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A new Mediobanca for small and medium-sized enterprises

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Mediobanca was established by Mattioli and Cuccia in 1946, immediately as a joint stock company, and its full name was Mediobanca Banca di Credito Finanziario. It operated from the beginning having, as founding partners, Banca Commerciale, of which Raffaele Mattioli was President at the time, and Credito Italiano.

Enrico  Cuccia  was  an  unsurpassed  analyser  of  balance  sheets  and accounts – in fact, one of his best known witty remarks was the one on Berlusconi’s Fininvest: “Indeed, how much is a TV antenna really worth?” He was General Manager of Mediobanca from its foundation until 1982, when the dual crisis of public and private companies and of the banks that supported them could already be perceived.

What was the logic behind the establishment of this particular financial structure?

Simply to guarantee and meet – in the medium and sometimes long and very long term –   the economic needs of the manufacturing companies, which had been devastated by World War II.

After the banking reform of 1936, of which Mattioli and Cuccia’s father- in-law, Alberto Beneduce, had  designed the  general guidelines –  later imitated in many financial laws following the 1929 crisis, also in the USA- there were many banks that had chosen to operate in the traditional market of savings collection and then in the short-term credit market.

There was, therefore, the lack of a specialized financial structure which worked only for companies, funded them in the medium-long term and finally led them – where possible – to be listed on the Stock Exchange.

At the time, legislation clearly separated credit and savings banks from those that operated for companies and led them to the listed on the Stock Exchange.

It was the most rational way to separate companies from banks, so as to avoid companies’ crisis leading to the death of public savings.

Enrico Cuccia, who certainly did not like the Italian ruling class, except for his friend and old banker Ugo La Malfa, kept Mediobanca clearly out of the many pressures coming from the whole political world.

However, particularly from 1982 onwards, Cuccia had to face very strong tension with the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI) – at the time led by Romano Prodi – that forced the three banks of national interest, namely Banca Commerciale, Banca di Roma and Credito Italiano – which were all within the IRI sphere – not to renew Enrico Cuccia’s term of office.

Nevertheless, there was another factor that led to the inevitable transformation of Mediobanca.

The 1993 Banking Law, in fact, abolished the obligation for banks to be specialised – hence the separation between savings banks and financial credit institutions for medium-long term companies – and a real crisis occurred between the banks participating in the shareholding structure of Mediobanca and the old medium-long term credit institution.

The central idea underlying the 1936 Law, however, was not entirely wrong, even though it was no longer comprehensible in the context of financial globalization.

Either the banks are separated from their clients or the likelihood of a parallel collapse increases disproportionately.

Moreover, the Consolidated Law of the then Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, i.e. the 1993 reform law, put an end to the structural division between banks and anticipated by six years the end of the U.S. Glass- Steagall Act which, in essence, resumed the principles of separation between banks and companies enshrined in the Fascist Banking Law of 1936.

Currently, in Italy alone, 200 billion euros are needed within the next 18 months in view of resuming the path of development and even of mere productive stability, apart from the E.U. governments’ initiatives – albeit necessary – to face the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the extent of a complete post-war reconstruction. With a view to solving these specific problems, the States have always resorted to forms of extraordinary debt – as was the case with the traditional War Bonds – which are bearer financial instruments with a lower average income than the standard ones, but have a long duration ranging between 7 and 15 years.

Nowadays, however, the securities market is very complex and structured, but we could also envisage a monthly issue of 15-20 year Italy Bonds – a market that is already very large and currently appreciated by savers – with a  1.5-2%  constant  coupon,  the  same  as  the  current  BTPs,  obviously exempt from all present and future taxes, but with a tax credit – if anything – for corporate or retail customers equal to or even higher than the coupon (for example a 3-4% tax credit).

The SMEs’ crisis, however, has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary lockdown of many companies and craft businesses.

Just think that the Italian small and medium-sized enterprises account for over 90% of the total number of companies –  and I am referring to those with less than 20 employees – but receive only 13% of bank loans.

In 2019 there was the biggest drop in loans to SMEs as from 2015.

If we look at the Bank of Italy data processed in early 2020, it turns out that credit to riskier SMEs – calculated on the basis of CERVED criteria – has fallen by 8% for micro-enterprises, but the rating and the amount of bank loans available also for the “safest” SMEs have decreased.

In the meantime, bank loans have increased throughout the Eurozone by 3.7% in continental Europe – hence also in Italy, although only by 3% – with a rate of five percentage points lower in Italy than the trend currently recorded in the rest of the European Union.

A credit crunch for the Italian smaller companies, which makes them very weak, often unable of achieving good globalization, and also inevitably slow in renewing their cutting-edge technologies, but finally prone to the cycle of their short term and loan capital.

One of the reasons for this structural weakness of the Italian SMEs’ finance is, on the one hand, the fact that they have no access to the debt market, with the issuing of bonds or mini-bonds, but, on the other hand, the real European regulatory jungle, which is aimed at reaching one single goal, i.e. to severely lower the credit risk for banks.

All E.U. regulations in the banking sector tend not to grant credit at all to the weaker and smaller SMEs and to consider the usual non-performing loans of companies only as an immediate prelude to bankruptcy.

If we had behaved like this during the huge economic boom of the 1960s, we would still have the rubble of World War II in our major cities.

If a bank follows the completely risk-averse behaviour of a traditional insurance company, then it might as well change business.

Furthermore, the new E.U. regulations in the offing, regarding the regular provision of bank loans to companies and households, are even stricter and more stringent than the international ones – hence money is lent only to those who basically do not need it.

Not to mention the regulations known as Basel II, i.e. the International Convergence of Capital Measurements and Capital Standards developed by the “Basel Committee” established within the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), located in the big tower overlooking the centre of the Swiss city.

Ironically, the BIS was created in 1930 to manage the implementation of the Young Plan, the ingenious and very modern financial operation that cut the war debt of defeated Germany by 20%, dividing it into instalments to be paid every 58 years, with the last one paid in 1988, one year before German reunification.

Unlike this brilliant idea of debt repayment, which was developed in the 1920s, the Basel II regulations, which came into force in 2007, have only one obsessive goal, i.e. to make the banking system stable and radically reduce the companies’ credit risk vis-à-vis the system itself.

In some years after the Basel II regulations, the reduction in loans to companies, and in this case also to large companies, was even 3.5% on average.

It should also be recalled that the Basel III regulations have been in action since January 2013, becoming fully operational in January 2019.

According to the latest data from the Bank of Italy, the decrease in loans to SMEs ranges between 1.9 and 2%.

The estimate is made on the basis of already largely insufficient data.

Furthermore, the weight of bank loans on Italian corporate balance sheets, both of SMEs and large companies is, on average, over 60% of total debt.

In Germany, the United Kingdom and France the bank debt burden on total corporate debt is around 50%.

Hence, if the companies themselves do not take risks on their own and tend to be not only risk averse but also focused on unproductive income, also the banks tend to protect themselves more than usual and even more than it happens with the Basel III regulations.

Hence companies’ low capitalization, but also naive, excessive and bureaucratic formalism of banks, which often forget that their business is to  sell  money  and,  when  giving  information,  put  together  national, European and international standards that, in addition to Basel III regulations, also include the IRFS 9,  created in  2014 to improve and standardize financial information.

Finally, the Italian SMEs pay much more for loans than their competitors because the risk analysis procedure is much more formalized, legalized, bureaucratic and very strict, while the German and French banks serve their business clients in a much more flexible way.

The guarantees are almost always the applicant’s personal ones. This is not even provided for in the various Basel regulations. The rates of access to credit in other European countries are 2-3%, with Italy that, for a low rating company, even goes so far as to charge a 7-8% yearly interest rate.

It should be recalled that currently 92% of Italian companies are micro- enterprises and SMEs, with five and a half million VAT numbers. The average turnover of all these micro-enterprises and SMEs does not exceed two million euros per year.

In France, Germany and Great Britain, the number of entrepreneurs is half of the Italian ones. In France, however, 75% of companies –  which are not SMEs, but medium-sized and large enterprises – are concentrated around Paris, while in Germany – despite the E.U. regulations do not accept it – the banking network is still in the hands of the Länder and of KfW – the equivalent of the Italian investment bank “Cassa Depositi e Prestiti” – which supports all banks in crisis, again in defiance of E.U. regulations.

The bank rating is primarily public, i.e. that of the companies specialised in the sector – which, in Italy, are controlled by CONSOB – and the SMEs often cannot afford to pay large sums of money to the rating companies and also wait for a long time before the rating is made official.

The non-official rating that, instead, Italian banks often adopt is – so to speak – “private”. It is above all the software that the Bank of Italy makes available to banks to evaluate the companies’ balance sheets and accounts, always based on the principle explained by a great and well-known Italian entrepreneur: “the first balance sheet is for everyone and is submitted to the banks; the second one is seen only by company managers and is not made public; the third is very confidential and is seen only by the CEO and the main shareholder, who never speak about it”.

The Bank of Italy’ software studies companies according to a geo-sectoral criterion and following the past trends only of the sector to which they belong.

If the rating turns out to be negative – as is often the case in a phase of crisis and in “mature” sectors, where many SMEs still operate – the bank offers them an 8% interest rate, which is completely off-market, or – as often happens –  does  not grant them any  loan, thus  making them go bankrupt.

Therefore, also the SMEs must be equipped with a “language” suitable for banking procedures, good accounting tools, such as business plans and management budgets, as well as fintech tools, such as business analysis and professional creditworthiness assessments.

At least initially, this could break the wall of incommunicability that separates the business banking clients from the banks’ way of thinking or not thinking at all.

What could be a possible alternative? The private capital market. In Italy there are 1,375 billion euros of private savings which could be invested productively.

In France and Great Britain, the investment in start-ups is on average, year after year, 2.5 billion euros. In Italy it is worth 160 million euros.

The Prime Minister’s Decree known as “Curaitalia” has established the Guarantee Fund for SMEs, which also provides for long-term operations (over 36 months).

However, will the Guarantee Funds and the Credit Consortia be enough to ensure credit flows to SMEs? I do not think so.

According to the latest data, the Credit Consortia have a very low risk profile. They are currently 34 and are subject to the supervision of the Bank of Italy.

In 2019 they issued guarantees to the tune of 7.3 billion euros. Hence, once again, they are not sufficient.

Therefore, we officially propose the establishment of a Medium-Long

Term Credit Bank dedicated to small and medium-sized enterprises.

You can have access to it with the same criteria as an ordinary industrial credit bank, which can lead the most promising SMEs to be listed on the

Stock Exchange or can possibly organize an effective market for the mini- bonds issued by any small and medium-sized enterprise.

Ordinary credit banks or, even better, industrial credit banks and companies can be shareholders of our Mediobanca for SMEs. It can also have its own research unit developing analysis and risk profiles for its clients. It can issue debt and credit securities on the market and can also take part in merger, acquisition and expansion operations in foreign markets.

Hence a Mediobanca model specifically adapted to suit Italian SMEs.

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

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Economy

Role of WTO in Regularization of International Trade

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International trade is one of the main features of the globalized world and global economy. There it needs also a well-organized institutional mechanism to regulate it. World Trade Organization is an international organization established in 1995, whose main objective is to facilitate trade relations among its member countries for their mutual benefits. Currently 164 states are its members. The activities and works of WTO are performing by a Secretariate of about 700 staff located in Geneva, Switzerland, led by the Director General. English, Spanish and French are the official languages of World Trade Organization. The annual budget of WTO is about 180 million dollars.

Since its creation it is playing an important role in the regularization of international trade. It offers a forum and facilitation for negotiating trade agreements in order to reduce the barriers in the way of smooth international trade among member countries. Thus, the role of this organization is playing very important role in the regularization of international trade which is contributing to economic development and growth of member countries in this globalized world. The World Trade Organization also offers an institutional structure and legal framework for the execution and supervising of the international trade related agreements which are very helpful in regularization of international trade. It also settles disputes, disagreements and conflicts occurring during the interpretation and execution of the components of the international agreements related to international trade. During the past 60 years, the World Trade Organization and its predecessor organization the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) have assisted to establish a solid and flourishing global trade system, by this means helping to extraordinary international economic development.

The WTO is regularizing international trade more specifically through negotiating the decrease and finally elimination of barriers to trade among countries and try to make smoothly the working of the rules and principles governing the international trade e.g. tariffs, subsidies, product standards, and antidumping etc. It also administers and monitor the execution of the World Trade Organization’s determined guidelines for trade in services, goods as well as intellectual property rights related to international trade. It also monitors and review the member states international trade policies as well as make sure the transparency in bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. Likewise, it also solves disputes arising among members related to trade relations or related to the explanation of the provisions of the trade agreements. It also offers services to the governments of the developing states in the fields of capacity building of officers in matters related to international trade. WTO is also doing research on matters related to international trade and its related issues and collect data in order to find better solutions of the problems and obstacles in regularization of international trade. It is also trying to bring into the organization the 29 states who are yet not members of the organization aimed to assist and regulate their international trade according to the international standard.

One of the main barriers in way to international trade is disputes between the engaged parties. Since long this was a very critical issue limiting the trade among states. The WTO is playing very good and instrumental role in the solution of trade related disputes. Since the establishment of WTO in 1995 over 400 disputes related to trade have been brought by its member countries to WTO. The increasing number of bringing trade related disputes to WTO is showing the faith of member countries in the organization. Close trade relations have massive advantages but also create disputes and disagreements. With the increase of international trade, the possibility of its related disputes also increases. Previously, such problems and disagreements have caused in severe disputes. But at present, in the era of WTO the international trade related disputes are decreased because the member states have now dispute’s solution platform, and they are turning to the World Trade Organization to solve their trade related disagreements and disputes. Before the World War Second, there was not any such international organization or forum which could facilitate international trade and its related affairs, and there was also noany legal framework for solving trade related disputes among states of the word.

One of The World Trade Organization’s guiding principal is to continue the open boundaries for trade, ensure the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status among member countries and stop discriminatory behaviour of members towards other member(s) and bring transparency in doing international trade. It is also assisting counties to open their indigenous markets to global trade, with justified exemptions or with suitable flexibilities, promote and support to durable growth, reduce trade deficit, decrease poverty, and promote economic stability. It is also working to integrate different international trade policies and principles. The member countries of WTO are also under the compulsion to bring their trade related disputes to this organization and avoid unilateral actions. WTO is the central pillar of the current international trade system.

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Russia and France to strengthen economic cooperation

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On April 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin held videoconference with leaders of several French companies-members of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France-Russia) to discuss some aspects of Russian-French trade, economic and investment cooperation, including the implementation of large joint projects as well as the prospects for collaborative work.

Putin noted that the Economic Council of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is still operational in spite of difficulties, and the late April meeting was the fourth time since 2016. From the historical records, France has been and remains a key economic partner for Russia, holding a high but not sufficiently high, 6th place among EU countries in the amount of accumulated investment in the Russian economy and 5th place in the volume of trade.

Despite a certain decline in mutual trade in 2020 (it went down by 14 percent compared to 2019) the ultimate figure is quite acceptable at $13 billion. French investment in Russia is hovering around $17 billion, while Russian investment in France is $3 billion.

Over 500 companies with French capital are operating in various sectors of the Russian economy. French business features especially prominently in the Russian fuel and energy complex, automobile manufacturing and, of course, the food industry. “It could have been more if the French regulatory and state authorities treated Russian businesses as Russia is treating French businesses. We appreciate that in a difficult economic environment, French companies operating in Russia have not reduced their activity,” Putin pointed out.

The Russian Government established the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, which includes six French companies. Further, there is an opportunity to discuss specific issues related to the economic and investment climate in Russia, and that opportunity is traditionally provided at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which will be held on June 2-5.

French companies are involved in the implementation of globally famous landmark projects, such as the construction of the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 facilities and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. This, Putin regrettably said “We are aware of and regret the amount of political speculation concerning the latter. I would like to point out once again that it is a purely economic project, it has nothing to do with present-day political considerations.”

Russia intends to increase assistance to the development of science and technology. Funds will be directed primarily to innovation sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, nuclear and renewable energy, and the utilisation of carbon emissions.

“We are interested in involving foreign companies that would like to invest in Russia and in projects we consider high priority. In order to do this, we will continue to use preferential investment regimes and execute special investment contracts, as you know. A lot of French companies successfully use these tools on the Russian market. For example, more than one third of 45 special investment contracts have been signed with European, including French, partners,” he explained during the meeting.

He also mentioned continuous efforts to attract foreign companies to localise their production to state purchases and to implementing the National Development Projects, as well as existing opportunities for French businesses in special economic zones. Today there are 38 such zones created throughout the Russian Federation.

Russia pays particular attention to attracting high-quality foreign specialists. Their employment is being fast-tracked, and their families can now obtain indefinite residence permits. There is a plan to launch a special programme of ‘golden visas’ whereby to issue a residence permit in exchange for investment in the real economy, a practice is used in many other countries.

Taking his turn, Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Gennady Timchenko, noted that the pandemic has changed the world, people and business, and that French companies in Russia are responsible employers and socially responsible members of Russian society.

Despite the crisis and the geopolitical situation, a number of French companies have launched production in 2020–2021. Companies such as Saint-Gobain and Danone have renewed their investments. French companies have increased their export of products manufactured in Russia; they are investing in priority sectors of the Russian economy. For example, this year the French company Lidea is launching a plant called Tanais to produce seeds. Russia is dependent on the import of 30 to 60 percent of these seeds, according to various estimates.

Despite the current geopolitical conditions and information field, there are important signals for French business and the Russian side to strengthen economic cooperation, attract investment, and create partnerships on a new mutually beneficial basis.

Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Patrick Pouyanne, noted that the meeting has become an excellent tradition, the presence of 17 CEOs and deputy CEOs of French companies shows the importance of these joint meetings, and further reflect the deep interest of French business in Russia.

In addition, Patrick Pouyanne further offered some insights into Russia-French cooperation. By 2020, twenty members of the Economic Council invested a total of 1.65 trillion rubles, supporting 170,000 jobs. These companies have operated in Russia for decades and continue investing in the Russian economy despite the sanctions and the epidemic. These companies help France maintain its status as the second largest investor in Russia. In 2020, France invested over $1 billion in Russia despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Concluding his remarks, Patrick Pouyanne stressed that the economic operators believe everyone will benefit if Russia, France and all of Europe are not divided or isolated. This is the challenge today. Indeed, diplomacy has to continue playing an important role in settling differences, and businesses are convinced that meetings like this create bridges between Russia and France to strengthen investment and economic cooperation.

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Iran’s Economic Diplomacy through CPEC

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U.S. sanctions against Iran are characterized by strategic flexibility and adaptability. They are designed to have maximum negative and deterrent effect on Iran’s military, economic and diplomatic growth.  Tehran is exploring ways to counter these sanctions most probably by economic engagements with the regional countries. Iran’s perception of CPEC lends some credit to this argument.

Since the initiation of CPEC, the regional perception has already started to change as many countries have begun to see the project within the domain of their national interests. Iran has expressed its long-standing interests to join the CPEC viewing the corridor as a cornerstone for the country economic prosperity and regional connectivity.

Iran solely focuses more on the economic aspect of CPEC. Regional connectivity through CPEC can boost Iran’s stake in the global output. In 2015, on the sidelines of the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) address, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani expressed a desire to be the part of CPEC. He emphasized the importance of connectivity projects for the region. Iran’s initial reluctance to CPEC was transformative in nature and heavily came down with the unfolding of new geoeconomic realities.

Iran’s inclination for the CPEC project even becomes the part of official discourse. Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Monardost showed keen interest to participate in the CPEC and named it as one of the greatest projects in the history of the region. He envisioned a great boost to bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran under the framework of this regional connectivity corridor. In 2017, Iran’s economy minister Ali Tayyebnia participated in the New Silk Road summit. He praised the New Silk Road concept for regional connectivity.

Iran’s economy is already clutched due to the international sanctions invoked by the Trump administration after pulling back from the Iranian Nuclear Agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018.Downplaying the perception of geopolitical competition between Gwadar and Chabahar, Iran higher officials negated the impression of competition falsely exaggerated by International and India media and insisted on the complementary nature of two ports.

In 2016,Iran and India signed an agreement for the development of Chabahar port and it was view as the counterweight to Gwadar port. Without explicitly mentioning India by name, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Syed Mohammad Ali Hoseeni defended the decision of his country to drop out India from the project in Chabahar by stating “when some foreign governments found reluctant in their relations with Iran and need other’s permission for even their normal interactions, for sure they would not be capable of planning and implementing such long-term cooperation contracts”.

The same rhetoric appears in the views of Chinese leadership. Brushing aside the allegations of Iran’s perceived resistance to CPEC and Gwadar port, Iran’s foreign minister Jawad Zarif dismissed the allegations and supported growth and development anywhere in Pakistan.

Chabahar is often seen as a rival to Gwadar port. However, Indian discourse has got an altogether different lease of life in the media compared to the Iranian one. Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi honardoost utterly disregarded the narrative of competition of two ports. He invited both Pakistan and China to closely work in Chabahar port.

China considers Iran as an important country for its energy security, BRI and in the larger context of global competition with USA. China dual role both in Gwadar and Chabahar, according to the analysts, will likely reduce the impression of competition between two ports. Chinese stance on the Chabahar port also complement the Iran’s position on Chabahar. Chinese premier Le Keqiang rejected the notion that Chabahar port is in competition with the Gwadar. He is convinced with the idea that both ports have the potential to complement each other.

Tehran global status goes upward with the emerging financial and diplomatic backing of China. Beijing openly backs Tehran in the face of U.S. might.  On March 26, 2021, China and Iran signed an agreement expressing a desire to increase cooperation and trade relations over the next 25 years. Wang Yi, Chinese foreign minister, said that USA should rescind the sanctions against Iran. The 25 years deal is considered as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to Tehran Times analysts Peyman Hassani and Ammar Hossein Arabpour, this deal is considered a relief to Iran’s gas and oil sector against USA sanctions.

USA sanctions forcefully bar the countries from purchasing oil from Iran. The US Department of Defense’s report notes that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) focus on pipelines and port construction. Pakistan’s reluctance to follow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline which is stalled due to American pressure can be reviewed, too much sigh of relief for Tehran’s energy export.

Triangular relations of China, Pakistan and Iran will likely put Iran on the strong footing. Richard Caplan, a professor of international relations at the university of Oxford, notes, “The agreement which predates Biden, undercuts U.S. efforts to isolate Iran economically and, to some extent, diplomatically.

Diplomatic and economic isolation remain at the center of Iran’s foreign policy under the severe U.S. sanctions. Iran’s perceptions of CPEC revolves around the same fact that through regional engagements under CPEC and BRI, it can tackle its global problems to some extent.

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