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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.

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Building Back Better: The new normal development path

Alek Karci Kurniwan

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Global stock markets such as Footsie, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nikkei has decreased the profit since the outbreak of Covid-19 Pandemic in early 2020. Dow Jones fell to its lowest point, minus 35%, in April 2020 (Bloomberg, 4/27/2020). In US, more than 1 in 4 workers have lost their jobs since the coronavirus crisis shut down much of the economy in March.(National Public Radio, 28/3/2020).

Even the trend of Covid-19 death case has decrease, but still worried. Will the second wave happen? Because of that a new normal order is needed, when the spread of the pandemic stops and then the economy returns to normal.

There are at least two potential scenarios for the recovery of the economic crisis which were affected by Covid-19. The first scenario, gross domestic product will be pushed in such a way as to make the economy grow faster. By stimulating consumption, investment, government spending, and commodity exports.  At the same time, industrialization will grow stronger than the pre-Covid-19 conditions.

Environmental conditions that had improved during the emergence of Covid-19 might be polluted again. Carbon emissions are predicted to rise into the air, to pre-Covid-19 levels, and will even be higher than before. This is what is called the “revenge pollution” phenomenon. Like the recession and the global financial crisis in 2008, which is comparable to the scale of the crisis impact of the Pandemic Covid-19, even in very different kinds. Governments in the world responded with an economic rescue package and a stimulus worth by billions of USD. But in the last decade, greenhouse gas emissions have increased.

China has a real precedent. In response to the global financial crisis in 2008, the Chinese government launched a USD 586 billion stimulus package focused on massive infrastructure projects. That is why China’s industry has grown rapidly over the years. But for the environmental impact, their emission levels increased. Known as “airpocalypse” as the worst smog in city centers, such as Beijing in the winter of 2012 and 2013.

Besides, the world also creates a level of inequality that is far greater than that seen since the Second World War. The world shows a very striking difference between the super-rich and the very poor in terms of health, job security, education and other matters. As stated by Oxfam (2017), the wealth of 1% of the rich is equal to the combined wealth of 99% of the world’s population.

Then the second scenario, where we depart from the revenge pollution precedent after 2008. Pandemics give opportunities, when the economy back to begin normally and new rules, there is an opportunity to make the impossible to possible – or the last ignored things can be applied. This is the best time for the green agenda includes in the order that we want to renew.

Oxford University recently published an interesting study related to the global crisis recovery plan, entitled “Building back better: Green COVID-19 recovery packages will boost economic growth and stop climate change.” The focus of the research is to compare between green stimulus projects with traditional stimulus, such as the taken steps after the 2008 global financial crisis. The researchers found that, green projects create more work, provide higher short-term returns, and lead to long-term increased cost savings.

In economic development, to quickly recover from the crisis, the Government needs projects, which is called by experts with the term ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure projects. It exceeds labor-intensive projects, it also does not need high-level skills or extensive training, and gives profitable infrastructure for the economy. An example is the clean energy infrastructure, which produces twice as much work as a fossil fuel project.

We can see the need for bicycle-friendly and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure in cities. Then build a broadband internet network connection, because online systems for schools and work will be used massively. And the network for charging electric vehicles. Therefore, in the future we will definitely need more electricity. It also needs mass projects for solar, wind and biogas power plants.

According to WRI (2017), the main sources of global greenhouse gas emissions are electricity (31%), agriculture (11%), transportation (15%), forestry (6%) and manufacturing (12%). All types of energy production contribute 72% of all emissions. The energy sector is the most dominant factor causing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s how our lives are still dependent on fossil energy in the “old normal”. “New normal” should be able to replace old energy sources with renewable energy.

In April 2020, EU Ministers of environment launched “The European Green Deal” as the point of the post Covid-19 recovery process. At least 100 billion Euros were mobilized during the 2021-2027 period in the most affected regions for investment in environmentally friendly technology, decarbonate energy sector, and other new green norms.

CEOs of large companies such as Ikea, H&M and Danone have signed commitments representing the private sector in this alliance. The Contracting Parties understand that the fight against climate change is the point of Europe’s new economic policy, with an emphasis on renewable energy, zero emissions and new technology. This should be an example for the world in crisis recovery from the impact of the Corona virus pandemic. There is an opportunity to redesign a sustainable and inclusive economy.

In the Paris Agreement 2015, countries in the world have agreed to responsible for reducing the impact of climate change, with different portions and capabilities.The target is quite high, the world must reduce emissions by more than 45% if global warming is limited to 1.5 °C. Without the great new adaptation, the goals won’t be achieved easily.

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Of IMF’s Debt Trap and Chinese Debt Peonage

Abdul Rasool Syed

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With the mandate of fostering global monetary corporations, securing financial stability, facilitating international trade, promoting high employment and sustainable growth, and reducing poverty around the world, IMF formally came into existence in 1945 at Bretton Wood conference. Ever since its inception, the fund has been under severe criticism by economic luminaries, celebrated academicians, and the enlightened political scientists belonging to different parts of world exclusively to the third world countries.

For many observers, the problems of the fund are congenital; Bretton Wood produced a deformed infant and a little has been done through the years to overcome such deformities. The assertion is often made the fund was created by and for industrial countries with no concern for the developing countries. Much of the criticism on fund revolves around the conditions attached to its lending facility.

According to well-versed economists, when the fund prescribes austerity to the recipient country, the health budgets are cut down, children are forced to leave schools and the workers are thrown out of work. Education and health sectors suffer the worst consequences of IMF’s prescribed austerity drive. IMF with utter disregard to domestic affairs of the host country prescribes its own recipe to cure the ills of borrowing economy.

It dispatches a team to assess the economy of the host country, measure its performance, and to recommend corrective measures and remedial actions; of what Joseph Stieglitz– a former World Bank chief economist famously scorned as second-rate economists from first-rate universities–says, “They are well-meaning people and I am sure they want to help. But their visits are painful reminders of riots in Bolivia, Indonesia, and strikes in Nigeria…”

Another renowned economist Jeffery Sachs argues that the IMF’S “usual prescription is budgetary belt-tightening to the countries who are too poor to buy such belts”. Furthermore, it reminds me the prophetic words of Harry White former assistant to Secretary of the U.S treasury who once said “I don’t think the fund should butt into every country’s business and say “we don’t like this or that”.

Moreover, for the developing country like Pakistan, the IMF prescriptions are force-fed and according to one economist, we have to swallow the IMF prescribed medicine because we have no other choice. He adds that some of the recommendations of the fund are like a doctor stemming the bleeding of your arm by stopping your heart. Thus, such prescription incompatible with the domestic market of the borrowing country does not bear any fruit. It rather redoubles the difficulties for the host country to cope with its socio-economic challenges.

In addition, there is also a widespread perception in developing countries that by giving its own program, the fund entraps the borrowing country and thereby penetrates deep into its economic system. The fund’s undue intervention in the country’s internal economic dispensation results in economic chaos and uncertainty. The policymakers are therefore unable to craft economic programs in accordance with requirements of the home economy. Consequently, the country is forced to surrender its economic independence and financial sovereignty.

Another allegation leveled against the IMF is that it is a tool of U.S foreign policy that furthers its strategic and economic interests.
Being the only nation with an outright veto helps Washington sway decisions to its benefits. The U.S, therefore, exploits the fund to lure the borrowing country into a debt trap and thereby makes it as its lackey. Such entrapment helps U.S advance her imperialist agenda and meet her global interests. This can be plainly grasped in our relations with the fund, whose pockets are generous to us when we serve the interests of the U.S as it happened after 9/11 and penny-pinching otherwise.

The undue clout of Washington on IMF has raised many questions on its credibility.  Rightly did Lord Keynes describe the views of America on the future of IMF. He wrote in 1944, before Bretton Wood Conference. “In their eyes, the fund should have wide discretionary and policing powers and should exercise something of the same measure of the grandmotherly influence and control over the central banks of the member countries, that these central banks, in turn, are accustomed to exercise control over the other banks of their own countries”… this is how the game to control the economy of the borrowing country is played by U.S in cahoots with IMF.

It seems that China too is following the footprints of IMF. It is employing the same tactics to create its global hegemony as that of the U.S. by using its heavy influence on IMF. It has been keenly observed by political cognoscenti and leading defense analysts that China is colonizing smaller countries by lending them massive amounts of money that they can never repay. The country is accused of leveraging massive loans it holds over small states worldwide to snatch their assets and increase its military footprints.

Developing countries from Pakistan to Djibouti, the Maldives to Fiji all owe huge amounts to China. There are examples of many defaulters being pressured into surrendering control of their assets or allowing military basis on their land. This move of China is being dubbed by its detractors as “debt-trap diplomacy” or debt colonialism- offering enticing loans to countries unable to repay and then demanding concessions when they default. Sri Lanka provided a prime example of last year.

Owing more than $1 billion in debts to China, Sri Lanka was forced to hand over Hambantota port to the companies owned by the Chinese government on a 99 years lease. And Djibouti, home to US military base in Africa, also looks likely to cede control of a port terminal to a Beijing-linked firm. Apart, America is eager to stop the Doraleh container terminal falling into Chinese hands, particularly because it sits next to China’s only overseas military base.

While commenting on the Chinese debt- trap diplomacy, Rex Tillerson said” Bejing encouraged “dependency using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty”.

Additionally, China’s debt empire has also been rearing its head in the Pacific, prompting fears the country intends to leverage the debt to expand its military footprint into south pacific. Beijing’s creation of man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea for use as military bases suggests the concern may be warranted.

Another case worth mentioning here is of Tonga. It also carries some big debts and is struggling hard for the repayment. Tonga’s Prime Minister, Akilisi Pohvia voiced his concerns saying that Beijing was planning to seize assets from his country. Inter alia, a report from the Center for Global Development offers some insight into spreading China debt. It depicts that the infrastructure project loans to the likes of Magnolia, Montenegro, and Laos have resulted in millions or even billions in debts, which often account for huge percentages of countries’ GDPs.

Many of these projects are linked to the belt and road initiative- a bold project to create trade routes through the swathes of Eurasia, with China at the center. Mahathir Mohammad, the Malaysian Prime Minister while talking to press expressed his reservations about Chinese investment in the following words” We welcome foreign direct investment from anywhere certainly from China. But when it involves giving contracts to China, borrowing huge sums of money from China- and Chinese contractors prefer to use their own workers from China, use everything imported from China even payment is made in China. So we gain nothing at all”.

Therefore, Pakistan in dealing with both IMF and China must remain cautious so that it might neither fall prey to Chinese debt peonage nor to IMF’s debt trap. It may not be possible in case of IMF because a beggar cannot be a chooser while in case of engagement with China, we need to maintain caution and outline our own rules of engagement based on monitoring, evaluating, and allowing discussions to weigh the pros and cons of each and every development project.

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Armenia’s inability to solve pandemic-related economic problems

Orkhan Baghirov

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According to data from the Armenian government, in 2019 the country’s economy grew by about 7.6%,which was the highest figure since 2008. Further data from the Statistical Committee of Armenia show that the trade and service sectors were the main drivers of economic development. In the same period, 9% growth in industrial output and a 4% reduction in agricultural output were also recorded. Inspired by these growth numbers, during a cabinet meeting in January, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that he was confident that, as a result of the joint efforts of government members, even higher figures will be registered in 2020. However, as a result of subsequent pandemic-related events, his confidence disappeared and difficulties in solving economic problems have proven the inability of the Armenian government to act independently.

Since the declaration of an emergency situation on March 16, economic activity has significantly slowed, thus leading to the creation of various economic problems and a financial deficit. Even though some restrictions were softened in May, that did not lead to a noticeable increase in economic activity. As a result, the economic forecasts for Armenia in 2020 worsened. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the economy of Armenia will contract by about3.5% in 2020 as a result of global uncertainty and falling demand. However, the Armenian government is more optimistic in its prediction of a decline in GDP of 2%.

One of the main problems created by the pandemic-related economic restrictions is the impossibility of implementation of government-approved budget projects for 2020. As the forecast for Armenia’s GDP worsens, it will lead to lower tax revenues than initially planned for. According to the Finance Minister, Atom Janjughazyan, with the forecast 2% decline of GDP at the end of the year, tax revenues will decrease by about 10% compared with the planned volume. If the economy diminishes by more than 2%,that will lead to an even greater reduction in tax revenues. Janjughazyan also noted that the government plans to keep budget spending unchanged in order to mitigate the negative consequences and create the preconditions for a quick recovery. Although this decision could help to prevent social discontent and avert some economic problems, it could have long-lasting economic consequences by significantly increasing the budget deficit. With a reduction in taxes generated of about 10%, the budget deficit will double, reaching 5% of the projected GDP or $676.4 million (1 Armenian Dram=0.0021 USD). To run the budgeted projects with such a high level of deficit, the government will have to amend the budget legislation in order to exceed existing restrictions.

Another financial problem for Armenia is related to the implementation of support programs. As the emergency situation has substantially impacted economic development, the government has had to implement support programs. Even though these programs have been important in supporting the economy, they have also created financial problems as the government does not have enough resources to implement them independently. To support the economy, the government approved a support package of $315 million. Of these funds, $168 million will be used for long-term economic development programs;$52.5 million for the elimination of economic problems, social tension and liquidity issues; and $42 million for the redistribution of reserve funds. So far, the Armenian government has approved 20 crisis measures for the implementation of support programs.

Financing the high budget deficit and extensive support programs creates financial problems as Armenia does not have sufficient financial resources. Therefore, Armenia must attract funds from other countries or international financial institutions. Based on the calculations of the Armenian government for financing the combined support programs and budget deficit,it needs to raise an additional$546 million. Armenia already has a large volume of external debt (40% of GDP in 2019) and raising additional funds will significantly increase that debt. Taking on an additional $546 million of debt will increase the government’s external debt by about 10%. Taking into account that, during 2019, the total public debt of Armenia increased by about 14.8%, the increase of external debt by about 10% from only one source shows how seriously it will affect the financial security of the country.

Armenia also is facing economic problems in the energy sector. On April 1,GazpromArmenia, the Russian-owned natural gas distributing company, declared that it was going to ask the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) for changes to gas prices in Armenia. It proposed to set the same price for all customers beginning from July 1. This change would eliminate the discount for low-income families, thus leading to a 35% increase in price for them but a2.2% decrease for consumers that use up to 10,000 cubic meters of gas per month. The Armenian government was dissatisfied with the offered gas rates as it was already dealing with pandemic-related economic problems and it requested that Russia decrease the price of gas that they sell to Armenia.

As the talks with Russia did not lead to desired results, the PSRC accepted the changes but kept the price for domestic users and low-income families unchanged. The PSRC wants the average weighted price of 1,000 cubic meter of gas be set at $266.7 USD,$16.43 below the price that Gazprom Armenia had proposed. The price of natural gas will increase from $212 to $224 per thousand cubic meters for agricultural companies, and from $242 to $255.92for consumers who use more than 10,000 cubic meters of gas per month. The new prices will enter into force on July 19, except for thermal power plants. Despite the fact that PSRC was able to prevent price changes for ordinary citizens, the new rates will create unemployment problems. In order to operate with accepted price changes Gazprom Armenia has to lay off about 1500 employees and reduce its annual revenues about 6%.

The inability of the Armenian government to solve its economic problems with its own financial resources or to diversify its energy imports will lead to significant economic problems. Many countries around the world are facing economic and financial problems and are therefore looking to obtain foreign assistance, and this reduces opportunities to access foreign finance by intensifying competition. Therefore, it is not currently easy for Armenia to attract financial resources. The dependence of the energy sector on the price policies of other countries also creates economic instability. Even though the PSRC was able to avoid natural gas price rises for ordinary citizens, it cannot prevent unemployment issues and price rises for businesses. Therefore, countries that are dependent on foreign financial assistance and are unable to implement independent economic and energy policies during the pandemic and in the post-pandemic period will face serious economic issues. Taking into account that social and economic problems were among the main drivers of the change of government in Armenia in 2018,the pandemic-related economic problems will also have political consequences.

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