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How U.S.’s Response to Covid-19 Could Precipitate 2nd Great Depression

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On March 10th of this year, there were 290 daily new U.S. cases of Covid-19 (coronavirus-19).

On March 13th, U.S. President Donald Trump declared a pandemic national emergency, because the number of daily new cases was now suddenly doubling within only three days. However, no lockdown was imposed. The policy-response was instead left to each individual. This is in accord with America’s libertarian idelogy. Trump even announced that “he was allowing his health secretary to bypass certain regulations to provide more flexibility to doctors and hospitals responding to the outbreak” — outright reducing, insead of increasing, federal regulations, this being his way to address the matter. That’s the libertarian response.

Covid-19 (coronavirus-19) cases started soaring in the U.S., from 600 daily new cases on March 13th, to 25,665 on March 31st. Americans were scared to death, and facemask-usage soared, and independent small businesses started laying people off en-masse. (Restaurants, hair salons, travel agencies, inns, dental offices, etc., were hard-hit.)

Immediately, the alarming rise in new cases halted on April 4th (at 34,480), and the daily new cases remained approximately flat, but slightly downward, from March 31 to June 9th (when it reached bottom at 19,166), but then soared yet again, to 78,615, on July 24th.

But, then, it again declined, so that, on September 8th, it was at only 28,561. This was already returning to around what the new-cases rate had been back on March 31st. So: despite peaking again on July 24th, the rate of daily new cases was little changed between March 31st and September 8th. And, all during that 5-month period, people were coming back to work.

The key immediate and direct economic variable affected by Covid-19 is the unemployment rate. Here, that economic effect is clearly shown:

U.S. unemployment: March 4.4%, April 14.7%, May 13.3%, June 11.1%, July 10.2%, August 8.4%

Though the daily-new-cases rate went down after March 31st and after July 24th, the unemployment rate progressed far more gradually downward after March 31st: the small businesses that had been panicked by the explosion of new cases during March were now gradually re-opening — but they remained very nervous; and, so, unemployment still was almost twice what it had been during March.

Here, that experience will be compared with two Scandinavian countries, starting with Denmark, which declared a pandemic national emergency on March 13th, just when Trump also did. “Starting on 13 March 2020, all people working in non-essential functions in the public sector were ordered to stay home for two weeks.” The daily new cases fell from the high of 252 on March 11th, down to the low of 28 on March 15th, but then soared to 390 on April 7th, and gradually declined to 16 (only 16 new cases) on July 9th. Then it peaked back up again, at 373, on August 10th, plunged down to 57 on August 26th, and then soared yet again back up to 243 on September 8th. The new-cases rates were thus irregular, but generally flat. By contrast against the experience in U.S., Denmark’s unemployment-rate remained remarkably stable, throughout this entire period:

Denmark: March 4.1, April 5.4, May 5.6, June 5.5, July 5.2

Sweden’s Government pursued a far more laissez-faire policy-response (“The government has tried to focus efforts on encouraging the right behaviour and creating social norms rather than mandatory restrictions.”), and had vastly worse Covid-19 infection-rates than did the far more socialistic Denmark, and also vastly worse death-rates, both producing results in Sweden more like that of the U.S. policy-response than like that of the Danish policy-response, but far less bad than occurred on the unemployment-rate; and, thus, Sweden showed unemployment-increases which were fairly minor, more like those shown in Denmark:

Sweden: March 7.1, April 8.2, May 9.0, June 9.8, July 8.9

That was nothing like the extreme gyration in:

U.S.: March 4.4%, April 14.7%, May 13.3%, June 11.1%, July 10.2%, August 8.4%

Why was this? 

Even though Sweden’s policy-effectiveness was more like America’s than like Denmark’s at keeping down the percentages of the population who became infected, and who died from Covid-19 (i.e., it was not effective), Sweden’s policy-effectiveness at keeping down the percentage of the population who became unemployed was more like Denmark’s (i.e., it was effective, at that). Unlike America, which has less of a social safety-net than any other industrialized nation does, Sweden had, until recently, one of the most extensive ones, and hasn’t yet reduced it down to American levels (which are exceptionally libertarian). Therefore, whereas Swedes know that the Government will be there for them if they become infected, Americans don’t; and, so, Americans know that, for them, it will instead be “sink or swim.” Make do, or drop dead if you can’t — that is the American way. This is why Swedish unemployment wasn’t much affected by Covid-19. When a Swede experienced what might be symptoms, that person would want to stay home and wouldn’t be so desperate as to continue working even if doing that might infect others. Thus, whereas Sweden’s unemployment-rate rose 27% from March to May, America’s rose 202% during that same period. Americans were desperate for income, because so many of them were poor, and so many of them had either bad health insurance or none at all. (All other industrialized countries have universal health insurance: 100% of the population insured. Only in America is healthcare a privilege that’s available only to people who have the ability to pay for it, instead of a right that is provided to everyone.)

On September 9th, Joe Neel headlined at NPR, “NPR Poll: Financial Pain From Coronavirus Pandemic ‘Much, Much Worse’ Than Expected”, and he reported comprehensively not only from a new NPR poll, but from a new Harvard study, all of which are consistent with what I have predicted (first, here, and then here, and, finally, here), and which seems to me to come down to the following ultimate outcomes, toward which the U.S. is now heading (so, I close my fourth article on this topic, with these likelihoods): 

America’s lack of the democratic socialism (social safety-net) that’s present in countries such as Denmark (and residual vestiges of which haven’t yet been dismantled in Sweden and some other countries) will have caused, in the United States, massive laying-off of the workers in small businesses, as a result of which, overwhelmingly more families will be destroyed that are at the bottom of the economic order, largely Black and/or Hispanic families, than that are White and not in poverty. Also as a consequence, overwhelmingly in the United States, poor people will be suffering far more of the infections, and of the deaths, and of the laying-off, and of the soon-to-be-soaring personal bankruptcies and homelessness; and, soon thereafter, soaring small-business bankruptcies, and ultimately then big-business bankruptcies, and then likely megabank direct federal bailouts such as in 2009, which will be followed, in the final phase, by a hyperinflation that might be comparable to what had occurred in Weimar Germany. The ceaselessly increasing suffering at the bottom will ultimately generate a collapse at the top. Presumably, therefore, today’s seemingly coronavirus-immune U.S. stock markets, such as the S&P 500, are now basically just mega-investors who are selling to small investors, so as to become enabled, after what will be the biggest economic crash in history, to buy “at pennies on the dollar,” the best of what’s left, so as to then go forward into the next stage of the capitalist economic cycle, as owning an even higher percentage of the nation’s wealth than now is the case. Of course, if that does happen, then America will be even more of a dictatorship than it now is. Post-crash 2021 America will be more like Hitler’s Germany, than like FDR’s America was.

The Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee, Joe Biden, is just as corrupt, and just as racist, as is the Republican nominee, Donald Trump. And just as neoconservative (but targeting Russia, instead of China). Therefore, the upcoming November 3rd elections in the U.S. are almost irrelevant, since both of the candidates are about equally disgusting. America’s problems are deeper than just the two stooges that America’s aristocracy hires to front for it at the ballot-boxes.

Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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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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