims, if there are more nations relaxing business operations with such contract policies, investors will be smelling early blood. If anything, a logical analysis only implies that there is wishful thinking in the academics of the report to transfer wealth into hungry mouths. Pragmatically, the huge numbers do not present opportunities. Instead, it is calling for a discomforting nature of risk in many countries.

For some amount of comforting information, the 2020 Doing Business report, maintains ease of government contractas an indicator of looking at the bigger picture. As much as the knowledge of how long it would take to acquire government contracts in Chile would be useful for aspiring Chinese companies; it misses the main point. How would investors weigh their decisions in nations with contradictory results along different indicators? The lack of comprehending such result for economic decisions, is a liability than a tool. New Zealand has been a consistent performer for years, and, for 2020, it is also ranked as the best place on earth for doing business. Somalia, on the other hand totters at the end. It has been tottering for many years now. A strange movement of middle rankers become sensational news. Like Mr. Modi, many leaders are not looking to upset high ranking nations, instead, in the most explicit form of political accomplishment, lies the aimless ambition. Narendra Modi will be most excited, he knows that another addition of electrical grids in rural India will soar the rankings again, next year.

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Economy

BRICS acts as a collective will to safeguard global multilateralism

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Authors: Zhou Dong chen &Francis Kwesi Kyirewiah*

On November 13-14, the 11th BRICS Summit was held in Brasilia, capital of Brazil, where Chinese President Xi Jinping alongside the leaders of Russia, India, South Africa and the host country—Brazil—met and discussed the issues of global and regional dimensions. According to the data in 2018, the BRICS member states have already accounted for 23.6% of the world economy (GDP) and nearly 20% of all world trade, in addition to contributing more than half of all global economic growth. Now, as it enters the second decade of cooperation, BRICS aims to enhance intra-bloc cooperation covering all economic, political and security cooperation as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Can the BRICS members stand together in international affairs?

The concept of the “BRIC” came to the limelight in 2001. Since then, it is argued that the relative size and share of those countries in the world economy has risen exponentially, and most likely it would gradually imply that the G7’s economic hegemony would be rearranged. Scholars like Dominic Wilson further echoed this in his study on “Dreaming with BRICS: The Path to 2050”. He put it that, in all likelihood, by 2025 the BRICS could account for over half of the size of the G7 in terms of GDP. And in less than 40 years the BRICS’ economies together could be larger than the G7.

Although it was debatable, the key assumption behind all the discourse is that China and India have risen as the world’s principal suppliers of manufactured goods and services, while Brazil and Russia are already becoming equally dominant as suppliers of raw materials.In addition, what the BRICS have in common is that they all have an enormous potential consumer market, complemented by access to regional markets and to a large labor force. Wilson argues that three key issues the BRICs have to embrace for their partnership development are as follows: Inclusive growth, sustainable solutions and foreign policy consultations in the post-Western world. Echoing his discourse, Andrew Hurrell put it, “since all the BRICS nations are now members of the G20 which is a major symbol of the structure of global governance, the bargaining power of the BRICS vis-à-vis US-dominated global institutions is inevitably growing.”

It is quite coincident that during the 2017 G20 Summit in Germany, the leaders of the BRICS held an informal meeting reaching key agreements on building an open world economy and improving global economic governance. On the occasion, Chinese leader called on that the BRICS itself would establish an open economy, maintain a multilateral trade system and advance inclusive, balanced and win-win economic globalization with a view to making the fruits of economic growth accessible for all people. There is no doubt that the BRICS countries also have their own internal challenges and external divergences on many issues. Yet, the central point of the role of the BRICS in global affairs is not where the world order is now, but where it will be in the near future, say by 2050.Building on the common sense that “a shared voice is stronger than a single shout”, the emerging powers are well-aware of the closer cooperation among them and even beyond in order to push forward their own agenda.

Yet,  no matter which theory, realism or constructivism, is used to assess the BRICS, it is unlikely the bloc having moved to a geopolitical organization like NATO, but only a new-typed geo-economic forum that incorporates a strong component of people-to-people relations between institutions and individuals. Two of its main goals are as follows: to bring people closer together through socio-economic means, and to take a constructive part in settling geopolitical flashpoints. As such, the BRICs is generally regarded inclusive and its members are willing to cooperate with other countries or institutions that share their interest in making the world a fairer, and therefore a better place. In line with this spirit, the BRICS, though a grouping of five major emerging national economies, aims from its inception to establish an equitable, democratic and multilateralism-based world order.

If the first decade of the BRICS has formalized its existence and also represented many opportunities for the 21st century, the key concern remains how to turn the bloc into a functional grouping rather than just a global forum in the next decade. Strategically, it is vital for the BRICS to become a knowledge base for other developing countries, such as the areas of solar energy, ethanol products, urban landscape development, slum alleviation and biotechnology use, and share their best practices with southern countries. To that end, it is essential for the BRICS to act and talk differently from the G7 and other Western institutions, which are deemed to retain economic hegemony over the vast developing areas. Put it more bluntly, the BRICS should be committed to multilateralism, human development and social welfare in accordance with UN charters and the relevant resolutions.

Given this, looking ahead into the next decade, the BRICS is supposed to follow this line as proposed by Xi when he addressed the current global challenges such as unilateralism and protectionism, and he called on BRICS countries to champion and practice multilateralism. Thus he put three-point suggestions as follows: first, he urged the five members to safeguard peace and development for all, uphold fairness and justice and promote win-win results. Globally, it is vital for the BRICS to uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the UN-centered international system, which rejects any sort of hegemonic order and power politics and take a constructive part in settling geopolitical issues.

Second, the BRICS en bloc should pursue greater development prospects through openness and innovation. Therefore, it should uphold the WTO-centered multilateral trading system and increase the voice and influence of emerging markets and developing countries in international affairs. In addition, BRICS member states should prioritize development in the global macro policy framework, follow through the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. All in all, the BRICS makes all efforts to promote coordinated progress in the economic, social and environmental spheres. Third, in a long run, the BRICS needs to be more proactive in promoting mutual learning through people-to-people exchanges and take their people-to-people exchanges to greater breadth and depth. Xi did indeed appeal to other four partners that “BRICS Plus” should serve as a platform to increase dialogue with other countries and civilizations to win BRICS more friends and partners.

This is a truly strategic proposal. People agree that the next decade will see accelerating change in global patterns of economic growth, development, and governance. The BRICS can achieve a second golden decade if they can remain united and work together in the face of the challenges and opportunities to come. Although all BRICS members have no intention to challenge the status quo which is still dominated by the U.S.-led globalization system, the first decade of self-discovery of the BRICS has paved the way for the second decade of confident outreaches to other countries and institutions and will predictably see the new bloc becoming a powerful global platform for change by 2029.

In summary, the huge potentials of the BRICS are far beyond the current five powers. In effect, Valdai Club, a Russia’s top think tank, once put it, the BRICS starts by bringing together the regional integration groups that each country is a part of (e.g. Russia, the Eurasian Economic Union, Brazil and Mercosur) through the BRICS+ framework in order to broaden its reach in the most realistic way possible without overextending itself. In view of its one-decade vicissitude, it can say that this visionary outlook is definitely doable since all the BRICS members certainly have the political will to pull it off, plus their combined economic power is attractive enough to naturally make their counterparts interested in cooperating. The BRICS could therefore transform into the core of a larger global reform structure bringing together non-Western countries and even those within the West that are dissatisfied with the U.S.-led status quo, which would then enable it to truly become a global force capable of carrying out meaningful development governance. It has actually exercised a positive impact on each of its five members, so it’s time to spread the benefits beyond the original five. Considering the second decade of its development, the BRICS would aim to make further reform in terms of the fairer governance.

*Francis Kwesi Kyirewiah, a PhD student in International Affairs, at SIPA, Jilin University, China.

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Economy

CHETRA Eyes Africa for Expansion

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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CHETRA is a Russian company that sells industrial equipment and spare parts under the brand “CHETRA” produced by the Promtractor plant, as well as supplies spare parts and components from the company. It uses a unique technique in the construction of production sites, seaports, development of natural resources and pipelines in 30 countries and in all climatic zones.

The goal is to provide its partners and customers with modern high-performance equipment for successful projects, even in areas with complex climatic and geological backgrounds. More than 3,000 units of equipment under the brand “CHETRA” are now in operation in the Russian Federation and beyond.

Executive Director Vladimir Antonov has been working in engineering industry for 19 years. He has successful experience in product export to the CIS countries and Ukraine, the Baltic States, Europe, Argentina, Africa and Cuba. He has been leading company as its Executive Director since 2018. During his leadership, the share of the company’s machinery in the Russian market has doubled.

In this snapshot interview, Vladimir Antonov talks about his company’s plans in the direction of Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

Q:First, tell us briefly about tPlants previous working connection with Africa? What are your products and services, what African regions or countries are keen using products?

A:Our company has a long experience of cooperation with African countries which began in the Soviet times and continues today. Traditionally we collaborate in the African continent with such partner countries of Russia as Egypt, Algeria, Zimbabwe. About 50 units of CHETRA machines have been supplied to these countries over the last ten years. Our goal is to enlarge our footprint in the African continent. Nowadays, we are negotiating cooperation with potential partners in West Africa and the SADC region (Southern African Development Community, South Africa).

Q:Compared to other foreign players, how competitive is the African market? From the previous experience in the African regions, what key problems and challenges the company faces in Africa?

A:Today the market of mining and construction equipment in Africa is characterized by high competition, all our competitors work in the region, both from the West and from the East. This has led to the fact that the market applies high requirements to new products. For that reason today we do not just sell our machines to customers: we offer a range of services, which includes commissioning of the machines, training of local staff, organization of after-sales maintenance service at the customer’s site. The main challenge for us today when working in Africa is the need to find a local partner who has qualified staff, equipment, maintenance facilities and not bound by contracts with other manufacturers of similar machines.

Q:What kind of business perceptions and approach could be considered as impediments or stumbling blocks to business between Russia and Africa?

A:Another challenge for us when working in Africa is that many consumers have no free funds to purchase new machines. This often diverts our partner from the renewal of the fleet or makes them buy used machines on the after-market. We are trying to solve this problem by attracting Russian government agencies of export support, such as the Russian Export Center, in order to finance transactions. 

Q:Business needs vital information, knowledge about the investment climate and so forth. Do you think that there has been an information vacuum or gap between the two regions?

A:Taking into account the level of development of information technology today there are no particular problems in obtaining information about the investment level of any country or about business situation of a particular company. Besides that, we are in constant contact with Trade missions at the Embassies of the Russian Federation in the countries of our interest, which are also a good source of information about the conditions of the market.

Q:And now how would you envisage the level of investment and business engagement with Africa? Is Sochi an opportunity for expanding business to Africa?

A:In my opinion the Economic Forum in Sochi was organized at the highest level. A lot of guests from Africa visited it. We held a number of meetings with companies that are new to us, and I hope that these will lead to long-term cooperation and geographic growth of supplies of CHETRA machines in Africa.

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