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Rare Earth Elements: Elements of the New trade war

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Do we all remember the periodic table which we studied during our school days? Rare Earth elements (REEs) are listed in the periodic table. REEs are 15 lanthanides that belongs to 57 to 71 in the periodic table. There are additional two elements named Scandium and Yttrium with atomic number 21 and 39 respectively. REEs are not rare, rather they are in abundance. Processing, Mining and transforming them into usable form is costly, complex and damaging to the environment. The stages of production include mining, separating, refining, alloying, and manufacturing to make REEs usable. REEs are critical because of various reasons. REEs are used in modern military equipment, phone speaker, LCD, radar, aircrafts, space vehicles and also in electric vehicles. For an example Europium is used in LCD and plasma screens, Neodymium is used in smartphones, wind turbines and also in permanent magnets. The United States was a major producer of REEs till 1980, but it was China who realized the value of REEs and became a major low-cost producer and leading exporter of REEs.

China’s Strategy

Between 1975 and 1990 China’s RE policy was to develop RE mining Industry. Gradually China started to export RE products. In 1985 China also started providing Export-tax reimbursement to attract more rare earth processing Industries. China exploited other markets of REEs through its low-cost strategy, and less regulatory environment. many companies of USA, Japan and France shifted its base to China. In early 1990s China was dominant in the supply of RE concentrates and separations when its total production accounted for more than half of the global RE production. Countries like France and Japan shifted its rare earth extraction facilities to China. This was in reality China’s long-term strategy to kill the other facilities of REEs so that it can take the advantage. Shifting the bases and processing plants without realizing that dependence on one country make the things more vulnerable was a strategic mistake made by Western countries. This exactly happen in 1990 when China started making the rules and regulations for the foreign companies stricter. They were not allowed for mining rare earth projects and were only allowed in joint ventures with Chinese companies. China shares of supply was recorded highest of 97% between 2005 and 2011. Although China has large mines, but it gained the advantages due to its processing facilities which separates the elements from the rock.

In 2010, When Japanese Coast guard stopped Chinese vessels from fishing near Senkaku Island which created some dispute between two nations, China temporarily suspended the REE exports to Japan, It was the time when Japan realized the mistake, they have made between 1975-1990. Soon after the suspension, in 2011 Japan invested around 200mn USD in Australian company Lynas corporation. This company Lynas corporation became the only company outside China that is capable of processing REEs. In 2012, USA, Europe and Japan filled a trade disputes against China in WTO, it was claimed that China was providing benefit to its own Industry at the expense of other countries. Ruling was done against China and China ended its export quota system in 2015.

Is there a trade war?

In May-2019 when the president of America Mr. Donald Trump announced the process of raising tariffs on approximately all imports from China that was around $300bn, it doesn’t include REEs in the list. A few days later a state-run press agency of China warned that by “waging a trade war against China, the United States risks losing the supply of materials that are vital to sustaining its technological strength.” Policymakers in the USA are concerned about the supply chain disruptions of REEs which are very critical to US defense agency. USA doesn’t have any processing plant for REEs. Though they have re-opened Mountain pass mines of California in 2017 which was shut in 2002 but mountain pass mines cannot process REEs, mined material are being sent to China for processing. If there is any conflict in coming years between US and China, REEs would play a significant role and it will definitely give an advantage to China. We are already experiencing some heated debate on China-USA on Taiwan and South China sea issue.

The way forward

The coming 10 years are definitely going to be difficult for the countries which are affected due to this. China’s dominance in REEs is very tough to dismantle. Technology sharing, cooperation among the allies is the need of the hour. USA should work with its allies and work together on enhancing the processing of REEs so that dependency on one nation can be reduced. QUAD which is an alliance of USA, Japan, Australia and India can be a good platform to discuss and formulate a proper strategy to tackle this crisis. According to a US Geological Survey report China has about 37 percent of known global REE reserves but produces about 60 per cent of global REE. India has about 6 percent of global REE reserves and produces a miniscule 1 percent of global supply. India was one of the first countries to realize the importance of REEs, in 1950 India established “India Rare earths limited” a government owned enterprise, However India has not utilized based on the capacity it should have in the exploration. India has a developed geological data available and India should come up with a policy to allow companies to explore their findings in Indian ocean, India has a strong advantage in this region due to its strong business and cultural linkages. USA has to take the leadership role and work with its allies on this issue. USA should not contest with WTO dispute settlement mechanism because ultimately USA has to suffer if it continues to contest with WTO. A responsible leadership role under Biden to make a proper strategy is required, and USA must not forget to work together with its allies like Japan, Australia and India to tackle this crisis.

Bio- Research scholar (International Business) at Fore school of management. Area of Interest- Trade & Geopolitics, Asia-pacific.

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Economy

Blue Economy and the opening of new horizons in Bangladesh

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The sea is called the lungs of the earth. The land beneath the sea is a world full of diversity and abundance of life. Professor Gunter Pauli, an Australian citizen, gave the first idea of ​​the huge economic potential. In 2010, at the invitation of the United Nations, the idea of ​​formulating an environmentally friendly sustainable economic framework was expressed in his speech.

Blue economies are the water resources of the oceans, the resources of the oceans and the economies that surround the oceans. Blue Economy means the color of the sea is blue. That is why the sea-centric economy is called Blue Economy. The main components of Blue  economy are mineral resources, water resources, transportation services, energy resources, tourism industry etc. The planned use and sustainable development of these will bring huge potential to the maritime economy. Like other countries in the world, Bangladesh will be able to use its marine resources for economic development.

Bangladesh has already established absolute sovereignty and sovereignty over 1,17,173 square km of waters from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on March 14, 2012 over the dispute over the Bay of Bengal with Bangladesh and Myanmar through historic sea conquest. The mineral resources of the Bay of Bengal in the south of our country are not found in any other sea or bay in the world and it is said that whoever controls the Bay of Bengal will control the whole of South Asia. That is why the superpowers are trying to occupy the Bay of Bengal.

Blue Economy  is becoming more and more popular in the world at present. By 2050, the world’s population will be about 950 million. We have to lean towards sea resources as we are forced to provide food to this huge population. The developed nations of the world are already harnessing marine resources and increasing their economic growth. Ninety percent of Indonesia’s national economy is dependent on the sea, and the government has already taken steps to ensure that, if implemented successfully, the value of resources extracted from the sea would be 10 times the budget. Australia currently earns 44 billion from their marine resources. Now the question is what are the future prospects of blue economy in the dark bay of maritime resources of Bangladesh, how will Bangladesh be able to create employment through blue economy and what will be the future economy of Bangladesh ??

There is a gulch like area in the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh, which is about 6 km long and is known as a fish sanctuary. There are 450 species of fish, 337 species of snails and oysters, 6 species of turtles, 36 species of shrimps, 10 species of dolphins and 5 species of lobsters in the Bay of Bengal. These include the economic demand for snails, snails, shellfish, crabs, octopuses, and sharks, and are widely considered as food in many countries. There are also marine weeds, creepers, shrubs. Medicinal weeds from the Bay of Bengal are processed to make medicines for various diseases and among these weeds, Espirulina is the most valuable which is consumed as food in China, Japan and various European countries. It is possible to make different types of sauces, bitumen, etc. from marine fish with food, fish oil, which will result in employment and earn huge amount of foreign exchange. There is also a lot of demand for tuna fish in the Bay of Bengal.

According to the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, the total mineral reserves in the beach sand are 4.4 million tons. Of this, the actual stock is 16 lakh 44 thousand tons. Out of 16 types of minerals in the Bay of Bengal, there is a possibility of extraction of 1 million tons of mineral sand in 13 places. Molybdenum, manganese, crust, copper, lead, zinc, sulfide are found in the deep sea floor and raw material clays of cement industry have been found 30 to 60 km deep in the bottom of the sea. Monazite is a very valuable substance in mineral sands and is used in atomic bombs and nuclear reactors. At the bottom of the Bay of Bengal there are ores called manganese edible, phosphorus deposits, polymetallic sulfide. These ores refine rare metals, including cobalt and lead, and can be used in shipbuilding and chemical plants. There are also gems, pearls, gold, silver, corals and other precious gems.

Precious metals uranium and thorium have been found in the deep and shallow seas of the Bay of Bengal. It is expected that 1-5 metric tons of salt will be exported if advanced technology is used in the production of good commercial salt along the coast. Black gold is found in Maheshkhali, Teknaf, Nijhum Island, Kuakata in Cox’s Bazar which is affecting our economy.

There is darkness in the gas field in the Bay of Bengal. There are 200 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves in 23 blocks of the Bay of Bengal from which crores of rupees can be earned.

There is potential tourism industry around the Bay of Bengal. Various industries will be formed around this industry and there will be huge employment. Millions of tourists will flock to enjoy the natural beauty of the Bay of Bengal.

There is a possibility of increasing international trade through the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh is already building international standard ships and exporting them abroad and at present Bangladesh is in the 3rd position in ship exports. The ship breaking industry is also gaining popularity in the world.

Businesses can be expanded locally and internationally through the resources extracted from the sea. The demand for local products in Cox’s Bazar and Kuakata markets is high among tourists. Demand for this specialty has grown significantly as a result of recent corporate scandals.

The Blue Economy is not only the expansion of the ocean economy, but also the opening up of eco-friendly new horizons by mitigating the risks of climate change. In addition, the role of the sea in poverty alleviation, increase in capital flows, investment-friendly environmentally friendly infrastructure development, reduction of unemployment, job creation, elimination of regional and gender disparities and sustainable development is immense. About 80 percent of human food and livelihoods and world trade is handled by sea.

It is possible to implement the Blue economy by making proper use of the resources of the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. The Bay of Bengal is considered as the “mine of gems” of Bangladesh. The Bay of Bengal, the heart of South Asia, is of great commercial importance as it is easy to communicate with different countries. The Government of Bangladesh has already set up an “Oceanographic Research Institute” in Cox’s Bazar district to take the Blue economy forward. Again, maritime economy has been given priority in the master plan of Bangladesh Delta Plan-2100. The Blue Economy Cell was formed in 2014. Therefore, with the proper utilization of the resources at the bottom of the Bay of Bengal, the wheel of Bangladesh’s economy will turn and the future has bright aspects.

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Economy

Fashion Week & Sustainability

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Fashion is always fun and constantly evolving. Old fashion styles are still being popular and new trendy styles are being designed and distributed in the market every day. We can also see people wearing various types of fashion styles starting from business wear, casual, retro to streetwear, etc in everyday life. The personality and the culture reflect the fashion style of a person. Although we shouldn’t judge the personality of a person based on the fashion style, the social status and personality of people can be perceived more or less from the way they style themselves like;” You are what you wear”. Indeed, fashion plays a vital role in the culture, society as well as in economy. France, Italy, UK, and so on have been using fashion ad a soft power which is one of the essentials for economic growth.

The successful “Fashion Week” events from the fashion capitals and their influence on the current and upcoming fashion trends have proved the reputation of the fashion industry. The original fashion week which was initially named “ Press Week” was started in New York City in 1943. Then, in 1984, London Fashion Week was organized by the British Fashion Council and became the first fashion show with live broadcasting. After that, the London Fashion week was followed by the Milan Fashion week arranged by the National Chamber for Italian Fashion which presented the luxurious Italian designer brands. In 1933, the French Fashion Federation organized the Paris Fashion Week which is famous for the “haute couture”. Later the Miami Fashion Week was started in 1989, then discontinued and continued again in 2005. Unlike the other big four fashion weeks, the Miami Fashion week showcases the swimwear brands around the world and is usually held before the big four fashion week events.

Fashion Weeks are being held twice a year, usually in February and September, and divided into spring/summer and fall/winter to showcase seasonal collections. During the fashion week, London, New York City, Milan, Paris, and Miami which are regarded as the international fashion capitals, designers from famous luxury brands present their upcoming collections on the runway. The luxury brands also hire popular celebrities as brand ambassadors and attract buyers and fashionistas around the world. The fashion industry has a great impact on the economy. According to the statistics of Women’s Wear Daily, the fashion week created a total of $887 million with approximately 232,000 participants in more than 500 shows. Fashion Weeks are concentrated on sustainability lately. Hence, in London Fashion Week for this season, designers combine sustainability to their collections. Moreover, In New York Fashion Week 2021, we can see the sustainable designs but still, there are criticisms evolving that event is not sustainable enough because not all designers follow sustainability aspects. Also, recent Milan Fashion had the latest designs from brands like Max Mara, Genny, and so on, which align with sustainable rules. Likewise, in Paris Fashion Week,brands like Chloe, Stella McCartney, etc present their designs align with the values of sustainability but other big-name brands can’t able to integrate sustainable facts into their brands. Based on a recent McKinsey report, the fashion show which lasts for 10 to 15 minutes costs around $1 million. But the number of profits from the fashion week exceeds that amount. According to Fashion United’s calculations, New York Fashion Week, leading all the Fashion Weeks, earned  540 million euros per fashion week.

Although generating abundant profits, some brands are lacking to integrate sustainability and hence, the whole Fashion Week event couldn’t shift towards sustainability. The brands are only focusing to maximize their profits. They constantly produce trendy fashions and attract the consumers to buy each and every latest product. Honestly, sustainability can increase the cost of production, so most brands couldn’t shift to sustainable production. As a result, the brands neglect their impact on the environment such as carbon emissions, massive amount of water consumption, pollution of rivers and streams etc as well as their impacts on the society like labor exploitation etc.

However, the “Degrowth” theory which emphasizes on reduction of production, consumption and shifting the priority of the society based on sustainability seems to be usable for the brands to approach sustainability. Based on the degrowth, the lesser the production, the lesser the consumption. Sustainable products have better quality and long life which makes the consumers spend less on unnecessary purchases. On the other hand, designer brands also have limited products and are usually sold out before they create other seasonal collections. The quality of the designer brands has a great reputation and are useable for a long time. So, some might argue that they are different from fast fashion brands. In reality, the supply chain and source of raw materials of some designer brands are unknown and the companies don’t even have transparency about the wages of the workers in the factories. Some brands even had a history of labor exploitation in their supply chain. For this reason, it is questionable that if sustainability and profitability coexist. Indeed, there are various ethical brands for instance; Stella McCartney, Levi’s, Patagonia, and so on, that are committed to advocating for sustainability and produce eco-friendly products only.

Sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Thus, we have to take accountability to reduce environmental impacts while creating values according to the triple bottom line -people, planet, and profit. The fashion industry accounts for 2% of the global GDP and is one of the biggest industries globally. Being the growing industry, it has the responsibility for transparency and sustainability, thus, even all the famous Fashion Events around the world are trying to showcase sustainable fashion and influence the consumers. In addition, Fashion Events that are focused on sustainability have emerged in Asia as well as in ASEAN. Hence, ASEAN still has the best opportunity to create a 100% sustainable fashion industry globally.

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Economy

An Uneven Recovery: the Impact of COVID-19 on Latin America and the Caribbean

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Employment rates in some Latin American and Caribbean countries have experienced a relative recovery, although in most, rates fall short of pre-pandemic levels. The quality of available jobs has also declined, as has the number of hours of paid work per week, according to data from a new survey by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The High-frequency Phone Surveys, the second phase of which was implemented this year in 24 countries of the region, provides a snapshot of families’ well-being and their perceptions regarding the crisis. The goal is to take the pulse of the region and measure the impacts of the pandemic in key areas such as the labor market, income and food security, gender equality, and household access to basic services, such as education, health (including the COVID-19 vaccine), Internet connectivity and digital finance. The survey took a representative sample of the population aged 18 and over with access to a telephone in each country.

“The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the pre-existing inequalities in the region, where the most vulnerable and poorest groups have been disproportionately affected,” said Luis Felipe López-Calva, UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “This survey allows us to take the pulse of the region and propose evidence-based solutions.”

“The pandemic severely impacted millions of families in the region,” said Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank Vice-president for Latin America and the Caribbean. “These surveys we present today are crucial for obtaining current data on the scope of the crisis and for recommending informed measures to help improve the quality of life in our countries.”

Survey results demonstrate that the crisis particularly affected women, both because of the stronger initial impact on them and their slower labor market recovery. Mothers of young children (aged 0 to 5 years) have been most affected. In fact, a year and a half after the onset of the crisis, women are twice as likely as men to be unemployed owing to the pandemic. This situation is exacerbated by an increase in women’s household responsibilities, including supervision of children in remote education, and a higher incidence of mental health problems.

For the region as a whole, the employment rate stood at around 62 percent, almost 11 percentage points below the pre-pandemic level. Employment rates surpassed pre-crisis levels only in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Moreover, formal employment fell 5.3 percent in the region while self-employment grew 5.7 percent, and the proportion of workers employed in small businesses (maximum of four workers) increased by 8 percent. These figures point to a deterioration in the quality of available employment. Even among the employed population, regional survey results identified a decrease in weekly hours of paid work, from 43 to 37, confirming this negative trend.

The survey data found that 28 percent of people employed before the pandemic lost their jobs, and more than half (17 percent) of those with a job before the pandemic have left the labor force. These impacts disproportionately affected women with young children: 40 percent of female workers over 18 with children aged 0 to 5 years lost their pre-pandemic job, compared to 39 percent of women in general and 18 percent of men.

The pandemic had a greater impact on less educated workers (both men and women). Thirty-five percent of those with a primary education or less lost their job during the pandemic, as did 28 percent of employees with a secondary education. Approximately 19 percent of individuals with a tertiary education became unemployed.

Survey data revealed that as a consequence of labor market setbacks, just over half of the households in the region have not yet managed to recover their pre-pandemic income levels. This situation occurred despite government efforts to help families through direct transfer programs and other benefits. Approximately 38 percent of survey respondents had received emergency cash transfers.

The survey demonstrated that food insecurity still affects 23.9 percent of households in Latin America and the Caribbean. This figure is almost double that reported by households prior to the pandemic — 12.8 percent. However, most countries have improved in this area with respect to the levels observed in June 2020.

Results also demonstrated that more than a year after the onset of the crisis, 86 percent of school-age children and youth receive some type of education (face-to-face or remote). However, figures vary widely across countries: in Guyana and Guatemala, it is 64 percent while in Peru and Chile, it reaches 95 and 97 percent, respectively. Additionally, education coverage falls below pre-pandemic levels in the countries surveyed. Just under a quarter of students in the region attended face-to-face classes.

Access to health services improved significantly. However, the percentage of unvaccinated people remains high in some countries. Eight percent of the regional population has not been vaccinated or is not willing to receive a vaccine. This percentage is especially high in the Caribbean: 60 percent in Haiti, 49 percent in Jamaica and 43 percent in Saint Lucia and Dominica.

Finally, according to the survey results, the use of mobile banking and online transactions (e-commerce) rose sharply during the pandemic. The use of digital payments also increased — currently, 26 percent of survey respondents said they used mobile wallets. The highest increases were among the rural population, the population over age 55 and those with low levels of education (primary or less).

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