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How to stabilize Pakistan’s economy?

Amjed Jaaved

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Pakistan approached International Monetary Fund for 13th time since 1988 to get a bail-out. This programme is touted as a recipe to `reduce Pakistan’s public debt’ and `stabilize the economy’. The suggested panacea is `market-determined exchange-rate’ coupled with tax-evasion. But a free-floating exchange-rate is no magic wand or panacea for economic stability.

Unresponsive exports

Devaluations are unlikely to stimulate Pakistan’s export potential as its industrial production including that of textiles, is now in shambles. They only balloon debt burden. IMF’s own 1996-Economic-issues series booklet `Moving to a Flexible Exchange Rate: How, When, and How Fast?’ cautions against over-optimism. The booklet (by Rupa Duttagupta, Gilda Fernandez, and Cem Karacadag) concludes with advice `Both fixed and floating exchange rates have distinct and different advantages. No single exchange rate regime is appropriate for all countries in all circumstances. Countries will have to weigh the costs and benefits of floating in light of both their economic and their institutional readiness’.

Effect on public debt

When the State Bank of Pakistan devalued rupee in July 2017, then finance minister, Ishaq Dar (now an absconder) claimed the State Bank of Pakistan acted without his volition. The Dar-time devaluation inflated our debt burden by Rs 2,300 crore. Again, under PTI government Rupee happened to be devalued by 3.8 per cent, or Rs5.06, to an all-time low at Rs139.05 to dollar (increasing debt burden by Rs. 3500 crore). The government devolved blame on `SBP for devaluing rupee without informing it. We have low productive capacity and depend on services. The industrial sector’s contribution to the total Gross-Domestic-Product Growth was only nine per cent and its weight in the size of the economy was 20.8 per cent. IMF puts country’s growth rate at 2.5 per cent. After witnessing a four per cent growth rate in the last fiscal year, cotton production declined 17.5%. The production of rice and sugarcane also fell by 3.3 per cent and 19.4 per cent respectively. Even the 65% debt-to-GDP ratio will be higher than the statutory limit of 60% set by parliament in the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act.

Slow growth rate, poor productive capacity and dominant services sector foretell that our rupee will further weaken vis-a-vis dollar.  Even without further devaluation, Pakistan’s external public debt was US$74 billion as of end-February 2019. It would be whopping US$31 billion in the next seven years, July 2019 to June 2026. The country’s economic growth rate has slowed down to 3.3 per cent, the lowest in nine years.  The slow pace of economic growth coupled with currency devaluation reduced size of the economy to around $280 billion from $313 billion at the end of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government’s term. Almost every sector has made negative contribution to growth rate of 3.29% during fiscal year 2018-19 ending on June 30.

India’s recent budget aims at growth rate of 12 per cent a year (8% growth discounting inflation at 4%). Pakistan’s growth rate would be minus 10 per cent a year (3% growth less 13% inflation). How could this poor growth rate stabilise economy as per text-book burden-of-debt models?

Write off `odious debts’

Pakistan should tell the IMF `we reject forced devaluations (quasi-floating exchange) and shall pay debt in rupee at contracted loan rate of about Rs. 2.5 to a dollar’. That would deflate Pakistan’s debt burden and make IMF bailout successful. Too, the IMF should write off `odious debts’. James K. Boyce and Madakene O’Donnel (eds.), in Peace and the Public Purse (. New Delhi. Viva Books 2008, p, 251) say debt forgiveness (or relief) helps stabilise weak democracies, though corrupt and incompetent.  Debt relief promotes economic growth and foreign investment. In fact, economists have questioned justification of loans given to prop up congenial regimes.  They hold that a nation is not obliged to pay such `odious debts'(a personal liability) showered upon a praetorian (p. 252 ibid.). Legally also, any liability financial or quasi-non-financial, contracted under duress, is null and void. Sachs (1989) inferred that debt service costs discourage domestic and foreign investment.  Kanbur (2000), also, concluded that debt is a drag on private investment.

FDI. Pakistan should improve `ease of doing business’ to attract foreign-direct investment. According to World Bank, Pakistan ranks 136 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings.  State Bank of Pakistan reported on February 18 that foreign direct investment (FDI) during July-Jan FY19 declined by over 17 per cent compared to the same period last year. Pakistan’s prime export sector is stagnant (overtaken by China and Bangladesh).  It suffers from low investment in modern machinery, energy shortages, and inadequate efforts to integrate into global supply and retail networks.

Learning from India

India ranks 77th. As of February 2019, India is working on a road map to achieve its goal of US$ 100 billion worth of FDI inflows. In February 2019, the Government of India released the Draft National e-Commerce Policy which encourages FDI in the marketplace model of e-commerce. According to World Bank, private investments in India is expected to grow by 8.8 per cent in FY 2018-19 to overtake private consumption growth of 7.4 per cent, and thereby drive the growth in India’s gross domestic product (GDP) in FY 2018-19.

Apart from being a, Foreign direct investment (FDI) is a debt-free primum mobile economic growth. Foreign companies invest in India to take advantage of relatively lower wages, special investment privileges, such as tax exemptions, etc. share technical know-how and generate jobs.

India relaxed FDI norms across sectors such as defence, public-sector undertakings, oil refineries, telecom, power exchanges, and stock exchanges.

Equity inflows in India in 2018-19 stood at US$ 44.37 billion. During 2018-19, the services sector attracted the highest FDI equity inflow of US$ 9.16 billion, followed by computer software and hardware – US$ 6.42 billion, trading – US$ 4.46 billion and telecommunications – US$ 2.67 billion. Most recently, the total FDI equity inflows for the month of March 2019 touched US$ 3.60 billion. During 2018-19, India received the maximum FDI equity inflows from Singapore (US$ 16.23 billion), followed by Mauritius (US$ 8.08 billion), Netherlands (US$ 3.87 billion), USA (US$ 3.14 billion), and Japan (US$ 2.97 billion). India is the top recipient of Greenfield FDI Inflows from the Commonwealth, as per a trade review released by The Commonwealth in 2018. In October 2018, VMware, a leading software innovating enterprise of US has announced investment of US$ 2 billion in India between by 2023. In August 2018, Bharti Airtel received approval of the Government of India for sale of 20 per cent stake in its DTH arm to an America based private equity firm, Warburg Pincus, for around $350 million. In June 2018, Idea’s appeal for 100 per cent FDI was approved by Department of Telecommunication (DoT) followed by its Indian merger with Vodafone making Vodafone Idea the largest telecom operator in India In May 2018, Walmart acquired a 77 per cent stake in Flipkart for a consideration of US$ 16 billion. .In February 2018, Ikea announced its plans to invest up to Rs 4,000 crore (US$ 612 million) in the state of Maharashtra to set up multi-format stores and experience centres.

Kathmandu based conglomerate, CG Group is looking to invest Rs 1,000 crore (US$ 155.97 million) in India by 2020 in its food and beverage business, stated Mr. Varun Choudhary, Executive Director, CG Corp Global.

International Finance Corporation (IFC), the investment arm of the World Bank Group, is planning to invest about US$ 6 billion through 2022 in several sustainable and renewable energy programmes in India. As of February 2019, the Government of India is working on a road map to achieve its goal of US$ 100 billion worth of FDI inflows.

In February 2019, the Government of India released the Draft National e-Commerce Policy which encourages FDI in the marketplace model of e-commerce. India is planning to allow 100 per cent FDI in Insurance intermediaries in India to give a boost to the sector and attracting more funds. Revised FDI rules allow100 per cent FDI in the marketplace based model of e-commerce. Also, sales of any vendor through an e-commerce marketplace entity or its group companies have been limited to 25 per cent of the total sales of such vendor.

In September 2018, the Government of India released the National Digital Communications Policy, 2018 which envisages increasing FDI inflows in the telecommunications sector to US$ 100 billion by 2022.

In January 2018, Government of India allowed foreign airlines to invest in Air India up to 49 per cent with government approval. The investment cannot exceed 49 per cent directly or indirectly.

No government approval will be required for FDI up to an extent of 100 per cent in Real Estate Broking Services.

In September 2017, the Government of India asked the states to focus on strengthening single window clearance system for fast-tracking approval processes, in order to increase Japanese investments in India.The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India has eased the approval mechanism for foreign direct investment (FDI) proposals by doing away with the approval of Department of Revenue and mandating clearance of all proposals requiring approval within 10 weeks after the receipt of application.

The Government of India is in talks with stakeholders to further ease foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence under the automatic route to 51 per cent from the current 49 per cent, in order to give a boost to the Make in India initiative and to generate employment.

In January 2018, Government of India allowed 100 per cent FDI in single brand retail through automatic route.

Tax on the rich

Pakistan needs to learn from India’s recent budget about innovative measures to tax the rich. With so many billionaire politicians and tycoons, it is an un-reaped bonanza.  In India’s recent budget, surcharge on individuals earning more than Rs 5 crore a year was raised up to 42.7%, even higher than US super-rich tax of 40% tax. India even contemplated imposing inheritance tax.

Pakistan’s tax structure could be reformed in light of insights in IMF’s Tax Law Design and Drafting (volume 1; International Monetary Fund: Victor Thuronyi, ed.1996.Chapter 10, Taxation of Wealth). Pakistan taxes `income-‘tax capacity, not accumulated-capital to tax inheritance and estate.

Magnetised/Chip cards 

Pakistan needs to adopt card based transactions to get rid of money-laundering and hawala (hand to hand) csh dealings.

Inheritance tax. India’s Budget 2019enhanced taxes on the super-rich bracket. However, an inheritance tax also is on the anvil. This tax suits Pakistan the most. India did away with English zamindari system (British gifts of estates) in 1948. But, Pakistan is barred from putting upper limit on private property and undertaking land reforms because of Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court decision dated August 10, 1989.  The verdict was delivered nine years after it was first filed by the Qazalbash Waqf, a religious charity based nearby Lahore. It was a 3-2 split decision and was made effective from March 23, 1990.

Inheritance tax is a tax that you pay when you receive money or property from the estate of a deceased person.  Unlike the estate tax, the beneficiary of the property is responsible for 

paying the tax, not the estate. The key difference between estate tax and inheritance tax lies in who is responsible for paying it. An estate tax is levied on the total value of a deceased person’s money and property and is paid out of the decedent’s assets before any distribution to beneficiaries. Once the executor of the estate has divided up the assets and distributed them to the beneficiaries, the inheritance tax comes into play. The tax amount is calculated separately for each individual beneficiary, and the beneficiary must pay the tax.

Basic needs

Unsupported by health-care units, the health cards in Pakistan are another hoax. Merging civil and military outfits, the government should evolve a universal health-care, education and housing system.  To begin with defence-paid military and civilians should be equally entitled at military health facilities.

India has a vision of US$5 trillion economy, with $100 million FDI to provide basic needs to its people_ tapped water supply, closeted toilet, bank account to receive aid, enhanced scholarships, creating world’s best universities, health cover, shelters and ,minimum taxes on self-built houses. Regrettably, focused on bail-outs, Pak planners have no Weltanschanschauung (world view), though it cost nothing. 

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

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The Yuan versus the Dollar: Showdown in the Global Financial Arena

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At the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, the United States laid the foundation for the U.S.-centric international monetary system, thus ensuring the dollar’s status as the key reserve currency for the next 75 years. The fact that other countries accepted the dollar as the main currency of international payments, loans and investments allowed U.S. transnational corporations to dominate global markets in the post-war period quickly. However, if we are to proceed from the development patterns of the international monetary and financial system, then it follows that the dollar will eventually be replaced by the yuan, the currency of the new global economic and financial leader (China). Will Beijing manage to build its own system of global institutions, one that is capable of internationalizing the yuan and competing against the U.S. currency when it comes to servicing global flows of commodities and finance? In order to answer this question, we need to look at the trends of the global financial architecture as it stands today and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. and Chinese financial systems.

The Global Financial Architecture

The global financial architecture (GFA) is the combination of institutions involved in the regulation of global finance. It consists of a model for organizing international financial relations, institutional mechanisms for managing these relations, and the principles underlying the participation of countries in decision-making processes. The GFA model is based on the competitiveness and openness of global financial markets. The institutional mechanisms include fiat (intrinsically valueless) money, the free trans-border movement of capital and a system of floating exchange rates. The influence of individual countries on the development of the GFA depends on the size of their quotas and votes within the Bretton Woods institutions of the IMF and the World Bank.

One feature of the current transformational processes as applied to the GFA is the concentration, in individual countries, of financial assets that exceed the size of their economies by tens, hundreds and even thousands of times. For example, the financial assets controlled by Luxembourg exceed its GDP by 248 times, and those of the Cayman Islands exceed its GDP by 1861 times. These imbalances are caused by the fact that the modern GFA is formed not along the lines of the formal Bretton Woods institutions, but rather informally, via the offshore financial system.

It is in offshore jurisdictions, i.e. outside the national borders of the countries that issue international currencies, that the bulk of global monetary liquidity is generated. For example, in 2007–2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York opened temporary dollar swap lines for the central banks of 14 countries worth over $10 trillion to refinance the dollar liabilities of lending institutions operating out of those jurisdictions. The swap lines were discontinued in February 2010, but were reinstated three months later in a different format between the Federal Reserve System (FRS) and five key central banks that are closely linked to the United States: the European Central Bank, the Swiss National Bank, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of Canada. These C6 swap lines were made permanent and unlimited in October 2013. It is thanks to these currency swap operations that the U.S. FRS can create euros, pounds and yen in offshore jurisdictions. The other countries involved can participate in the creation of offshore U.S. dollars. The massive swap agreements involving the most significant central banks undermine the importance of the Bretton Woods institutions as the providers of global liquidity and make it difficult to record and control global capital flows at the intergovernmental level.

The U.S. Financial System

The main strength of the U.S. economy is that it issues the key global currency, as well as the fact that it has created the world’s biggest stock market, in which more than half of all U.S. households participate. The United States has the most liquid bond market, which means that the dollar is the international benchmark for value and the main reserve asset for the rest of the world (its share in the international reserve portfolios of central banks exceeds 60 per cent). Over 50 per cent of all international deposits, loans and promissory notes are nominated in U.S. dollars. Washington is home to the headquarters of the Bretton Woods institutions, which are responsible for macroeconomic oversight and addressing structural imbalances in the 189 member nations. Three U.S. rating agencies account for 96 per cent of all credit ratings assigned in the world, U.S. investment holdings manage more than 50 per cent of global corporate assets. These and other factors explain the dominant role of the United States in the formation and development of the GFA.

The main weakness of the U.S. financial system is that the country’s economy is based on debt and is extremely dependent on bank lending terms and the dynamics of stock market operations. A sharp increase in interest rates or a decline in demand as a result of economic overheating leads to a nosedive in share prices, which, in turn, leads to a depression, as was the case in 1929 and 2008. One other vulnerability of the U.S. financial system is its dependence on external financing, which is due to the status of the dollar as the key reserve currency. Should the international demand for dollars decline, U.S. funding from external sources may also decrease.

China’s Place in the GFA

China leads the world in terms of monetary aggregates (in the dollar equivalent), purchasing power parity GDP, production and exports, and the labour force size. However, China’s economic growth continues to be largely dependent on imports of foreign investments and technologies.

China’s leading positions on a number of economic indicators still has a negligible effect on the country’s ability to influence international financial relations. As before, the head of the IMF is a European citizen and the head of the World Bank is an American. Unlike other international organizations within the UN system, which make decisions based on the “one vote per country” principle, the IMF and the World Bank are stock companies whose capital is owned by the member nations. Decisions on the most critical issues on the agenda of the Bretton Woods institutions are made by a qualified majority of 85 per cent. Following the reform of the IMF quota and voting system in 2010–2016, the BRICS countries failed to gain the minimum number of votes (15 per cent) to obtain veto power and assert the multipolar principle within the organization. Just like before the reform, the United States continues to be the only IMF member nation that has the power veto.

China certainly owes much of its global economic achievements to its membership of international financial and economic organizations that the United States was instrumental in founding and running. That said, in order for China to protect its economic interests in an effective manner and exert tangible influence on decision-making processes in the global economy, Beijing needs to participate in those international institutions in which its vote has a decisive role. In this sense, China has high hopes for its recent initiatives to create pan-Asian institutions for monetary policy, finance and economics, such as the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement, the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation, the BRICS New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The opening of the Shanghai International Energy Exchange (where transactions are carried out in Chinese yuan) on March 26, 2018, was a particularly significant event. This was China’s first step towards the formation of a “petroyuan” pricing system on the global energy resources market. The Shanghai Futures Exchange has begun trading in new oil futures, known as INE, which are expected to compete against British Brent and U.S. WTI contracts. The pricing of oil in yuan is an important component of the drive to internationalize the Chinese currency and lessen the global economy’s dependence on the dollar.

By late 2017, the People’s Bank of China had signed 37 swap agreements with different countries worth more than 3 trillion yuan. The agreements were aimed at facilitating the use of the yuan in doing business with foreign banks and companies, so that the central banks receiving liquidity in yuan can act as lenders of last resort after the activation of currency swap lines. However, the agreements have not resulted in a significant increase in the global use of the yuan, which is what was originally expected. Since the 2008 initiation of the swap agreements, the share of the Chinese currency in the denomination of international promissory notes has stood at roughly 0.3 per cent, whereas the share of the U.S. dollar has grown from 47 per cent to 63 per cent.

In addition, currency transactions involving the yuan are mostly done via London, not Beijing. The United Kingdom accounts for 33.79 per cent of all global currency operations involving the yuan. Hong Kong remains the largest clearing centre for international transactions in yuan, serving 76.36 per cent of all such global operations (the United Kingdom is second with 6.18 per cent). Thus, most international transactions involving the yuan are performed outside continental China.

One more obstacle to the faster internationalization of the yuan is China’s preoccupation with domestic problems stemming from the rapid growth of debts (especially in the property market), the growth of the shadow banking system and the disproportionate allocation of loans to large and small businesses. In its attempts to conduct a softer monetary policy, the Chinese government is facing a difficult choice between supporting short-term growth and countering unfavourable external shocks. A monetary easing could increase the vulnerability of the Chinese economy, because continued lending growth is capable of slowing down or complicating the restoration of banks’ balance sheets and aggravating the existing imbalances in the allocation of loans.

University of California professor Barry Eichengreen, who is one of the most respected experts on the development of the international monetary system, says the yuan does not qualify as an international currency for three reasons: 1) the high costs of financial transactions involving the acquisition and distribution of information; 2) China’s great dependence on Hong Kong as a regional offshore centre; 3) China’s inability to exert political pressure on the other global economic centres, primarily the United States and the European Union. At the same time, according to Eichengreen, there are four factors indicating the growing status of the yuan as a regional currency: 1) the potential growth of incomes in Asian countries, which results in increased demand for Chinese commodities; 2) the implementation of multilateral projects as part of the Belt and Road initiative, which results in the growing use of the yuan in Central and Southeast Asia; 3) the development of the Asian bond market, which leads to the standardization of international promissory notes nominated in yuan; 4) the growing demand for yuan on the part of commercial banks and companies in swap transactions between central banks as part of the Chiang Mai Initiative.

Points of Conflict between the United States and China

Unlike the Cold War era, which was characterized by the polar confrontation between two systems, today the United States and China are members of the same international financial organizations, they both interact in the uniform global capitalist market and follow the same principles of competition, effectiveness and profit maximization. For this reason, the main point of conflict between the United States and China concerns mutual restrictions when it comes to allowing the other country’s finished products and services onto their national markets.

Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences recipient Joseph Stiglitz believes that the United States stands to lose more from its trade war with China than China does, as the Chinese authorities have far greater opportunities to restrict the operations of U.S. corporations working in China than the U.S. authorities do when it comes to Chinese goods imported into the United States as part of international trade. In addition, raising the prices of Chinese commodities on the U.S. market may cause dissatisfaction among end customers.

Another point of conflict between the two countries is connected to China’s limited ability to influence major international organizations. Despite the IMF reform, China did not secure a tangible increase in its influence within the organization, with its quota only growing from 4.0 per cent to 6.41% per cent. We should note here that when the IMF began operating in 1947, China’s quota was bigger than it is now, at 6.56 per cent (even though the country was the world’s fifth-largest economy at the time, not the second largest as it is today). The formal inclusion of the yuan in the special drawing rights (SDR) basket (the IMF’s cashless reserve asset) in 2016 was largely symbolic, because the use of SDRs has no effect on the actual balance of forces in the GFA. The value of the SDRs in circulation stands at $204.1 billion, or under 4 per cent of the international currency reserves calculated in dollars. The share of the yuan in the structure of international currency reserves and international transactions stands at approximately 2 per cent, which does not reflect China’s global role as the largest manufacturer and exporter.

One more potential point of conflict is the development of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. In accordance with the Made in China 2025 plan to develop strategic technologies, the country expects to have assumed global dominance in the world in the field of AI by 2030. The financial sector has high hopes for AI in terms of its potential to increase effectiveness and profitability, much like the effect that the introduction of information technologies had on financial services. China has already outstripped Europe in the number of AI-related startups and is gaining ground on the global leader in AI, the United States.

Conclusions

Experts view pan-Asian financial institutions as an instrument used by China to establish its status as the leading Eurasian and global power. Chinese officials repeatedly stress that the newly established institutions aim to compete with the Bretton Woods institutions, not replace them. In other words, at the current stage in the development of the GFA, China has no intention of changing the neo-liberal principles of its functioning.

Despite the significant increase in China’s influence on the global economy and the addition of the yuan to the SDR basket, the dollar continues to play the key role in the global financial market and in servicing international trade in commodities and services. China’s growing influence on the GFA thus depends on strengthening the global role of Sino-centric financial institutions and on the broader use of the yuan in international payment systems and in transactions on the global financial market. At the same time, the active creation of offshore dollars that are not controlled by the U.S. regulators increases the risk of the dollar-centric currency system collapsing.

It is obvious that the current GFA configuration is not likely to undergo any significant changes in the foreseeable future (unless another global financial crisis breaks out) because the United States has a significant number of institutional instruments and mechanisms for influencing the global economy at its disposal. In the long run, however, any growth in China’s actual role in the international financial system will depend on the successful promotion of a conceptual alternative to the current GFA model for the purpose of overcoming global imbalances between the financial sector and real economy.

From our partner RIAC

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Why Wealthy Countries Must Step Up Their Contribution to Fight Global Poverty

Ferid Belhaj

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Member countries of the International Development Association (IDA), a part of the World Bank Group, are meeting shortly to discuss the 19th replenishment of IDA, which will set the agenda for assistance to the poorest developing countries for the three-year period starting in July 2020. Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia contributed funds for the 18th replenishment for IDA, which covers the period July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2020. It is critical that these countries — and others in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region who could potentially contribute — sustain and increase their presence and participation in this important international forum and support a global public good.

This coming IDA replenishment is an opportunity for MENA countries to make their contribution and presence felt. Starting in 2020, MENA will be the epicentre of several global discussions and events: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is hosting the G20 members, Egypt is the chair of the African Union, the first World Expo in the region will be held in Dubai, the 2021 World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings will take place in Marrakech, and the region will see its first soccer World Cup in Doha in 2022. While these events are significant in their own right, a substantially higher financial contribution from MENA countries to IDA will demonstrate the region’s capacity to lead on long-term global challenges such as poverty reduction, inclusive growth, and climate change.

IDA was created in 1960 to provide ‘soft-loans’ — grant funding, concessional loans, debt relief — to the poorest developing countries who could not afford to borrow on the terms that could be offered by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). IDA has become one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 77 poorest countries and the foremost instrument to channel multilateral funding where it is needed the most and in the quickest and most efficient way possible. There is no bigger source of donor funds for basic services in these countries.

Since 1960, IDA has provided almost $400 billion for investments in over 100 countries. IDA’s support has paved the way toward equality, economic growth, job creation, higher incomes, and better living conditions. IDA’s work covers primary education, basic health services, clean water and sanitation, agriculture, business climate improvements, infrastructure, and institutional reforms. More recently, IDA has intervened in a big way to bring hope to people affected by conflict and violence, including in the MENA region. Of course, IDA is now prioritizing investments to deal with the worst impacts of climate change.

Since 2000, IDA has provided more than $88 billion in financial assistance to Arab and Muslim countries. In IDA18, more than 50% of the resources were allocated to 28-member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali are among the biggest beneficiaries of IDA. In the MENA region, Djibouti, Syria, and Yemen are IDA beneficiaries.

In Yemen, through its many contributions, IDA has played a critical role to provide relief and mitigate the long-lasting impacts of the country’s tragic conflict. Quite literally, IDA has saved lives! It has helped Yemenis fight diseases and famine. IDA helped train nearly 12,000 health personnel and immunize 6.9 million children (five million of them under 5 years old). Through an emergency program, IDA has helped ensure around 9 million vulnerable Yemenis have access to food and other basic necessities.

In Djibouti, from 2014–18, IDA provided essential services to 1.9 million people. Thousands of pregnant and lactating women, adolescent girls, and children under age 5 benefited from basic nutrition services. During the same period, over 24,000 women gave birth attended by a qualified health practitioner, up from just 1,000. IDA also helped immunize 78% of children before their first birthday in 2018, up from 33% in 2012.

The conflict in Syria, now into its eighth year, continues to take a heavy toll on the life of Syrian people and on the Syrian economy. The death toll in Syria directly related to the conflict as of early 2016 is estimated to be between 400,000 (UN, Apr 2016) and 470,000 (Syrian Center for Policy Research, Feb 2016), with many more injured, and lives upheaved. The conflict has internally displaced about 6.2 million people, including 2.5 million children. Over 5.6 million are officially registered as refugees (UNHCR, 2019). In Lebanon, IDA is helping the country enrol 200,000 Syrian children in public schools. In Jordan, IDA assistance is creating 100,000 jobs for Jordanian nationals and Syrian refugees.

Beyond the MENA region, from the conflict ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo to the earthquake affected Pakistan, or from Haiti and Nepal to Tajikistan and Myanmar, IDA is a strong development partner for the poorest countries. Building on its experience of supporting Syrian refugees and host communities, IDA has helped reintegrate displaced people in more than 10 countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Niger, and Pakistan.

International institutions, of which IDA is a recognized leader, remain important for some of the most lagging regions and communities in the world. Independent assessments have documented the tremendous benefits of IDA’s support for the development of poor countries. Many people are unaware that countries such as China, India, and South Korea were beneficiaries of IDA assistance in the past, but now they have become donors giving back to the international community.

Institutions like IDA deserve our utmost support because when misfortune strikes countries, the knowledge and financial resources of institutions such as IDA can save, protect, and nurture lives. These institutions can provide ideas for development strategies and funds for critical infrastructure. To eliminate extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity, institutions like IDA are a valuable ally for governments and citizens.

The World Bank Group is grateful for generous financial contributions to IDA from the international donor community. However, I believe that the more fortunate MENA countries can and must enhance their contribution to IDA. Some countries in the MENA region are among the wealthiest in the world. Their good fortune presents an opportunity for the MENA region to take on a leadership role in this important forum. It is also a wonderful opportunity to help those in need, which is fully in line with the region’s rich history of generosity towards the less fortunate.

IDA has a critical global mission — and its successes to date are only possible because of the generosity of its members. More substantial financial contributions to IDA are good for MENA’s standing in the international community. It is also the right thing to do.

 World Bank

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BRICS countries deem a single crypto currency

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Speaking on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, which took place in Brazil in mid-November, President of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev came up with a proposal to create a common crypto currency for servicing a unified payment system of the member countries. According to RBC, the idea of a unified payment system has already received the backing of the BRICS Business Council. The parties concerned held a heated discussion on the possibility of using a single digital currency for conducting payments.

Virtual currencies or crypto currencies, and the blockchain technology that underlies them have been major trends in the information technology market since the early 2010s. Experts deem the blockchain technology as revolutionary: we are talking about a distributed electronic database (a register, ledger), in which each “cell” contains information about all others. Cryptographic methods are used to ensure the functioning and protection of the “register”. Such characteristics of block chain technology as its distributed decentralized nature and the availability of information about all transactions make it useful in those areas of business where many participants are involved who are not able to verify the credibility of counterparties. Resources transferred via a blockchain cannot be blocked (or arrested), even temporarily, by anyone except their owner. Meanwhile, what remains a major problem of all private and corporate crypto currency projects is their credibility.

If a digital currency is issued by the state or a community of states, then most, if not all, problems private crypto currencies are faced with are solvable. In this case, the advantages of Bitcoin and the underlying block chain technology are preserved, while the risks, such as the anonymity and simplicity of uncontrolled cross-border operations, which evoke the anxiety of authorities around the world, are neutralized. The issue of crypto currency would make it possible for the authorities to assume control of the technology that can otherwise reinforce global speculators, and even, according to critics, undermine the very existence of states in their classical format.

Meanwhile, many capitals have been keeping a close eye on the growing concern of the US authorities over the prospect of a global spread of crypto currencies. Washington’s major fears are that the “foes of America,” be it states or non-state entities, will be able to create a financial network independent of the US dollar. In this case, the United States would lose the most important instrument of  non-military pressure that it uses to influence its opponents.

At present, more than 85 percent of all currency exchange transactions are made in dollars. All Washington has to do to block unwanted financial transactions is just  add suspicious individuals, organizations or states to the “black list” which is sent to all banks in the world. For fear of falling under sanctions or losing the ability to make payments in dollars, the overwhelming majority of financial institutions have until now been following the instructions of the American authorities. In May this year, Republican Brad Sherman submitted a bill which proposes to ban US citizens from buying or selling crypto currency. In July, a number of Congressmen from the Democratic Party drafted a bill that prohibits online platforms and social networks with an annual income of at least $ 25 billion from providing financial services and issuing crypto currencies. According to commentators, the authors of both bills make no secret of the fact that their initiatives are motivated by by geopolitical considerations. For one, Congressman Sherman argued during the hearings: “Crypto currencies must be nipped in the bud also because the lion’s share of our international influence is based on the fact that the dollar is the standard of the international financial system. For oil and other transactions, it is vital that they be cleared by the federal reserve … Crypto currencies undermine our international policy … ”.

According to RT columnist Max Keiser, an ever more number of countries are beginning to understand what influence the United States has on other states only because the dollar is the principal currency for commercial and intergovernmental settlements. In addition to gaining profit from the dominant role of the dollar in international trade, Washington possesses levers of influence that affect the policies of most countries through sanctions or threat of sanctions and are beyond the reach of anyone else. Keiser deems sanctions as an “act of aggression,” because, in his opinion, the dollar has long turned into a weapon. Not surprisingly, countries that value their sovereignty are looking for ways to minimize or completely neutralize America’s ability to exert pressure through denial of dollar transactions. Before the arrival of crypto currencies, gold was a major protective shield. Nowadays, national digital currencies are considered  a new powerful tool, devoid of many shortcomings of gold in terms of everyday use.

Given the circumstances, as reported by one of the most authoritative Russian resources in the field of crypto currencies, DeCenter, all BRICS members are either on the point of issuing digital fiat money, “or are looking into such a possibility.”  The BRICS countries are thereby following the global trend as the prospect of issuing digital currencies by central banks, the Central bank digital currency (CBDC), has been attracting the attention of governments in an increasing number of countries. On November 26, Vice President of the European Commission Valdis Dombrovskis spoke about plans of the European Union to launch a EU digital currency by the end of 2021. One of the problems that could be solved with the help of such a system, according to ECB Board member Benoit Kere, is putting an end to Europe’s dependence on US-based international payment services, such as MasterCard, Visa, Apple, PayPal and Amazon.

What could serve as an example for the rest of the BRICS members is the position of Beijing, which has changed its attitude to crypto currencies by “180 degrees” over the past few months. According to Leonid Kovachich of the Moscow-based Carnegie Center, “President Xi Jinping refers to blockchain as a breakthrough technology, while major Chinese media outlets are  talking at length  about the benefits of blockchain and urge the community not to miss the historic opportunity to challenge the global hegemony of the dollar.”

This fall, representatives of the People’s Bank of China said they were “considering the possibility of launching a digital yuan at an early date.” President of the Digital Currency Development Center of the Central Bank of China Mu Changchun has identified the basic criteria for issuing the crypto currency of the PRC. “CryptoYuan will not function only on the basis of blockchain, the issue will proceed in two stages: from the Central Bank to commercial banks and then into further circulation.” The digital yuan will replace the M0 aggregate, while the processing capacity of the payment system will be “up to 300 thousand transactions per second”. As an official currency, the digital yuan will be issued on a centralized basis and regulated by the government. The digital yuan is set to incorporate the best characteristics of crypto currencies, including minimum transaction time, “reliability, invariability and irreversibility”, and fiat money – its sovereignty and liquidity guarantees.

The fact that the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance are considering the possibility of introducing crypto currency in Russia was reported by Kommersant back in 2016. In June 2017, Deputy Chairperson of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation Olga Skorobogatova announced prospects for launching a national digital currency. Skorobogatova said Central Bank specialists had started work on a digital ruble project. Similarly to the digital yuan, it is assumed that the issue of the Russian virtual currency will be strictly regulated, its exchange for rubles and other currencies will be possible only on special electronic platforms and the identity of the crypto currency buyer will have to be established. According to DeCentre, the draft law on digital financial assets (DFA) was adopted by the State Duma in the first reading in 2018. However, amendments have been made and continue to be made since then, also regarding the very definition of crypto currency. 

Russian experts view the digital ruble as one of the options to respond to  the intensifying Western sanctions. As Iran’s disconnection from the SWIFT banking system at the request of the United States demonstrated, the creation of an interbank payment system that can replace SWIFT is “of paramount importance for the BRICS countries”. As an instrument for conducting mutual payments in such a system, the central banks could issue a limited volume of digital currency and all transactions in this currency will be registered in a single register and will be verified by agents appointed by the authorities of the BRICS countries. The use of a common crypto currency would make such a payment system universal and would safeguard payments against foreign sanctions.

In this respect, at the initial stage, the BRICS digital currency may not become a  payment instrument in the full sense of the word. A couple of years ago, Russian venture investor Evgeny Gordeev called for launching a government program to attract investments and ensuring the safety of capital at the blockchain level. Technically, such an investment mechanism would enable Russia’s foreign partners interested in investing in Russian assets to avoid the legal consequences of the sanctions that have been imposed on the Russian Federation in recent years. A member of the State Duma’s expert panel, Nikita Kulikov, believes that a common crypto currency that is currently being considered by BRICS experts could become a means of “fixating obligations”, a conversion tool, and an instrument to ensure the “autonomy of interstate remittances”.

Thus, as experts continue to speculate about the extent to which crypto currencies are capable of revolutionizing the entire system of financial relations, the changes that have occurred in the economic and monetary policies of some of the world’s leading states in recent years demonstrate that they are beginning to take crypto currencies more and more seriously regarding them as a useful tool to strengthen their national economic sovereignty.

From our partner International Affairs

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