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Regional Trade Agreements in the Asia-Pacific: An Evaluation

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The World Bank defines a regional trade agreement (RTA) as a “treaty between two or more governments that define the rules of trade for all signatories.” There has been a substantial increase in the formation of RTAs over the last few decades. While only 50 RTAs were in operation in 1990, more than 300 had come into being in 2020. There is an increasing global interest in RTAs. It is essential to see the commitment and involvement of Asia Pacific countries towards economic agreements to realize the objective of trade liberalization in the region.  In doing so, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) will be useful as a case study for the reasons that it includes the majority of economies in the region as well as it is easy to maintain the needed data for evaluation.

The Asia Pacific region is no exception. Since 1990, RTAs have been seen to overcome economic isolation and cut costs of trade. Moreover, negotiating as a region with potential trading partners offered greater leverage and better deals. The formation of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 1989 helped accelerate trade liberalization and opened up more economic opportunities for the member countries.

Pertinently, during the Shanghai summitof APEC leaders in 2001, a declaration was made to promote free and open trade. The leaders reached an agreement, which allowed members to proceed faster in their trade liberalization if they chose to do so. Since then, APEC leaders have endorsed RTAs even at sub-regional and bilateral levels.

It is important to note that APEC is akin to a forum. It is not a supranational entity like the European Union. APEC allows member countries to take different perspectives and approaches to trade liberalization. Countries like Singapore and South Korea set strict deadlines to complete discussions of trade liberalization trade process with other nation members. Others take it slow.

In the late 1990s, Japan reversed its position on RTAs and began to pursue bilateral trade deals with several countries in the Asia Pacific. The Japanese tended to strike free trade agreements mostly with other members of APEC, including Singapore, Mexico, the Philippines, Malaysia, Chile, Thailand and Indonesia.

The recent surge in RTAs in the Asia Pacific region indicates a political momentum for APEC economies to accelerate regional and unilateral trade liberalization. APEC member states have a clear intention for extensive trade liberalization that acts in parallel with the World Trade Organization (WTO). Therefore, APEC has the potential to boost global trade and be strategically significant to developed countries like Japan, China, the US and Australia for their trade goals.

Most importantly, during the Shanghai summit of APEC leaders in 2001, a declaration was made to promote free and open trade. The agreement allows members to proceed faster in trade liberalization. As a result, APEC leaders have endorsed RTA strategies — including sub-regional and bilateral — that are already effective in the Asia Pacific. Consequently, APEC economies have joined the global market trend toward bilateral and sub-regional preferential trade agreements. Yet this approach ran directly counter to APEC’s free trade and liberalization that should be open to all members. Even as RTAs proliferate, it worth noting that not one free trade agreement signed in the Asia Pacific region since the foundation of APEC lives up to the Bogor Goals.As per this declaration,signed by APEC leaders in 1994, the Asia Pacific region aims for “free and open trade and investment … no later than 2010 for developed countries and the year 2020 for under-developed countries.”

A real issue has been discussed on the trade agreement functions in APEC. For instance, Australia has different types of agreements with various countries within the region.  The Thailand-Australia deal, under this agreement, Australia is permitted to extend no nuisance tariffs — very low tariffs that are costly to collect — on textiles, clothing and footwear beyond 2010. On the other hand, the Australia-US free trade agreement offers no new Australian market access in sugar and fast ferries for American companies, and it places limitations on other goods that break with the spirit of the Bogor Goals. As a result, APEC’s functions have become more and more unclear as there is no unification of trade agreements among APEC economies. This is to show that some economies within the region still practicing protectionism and in some sorts contradict the free and open trade targets.

Fourthly, it is well known that RTAs are very extensive and often cover many trade bases, like the focus on small and medium-sized enterprises and their role in increasing free trade and cooperation. However, reducing and eliminating tariffs is still the leading indicator of measuring the level of cooperation and free trade. The tariff reduction as a mechanism of realizing open trade can also be seen as a way of measurement in instead to evaluate APEC performance. The table below shows the APEC countries’ tariff reductions from 1995 till 2018.

Table. APEC Progress on Tariffs Reduction, 1995-2018.

Members 1995 (%) 2010 (%) 2018 (%)
Australia   7.6 3.3 3
Brunei Darussalam   3.8 3.1 0.2
Canada   9.4 2.9 2.5
Chile   11 6.0 6.0
People’s Republic of China   23 9.3 9.5
Hong Kong, China   – – –
Indonesia   16.2 7.3 8.6
Japan   3.7 2.9 2.8
South of Korea   7.8 7.4 7.5
Malaysia   11 6.5 6.2
Mexico   13.3 7.5 5.7
New Zealand   6.4 2.7 2.4 (2017)
Papua New Guinea   — 3.2 2.2
Peru 13.3 (1997)  5.5 2.8
The Philippines   19.9 6.0 5.7
Russia   12.2 8.6 5.8
Singapore   – – –
Thailand   21 8.9 8.4 (2015)
United States   5.8 3.9 3.8
Vietnam 16.3 (1999)  9.1 8.7

Source: Based on the World Bank database(1995; 2010; 2018).

Average tariffs in APEC countries declined significantly from 16.6% in 1989 to 6.4% in 2005. Moreover, average taxes are now less than 5%. Aside from Hong Kong and Singapore, which both have 0% tariffs, there are eight members — Australia, Japan, Brunei, Canada, Papua New Guinea, the US and New Zealand — that have tariffs at less than 4%. On the other hand, six countries — Chile, South Korea, Indonesia, Russia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Mexico — have a tariff between 5% and 8%.As of 2018, China has the highest tariff at over 9.5%. The Middle Kingdom is still protective of its domestic production. Peru remarkably cut its rate from 13.3% to 2.8% between 1995 and 2018. Thailand also made a noteworthy reduction from 21% in 1995 to almost 8% in 2015. Malaysia reduced its tariffs from 11% in 1995 to 6.2% in 2018.

The above statistics show that protectionism still active in some countries like China, Indonesia and Mexico, Vietnam, Chile and Russia. Therefore, the goals of free trade were not realized as the countries agreed, 2010 and 2020. However, the current situation of coronavirus pandemic cannot be an indicator of economic type or approach as all countries in the world are trying different solutions to protect the whole economy from being collapse. However, the pro-pandemic era can showcase in the Asia Pacific that can change the bilateral and regional relations as countries may cooperate more and open their economies to overcome the cost of COVID-19.

Even the reduction on tariffs and free trade, however, the free trade objective is not fully complete for the bilateral relationships between economies where there are FTAs in force. According to Inter-American Development Bank “When the criterion is expanded to include all applied advalorem tariffs of 5% or lower, the shares expand to 82 percent and 56 percent, respectively, a significant improvement, but still well short of all trade.” Therefore, APEC economies need to work more on bilateral relations by engaging the advantages of FTAs.

The simple average applied dutieson all products have fallen from 6% to 4% in the five APEC industrial economies and from 13% to 7% for the 16 APEC developing economies. Moreover, these reductions in applied rates do not take into account some of the multilateral trade successes over the last few years. For example, the conversion of non-tariff barriers to import duties and increases in binding coverage contribute to trade predictability. As a result of that, this can increase the trade among the countries in the Asia Pacific, as well as; it can give more opportunities for Direct Investment. The smooth movement of investment and non-tariff barriers have increased the level of employment in the region. For example, a lot of companies have moved from China, Japan and Australia to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. This movement has allowed more job opportunities to be fixed on receiving countries.

On the other hand, the ongoing trade liberalization in the Asia Pacific countries has been progressively moving to access RTAs in the region. The reduction of tariffs is the central feature of APEC’s progress toward trade liberalization. For instance, APEC economies have pursued tariff reductions by implementing commitments made in RTAs since the Bogor declaration in 1994. They have been successful in accomplishing the agreement despite differences between countries in implementing tariff reductions based on different approaches used.

Not only have achievements been made in cutting tariffs, but countries have also increased the proportion of goods imported tariff-free and reduced non-tariff measures. Furthermore, countries in the Asia Pacific are trying to open up more services, expand trade and liberalize investment through facilitation initiatives.

Yet new challenges could derail the process. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, in particular, could potentially harm the future of RTAs and trade liberalization as it will increase the protectionism approach among some countries like China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Chile and Russia. However, the current situation can also be an opportunity for more open trade to overcome the economic cost and issues raised during the pandemic, as well as, it may give a new direction to RTAs and cooperation in APEC region…

Ramzi is a Researcher, Consultant and Trainer in International Relations, with a focus on regional studies and economic cooperation. A PhD holder from the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), in Kuala Lumpur, he is currently an Assistant Professor at IIUM. He is also the author of The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC): A Study in New Regionalism, 1989-2009, as well as several articles and chapters on Regional Studies, the Asia-Pacific region and Middle East regionalism.

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Indonesia’s political will is the key to a successful carbon tax implementation

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Authors: I Dewa Made Raditya Margenta, and Filda C. Yusgiantoro*

A carbon tax should be overviewed as an oasis of post-pandemic recovery. The proper carbon tax scheme will solve two of Indonesia’s extensive homework; reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and boosting revenue to support economic recovery. In the end, Indonesia’s political will is crucial in completing this mission.

Recently, the carbon tax has become an exciting topic of discussion in Indonesia. This carbon tax is introduced in a revised General Taxation Law bill and becomes this year’s Indonesia National legislation Program. According to the bill, the government plans to collect a carbon tax of IDR 75,000 (US$ 5.25) per tonne of GHG  (tCO2e). The carbon tax could target emissions on the use of fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, and gasoline by factories and vehicles.

The introduction of the Carbon Tax is quite astounding. Previously, the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment of Indonesia, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, said that President Joko Widodo planned to issue a Carbon Trading regulation in December 2020. However, there has been no signal that the regulation will be issued until now.

Implementing a carbon tax is seen as a strategic step for the government to reduce GHG emissions and boost state revenue to increase development funds. As a result, the carbon tax scheme must be well constructed, specific, and well-targeted so that the carbon tax implementation can recover the environment and Indonesia’s economy.

However, the carbon tax implementation will not succeed without strong political will and commitment from the government.

Carbon tax as a climate action plan

As the sixth-largest GHG emitter in the world, Indonesia becomes vulnerable to climate change impact. According to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of Indonesia, the transportation and manufacturing sectors contributed to around 64% of 2017 national GHG emissions. This number will rise considering the increase in energy demand and manufacturing activities to stimulate the economy. Therefore, a new climate policy, such as a carbon tax, needs to be promoted as a climate action plan.

As an economic-environmental instrument, a carbon tax is more straightforward to address this issue. Also, the revenues gained from this tax can be recycled to support green development. Thus, the target of this tax must be well identified, and the carbon tax scheme must be designed correctly to avoid a deadweight.

Singapore can be the lead example to emulate its carbon tax scheme. Based on Singapore’s climate action plan, the tax is applied to the facilities that emit abundant GHG annually. They also promote clean and simple carbon tax to preserve fairness, uniformity, and transparency. Its carbon tax scheme, which takes place from 2019 to 2023, will be reviewed by an impact assessment in 2022.

From Singapore, Indonesia can learn that the scheme may have the flexibility to respond to the dynamics that will occur, including the opportunity to move towards a carbon trading scheme in the future. Besides, having a solid political like Singapore will give Indonesia’s carbon tax implementation an upper hand.

Building Indonesia’s political will for a climate action plan

Indonesia’s successful climate action plan relies on various variables such as GHG emissions reduction, identifying the most appropriate instruments, and introducing new climate policies. However, all of these variables are highly dependent on political will.

Indonesia’s political will on climate mitigation would be a perfect start and a powerful tool to take immediate action in climate mitigation initiatives. Instead, Indonesia’s political will may face a political challenge during the policymaking process. A lengthy policymaking process of the New and Renewable Energy Bill is one of the examples. Hence, Indonesia’s political will to address climate change at the beginning of the policymaking process is crucial.

Gaining public trust and being severe are essential steps that should be carried out before introducing a carbon tax.

At first, the government must improve its accountability and transparency, reflecting on what Singapore has shown. Indonesia should also consider complementary economic policies that minimize a carbon tax’s negative impacts on business and household sectors.

Then, Indonesia could consider removing fossil fuel subsidies and replacing them with direct subsidies to low-income households.

Finally, Indonesia should guarantee that the obtained revenue from the carbon tax will be recycled for green development and improving community welfare.

Conclusion

In brief, implementing a carbon tax in Indonesia will determine the nation’s and its citizens’ future.

Ensuring the carbon tax implementation will be on point, Indonesia’s political will is the brain, which can be seen from a carbon tax scheme and the supporting policies. The success of this policy will be seen from intensive GHG reduction, positive economic growth, and improve Indonesian people’s welfare simultaneously.

*Filda C. Yusgiantoro, Ph.D., chairperson of Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center and an economic lecturer in Prasetya Mulya University


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Central Bank Digital Currencies: What do they offer?

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The decision of the government of El Salvador to adopt bitcoin as legal tender has invited mixed reactions from around the globe. Notwithstanding the pros and cons of the issue, the message is loud and clear – digital currencies are here to stay.

The total market cap of bitcoin has reached 600 billion US dollars by March 2021. Cryptocurrencies have captured the imagination of rich and poor alike. The percentage of cryptocurrency users has been steadily increasing in countries facing financial instability and grappling with weak currencies. Latin America has seen large scale activity in bitcoins, especially in countries like Venezuela and Columbia. Nigeria likewise has emerged as a hub for bitcoin trade given the challenging economic climate in the country. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in a February directive, had warned banksand financial institutions of facilitating payments for cryptocurrencyexchanges.Cryptocurrency trade has grown to such volumes that it can’t be overlooked by the state actors.

States and Central Banks unable to buck the trend are contemplating their own version of digital currencies. So, do ordinary citizens gain something from the Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC’s)?

Societal and Environmental concerns

Experts have already pointed out serious pitfalls of allowing a free hand to decentralised currencies outside the regulatory framework of the governments. Crime syndicates use cryptocurrencies as safe conduits for money laundering, cross-border terrorist financing, drug peddling and tax evasion. Recently an FBI operation, “Trojan Shield”, which busted a criminal underworld along with the seizure of millions worth of cryptocurrencies, further echoed the proximity of criminals with the crypto-world. Several cryptocurrency frauds have unearthed in recent history. The widespread popularity of cryptocurrencies has diluted the globalstandardson KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti Money Laundering), providing room for criminals and lawbreakers. 

The energy-intensive nature of cryptocurrency mining has raised concerns about its impact on climate change and pollution. China and Iran have recently put stringent controls on bitcoin mining owing to environmental pollution and power blackouts. It is bizarre that the total electricity used for bitcoin mining surpasses the total energy consumption of all of Switzerland.

Threat to sovereign power 

Decentralised currencies pose a grave threat to the sovereign power of the governments. Several States and Central Banks have thus stepped in to maintain their relevancy, by announcing their version of digital currencies, backed by sovereign guarantee. In the latest Bank of International Settlements (BIS) paper, 86% of 65 respondent central banks have reported doing some research or experimentation on Central Bank Digital Currencies.

China leads the rest

China is quite ahead in the development of its CBDC compared to all other nations. China has already distributed some 200 million yuan (US$30.7 million) in digital currency as part of pilot projects across the country. By early implementing the digital yuan, China expects to challenge the US dollar’s hegemony as the international currency. In future, China hopes to achieve more international trade through a digital yuan, which would further China’s global ambitions and effectively push plans like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Moreover, it provides China with sufficient strength to effectively bypass US sanctions in any part of the world.

The Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have taken a more cautious stance and indicated that they are not in the race for the first place. In late May, Fed Chair Jerome Powell announced plans for a discussion paper on digital payments, including the pros and cons of the US Central Bank currency. European Central Bank Chief Christine Lagarde said her institution could launch a digital currency only around the middle of this decade.

Why CBDC’s may not offer anything new

Only stringent regulations or an outright ban on decentralised currencies could control money laundering and financing of crimes through digital currencies. It is unlikely that the introduction of CBDC’s would hamper the flow of illicit money through decentralised channels. In all probability, criminal elements would still run their show through decentralised currencies where there is anonymity and the lack of regulations.

CBDC’s may perhaps offer fast and real-time settlement of payments. While this is a plus, the existing bank payment systems already provide for swift and sophisticated transaction processing. So, real-time settlements are nothing new and certainly not a novel innovation. Moreover, cross-border transfers might not see any revolutionary change because these transfers still have to go through the existing regulatory frameworks.

CBDC’s would boost the surveillance mechanisms of the State. It would put every transaction under the government scanner. Individual privacy will be a major causality if proper safeguards are not incorporated. Brighter sides are that the government could effectively target economic crimes like tax evasion with greater ease and a reduced carbon footprint.

Threat to the banking system

Though the actual modalities have not come out, reactions from Central Banks indicate that CBDC’s will co-exist with the existing fiat currencies. The new system can potentially destabilise the present banking system and the financial intermediaries. Proposed digital currencies are backed by the Central Bank, which could never go bankrupt. In the existing system, money is secured by the guarantee offered by private banks. In a period of economic instability, citizens might pull too much money out of banks to purchase CBDC’s, backed with better security and consequently triggering a run on banks.

Back to centralisation

The introduction of digital currencies is out of necessity to preserve Central banks’ legitimacy in the face of the cryptocurrency boom. It possibly will protect the citizens from the extreme volatility of decentralised currencies and may serve as safer mediums of exchange. Since it is backed by sovereign guarantee, it might also act as a better store of value. But, CDBC’s would expand the state power and cause the continuance of the regime based on “trust” in governmental institutions, which was precisely what decentralised currencies like bitcoin had intended to annul. Essentially, CBDC’s would bring in more government to our daily lives, which is rather regressive and goes against the spirit of modern libertarian values.

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Rise of Billionaires In India, Lobbyism And Threat To Democracy

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Let me start by asking you – Have you watched Oliver Stones’ 1987 masterpiece, ‘Wall Street’? Great! For those who haven’t, here is a quick reflection of its storyline. This movie is a premise with a promise, and exert its audience to seek an answer to one of the most neglected question in the philosophy of ethics and greed – ‘How much money is enough money?’. Michael Douglas plays an unsparing millionaire raider Gordon Gekko. Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, is a stockbroker full of ambition, doing whatever he can to make his way to the top. Fox is enchanted by Gekko, and entice him into mentoring him by providing insider trading information. Although Fox is loyal to his mentor Gekko, throughout the film, he is seen asking the millionaire trader Gekko, “How much money do you need to be satisfied with? How much is enough?”. And each time Gekko ponders and thinks hard, but the truth is, he himself doesn’t know. There is a scene in the movie where Gordon Gekko uses Fox’s inside information to manipulate the stock of a company that he intended to sell off, while throwing its workers, including Bud’s father. When Bud hears about his father losing the job along with other workers, he experiences deep agony and immediately repents his participation in the millionaire’s duplicity and deception. He storms to his office and asks again, “How much is enough, Gordon?”

And, Gekko answers – (Source :Wall Street, 1987)

“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars… You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now, you’re not naïve enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you, buddy?  It’s the free market. And you’re part of it.”

Now, what this scene exposes is the adrenaline rush of power that wealth provides. But, what this scene also highlights is how this power of wealth has created a society where corporate empires are thriving through lobbyism, while middle-lower class are palpitating in a life of destitution. And in case you are thinking how a 1987 American classic like ‘Wall Street’ is relevant to the rise of billionaires in 2021, here is the answer – wealth, national morality and democracy all symptomatic of a thriving country. But, with the rise of billionaires in India, this is exactly what is at stake.

Corporate Political Activity (CPA) – When Corporations Colonizes The State

Luis Fernandez said, “Either we can have democracy or a great amount of wealth concentrated in the hands of few. We cannot have both”. So, what did he mean by this? For starters, hoarding of wealth not only gives you the liberty to buy luxury goods, but it also gives you the freedom to buy votes, laws, and legislation. How? Well, corporate involvement in any democratic ecosphere is usually manifested into a corporate political activity (CPA). This corrupts the democratic process by excluding the citizens from policy decision-making. Thereby, privatizing profits for corporation and socializing the loss among citizens(Daniel Nyberg,2021). So, how is this accomplished? It’s achieved through a specialized team of people called – Corporate Lobbyists. They act as a mediator between the political parties and the corporation they work for. But, what do these billionaires lobby against? Mostly tax deregulations. However, the devil hides in details – Most billionaire monopolists lobby against anti-force entrustments, giant banks lobby against risk regulations, polluters in the private sector lobby against environmental regulations, and private corporations lobby against public services. Each one of these is detrimental to the growth of any democracy because lobbyists act out in the interest of billionaires and influence government policy-making by taking in no account of public interest (Mehrsa Baradaran, 2019). In simple words – they suggest extraneous elements in decision-making and subvert the public interest in areas like infrastructure (highways, airports, and massive scale projects under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission in 63 cities), natural resources, and energy (gas, oil, petrol, energy), telecom (3G and 4G technology),military (weapons and aircrafts), mining (where giant corporations have developed stakes making billions on India’s tribal heartland), and agribusiness (seeds, privatization of agriculture sector), etc. And, how does this work? Keep reading.

You must be aware of the ongoing farmers’ protest since last year. It is strictly against two issues. First being the ‘three new farm laws’ introduced by Modi government. Second, being the agitation against India’s two richest billionaires – Mukesh Ambani and Adani, who are close to Modi and is believed to profit from these new farm laws. These two billionaires have been eyeing India’s farm sector for a while now. In 2017, Ambani expressed his interest in investing in the agriculture sector. His Jio Platforms, today, is leveraging its partnership with Facebook to dilate into this domain with Jiokrishi app, which will ease out the farm-to-fork supply chain. The company’s records suggest that it source(ed) 77% of its fruit directly from farmers. Now, currently, the farmers take their produce to wholesale markets, governed by APMC (government body). APMC in every State decides the price it will pay to the farmers for their produce. Remember, this market becomes the central point for government acquisition of food grains. With the new farm laws, a giant corporation can directly approach the farmers, buy and pay for the produce at an agreed amount. In short, this new farm law aims to abolish this structural network and privatize it. But, this is just structural damage for farmers. As I mentioned earlier, the devil hides in details – The news laws do not make a written contract between the farmers and corporations mandatory. This means that if there is a conflict of interest between both parties, it will be extremely difficult for farmers to prove that a corporation has breached that agreement. Additionally, this law states that a farmer has no right to take these disputes to an independent judiciary for justice. Instead, they would have to reach out to two bodies – a conciliation board (district-level administrative officers) or to the appellate authority. Now, both of these bodies are dependent on government, which can potentially revert the case in favor of corporations. This law also has a grave danger of impacting the minimum support price that government bodies offer to farmers in case of a declined price fall for their produce during a particular season. The farmers here are sailing on a boat of uncertainty, economic chaos, and policy madness —- all favoring the interest of the giant corporates instead of the public; more specifically, the farmers, who are the beating heart of an agrarian economy like India.

Remember, The Rafael deal? The deal was given to a Ambani brother, who had minimal to no experience in aircraft. Rafael offset contract has been given to Reliance Defense, which was formed 12 days before the announcement of the Rafael deal. ‘Mediapart’, a French-language publication, quoted Francois Hollande (2018), “It was the Indian government that proposed this service group (Reliance), and Dassault which negotiated with Ambani. We had no choice. We took the interlocutor who was given to us.” Two weeks back, the French newspaper ‘LeMonde’ dropped a bombshell stating that the French authorities passed off Anil Ambani’s $162 million tax after Modi-led NDA government negotiated Rafael deal with France based Dassault Aviation. Another example- Back in 2018, when the Modi government approved the privatization of six airports, it also relaxed the prerequisite requirements. BJP allowed companies with no prior experience in this sector to present their bid. After deliberation, all six airports were given to Gautam Adani, the second-highest billionaire in India with no history of running airports. Today, in 2021, Adani Airports has acquired 23.5% stake in Mumbai International Airport Ltd(MIAL), and is set to extend the stakeholding percent to 74%, which will give Adani group the ownership of the upcoming Navi Mumbai airport in which MIAL holds majority stakes. His other ventures in sectors like Adani green energy, power, and transmission hold a close-by narrative. His Carmichael coal mine project in Australia has earned him an infamous ‘climate change villain’ title. Tax deregulations is the primordial goal of corporate lobbyists, and they seem to be winning. The Indian government last year announced that it had reduced the rate of tax for certain existing companies at 25.17% , the lowest since 2010. There is an extra tax deduction of 15% from earlier level of 25% for start-ups. One would argue that the low tax rate would increase international corporate investments. But recent studies show that businesses are moving to countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia for labor-intensive operations. Thereby, failing to bring employment to the country.

Figure 1: The rate of tax imposed on corporates by the Indian government in the last ten years

Figure 2: Mukesh Ambani’s $2 billion house overlooking the slums of Dharavi – The world’s largest slum. Source of the image : www.thecharette.org

Tax deregulation, tax invasion, and corporate lobbying are not the only problems that manifest with the rise of billionaires in India. The most chronic and malignant effect is the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, threatening economic justice and social cohesion in a society. This economic gap is so dilated that it becomes a life of excess for these billionaires and destitution for the rest of the 1.38 billion Indians. According to Forbes magazine, the third richest Indians – Mukesh Ambani ($84.5 billion), Gautam Adani & family($50.5 billion) and Shiva Nadar($ 23.5 billion) own 60% of the country’s wealth. India’s top three richest people have added over $100 billion between them. In fact, since the initial lockdown in March 2020, India’s top billionaires increased their wealth by 35% during COVID-19 pandemic. According to Oxfam report, India’s top 100 billionaires witnessed their fortune increase by staggering number of Rs 12.97 trillion. This amount could have provided every 364 million poor Indians a cheque for ₹94,045 each. So, what was the economic status of the working class? They suffered abominably during COVID, while billionaires thrived. The study, ‘State of Working India 2021 – One year of Covid-19’, by Azim Premji University, revealed that the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 has pushed 230 million Indians below the poverty line. This number accounted for and contributed to the global increase in poverty by a whopping 60% in 2020. The study shows the loss in monthly income earning for all kinds of workers. The fall was 17% for temporary salaried jobs, 18% for self-employed, 21% for daily wage workers, and 5% for permanent salaried workers. This ever-widening gap of economic inequality in India goes against every fiber of true democracy, where public resources and rights like healthcare, education, COVID relief financial aids, etc., instead of being elevate, are subverted. Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International said, “Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to rich elites who are sailing through the pandemic in luxury and ease, while those on the frontline of the pandemic — medical assistants, healthcare workers, and market vendors — are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table”. Existence of these billionaires in any society is symbolic of a theocracy thriving and a democracy that’s palpitating. Times like these demand a moral obligation to question, resist and fight against the economic injustice, not just for ourselves, but for our children and many generations to come by. Remember, power seeks self-preservation first and foremost. The billionaires will do anything and everything to continue hoarding resource, wealth and pass it to their heirs. So, the question is not – when will this stop? But, what are you going to do about it?.

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