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BRICS Business Forum Trade and Investment Cooperation: A path for the future

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On October 28, the BRICS Business Council (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) during the forum reviewed its joint work for the previous years, discussed at length current business issues and, in particular tried to choose a path for the future. The Business Council was launched at the BRICS Summit in 2013 in Durban. Since its establishment, the BRICS Business Council has made its primary task to increase or broaden trade and investment among the member countries.

While it has recorded a considerable success and positive performance, this year has been different due to the spread of coronavirus. That has not deterred them but rather the BRICS plans to turn the disease-climate into a platform to search for new drivers of trade and economic growth in the subsequent years.

In 2020, Russia holds rotating leadership of the BRICS. Consequently, the meeting was coordinated from Moscow by the head of the Russian chapter of the BRICS Business Council, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation Sergey Katyrin. It is worth to explain that the BRICS Business Forum held with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation.

Ahead of the opening, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent a special message of greetings, and the Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov addressed the participants. In his address, Ryabkov noted that by working together, the group could add substantial momentum to the development of trade and investment among members, and in the interests of population. In assessing the consequences of the pandemic, he urged the group to come up with collective approaches for overcoming them.

“The world economy has entered a recession. Global GDP is shrinking, and so are international trade, investment and demand for key exports. The global value chains are disrupted, while financial markets are in constant state of turbulence. There are many other problems we face today, and will have to deal with in the future,” he told the participants.

“The crises in the economy and trade could make the world more prone to conflict and seriously undermine international cooperation, further exacerbating the deficit of trust. The gap between the rich and the poor is once again growing. Our common goal is to prevent the most negative scenarios from materializing. Against this unfavorable backdrop, we are witnessing attempts to make a political issue out of the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that this is the worst thing to do at a time when we need to work together to fend off today’s threats,” Ryabkov pointed out.

According to him, overcoming the economic fallout from the crisis is a priority. In this context, there is the need to focus on restoring the global economy, driving growth and expanding trade, as well as repairing the industrial chains. He added, “We cannot forget about climate change, sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I think the BRICS countries will have to look past this horizon to proactively contribute to shaping the long-term global agenda.”

In an optimistic vision for the future, the business community in the five countries has a special responsibility in this regard. Businesses are uniquely equipped to swiftly adapt to a new reality, and create much needed jobs during major crises like the current one. This is a huge asset. The BRICS governments will continue to support businesses in every possible way. In this context, the BRICS Business Forum and Business Council are essential for devising effective solutions to support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

Besides, there were plenary sessions held under theme: “COVID-19 and the economic development of the BRICS countries: problems and actions” and “Challenges and opportunities for sustainable development: pathways to a green economy.”

The BRICS countries represent the key economies of their regions and therefore have a special responsibility to develop actions to contain the COVID19 pandemic. They bear the main burden on the development and implementation of a policy of economic recovery from the consequences of the pandemic.

The session “Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development: Pathways to a Green Economy” discussed an agenda for action on climate change and finding ways to sustain economic, industrial and energy development while reducing carbon emissions. The session participants concluded that it is necessary to study carefully the directions of sustainable economic development in the current situation.

Russian Chamber President Sergey Katyrin referenced BRICS Business Forum 2020 as “business marathon” and noted that nine panel sessions discussed topical areas of cooperation, and these include industry, trade, digital technologies, agriculture, healthcare, energy, ecology and women’s entrepreneurship.

According to forum documents, the three-day forum, both online and offline, brought together about 90 speakers, representatives of government bodies, financial institutions, business and public organizations from all countries of the association. The main topic of the forum this year was “Business Partnership of the BRICS: a Common Vision of Sustainable Inclusive Development” – and that “inclusiveness” refers to the collective efforts to overcome common challenges.  

One of the main tasks is updating the Strategy for Economic Partnership of BRICS until 2025, to continue identifying promising directions for developing business cooperation among BRICS countries. In addition, the plan also focuses on business-to-business engagements in the interests of creating tangible inter-trade transactions and exploring investment opportunities among the member countries.

Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation Denis Manturov highlighted, in particular, some issues of the development of industrial cooperation within the BRICS. The heads of the national parts of the BRICS Business Council – Jackson Schneider (Brazil), Onkar Kanwar (India), Xu Lirong (China), Busisiwe Mabuza (South Africa) – spoke about various issues of interaction, exchanged ideas and experiences in solving urgent problems and challenges that currently face the group.

They discussed the impact of the pandemic on industrial production, ways to restore the economies of the BRICS countries, the possibility of digitalization and automation in creating a favorable climate. They also considered the development of women’s entrepreneurship within the BRICS and the role of the Women’s Business Alliance, which began its activities in the year of Russia’s chairmanship in BRICS.

The BRICS Business Council will meet to sum up and approve the annual report on November 10. That will be ahead of the XII BRICS Leaders’ summit scheduled for November 17. The theme of the meeting of the leaders is “BRICS Partnership in the Interests of Global Stability, Common Security and Innovative Growth.”

Russia last chaired BRICS in 2015, held a summit in the provincial city of Ufa in Bashkortostan. Russia also presided over the group back in 2009, before BRIC turned into BRICS following South Africa’s accession. The five BRICS countries together represent over 3.1 billion people, or about 40 percent of the world’s population.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Economy

Baltic reality: High inflation and declining of living standards

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The Baltic States’ economy is in bad condition. The latest estimate from the EU’s statistics body shows that Eurozone inflation is continuing to soar to record highs.

The Baltic countries continue to be the hardest hit. These states in particular are experiencing the highest levels of inflation in the Eurozone. Thus, inflation in Latvia and Lithuania hit 22.4 per cent and 22.5 per cent respectively. Estonia also has seen inflation rise year on year from 6.4 per cent in September 2021 to 24.2 per cent in September 2022. The more so, the Baltic States continue to see soaring energy and food prices which lead to declining standard of living.

The Bank of Lithuania has published its latest economic forecast and revised gross domestic product (GDP) growth projections for 2023 from 3.4% to 0.9%.

Statistics Lithuania also reports that in September 2022, the consumer confidence indicator stood at minus 16 and, compared to August, decreased by 5 percentage points. The decrease in the consumer confidence indicator in September was determined by negative changes in all of its components.

According to SEB bank economist Tadas Povilauskas, the number of poor people in Lithuania will increase. Living standards will be affected by rising food and energy prices. The current price of natural gas is too high and the economy cannot “go” with it. It is evidently that energy prices shocks have far-reaching effects on Lithuanian economy and population.

The main cause of such state of affairs is deteriorated relations with Russia. Russia has lately been the EU’s top supplier of oil, natural gas, and coal, accounting for around a quarter of its energy.

The conflict in Ukraine and political confrontation between Russia and the West has exacerbated the energy crisis by fuelling global worries it may lead to an interruption of oil or natural gas supplies from Russia. Moscow said in September it would not fully resume its gas supplies to Europe until the West lifts its sanctions.

It is obviously that the conflict in Ukraine dramatically worsened the situation on the markets, as Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat and barley, and two-thirds of the world’s exports of sunflower oil used for cooking. Ukraine is also the world’s fourth-biggest exporter of corn.

According to Euronews, the prices of many commodities – crucially including food – strained global supply chains, leaving crops to rot, caused panic in many European countries, including the Baltic States.

High inflation has become the direct consequence of sanctions imposed on Russia. As for the Baltic States, the lack of wisdom to find compromises and blindly following the European Union’s decisions have lead to declining standards of living. The desire to punish such huge state as Russia played a cruel joke on the Baltic States. It will be difficult to explain the population why they should turn down the heating in homes, schools and hospitals over the winter.

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Policy mistakes could trigger worse recession than 2007 crisis

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The world is headed towards a global recession and prolonged stagnation unless fiscal and monetary policies holding sway in some advanced economies are quickly changed, according to a new report released on Monday by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).“There is still time to step back from the edge of recession,” said UNCTAD chief Rebeca Grynspan.

‘Political will’

“This is a matter of policy choices and political will,” she added, noting that the current course of action is hurting the most vulnerable.

UNCTAD is warning that the policy-induced global recession could be worse than the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2009.

Excessive monetary tightening and inadequate financial support could expose developing world economies further to cascading crises, the agency said.

The Development prospects in a fractured world report points out that supply-side shocks, waning consumer and investor confidence, and the war in Ukraine have provoked a global slowdown and triggered inflationary pressures.

And while all regions will be affected, alarm bells are ringing most for developing countries, many of which are edging closer to debt default.

As climate stress intensifies, so do losses and damage inside vulnerable economies that lack the fiscal space to deal with disasters.

Grim outlook

The report projects that world economic growth will slow to 2.5 per cent in 2022 and drop to 2.2 per cent in 2023 – a global slowdown that would leave GDP below its pre-COVID pandemic trend and cost the world more than $17 trillion in lost productivity.

Despite this, leading central banks are sharply raising interest rates, threatening to cut off growth and making life much harder for the heavily indebted.

The global slowdown will further expose developing countries to a cascade of debt, health, and climate crises.

Middle-income countries in Latin America and low-income countries in Africa could suffer some of the sharpest slowdowns this year, according to the report.

Debt crisis

With 60 per cent of low-income countries and 30 per cent of emerging market economies in or near debt distress, UNCTAD warns of a possible global debt crisis.

Countries that were showing signs of debt distress before the pandemic are being hit especially hard by the global slowdown.

And climate shocks are heightening the risk of economic instability in indebted developing countries, seemingly under-appreciated by the G20 major economies and other international financial bodies.

“Developing countries have already spent an estimated $379 billion of reserves to defend their currencies this year,” almost double the amount of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) recently allocated Special Drawing Rights to supplement their official reserves. 

The UN body is requesting that international financial institutions urgently provide increased liquidity and extend debt relief for developing countries. It’s calling on the IMF to allow fairer use of Special Drawing Rights; and for countries to prioritize a multilateral legal framework on debt restructuring.

Hiking interest rates

Meanwhile, interest rate hikes in advanced economies are hitting the most vulnerable hardest

Some 90 developing countries have seen their currencies weaken against the dollar this year – over a third of them by more than 10 per cent.

And as the prices of necessities like food and energy have soared in the wake of the Ukraine war, a stronger dollar worsens the situation by raising import prices in developing countries.

Moving forward, UNCTAD is calling for advanced economies to avoid austerity measures and international organizations to reform the multilateral architecture to give developing countries a fairer say.

Calm markets, dampen speculation

For much of the last two years, rising commodity prices – particularly food and energy – have posed significant challenges for households everywhere.

And while upward pressure on fertilizer prices threatens lasting damage to many small farmers around the world, commodity markets have been in a turbulent state for a decade.

Although the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative has significantly helped to lower global food prices, insufficient attention has been paid to the role of speculators and betting frenzies in futures contracts, commodity swaps and exchange traded funds (ETFs) the report said.

Also, large multinational corporations with considerable market power appear to have taken undue advantage of the current context to boost profits on the backs of some of the world’s poorest.

UNCTAD has asked governments to increase public spending and use price controls on energy, food and other vital areas; investors to channel more money into renewables; and called on the international community to extend more support to the UN-brokered Grain Initiative.

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‘Sanctions Storm’: Recovery After the Disaster

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After the start of the special operation in Ukraine, a “sanctions storm” hit Russia; more sanctions were imposed against Russia in a few months than against Iran in decades. But a catastrophe did not take place, and the stage of stabilization came.

Indeed, almost all the weapons in the sanctions arsenal were used one after another: commodities exchange was suspended in some sectors, export and import controls were put in place, restrictions on air and sea transportation were introduced. The sanctions have spread to the investment and financial sectors, paralyzing many transactions with the West and complicating them with the East. An image impact came from the mass withdrawal of foreign business from the Russian market—not directly caused by the sanctions, but demonstrating “over-compliance,” excessive submission to them.

In the public mind, the destabilizing wave created the impression of the end of the story of the market economy in Russia, an impending catastrophe. But the catastrophe did not happen. The stage of stabilization has come, and it is important to use it correctly.

What to do?

In the near future, the Russian authorities and business will have to solve three groups of interrelated tasks. First, they must provide the domestic market with necessary goods, and restore value chains by the use of alternative partners. Second, they need to establish reliable financial mechanisms for working with these partners. Third, it is necessary to look for new growth points for the future, industries in which dependence on the West was critical. It is important to work out the possibilities: for new partners entering the markets and for attracting investors from friendly countries, as well as trying to integrate into new value chains.

Partners, first of all, include China and India. The southern direction is also not unpromising—to begin with, this includes Iran and Turkey, as well as a search for investors in the Arab world and the development of logistics routes through the Middle East. Nevertheless, in all areas, the key obstacle is the threat of secondary sanctions by the United States and the EU—which means that the second task becomes the main one: building a safe infrastructure for financial cooperation.

China remains Russia’s first trading partner—but despite the strategic partnership on the political level, large Chinese companies and banks that are active in the international market are suspending cooperation with Russia, fearing secondary US sanctions. In these conditions, it is important to work on explaining the nuances of the sanctions policy for Chinese business, creating secure payment channels that do not depend on foreign banks or on the dollar and the euro, and developing profitable package offers. Beijing seeks to use the opportunities opening up in the Russian market to occupy the vacant niches and strengthen the yuan in international payments, which means that its interest in finding a common solution is high.

A similar situation is developing in the Indian market, with the difference that Indian business is more connected than Chinese business with America, and its awareness of doing business in Russia is lower. As a consequence, Indian companies and banks integrated into the global economy will comply even more closely with sanctions restrictions, despite their interest in developing ties with Russia. Accordingly, even more active informational work is needed to establish Russian-Indian business ties, as well as the creation of a secure settlement mechanism. India already has similar experience, from doing business with Iran. In particular, UCOBank was formed to trade with it in rupees. Similar structures can be created in the Russian direction.

If the necessary channels are laid, both China and India can not only replace some Western goods in Russian markets, and ensure purchases from the Russian energy, agricultural, and military-industrial sectors—preserving their prospects for business—but also become zones of qualitative economic growth. Chinese partners can become a support in the development of bilateral cooperation in the fields of electronics and digital technologies (including 5G), and Indian, in pharmacology and high-tech agriculture. It also makes sense for business to look at these countries from the point of view of the development of green technologies in energy and agriculture, and the introduction of ESG practices, since these countries are also interested in this.

From our partner RIAC

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