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WTO without United States?

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At present, it makes no sense for anyone to discard membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the US’ exit from it will not become fatal, -said the Russian Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin commenting on a statement made by US President Donald Trump to the effect that Washington could leave the WTO.

The minister remarked that “it is not the first time that the United States has suggested the possibility of withdrawing from the WTO. When these kinds of “reminders” begin to appear too often, they become negotiating techniques designed to impress counterparties on trade deals under discussion. ” According to the Russian minister, the position of American trade diplomats that they stick to at talks on a dispute resolution system in Geneva is suggesting the same idea. It seems that by blocking the work of WTO’s appeals organ, the United States is trying to create an additional instrument for influencing trading partners with a view to encourage them to take decisions that would be beneficial for the White House on how to reform the WTO, ” – said Maxim Oreshkin. According to him, “since there is no global alternative to WTO which would be equally effective, there is no reason for such large international trade players as the United States to walk out of it. As for the World Trade Organization itself, a loss of even one of top players will not be fatal .

Simultaneously, the Russian Minister of Economic Development has suggested that the US withdrawal from the World Trade Organization (if it takes place) will stimulate WTO reform, change the configuration of “tactical alliances” and interest groups within the WTO, and will alter multilateral rules in those areas where negotiations have long been in a deadlock.

If the United States chooses to leave the World Trade Organization (WTO), then the entire existence of this organization will be put into question, ” – confirmed presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov. According to Peskov, “there are no doubts that the existence of, let’s say, a global system-forming economic organization after the world’s top economy walks out will cast doubt on its future”. “In any case, this is an internal affair of the United States,” – Dmitry Peskov added.

That the US might leave the main international trade organization was signaled by President Trump as he addressed employees of the Royal Dutch Shell chemical plant in Monaca, PA. “We will leave the organization if necessary.” He warned that a situation like now when the WTO is helping other member countries to “use” the US, will not happen again.

As an instance of that, Donald Trump predictably cited his main “opponent” in its trade and economic debate – China. The American president spoke about a rapid development of the Chinese industry after Beijing joined the WTO. In the meantime, the USA complained about the theft of American technology in China, – the US president added.

Donald Trump’s current speech can be seen as a key feature of his own election campaign, considering that the US’ possible exit from the WTO served as an important point of his election program back in 2016. Back then he promised to take such a step if his plans to use tariffs to protect domestic producers ran into resistance from the above organization.

A similar idea was voiced by Donald Trump in 2018. The then WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo tried to reduce tensions saying that the US concern about those areas of the organization’s work that they wanted to improve was not new. What Donald Trump is speaking about now is “consistent with what the US has said before,” – Roberto Azevedo said.

However, given that the current situation in the world is strikingly different from what it was just a couple of years ago, the future of international trade and economic relations becomes a matter of serious concern. The “trade war” between Washington and Beijing is not only showing no signs of subsiding but threatens to hit a new high. Donald Trump has promised to slap higher tariffs on the remaining imports from China totaling about $ 300 billion as of September 1, despite a “trade ceasefire” which was reached earlier with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka. Although the American leader has postponed the introduction of duties on a number of goods (primarily electronics) till December 15 this year, world markets do not expect any stabilization yet, particularly after Donald Trump declared China a “currency manipulator” following a sharp fall in the yuan rate.

Significantly, despite higher tariffs already imposed by the two parties on the total volume of bilateral supplies of $ 360 billion, it is China that is clearly taking upper hand in the “trade war”. Despite the duties, the Chinese surplus in trade with the United States continues to grow, having increased in the first half of the year to $ 140.48 billion, against $ 133.76 billion in the same period of 2018. In July, US exports to China fell by 19%, while Chinese exports to the United States fell only by 6.5%. The new round of tariff increases will be more noticeable, also in terms of its negative impact on the socio-economic situation in the United States, Capital Economics experts warn in this regard.

However, it’s the US’ European partners that are sustaining yet greater losses. In AugustGermany’s monthly economic index, published by the Center for Economic Research in Europe, fell to the December 2011 low, while national economy found itself on the verge of the first recession in six years. The Center’s experts say this situation was triggered by the ongoing “trade war” between the US and China, along with the growing possibility that Britain will likely exit the European Union in line with the “tough” scenario.

“Trade conflicts, global uncertainty and the problems experienced by the car manufacturers have finally thrown the German economy down on its knees,” – ING economist Carsten Brzeski says.

Negative trends are also visible in the British economy, where inflation has exceeded the Bank of England target of 2%. “Where is the world, and especially the historical allies of Washington, pushing the ever worsening economic conflict between the USA and China?” – the London newspaper The Financial Times asks and continues: “Under normal circumstances, they would certainly side with the USA. But we have unusual circumstances. Under Donald Trump, the United States has turned into an unreliable rogue superpower: they even oppose the fundamental principles of a trading system based on multilateral agreement and strict compliance with the rules. Now, even the US allies are drawn into this mutual hunt. ” “And while the United States is locking horns with China, what should the American allies do?” The problem is not Trump. That he is concerned about the trade surplus is half the trouble. What is much worse, many Americans are dissatisfied not only with China’s behavior, but also with its economic growth ” – the British publication states not without reason and offers its own vision for resolving the situation: “ What should the US allies do? ” They should not support America’s attempts to hinder China’s growth – this would be dishonest. Instead, they should make clear what US goals in trade and technology they agree with, and if possible, adhere to this shared position. Significantly, the EU and Japan are already demonstrating similar views. They should support principles of the multilateral trading system under the auspices of the WTO. Should the US break the quorum needed to resolve disputes, then the rest should agree on some kind of informal mechanism. ” “Hostility between the US and China poses a threat to global peace and prosperity. Outsiders cannot stop this conflict. But they are far from helpless. If superpowers go beyond the multilateral trading system, others will take their place. The majority of them are also major players. All you need is to summon up your courage and behave appropriately, ” – The Financial Times points out.

However, the current problems in US relations with China and the WTO go far beyond the bounds of the trade organization itself. According to reports, Beijing is considering two options that could be really devastating for Washington: building up strategic cooperation with Iran and crushing financial markets and the dollar through the sale of US securities. According to Iranian sources, China has resumed cooperation with Iran on three oil projects and is considering what Washington and Beijing call the “nuclear option.” In particular, according to the director- general of the Iranian Pars Oil and Gas Company (POGC), negotiations with Chinese developers are already under way on the first of these projects – phase 11 on the super-giant South Pars field.

China has also agreed to boost production at Iranian oil fields off Western Karun, including North Azadegan and Yadavaran, by an additional 500 thousand barrels per day by the end of 2020. This is consistent with Iran’s plan to step up effort in these fields.

If one or another of these Chinese projects in Iran runs into a rejection from the United States, then Beijing will resort to the “nuclear option” of selling all or a significant part of its package of American bank-bills worth a total of 1.4 trillion dollars. A large-scale sale of these securities will result in the destabilization of the dollar, a surge in bond yields, a collapse of the real estate market and chaos in the stock market. This measure fits well into China’s long-term strategy, which wants the yuan to challenge the status of the US dollar as a key global reserve currency and the main currency for global energy operations. “China wants to get away from the dollar system,” – confirms Rory Green, an economist with TS Lombard.

What is currently happening in global trade opens up tremendous opportunities for Russia in terms of strengthening its relations with present and potential allies and partners, both on the bilateral and multilateral basis. Apparently, Moscow’s “need” for trade, economic (and, consequently, political) structures will increase visibly in the near future.

 From our partner International Affairs

Senior fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Slavonic Studies, PhD (History)

Economy

Bangladesh-Myanmar Economic Ties: Addressing the Next Generation Challenges

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Bangladesh-Myanmar relations have developed through phases of cooperation and conflict. Conflict in this case is not meant in the sense of confrontation, but only in the sense of conflict of interests and resultant diplomatic face-offs. Myanmar is the only other neighbor that Bangladesh has on its border besides India. It is the potential gateway for an alternative land route opening towards China and South-East Asia other than the sea. Historically, these two countries have geographic and cultural linkages. These two bordering countries, located in separate geopolitical regions, have huge possibilities in developing their bilateral economic relations. At the initial phase of their statehood, both countries undertook numerous constructive initiatives to improve their relations. Nevertheless, different bilateral disputes and challenges troubled entire range of cooperation. Subsequent to these challenges, Bangladesh and Myanmar have started negotiation process on key dubious issues. The economic rationales over political tensions in Bangladesh-Myanmar relations prevail with new prospects and opportunities.

Bangladesh-Myanmar relations officially began from 13 January 1972, the date on which Myanmar, as the sixth state, recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign nation. They signed several agreements on trade and business such as general trade agreement in 1973. The two countries later initiated formal trade relations on 05 September 1995. To increase demand for Bangladeshi products in Myanmar, Bangladesh opened trade exhibitions from 1995 to 1996 in Yangon, former capital of Myanmar. However, that pleasant bilateral economic relations did not last for long, rather was soon interrupted mainly by Myanmar’s long term authoritarian rule and isolationist economic policy. In the twenty-first century, Bangladesh-Myanmar relations are expected to move towards greater economic cooperation facilitated by two significant factors. First, the victory of Myanmar’s pro-democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in 2011 has considerably brought new dimensions in the relations. Although this relation is now at stake since the state power has been taken over by military. Second, the peaceful settlement of Bangladesh-Myanmar maritime dispute in 2012 added new dimension in their economic relations.

Bangladesh and Myanmar don’t share a substantial volume of trade and neither is in the list of largest trading partners. Bangladesh’s total export and import with Myanmar is trifling compared to the total export and import and so do Myanmar’s. But gradually the trades between the countries are increasing and the trend is for the last 5 to 6 year is upward especially for Bangladesh; although Bangladesh is facing a negative trend in Balance of Payment. In 2018-2019 fiscal year, Bangladesh’s total export to Myanmar was $25.11 million which is more than double from that of the export in 2011-12. Bangladesh imported $90.91 million worth goods and services from Myanmar resulting in $65 Million deficit in Balance of Payment in 2018-2019 fiscal year. For the last six or seven years, Bangladesh’s Balance of Payment was continuously in deficit in case of trade with Myanmar. The outbreak of COVID-19, closure of border for eight months and recent coup in Myanmar have a negative impact on the trade between the countries. 

Bangladesh mainly imports livestock, vegetable products including onion, prepared foodstuffs, beverages, tobacco, plastics, raw hides and skin, leather, wood and articles of woods, footwear, textiles and artificial human hair from Myanmar. Recently, due to India’s ban on cattle export, Myanmar has emerged as a new exporter of live animals to Bangladesh especially during the Eid ul-Adha with a cheaper rate than India. On the hand, Bangladesh exports frozen foods, chemicals, leather, agro-products, jute products, knitwear, fish, timber and woven garments to Myanmar.

Unresolved Rohingya crisis, Myanmar’s highly unpredictable political landscape, lack of bilateral connectivity, shadow economy created from illegal activities, distrust created due to different insurgent groups, maritime boundary dispute, illegal drugs and arms smuggling in border areas, skeptic mindset of the people in both fronts and alleged cross border movement of insurgents are acting as stumbling block in bolstering economic relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Bangladesh-Myanmar relations are yet to blossom in full swing. The agreement signed by Sheikh Hasina in 2011 to establish a Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation is definitely a proactive step for enhancing trade. People to people contact can be increased for building mutual confidence and trust. Frequent visit by business, civil society, military and civil administration delegates may be organized for better understanding and communication. Both countries may explore economic potential and address common interest for enhancing economic co-operation. In order to augment trade, both countries may ease visa restrictions, deregulate currency restrictions and establish smooth channel of financial transactions. Coastal shipping (especially cargo vessels between Chittagong and Sittwe), air and road connectivity may be developed to inflate trade and tourism. Bangladesh and Myanmar may establish “Point of Contact” to facilitate first-hand information exchange for greater openness. Initiative may be taken to sign Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) within the ambit of which potential export items from both countries would be allowed to enter duty free. In recent year, Bangladesh was badly affected by many unilateral decisions of India such as onion crisis. Myanmar can serve as an alternative import source of crops and animals for Bangladesh to lessen dependence upon India.

Myanmar’s currency is highly devaluated for a long time due to its political turmoil and sanctions by the west. Myanmar can strengthen its currency value by escalating trade volume with Bangladesh. These two countries can fortify their local economy in boarder areas by establishing border haats. Cooperation between these two countries on “Blue Economy” may be source of strategic advantages mainly by exporting marine goods and service. Last but not the least, the peaceful settlement of maritime boundary disputes between Bangladesh and Myanmar in 2012 may be capitalized to add new dimension in their bilateral economic relations. Both nations can expand trade and investment by utilizing the Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of a Joint Business Council (JBC) between the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).

With the start of a new phase in Bangladesh-Myanmar relations, which has put the bilateral relations on an upswing, it is only natural that both sides should try to give a boost to bilateral trade. Bilateral trade is not challenge free but the issue is far easier to resolve than others. At the same time, closer economic ties could also help in resolving other bilateral disputes. For Myanmar, as it is facing currency devaluation and losing market, increased trade volume will make their economy vibrant. For Bangladesh, it is a good opportunity to use the momentum to minimize trade deficits and reduce dependency on any specific country.

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The Monetary Policy of Pakistan: SBP Maintains the Policy Rate

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The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced its bi-monthly monetary policy yesterday, 27th July 2021. Pakistan’s Central bank retained the benchmark interest rate at 7% after reviewing the national economy in midst of a fourth wave of the coronavirus surging throughout the country. The policy rate is a huge factor that relents the growth and inflationary pressures in an economy. The rate was majorly retained due to the growing consumer and business confidence as the global economy rebounds from the coronavirus. The State Bank had slashed the interest rate by 625 basis points to 7% back in the March-June 2020 in the wake of the covid pandemic wreaking havoc on the struggling industries of Pakistan. In a poll conducted earlier, about 89% of the participants expected this outcome of the session. It was a leap of confidence from the last poll conducted in May when 73% of the participants expected the State Bank to hold the discount rate at this level.

The State Bank Governor, Dr. Raza Baqir, emphasized that the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has resorted to holding the 7% discount rate to allow the economy to recover properly. He added that the central bank would not hike the interest rate until the demand shows noticeable growth and becomes sustainable. He echoed the sage economists by reminding them that the State Bank wants to relay a breather to Pakistan’s economy before pushing the brakes. The MPC further asserted that the Real Discount Rate (adjusted for inflation) currently stands at -3% which has significantly cushioned the economy and encouraged smaller industries to grow despite the throes of the pandemic.

Dr. Raza Baqir further went on to discuss the current account deficit staged last month. He added that the 11-month streak of the current account surplus was cut short largely due to the loan payments made in June. The MPC further explained that multiple factors including an impending expiration of the federal budget, concurrent payments due to lenders, and import of vaccines, weighed heavily down on the national exchequer. He further iterated that the State Bank expects a rise in exports along with a sustained recovery in the remittance flow till the end of 2021 to once again upend the current account into surplus. Dr. Raza Baqir assured that the current level of the current account deficit (standing at 3% of the GDP) is stable. The MPC reminded that majority of the developing countries stand with a current account deficit due to growth prospects and import dependency. The claims were backed as Dr. Raza Baqir voiced his optimism regarding the GDP growth extending from 3.9% to 5% by the end of FY21-22. 

Regarding currency depreciation, Dr. Baqir added that the downfall is largely associated with the strengthening greenback in the global market coupled with high volatility in the oil market which disgruntled almost every oil-importing country, including Pakistan. He further remarked, however, that as the global economy is vying stability, the situation would brighten up in the forthcoming months. Mr. Baqir emphasized that the current account deficit stands at the lowest level in the last decade while the remittances have grown by 25% relative to yesteryear. Combined with proceeds from the recently floated Eurobonds and financial assistance from international lenders including the IMF and the World Bank, both the currency and the deficit would eventually recover as the global market corrects in the following months.

Lastly, the Governor State Bank addressed the rampant inflation in the economy. He stated that despite a hyperinflation scenario that clocked 8.9% inflation last month, the discount rates are deliberately kept below. Mr. Baqir added that the inflation rate was largely within the limits of 7-9% inflation gauged by the State Bank earlier this year. However, he further added that the State Bank is making efforts to curb the unrelenting inflation. He remarked that as the peak summer demand is closing with July, the one-way pressure on the rupee would subsequently plummet and would allow relief in prices.

The MPC has retained the discount rate at 7% for the fifth consecutive time. The policy shows that despite a rebound in growth and prosperity, the threat of the delta variant still looms. Karachi, Pakistan’s busiest metropolis and commercial hub, has recently witnessed a considerable surge in infections. The positivity ratio clocked 26% in Karachi as the national figure inched towards 7% positivity. The worrisome situation warrants the decision of the State Bank of Pakistan. Dr. Raza Baqir concluded the session by assuring that despite raging inflation, the State Bank would not resort to a rate hike until the economy fully returns to the pre-pandemic levels of employment and production. He further assuaged the concerns by signifying the future hike in the policy rate would be gradual in nature, contrast to the 2019 hike that shuffled the markets beyond expectation.

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Reforms Key to Romania’s Resilient Recovery

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Over the past decade, Romania has achieved a remarkable track record of high economic growth, sustained poverty reduction, and rising household incomes. An EU member since 2007, the country’s economic growth was one of the highest in the EU during the period 2010-2020.

Like the rest of the world, however, Romania has been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the economy contracted by 3.9 percent and the unemployment rate reached 5.5 percent in July before dropping slightly to 5.3 percent in December. Trade and services decreased by 4.7 percent, while sectors such as tourism and hospitality were severely affected. Hard won gains in poverty reduction were temporarily reversed and social and economic inequality increased.

The Romanian government acted swiftly in response to the crisis, providing a fiscal stimulus of 4.4 percent of GDP in 2020 to help keep the economy moving. Economic activity was also supported by a resilient private sector. Today, Romania’s economy is showing good signs of recovery and is projected to grow at around 7 percent in 2021, making it one of the few EU economies expected to reach pre-pandemic growth levels this year. This is very promising.

Yet the road ahead remains highly uncertain, and Romania faces several important challenges.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of Romania’s institutions to adverse shocks, exacerbated existing fiscal pressures, and widened gaps in healthcare, education, employment, and social protection.

Poverty increased significantly among the population in 2020, especially among vulnerable communities such as the Roma, and remains elevated in 2021 due to the triple-hit of the ongoing pandemic, poor agricultural yields, and declining remittance incomes.

Frontline workers, low-skilled and temporary workers, the self-employed, women, youth, and small businesses have all been disproportionately impacted by the crisis, including through lost salaries, jobs, and opportunities.

The pandemic has also highlighted deep-rooted inequalities. Jobs in the informal sector and critical income via remittances from abroad have been severely limited for communities that depend on them most, especially the Roma, the country’s most vulnerable group.

How can Romania address these challenges and ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery for all?

Reforms in several key areas can pave the way forward.

First, tax policy and administration require further progress. If Romania is to spend more on pensions, education, or health, it must boost revenue collection. Currently, Romania collects less than 27 percent of GDP in budget revenue, which is the second lowest share in the EU. Measures to increase revenues and efficiency could include improving tax revenue collection, including through digitalization of tax administration and removal of tax exemptions, for example.

Second, public expenditure priorities require adjustment. With the third lowest public spending per GDP among EU countries, Romania already has limited space to cut expenditures, but could focus on making them more efficient, while addressing pressures stemming from its large public sector wage bill. Public employment and wages, for instance, would benefit from a review of wage structures and linking pay with performance.

Third, ensuring sustainability of the country’s pension fund is a high priority. The deficit of the pension fund is currently around 2 percent of GDP, which is subsidized from the state budget. The fund would therefore benefit from closer examination of the pension indexation formula, the number of years of contribution, and the role of special pensions.

Fourth is reform and restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises, which play a significant role in Romania’s economy. SOEs account for about 4.5 percent of employment and are dominant in vital sectors such as transport and energy. Immediate steps could include improving corporate governance of SOEs and careful analysis of the selection and reward of SOE executives and non-executive bodies, which must be done objectively to ensure that management acts in the best interest of companies.

Finally, enhancing social protection must be central to the government’s efforts to boost effectiveness of the public sector and deliver better services for citizens. Better targeted social assistance will be more effective in reaching and supporting vulnerable households and individuals. Strategic investments in infrastructure, people’s skills development, and public services can also help close the large gaps that exist across regions.

None of this will be possible without sustained commitment and dedicated resources. Fortunately, Romania will be able to access significant EU funds through its National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which will enable greater investment in large and important sectors such as transportation, infrastructure to support greater deployment of renewable energy, education, and healthcare.

Achieving a resilient post-pandemic recovery will also mean advancing in critical areas like green transition and digital transformation – major new opportunities to generate substantial returns on investment for Romania’s economy.

I recently returned from my first official trip to Romania where I met with country and government leaders, civil society representatives, academia, and members of the local community. We discussed a wide range of topics including reforms, fiscal consolidation, social inclusion, renewably energy, and disaster risk management. I was highly impressed by their determination to see Romania emerge even stronger from the pandemic. I believe it is possible. To this end, I reiterated the World Bank’s continued support to all Romanians for a safe, bright, and prosperous future.

First appeared in Romanian language in Digi24.ro, via World Bank

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