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Central Asia: Potential and Opportunities of Investment

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Central Asia is a heart of the world and in order to control the world, the region should be under the control of a power. Historically, it is tied with its nomadic and silk route. It is a crossroad for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Muslims land and Europe, China and India. In the 19thcentury, there was a competition between Britain and Imperial Russia to establish influence in the region and it might have been an effort for global balancing. The influence of British gradually rose while Russia declined with the humiliating defeat by Japan in1905. After the World War I, Imperial Russia collapsed ironically and was able to re-infuse itself as USSR with Central Asia as five provinces. From the World War II, USSR controlled Caucuses and Central Asia and was able to preserve its dominance in the region until 1991.Post disintegration of USSR, Central Asia appeared in to five autonomous states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan that are land-locked and require the cooperation of neighboring countries for accessing world markets. The region, which is located in Eurasia and heartland, increased its geopolitical importance. The Region is volatile in nature with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan only having relative stability. Although they have shown some economic growth, the other Central Asian economies are slim and petite.

Governance in the regional states has been continuously showing elitist pattern with being less responsive to popular aspirations. There is a constant factor in their foreign policies, which is the quest for security and for economic advantage. At the social level, the influential criminal groups have grown across the region, with rampant corruption, narcotics, poverty, and terrorism threatens all five states in Central Asia. Much of the state apparatuses are inherited from socialism- literacy, workers, infrastructure etc. The force structures and military thinking, inherited from soviet, is not compatible with modern Western systems. Contemporary Central Asian leadership has three primary concerns: maintaining power, fighting internal resistance and of development of autonomous economy..From the strategic prospect, the region is significant for geopolitical interest to China, Russia and United States. The region of estimated proven natural gas reserves are 232 trillion cubic feet comparable to Saudi Arabia. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan possess about 100 trillion cubic feet and Uzbekistan 65 trillion cubic feet, Region’s oil reserves are 17.49 billion barrels. Kazakhstan has regions ‘largest proven oil reserves.

Central Asia states are seeking investment but the international community is more focusing on geopolitics than investment. The regional sates are pursuing cooperation and opportunities among themselves. The improved political cooperation and stability among Central Asian states also has opened opportunities of investment growing economies particularly for China and India. The region has two trump cards of educated youth and abundance of natural resources with stale and secure environment for foreign investors. The two rapid growing markets China and India are interested in the regional energy and mineral resources. Both the countries have developed close relationship with Central Asian states. Post reforms era, China has made progress in investment driven model for the manufacturing and investment beyond the border. Therefore, China has vast scope of investment in Central Asia. ‘OBOR’ project is a game changer investment of China in the region has introduced the region as a transit corridor for the Asia, Europe and Russia.

The region has promising investment potential in the fields of petrochemical, agriculture and tourism. These three sectors have low-level of foreign direct investment but with the great determination and priority of governments, it may be boasted. The region has a verity of petrochemical and agriculture commodities and raw material for processing to value the regional economy. The region also has potential to serve in both domestic and international meat market. Italy has invested in beef industry of Kazakhstan and has been earning much from several years. Another area of investment is a textile industry, which has immense opportunities of cotton and wool production. The Central Asian states have the same Soviet past but follow different directions for development aspirations.

Tajikistan is a more attractive country for the cross border investors due to its favorable environment for investment. The government is directing foreign investment to install new industries and modernize old industries. Aluminum, cotton, energy and tourism reveal potential of investment and attract foreign investors toward Tajikistan. The foreign direct investment in Tajikistan has increased from $270 to 317 million in 2018. According to the report of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Foreign Direct Investment stock in the country was 42.7 billion in 2018.The major investors are China, Russia United Kingdome and America have invested in energy and banking sectors. Chinese companies are investing in agro, tourism, hydropower and steel production sectors of Tajikistan. From the last two years, it has invested more than $3 billion in the country. According to the report of Chamber of Commerce of Tajikistan, China wants to create industrial enterprise with progressive technology and equipment.

Kazakhstan is the largest economy of Central Asia, which shares 70% of total investment in the region. According to National Bank of Kazakhstan, the foreign direct investment has increased by 9.8% with the amount of $4.1billion in 2018. The main areas of investment are transport, mining, trade finance, information technology, communication and insurance. Last year, 17.2% investment in fixed asset has increased. A significant growth in industry 27.1%, construction 20.6%, real estate 20.1% and agriculture 14.2% is also calculated. The government has arranged a list of $10.6 billion projects and has made legislation in permit system, taxation and custom system to attract investment in the country. The migration and visa process has been relaxed and the citizens of 62 countries can and travel Kazakhstan easily.

Uzbekistan has introduced visa for three years sin march 2019 for the participant of foreign investment companies. Furthermore, the foreign investors who invest more than $3billion can get residence permit for ten years. Within a one day, a certificate of origin of goods will be issued to foreign traders. With the participant of international financial institutions, 89 projects were launched in 2019. Then 31 project of more than $3billion are also planned with the help of World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Banks are able to open account for those who are Uzbek residents and businessperson with the requirement of FATF.

Turkmenistan is isolated country of six million people with rich natural gas reservoirs. The government tightly controls any foreign activities monitoring very closely. Visa system is very complicated but the businesspersons and investors are frequent. The business environment does not support foreigners because Turkmen language has long been in isolation. Therefore, businesspersons have to rely on English language for the business activities in Turkmenistan. However, international investors have shown their interest in investment and trade with Turkmenistan. The country has potential of investment in the sectors of agriculture, energy, construction and transport. The Foreign Direct Investment stock was $36 billion in 2018 of 81.6% of GDP. China, Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the main investors in Turkmenistan. Due to development of market economy, Turkmenistan has planned to raise investment in fixed assets $65.72 billion by 2025, which will facilitate manufacturing sector and will create many jobs in the country.

Kyrgyzstan is the landlocked, mountainous with an economy of agriculture, minerals and reliance on workforce abroad. Cotton, wool and meat are main agricultural products. Other sources of income are gold, mercury, uranium and natural gas. The country attracts foreign investment in construction of dames, mining, gas production and agriculture sectors but most of the investment goes to mining industry but due to conflicts between local population and investors in few districts of Kyrgyzstan the flow of investment decreased. The country is facing few challenges to the Foreign Direct Investment, the economy minister Oleg Pankartov has stated, “main problem is the lack of land plots to implement investment project due to limited resources”. He further added, “there are difficulties of land transformation and limited energy capacity and poor infrastructure”. That is why; the Foreign Direct Investment flow decreased 31.5% in 2018. The main investors in Kyrgyzstan are Britain, China, Canada, Kazakhstan and Russia. In 2019, the World Bank reported the rank of the country is 70th out of 190 countries. Kyrgyzstan is among those who have made progress in terms of investment and protection. The trade with neighbor countries has boasted. However, the country has wide potential in investment, to make contract and of payments.

In short, Central Asia is a top investment destination in the world. The most investment is in the natural gas, hydrocarbon and metal sector to extraction, processing to transportation. The other destinations for Foreign Direct Investment in the region are service sectors real estate development, agriculture, trade, communications, labor, expertise, technology, manufacturing and infrastructure development. China, European Union and Russia are major investors in the regional countries. Chinese investment is growing quickly in all economies of the region. Other key factor of investment inflow is the rate of return on investment that seems positive. In other words, to get long-term benefit from the investment, Central Asian countries must allow investors to benefit too.

PhD Scholar (Political Science) The Islamia University, Bahawalpur Lecturer at Heritage International College Arifwala

Economy

Reforms Key to Romania’s Resilient Recovery

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Over the past decade, Romania has achieved a remarkable track record of high economic growth, sustained poverty reduction, and rising household incomes. An EU member since 2007, the country’s economic growth was one of the highest in the EU during the period 2010-2020.

Like the rest of the world, however, Romania has been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the economy contracted by 3.9 percent and the unemployment rate reached 5.5 percent in July before dropping slightly to 5.3 percent in December. Trade and services decreased by 4.7 percent, while sectors such as tourism and hospitality were severely affected. Hard won gains in poverty reduction were temporarily reversed and social and economic inequality increased.

The Romanian government acted swiftly in response to the crisis, providing a fiscal stimulus of 4.4 percent of GDP in 2020 to help keep the economy moving. Economic activity was also supported by a resilient private sector. Today, Romania’s economy is showing good signs of recovery and is projected to grow at around 7 percent in 2021, making it one of the few EU economies expected to reach pre-pandemic growth levels this year. This is very promising.

Yet the road ahead remains highly uncertain, and Romania faces several important challenges.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of Romania’s institutions to adverse shocks, exacerbated existing fiscal pressures, and widened gaps in healthcare, education, employment, and social protection.

Poverty increased significantly among the population in 2020, especially among vulnerable communities such as the Roma, and remains elevated in 2021 due to the triple-hit of the ongoing pandemic, poor agricultural yields, and declining remittance incomes.

Frontline workers, low-skilled and temporary workers, the self-employed, women, youth, and small businesses have all been disproportionately impacted by the crisis, including through lost salaries, jobs, and opportunities.

The pandemic has also highlighted deep-rooted inequalities. Jobs in the informal sector and critical income via remittances from abroad have been severely limited for communities that depend on them most, especially the Roma, the country’s most vulnerable group.

How can Romania address these challenges and ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery for all?

Reforms in several key areas can pave the way forward.

First, tax policy and administration require further progress. If Romania is to spend more on pensions, education, or health, it must boost revenue collection. Currently, Romania collects less than 27 percent of GDP in budget revenue, which is the second lowest share in the EU. Measures to increase revenues and efficiency could include improving tax revenue collection, including through digitalization of tax administration and removal of tax exemptions, for example.

Second, public expenditure priorities require adjustment. With the third lowest public spending per GDP among EU countries, Romania already has limited space to cut expenditures, but could focus on making them more efficient, while addressing pressures stemming from its large public sector wage bill. Public employment and wages, for instance, would benefit from a review of wage structures and linking pay with performance.

Third, ensuring sustainability of the country’s pension fund is a high priority. The deficit of the pension fund is currently around 2 percent of GDP, which is subsidized from the state budget. The fund would therefore benefit from closer examination of the pension indexation formula, the number of years of contribution, and the role of special pensions.

Fourth is reform and restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises, which play a significant role in Romania’s economy. SOEs account for about 4.5 percent of employment and are dominant in vital sectors such as transport and energy. Immediate steps could include improving corporate governance of SOEs and careful analysis of the selection and reward of SOE executives and non-executive bodies, which must be done objectively to ensure that management acts in the best interest of companies.

Finally, enhancing social protection must be central to the government’s efforts to boost effectiveness of the public sector and deliver better services for citizens. Better targeted social assistance will be more effective in reaching and supporting vulnerable households and individuals. Strategic investments in infrastructure, people’s skills development, and public services can also help close the large gaps that exist across regions.

None of this will be possible without sustained commitment and dedicated resources. Fortunately, Romania will be able to access significant EU funds through its National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which will enable greater investment in large and important sectors such as transportation, infrastructure to support greater deployment of renewable energy, education, and healthcare.

Achieving a resilient post-pandemic recovery will also mean advancing in critical areas like green transition and digital transformation – major new opportunities to generate substantial returns on investment for Romania’s economy.

I recently returned from my first official trip to Romania where I met with country and government leaders, civil society representatives, academia, and members of the local community. We discussed a wide range of topics including reforms, fiscal consolidation, social inclusion, renewably energy, and disaster risk management. I was highly impressed by their determination to see Romania emerge even stronger from the pandemic. I believe it is possible. To this end, I reiterated the World Bank’s continued support to all Romanians for a safe, bright, and prosperous future.

First appeared in Romanian language in Digi24.ro, via World Bank

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Economy

US Economic Turmoil: The Paradox of Recovery and Inflation

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The US economy has been a rollercoaster since the pandemic cinched the world last year. As lockdowns turned into routine and the buzz of a bustling life came to a sudden halt, a problem manifested itself to the US regime. The problem of sustaining economic activity while simultaneously fighting the virus. It was the intent of ‘The American Rescue Plan’ to provide aid to the US citizens, expand healthcare, and help buoy the population as the recession was all but imminent. Now as the global economy starts to rebound in apparent post-pandemic reality, the US regime faces a dilemma. Either tighten the screws on the overheating economy and risk putting an early break on recovery or let the economy expand and face a prospect of unrelenting inflation for years to follow.

The Consumer Price Index, the core measure of inflation, has been off the radar over the past few months. The CPI remained largely over the 4% mark in the second quarter, clocking a colossal figure of 5.4% last month. While the inflation is deemed transitionary, heated by supply bottlenecks coinciding with swelling demand, the pandemic-related causes only explain a partial reality of the blooming clout of prices. Bloomberg data shows that transitory factors pushing the prices haywire account for hotel fares, airline costs, and rentals. Industries facing an offshoot surge in prices include the automobile industry and the Real estate market. However, the main factors driving the prices are shortages of core raw materials like computer chips and timber (essential to the efficient supply functions of the respective industries). Despite accounting for the temporal effect of certain factors, however, the inflation seems hardly controlled; perverse to the position opined by Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

The Fed already insinuated earlier that the economy recovered sooner than originally expected, making it worthwhile to ponder over pulling the plug on the doveish leverage that allowed the economy to persevere through the pandemic. The main cause was the rampant inflation – way off the 2% targetted inflation level. However, the alluded remarks were deftly handled to avoid a panic in an already fragile road to recovery. The economic figures shed some light on the true nature of the US economy which baffled the Fed. The consumer expectations, as per Bloomberg’s data, show that prices are to inflate further by 4.8% over the course of the following 12 months. Moreover, the data shows that the investor sentiment gauged from the bond market rally is also up to 2.5% expected inflation over the corresponding period. Furthermore, a survey from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) suggested that net 47 companies have raised their average prices since May by seven percentage points; the largest surge in four decades. It is all too much to overwhelm any reader that the data shows the economy is reeling with inflation – and the Fed is not clear whether it is transitionary or would outlast the pandemic itself.

Economists, however, have shown faith in the tools and nerves of the Federal Reserve. Even the IMF commended the Fed’s response and tactical strategies implemented to trestle the battered economy. However, much averse to the celebration of a win over the pandemic, the fight is still not through the trough. As the Delta variant continues to amass cases in the United States, the championed vaccinations are being questioned. While it is explicable that the surge is almost distinctly in the unvaccinated or low-vaccinated states, the threat is all that is enough to drive fear and speculation throughout the country. The effects are showing as, despite a lucrative economic rebound, over 9 million positions lay vacant for employment. The prices are billowing yet the growth is stagnating as supply is still lukewarm and people are still wary of returning to work. The job market casts a recession-like scenario while the demand is strong which in turn is driving the wages into the competitive territory. This wage-price spiral would fuel inflation, presumably for years as embedded expectations of employees would be hard to nudge lower. Remember prices and wages are always sticky downwards!

Now the paradox stands. As Congress is allegedly embarking on signing a $4 trillion economic plan, presented by president Joe Bidden, the matters are to turn all the more complex and difficult to follow. While the infrastructure bill would not be a hard press on short-term inflation, the iteration of tax credits and social spending programs would most likely fuel the inflation further. It is true that if the virus resurges, there won’t be any other option to keep the economy afloat. However, a bustling inflationary environment would eventually push the Fed to put the brakes on by either raising the interest rates or by gradually ceasing its Asset Purchase Program. Both the tools, however, would risk a premature contraction which could pull the United States into an economic spiral quite similar to that of the deflating Japanese economy. It is, therefore, a tough stance to take whether a whiff of stagflation today is merely provisional or are these some insidious early signs to be heeded in a deliberate fashion and rectified immediately.

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Carbon Market Could Drive Climate Action

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Authors: Martin Raiser, Sebastian Eckardt, Giovanni Ruta*

Trading commenced on China’s national emissions trading system (ETS) on Friday. With a trading volume of about 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide or roughly 12 percent of the total global CO2 emissions, the ETS is now the world’s largest carbon market.

While the traded emission volume is large, the first trading day opened, as expected, with a relatively modest price of 48 yuan ($7.4) per ton of CO2. Though this is higher than the global average, which is about $2 per ton, it is much lower than carbon prices in the European Union market where the cost per ton of CO2 recently exceeded $50.

Large volume but low price

The ETS has the potential to play an important role in achieving, and accelerating China’s long-term climate goals — of peaking emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060. Under the plan, about 2,200 of China’s largest coal and gas-fired power plants have been allocated free emission rights based on their historical emissions, power output and carbon intensity.

Facilities that cut emissions quickly will be able to sell excess allowances for a profit, while those that exceed their initial allowance will have to pay to purchase additional emission rights or pay a fine. Putting a price tag on CO2 emissions will promote investment in low-carbon technologies and equipment, while carbon trading will ensure emissions are first cut where it is least costly, minimizing abatement costs. This sounds plain and simple, but it will take time for the market to develop and meaningfully contribute to emission reductions.
The initial phase of market development is focused on building credible emissions disclosure and verification systems — the basic infrastructure of any functioning carbon market — encouraging facilities to accurately monitor and report their emissions rather than constraining them. Consequently, allocations given to power companies have been relatively generous, and are tied to power output rather than being set at absolute levels.

Also, the requirements of each individual facility to obtain additional emission rights are capped at 20 percent above the initial allowance and fines for non-compliance are relatively low. This means carbon prices initially are likely to remain relatively low, mitigating the immediate financial impact on power producers and giving them time to adjust.

For carbon trading to develop into a significant policy tool, total emissions and individual allowances will need to tighten over time. Estimates by Tsinghua University suggest that carbon prices will need to be raised to $300-$350 per ton by 2060 to achieve carbon neutrality. And our research at the World Bank suggest a broadly applied carbon price of $50 could help reduce China’s CO2 emissions by almost 25 percent compared with business as usual over the coming decade, while also significantly contributing to reduced air pollution.

Communicating a predictable path for annual emission cap reductions will allow power producers to factor future carbon price increases into their investment decisions today. In addition, experience from the longest-established EU market shows that there are benefits to smoothing out cyclical fluctuations in demand.

For example, carbon emissions naturally decline during periods of lower economic activity. In order to prevent this from affecting carbon prices, the EU introduced a stability reserve mechanism in 2019 to reduce the surplus of allowances and stabilize prices in the market.

Besides, to facilitate the energy transition away from coal, allowances would eventually need to be set at an absolute, mass-based level, which is applied uniformly to all types of power plants — as is done in the EU and other carbon markets.

The current carbon-intensity based allocation mechanism encourages improving efficiency in existing coal power plants and is intended to safeguard reliable energy supply, but it creates few incentives for power producers to divest away from coal.

The effectiveness of the ETS in creating appropriate price incentives would be further enhanced if combined with deeper structural reforms in power markets to allow competitive renewable energy to gain market share.

As the market develops, carbon pricing should become an economy-wide instrument. The power sector accounts for about 30 percent of carbon emissions, but to meet China’s climate goals, mitigation actions are needed in all sectors of the economy. Indeed, the authorities plan to expand the ETS to petro-chemicals, steel and other heavy industries over time.

In other carbon intensive sectors, such as transport, agriculture and construction, emissions trading will be technically challenging because monitoring and verification of emissions is difficult. Faced with similar challenges, several EU member states have introduced complementary carbon taxes applied to sectors not covered by an ETS. Such carbon excise taxes are a relatively simple and efficient instrument, charged in proportion to the carbon content of fuel and a set carbon price.

Finally, while free allowances are still given to some sectors in the EU and other more mature national carbon markets, the majority of initial annual emission rights are auctioned off. This not only ensures consistent market-based price signals, but generates public revenue that can be recycled back into the economy to subsidize abatement costs, offset negative social impacts or rebalance the tax mix by cutting taxes on labor, general consumption or profits.

So far, China’s carbon reduction efforts have relied largely on regulations and administrative targets. Friday’s launch of the national ETS has laid the foundation for a more market-based policy approach. If deployed effectively, China’s carbon market will create powerful incentives to stimulate investment and innovation, accelerate the retirement of less-efficient coal-fired plants, drive down the cost of emission reduction, while generating resources to finance the transition to a low-carbon economy.

(Martin Raiser is the World Bank country director for China, Sebastian Eckardt is the World Bank’s lead economist for China, and Giovanni Ruta is a lead environmental economist of the World Bank.)

(first published on China Daily via World Bank)

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