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The Chinese debt issue

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Despite the “phase one” trade agreement signed between the United States and China in January 2020, the coronavirus issue has greatly distorted the Chinese economy.

It should be recalled that China had pledged to buy 200 billion U.S. dollars of U.S. goods and “specific products” over a two-year period.

Certainly the Chinese government has reacted to the coronavirus crisis with acceptable speed, injecting a huge amount of liquidity into the economy, through the Central Bank,as well as proportionately reducing financing costs and increasing credit to businesses by 67%.

 The Chinese authorities still have some room for providing more stimulus through monetary and fiscal policy, since the central government’s debt alone remains below 25% of GDP and is mainly refinanced at national level.

 But there is the excessive level of debt in real estate and the increase in costs for infrastructure and protection-sanitation activities, which could put the public budget at risk in the short term.

 The debt of non-financial private Chinese companies accounts for 155% of Chinese GDP, but there is a strong increase in household debt, which has been going on for at least five years.The local governments’ debt is currently worth 60-70% of Chinese GDP.

 There has been a significant increase in the insolvencies of companies, especially small and medium-sized ones, given the reorientation of the whole Chinese economy from the export to the domestic market, with the expansion of the formal economy, which has knocked out the companies that produced at very low cost, especially for the export markets.

 This adds to the U.S. request for cancelling part of the its public debt securities held in Chinese banks.

The underlying logic is the following: China is immediately blamed for hiding news about the coronavirus and hence the cancellation of at least part of the U.S. debt held in Chinese hands is requested.

It should also be recalled that China has approximately 20% of the North American public debt available.

It is the first time that a financial operation of such magnitude is based on a “conspiracy theory”, i.e. the hypothesis – currently denied by all experts – that the Covid-19 virus has been artificially processed in the Wuhan laboratories, which are located a few hundred metres from the even more famous wet market of the city.

 There is purely strategic relevance in all this: China’s ability to make debt is also at the basis of the Belt and Road Initiative, i.e. the economic and geopolitical project which is more disliked by the United States than we can imagine.

 That is probably the U.S. real goal.

 Therefore, asking for default on part of its debt held in China is a way to make Chinapay the bill for the pandemic and, above all, to stop the development of China as the U.S. only challenger in terms of global economic and military power.

This is one of the best moments for the United States: approximately 60 million Chinese are still in quarantine and, while SARS cost 1.5 points of GDP in 2003, nowadays – according to the most optimistic forecasts -Covid-19 is expected to cost China 2.1 points of GDP.

 Hence, while the risks of recession in China were low after the January 2020 agreements with the USA, currently the combination of the coronavirus crisis and the U.S. financial and legal pressure makes us think that the Chinese recession could be fast and strong, if these two factors persisted.

A solution could be China’s acquisition of a large part of the debt of the poorest nations that the Covid-19 crisis has bankrupted.

It has already happened with Pakistan or Sri Lanka, given that the debt service granted by China has led to the actual requisitioning of the infrastructure already built in those countries by China itself. The Chinese government, however, has mainly followed the indications of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which advise to cancel the debt partly or totally.

China replies to the U.S. accusation of having produced or spread a truly “Chinese” virus throughout the world by saying that the World Health Organization itself has established that the virus has no precise development area and cannot therefore be associated with any specific country.

Furthermore, China does not accept at all the fact that, while Covid-19 has appeared for the first time in Wuhan, this necessarily means that it was “born” in Wuhan, considering that the appearance or even the very traceability of the virus are issues which are still being studied by scientists.

Obviously China reiterates that the coronavirus is not “artificial”, but completely natural, as all the most authoritative virologists in each country have established.

China also maintains that Covid-19 has not been “made” in Wuhan, since the P4 laboratory in that city is a partnership between China and France (with some activity even funded by the United States) and there have been no virus infections among the staff.

 But all this is not enough: over 5,000 American citizens have signed a class action in Florida to claim damages from the Chinese government for the coronavirus infection.

 Similar lawsuits have been initiated in Nevada and Texas, others in Minnesota and even in California.

 Under international law, the legal proceedings started by the U.S. government against the Chinese government for damage resulting from Covid-19 could be worth 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars.

 The legal basis for these legal proceedings and appeals is, above all, the delay with which the Chinese government provided data to the WHO, but the institutions where to appeal against China could be the WHO itself, the International Court of Justice, but also the Permanent Court of Arbitration or the ordinary civil courts in Hong Kong and the USA itself.

Nevertheless, considering that pandemics may break out anywhere, no country has an interest in “setting the precedent” for the coronavirus. What if a new pandemic were to break out in Lithuania or Madagascar?

 The International Liability Act for Health and Environmental Damage caused by one country to another applied, for the first time, in a 1920 lawsuit in which a factory in British Columbia released dangerous fumes to and across the Canadian-U.S. border.

 Many North American legal experts tell us that there is a parallel between the current coronavirus situation and the old dispute between Canada and the United States in which Canada paid damages without question.

 As far as current private international law is concerned, in principle States cannot be sued for public activities related to their sovereignty.

 To be entitled to sue China, it would be necessary to demonstrate that the activity carried out in the Wuhan P4 laboratory was completely private and hence aimed at simply manufacturing or marketing pharmaceutical products.

 From this viewpoint, domestic courts can never be called upon to judge the dispute.

Furthermore, in Italy, a foreign State may still be brought to trial, but only when its activities end up infringing the mandatory principles of international law.

However, when there is no possibility of damages action, there may also be the option of an inquiry committee made up of independent members.

 It could operate under the aegis of the U.N. Security Council, or even of other equally relevant international bodies.

Furthermore, according to other financial and economic analysts, the economic crisis from Covid-19 will not lead to recession in China, but even to a very strong public economic stimulus and hence to greater future short-term debt.

 After the first signs of epidemic, besides other “dedicated” financial operations, the Chinese Central Bank has injected the equivalent of 170 billion U.S. dollars of liquidity into the economy.

It is probably the largest and fastest response to the current pandemic economic crisis ever provided in the world.

 Certainly, the Chinese economy is now much different from the one that withstood the pressure of SARS in 2003.

Nowadays the service sector is the primary one, with a contribution to economic growth which is 40% higher than in the days of SARS.

 Meanwhile, however, the outflow of capital from China is increasing. The renmimbi is about 7 to the dollar, and some professional Western investors are wondering whether the Chinese economy can carry the new debt burden, which is necessary to push the economy forward, during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

 How much is China’s domestic debt support capacity? 250%? No one knows until the debt to GDP ratio reaches the ceiling.

 Obviously, the U.S. claim for damages will only exacerbate internal tensions within the Chinese economy and will temporarily enable the United States to economically and strategically outdistance China from it.

Again in economic and financial terms, in 2020 China will certainly record its first GDP decline since 1976, but the United States is not doing very well either.

 About half of the American population is now locked up at home.

 In the last week for which we have data, the cost of unemployment insurance has reached 3.5 million, the highest level in the history of the ambiguous North American welfare state.

 The International Monetary Fund also predicts a reduction in world income of at least 2 trillion U.S. dollars.

 The real issue is whether there will be any recovery at the end of 2020.

What are the variables at stake? Simply the amount of stimulus to the State economy, consumer confidence, as well as the number of Covid-19 infection cases.

 In the worst case scenario, there will be a yearly 3.5% reduction in Chinese GDP in 2020. A second wave of crisis can be expected in early 2021, but if there is no new virus infection, China’s GDP decrease is expected to level off at 2% in 2021 and then stabilize in mid-2023.

In the E.U. case, the crisis is expected to lead to a 9% GDP reduction in all Member States, which will certainly not mean a decrease in internal tensions.

On the worst possible assumption, the persistence of a significant amount of infections and of lockdowns could lead to structural recession and it would take at least four to five years to go back to pre-Covid-19 rates.

 It will be necessary to reduce spending significantly, from 20 to 30%, as well as advance receipts and provide more aid to companies and consumers.

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

Economy

Can e-commerce help save the planet?

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If you have logged onto Google Flights recently, you might have noticed a small change in the page’s layout. Alongside the usual sortable categories, like price, duration, and departure time, there is a new field: CO2 emissions.

Launched in October 2021, the column gives would-be travellers an estimate of how much carbon dioxide they will be responsible for emitting.

“When you’re choosing among flights of similar cost or timing, you can also factor carbon emissions into your decision,” wrote Google’s Vice President of Travel Products, Richard Holden.

Google is part of a wave of digital companies, including Amazon, and Ant Financial, encouraging consumers to make more sustainable choices by offering eco-friendly filter options, outlining the environmental impact of products, and leveraging engagement strategies used in video games.

Experts say these digital nudges can help increase awareness about environmental threats and the uptake of solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   

“Our consumption practices are putting tremendous pressure on the planet, driving climate change, stoking pollution and pushing species towards extinction,” says David Jensen, Digital Transformation Coordinator with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“We need to make better decisions about the things we buy and trips we take,” he added. “These green digital nudges help consumers make better decisions as well as collectively drive businesses to adopt sustainable practices through consumer pressure.”

Global reach

At least 1.5 billion people consume products and services through e-commerce platforms, and global e-commerce sales reached US$26.7 trillion in 2019, according to a recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report.

Meanwhile, 4.5 billion people are on social media and 2.5 billion play online games. These tallies mean digital platforms could influence green behaviors at a planetary scale, says Jensen.

One example is UNEP-led Playing for the Planet Alliance, which places green activations in games. UNEP’s Little Book of Green Nudges has also led to more than 130 universities piloting 40 different nudges to shift behaviour.

A 2020 study by Globescan involving many of the world’s largest retailers found that seven out of 10 consumers want to become more sustainable. However, only three out of 10 have been able to change their lifestyles.

E-commerce providers can help close this gap.

“The algorithms and filters that underpin e-commerce platforms must begin to nudge sustainable and net-zero products and services by default,” said Jensen. “Sustainable consumption should be a core part of the shopping experience empowering people to make choices that align with their values.”

Embedding sustainability in tech

Many groups are trying to leverage this opportunity to make the world a more sustainable place.

The Green Digital Finance Alliance (GDFA), launched by Ant Group and UNEP, aims to enhance financing for sustainable development through digital platforms and fintech applications. It launched the Every Action Counts Coalition, a global network of digital, financial, retail investment, e-commerce and consumer goods companies. The coalition aims to help 1 billion people make greener choices and take action for the planet by 2025 through online tools and platforms.

We will bring like-minded members together to experiment with new innovative business models that empower everyone to become a green digital champion,” says Marianne Haahr, GDFA Executive Director.

In one example, GDFA member Mastercard, in collaboration with the fintech company Doconomy, provides shoppers with a personalized carbon footprint tracker to inform their spending decisions.

In the UK, Mastercard is partnering with HELPFUL to offer incentives for purchasing products from a list of over 150 sustainable brands.

Mobile apps like Ant Forest, by Ant Group, are also using a combination of incentives and digital engagement models to urge 600 million people make sustainable choices. Users are rewarded for low-carbon decisions through green energy points they can use to plant real trees. So far, the Ant Forest app has resulted in 122 million trees being planted, reducing carbon emissions by over 6 million tons.

Three e-commerce titans are also aiming to support greener lifestyles. Amazon has adopted the Climate Pledge Friendly initiative to help at least 100 million people find climate-friendly products that carry at least one of 32 different environmental certifications.

SAP’s Ariba platform is the largest digital business-to-business network on the planet. It has also embraced the idea of “procuring with purpose,” offering a detailed look at corporate supply chains so potential partners can assess the social, economic and environmental impact of transactions.

“Digital transformation is an opportunity to rethink how our business models can contribute to sustainability and how we can achieve full environmental transparency and accountability across our entire value chain,” said SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer Daniel Schmid.

UNEP’s Jensen says a crucial next step would be for mobile phone operating systems to adopt standards that would allow apps to share environment and carbon footprint information.

“This would enable people to seamlessly calculate their footprints across all applications to develop insights and change behaviours,” Jensen said. “Everyone needs access to an individual’ environmental dashboard’ to truly understand their impact and options for more sustainable living.”

Need for common standards

As platforms begin to encode sustainability into their algorithms and product recommendations, common standards are needed to ensure reliability and public trust, say experts. 

Indeed, many online retailers are claiming to do more for the environment than they actually are. A January analysis by the European Commission and European national consumer authorities found that in 42 per cent, sustainability claims were exaggerated or false.

To help change that, UNEP serves as the secretariat of the One Planet network, a global community of practitioners, policymakers and experts that encourages sustainable consumption and production.

In November, the One Planet network issued guidance material for e-commerce platforms that outlines how to better inform consumers and enable more sustainable consumption, based on 10 principles from UNEP and the International Trade Centre.

The European Union is also pioneering core standards for digital sustainability through digital product passports that contain relevant information on a product’s origin, composition, environmental and carbon performance.

“Digital product passports will be an essential tool to strengthen consumer protection and increase the level of trust and rigour to environmental performance claims,” says Jensen. “They are the next frontier on the pathway to planetary sustainability in the digital age.”

UNEP

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Economy

2022: Small Medium Business & Economic Development Errors

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Calling Michelangelo: would Michelangelo erect a skyscraper or can an architect liberate David from a rock of marble? When visibly damaged are the global economies, already drowning their citizenry, how can their economic development departments in hands of those who never ever created a single SME or ran a business, expect anything else from them other than lingering economic agonies?

The day pandemic ends; immediately, on the next day, the panic on the center stage would be the struggling economies across the world.  On the small medium business economic fronts, despite, already accepted globally, as the largest tax contributor to any nation. Visible worldwide, already abandoned and ignored without any specific solutions, there is something strategically wrong with upskilling exporters and reskilling manufacturers or the building growth of small medium business economies. The SME sectors in most nations are in serious trouble but are their economic development rightly balanced?   

Matching Mindsets: Across the world, hard working citizens across the world pursue their goals and some end up with a job seeker mindset and some job creator mindset; both are good. Here is a globally proven fact; job seekers help build enterprises but job creators are the ones who create that enterprise in the first place. Study in your neighborhoods anywhere across the world and discover the difference.

Visible on LinkedIn: Today, on the SME economic development fronts of the world, clearly visible on their LinkedIn profiles, the related Ministries, mandated government departments, trade-groups, chambers, trade associations and export promotion agencies are primarily led by job seeker mindsets and academic or bureaucratic mentality. Check all this on LinkedIn profiles of economic development teams anywhere across the world.

Will jumbo-pilots do heart transplant, after all, economic performance depends on matching right competency; Needed today, post pandemic economic recovery demands skilled warriors with mastery of national mobilization to decipher SME creation and scalability of diversified SME verticals on digital platforms of upskilling for global age exportability. This fact has hindered any serious progress on such fronts during the last decade. The absence of any significant progress on digitization, national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and upskilling of exportability are clear proofs of a tragically one-sided mindset.

Is it a cruise holiday, or what? Today, the estimated numbers of all frontline economic development team members across 200 nations are roughly enough to fill the world-largest-cruise-ship Symphony that holds 6200 guests. If 99.9% of them are job-seeker mindsets, how can the global economic development fraternity sleep tonight? As many billion people already rely on their performances, some two billion in a critical economic crisis, plus one billion starving and fighting deep poverty. If this is what is holding grassroots prosperity for the last decade, when will be the best time to push the red panic button? 

The Big Fallacy of “Access to Finance” Notion: The goals of banking and every major institution on over-fanaticized notions of intricate banking, taxation are of little or no value as SME of the world are not primarily looking for “Access to Capital” they are rather seeking answers and dialogue with entrepreneurial job creator mindsets. SME management and economic development is not about fancy PDF studies of recycled data and extra rubber stamps to convince that lip service is working. No, it is not working right across the world.

SME are also not looking for government loans. They do not require expensive programs offered on Tax relief, as they make no profit, they do not require free financial audits, as they already know what their financial problems are and they also do that require mechanical surveys created by bureaucracies asking the wrong questions. This is the state of SME recovery and economic development outputs and lingering of sufferings.

SME development teams across the world now require mandatory direct SME ownership experiences

The New Hypothesis 2022: The new hypothesis challenges any program on the small medium business development fronts unless in the right hands and right mindsets they are only damaging the national economy. Upon satisfactory research and study, create right equilibrium and bring job seeker and job creator mindsets to collaborate for desired results. As a start 50-50, balances are good targets, however, anything less than 10% active participation of the job creator mindset at any frontline mandated SME Ministry, department, agency or trade groups automatically raises red flags and is deemed ineffective and irrelevant. 

The accidental economists: The hypothesis, further challenges, around the world, economic institutes of sorts, already, focused on past, present and future of local and global economy. Although brilliant in their own rights and great job seekers, they too lack the entrepreneurial job creator mindsets and have no experience of creating enterprises at large. Brilliantly tabulating data creating colorful illustrative charts, but seriously void of specific solutions, justifiably as their profession rejects speculations, however, such bodies never ready to bring such disruptive issues in fear of creating conflicts amongst their own job seeker fraternities. The March of Displaced cometh, the cries of the replaced by automation get louder, the anger of talented misplaced by wrong mindsets becomes visible. Act accordingly

The trail of silence: Academia will neither, as they know well their own myopic job seeker mindset. In a world where facial recognition used to select desired groups, pronouns to right gatherings, social media to isolate voting, but on economic survival fronts where, either print currency or buy riot gears or both, a new norm; unforgiveable is the treatment of small medium business economies and mishmash support of growth. Last century, laborious and procedural skills were precious, this century surrounded by extreme automation; mindsets are now very precious.  

Global-age of national mobilization: Start with a constructive open-minded collaborative narrative, demonstrate open courage to allow entrepreneurial points of views heard and critically analyze ideas on mobilization of small mid size business economies. Applying the same new hypotheses across all high potential contributors to SME growth, like national trade groups, associations and chambers as their frontline economic developers must also balance with the job creator mindset otherwise they too become irrelevant. Such ideas are not just criticism rather survival strategies. Across the world, this is a new revolution to arm SME with the right skills to become masters of trade and exports, something abandoned by their economic policies. To further discuss or debate at Cabinet Level explore how Expothon is making footprints on new SME thinking and tabling new deployment strategies. Expothon is also planning a global series of virtual events to uplift SME economies in dozens of selected nations.

Two wheels of the same cart: Silence on such matters is not a good sign. Address candidly; allow both mindsets to debate on how and why as the future becomes workless and how and why small medium business sectors can become the driving engine of new economic progress. Job seekers and job creators are two wheels of the same cart; right assembly will take us far on this economic growth passage. Face the new global age with new confidence. Let the nation witness leadership on mobilization of entrepreneurialism and see a tide of SME growth rise. The rest is easy.

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Economy

Rebalancing Act: China’s 2022 Outlook

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Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze and Li Yusha

After a strong rebound last year, the world economy is entering a challenging 2022. The advanced economies have recovered rapidly thanks to big stimulus packages and rapid progress with vaccination, but many developing countries continue to struggle.

The spread of new variants amid large inequalities in vaccination rates, elevated food and commodity prices, volatile asset markets, the prospect of policy tightening in the United States and other advanced economies, and continued geopolitical tensions provide a challenging backdrop for developing countries, as the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report published today highlights.

The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by dampening export performance, a key growth driver last year. Following a strong 8 percent cyclical rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects growth in China to slow to 5.1 percent in 2022, closer to its potential — the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.

Indeed, growth in the second half of 2021 was below this level, and so our forecast assumes a modest amount of policy loosening. Although we expect momentum to pick up, our outlook is subject to domestic in addition to global downside risks. Renewed domestic COVID-19 outbreaks, including the new Omicron variant and other highly transmittable variants, could require more broad-based and longer-lasting restrictions, leading to larger disruptions in economic activity. A severe and prolonged downturn in the real estate sector could have significant economy-wide reverberations.

In the face of these headwinds, China’s policymakers should nonetheless keep a steady hand. Our latest China Economic Update argues that the old playbook of boosting domestic demand through investment-led stimulus will merely exacerbate risks in the real estate sector and reap increasingly lower returns as China’s stock of public infrastructure approaches its saturation point.

Instead, to achieve sustained growth, China needs to stick to the challenging path of rebalancing its economy along three dimensions: first, the shift from external demand to domestic demand and from investment and industry-led growth to greater reliance on consumption and services; second, a greater role for markets and the private sector in driving innovation and the allocation of capital and talent; and third, the transition from a high to a low-carbon economy.

None of these rebalancing acts are easy. However, as the China Economic Update points out, structural reforms could help reduce the trade-offs involved in transitioning to a new path of high-quality growth.

First, fiscal reforms could aim to create a more progressive tax system while boosting social safety nets and spending on health and education. This would help lower precautionary household savings and thereby support the rebalancing toward domestic consumption, while also reducing income inequality among households.

Second, following tightening anti-monopoly provisions aimed at digital platforms, and a range of restrictions imposed on online consumer services, the authorities could consider shifting their attention to remaining barriers to market competition more broadly to spur innovation and productivity growth.

A further opening-up of the protected services sector, for example, could improve access to high-quality services and support the rebalancing toward high-value service jobs (a special focus of the World Bank report). Eliminating remaining restrictions on labor mobility by abolishing the hukou, China’s system of household registration, for all urban areas would equally support the growth of vibrant service economies in China’s largest cities.

Third, the wider use of carbon pricing, for example, through an expansion of the scope and tightening of the emissions trading system rules, as well power sector reforms to encourage the penetration and nationwide trade and dispatch of renewables, would not only generate environmental benefits but also contribute to China’s economic transformation to a more sustainable and innovation-based growth model.

In addition, a more robust corporate and bank resolution framework would contribute to mitigating moral hazards, thereby reducing the trade-offs between monetary policy easing and financial risk management. Addressing distortions in the access to credit — reflected in persistent spreads between private and State borrowers — could support the shift to more innovation-driven, private sector-led growth.

Productivity growth in China during the past four decades of reform and opening-up has been private-sector led. The scope for future productivity gains through the diffusion of modern technologies and practices among smaller private companies remains large. Realizing these gains will require a level playing field with State-owned enterprises.

While the latter have played an instrumental role during the pandemic to stabilize employment, deliver key services and, in some cases, close local government budget gaps, their ability to drive the next phase of growth is questionable given lower profits and productivity growth rates in the past.

In 2022, the authorities will face a significantly more challenging policy environment. They will need to remain vigilant and ready to recalibrate financial and monetary policies to ensure the difficulties in the real estate sector don’t spill over into broader economic distress. Recent policy loosening suggests the policymakers are well aware of these risks.

However, in aiming to keep growth on a steady path close to potential, they will need to be similarly alert to the risk of accumulating ever greater levels of corporate and local government debt. The transition to high-quality growth will require economic rebalancing toward consumption, services, and green investments. If the past is any guide to the future, the reliance on markets and private sector initiative is China’s best bet to achieve the required structural change swiftly and at minimum cost.

First published on China Daily, via World Bank

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