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Build Back Better World: An Alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative?

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The G7 Summit is all the hype on the global diplomatic canvas. While the Biden-Putin talk is another awaited juncture of the Summit, the announcement of an initiative has wowed just as many whilst irked a few. The Group of Seven (G7) partners: the US, France, the UK, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Germany, launched a global infrastructure initiative to meet the colossal infrastructural needs of the low and middle-income countries. The Project – Build Back Better World (B3W) – is aimed to be a partnership between the most developed economies, namely the G7 members, to help narrow the estimated $40 trillion worth of infrastructure needed in the developing world. However, the project seems to be directed as a rival to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Amidst sharp criticism posed against the People’s Republic during the Summit, the B3W initiative appears to be an alternative multi-lateral funding program to the BRI. Yet, the developing world is the least of the concerns for the optimistic model challenging the Asian giant.

While the B3W claims to be a highly cohesive initiative, the BRI has expanded beyond comprehension and would be extremely difficult to dethrone, even when some of the most lucrative economies of the world are joining heads to compete over the largely untapped potential of the region. Now let’s be fair and contest that neither the G7 nor China intends the welfare of the region over profiteering. However, China enjoys a headstart. The BRI was unveiled back in 2013 by president Xi Jinping. The initiative was projected as a transcontinental long-term policy and investment program aimed to consolidate infrastructural development and gear economic integration of the developing countries falling along the route of the historic Silk Road. 

The highly sophisticated project is a long-envisioned dream of China’s Communist Party; operating on the premise of dominating the networks between the continents to establish unarguable sovereignty over the regional economic and policy decision-making. Referring to the official outline of the BRI issued by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the BRI drives to: “Promote the connectivity of Asian, European, and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnerships among the countries along the Belt and Road [Silk Road], set up all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks and realize diversified, independent, balanced, and sustainable development in these countries”. The excerpt clearly amplifies the thought process and the main agenda of the BRI. On the other hand, the B3W simply stands as a superfluous rival to an already outgrowing program.

Initially known as One Belt One Road (OBOR), the BRI has since expanded in the infrastructural niche of the region, primarily including emerging markets like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The standout feature of the BRI has been the mutually inclusive nature of the projects, that is, the BRI has been commandeering projects in many of the rival countries in the region yet the initiative manages to keep the projects running in parallel without any interference or impediment. With a loose hold on the governance whilst giving a free hand to the political and social realities of each specific country, the BRI program presents a perfect opportunity to jump the bandwagon and obtain funding for development projects without undergoing scrutiny and complications. With such attractive nature of the BRI, the program has significantly grown over the past decade, now hosting 71 countries as partners in the initiative. The BRI currently represents a third of the world’s GDP and approximately two-thirds of the world’s entire population.

Similar to BRI, the B3W aims to congregate cross-national and regional cooperation between the countries involved whilst facilitating the implementation of large-scale projects in the developing world. However, unlike China, the G7 has an array of problems that seem to override the overly optimistic assumption of B3W being the alternate stream to the BRI. 

One major contention in the B3W model is the facile assumption that all 7 democracies have an identical policy with respect to China and would therefore react similarly to China’s policies and actions. While the perspective matches the objective of BRI to promote intergovernmental cooperation, the G7 economies are much more polar than the democracies partnered with China. It is rather simplistic to assume that the US and Japan would have a similar stance towards China’s policies, especially when the US has been in a tense trade war with China recently while Japan enjoyed a healthy economic relation with Xi’s regime. It would be a bold statement to conclude that the US and the UK would be more cohesively adjoined towards the B3W relative to the China-Pakistan cooperation towards the BRI. Even when we disregard the years-long partnership between the Asian duo, the newfound initiative would demand more out of the US than the rest of the countries since each country is aware of the tense relations and the underlying desperation that resulted in the B3W program to shape its way in the Summit.

Moreover, the B3W is timed in an era when Europe has seen its history being botched over the past year. Post-Brexit, Europe is exactly the polar opposite of the unified policy-making glorified in the B3W initiate. The European Union (EU), despite US reservations, recently signed an investment deal with China. A symbolic gesture against the role played by former US President Donald J. Trump to bolster the UK’s exit from the Union. As London tumbles into peril, it would rather join hands with China as opposed to the democrat-regime of the US to prevent isolation in the region. Despite US opposition, Germany – Europe’s largest economy – continues to place China as a key market for its Automobile industry. Such a divided partnership holds no threat to the BRI, especially when the partners are highly dependent on China’s market and couldn’t afford an affront to China’s long envisaged initiative.

Even if we assume a unified plan of action shared between the G7 countries, the B3W would fall short in attracting the key developing countries of the region. The main targets of the initiative would naturally be the most promising economies of Asia, namely India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh. However, the BRI has already encapsulated these countries: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMEC) being two of the core 6 developmental corridors of BRI. 

While both the participatory as well as the targeted democracies would be highly cautious in supporting the B3W over BRI, the newfound initiate lacks the basic tenets of a lasting project let alone standing rival to the likes of BRI. The B3W is aimed to be domestically funded through USAID, EXIM, and other similar programs. However, a project of such complex nature involves investments from diverse funding channels. The BRI, for example, tallies a total volume of roughly USD 4 to 8 trillion. However, the BRI is state-funded and therefore enjoys a variety of funding routes including BRI bond flotation. The B3W, however, simply falls short as up until recently, the large domestic firms and banks in the US have been pushed against by the Biden regime. An accurate example is the recent adjustment of the global corporate tax rate to a minimum of 15% to undercut the power of giants like Google and Amazon. Such strategies would make it impossible for the United States and its G7 counterparts to gain multiple channels of funding compared to the highly leveraged state-backed companies in China.

Furthermore, the B3W’s competitiveness dampens when conditionalities are brought into the picture. On paper, the B3W presents humane conditions including Human Rights preservation, Climate Change, Rule of Law, and Corruption prevention. In reality, however, the targeted countries are riddled with problems in all 4 categories. A straightforward question would be that why would the developing countries, already hard-pressed on funds, invest to improve on the 4 conditions posed by the B3W when they could easily continue to seek benefits from a no-strings-attached funding through BRI?

The B3W, despite being a highly lucrative and prosperous model, is idealistic if presented as a competition to the BRI. Simply because the G7, majorly the United States, elides the ground realities and averts its gaze from the labyrinth of complex relations shared with China. The only good that could be achieved is if the B3W manages to find its own unique identity in the region, separate from BRI in nature and not rivaling the scale of operation. While Biden has remained vocal to assuage the concerns regarding the B3W’s aim to target the trajectory of the BRI, the leaders have remained silent over the detailed operations of the model in the near future. For now, the B3W would await bipartisan approval in the United States as the remaining partners would develop their plan of action. Safe to say, for now, that the B3W won’t hold a candle to the BRI in the long-run but could create problems for the G7 members if it manages to irk China in the Short-run.

The author is a political and economic analyst. He focuses on geopolitical policymaking and international affairs. Syed has written extensively on fintech economy, foreign policy, and economic decision making of the Indo-Pacific and Asian region.

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Economy

The first Africa-Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum Comes On 1-3 September at Barbados

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With the new dawn gradually unfolding, African financial institutions such as the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) are making tremendous efforts and offering support for African leaders in consolidating Africa’s economy within the framework of the African Union Agenda 2063. They have consistently been pushing to transform agriculture as the safest approach to reduce imports and insure food security, improve industrialization and the raise the efficiency of human resource capital in Africa.

The Government of the Republic of Barbados will be hosting the first ever edition of the AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF) which is being convened by African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and Government of Barbados in collaboration with African Union Commission (AUC), African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, Africa Business Council, the Caribbean Community Secretariat, and Caribbean Export Development Agency. 

The African and Caribbean ties are deep rooted and based on shared history, culture, and sense of a common identity and destiny that was forged by the slave trade creating large centres of African Diaspora in the Caribbean and elsewhere. While Africa and the Caribbean have renewed their engagement, with a Heads of State and Government Summit of the Caribbean Community and Africa, held on 7 September 2021, the relationship needs to be institutionalized through deepening of trade and investment ties between the two regions.

The holding of the inaugural Africa-Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum is, therefore, a key strategic deliverable towards the institutionalisation of the reborn relationship between Africa and the Caribbean. This Forum will further consolidate the political agreement reached by Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community and which aims to strengthen collaboration, unity and to foster increased trade, investment and people-to-people engagement between the two regions.

It is in this context that the inaugural Africa Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF), has been organized to hold during 1-3 September at Bridgetown, Barbados. The Forum dubbed: AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum 2022, will hold under the theme “One People, One Destiny. Uniting and Reimagining Our Future” vividly reflecting the common cultural aspirations. 

The main goal of the AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum is to provide a platform for the development of strategic partnerships between the business communities in Africa and the CARICOM Region with the objective of fostering bilateral cooperation and engagement in trade, investment, technology transfer, innovation, tourism, culture and other services. The Forum will also be used as a vehicle to actively promote trade and investment opportunities among people of Africa and the Caribbean, as well as the wider diaspora which will contribute to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and to the Caribbean trade development agenda.

Africa leaders and its people highly appreciate the readiness of external countries, who in practical terms, engage in infrastructure development, agriculture and industry especially at the dawn of the rapid geopolitical changes possibly leading to creating a new global economic order. Noting the significance, a number of countries are simultaneously trying to understand barriers in the region and are steadily exploring ways to leverage unto the newly created AfCFTA which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people in Africa.

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China’s economy showing resilience and potentials amid headwinds

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Since the beginning of this year, the increasingly complicated international environment and weakened global economic recovery, as well as sporadic but multiple local outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic caused harsh impacts on China’s economic development.

Affected by both domestic and external unfavorable factors, China’s economic performance in the second quarter was less ideal than expected, which has resulted in some negative rhetoric against China’s economy on some media. In this case, I would like to share some views on China’s economy and its prospects:

First, China’s economy managed to grow in the second quarter despite downward pressure. In the second quarter of this year, the impacts from a new round of COVID flare-ups and other unexpected factors steeply increased the downward pressure on China’s economy, and major economic indicators tumbled in April.

However, the Chinese government responded with resolute and swift actions. We put stable growth higher on the agenda, held ground against a massive stimulus, worked to front-load the policies set, and introduced and implemented a policy package for stabilizing the economy. The effects emerged immediately. In May, the decline in major economic indicators slowed.

In June, the economy stabilized and rebounded. Major indicators picked up fairly fast and returned to the positive territory. As a result, the economy registered a positive growth in the second quarter. The gross domestic product (GDP) of China in the first half year was 56,264.2 billion yuan, up by 2.5% year on year at constant prices. In terms of specific economic indicators, industrial production was steadily recovered and the total value added of industrial enterprises above designated size grew by 3.9% year on year in June which is 3.2% higher than in May. The service industry production index also increased from -5.1% to 1.3%. The total retail sales of consumer goods bounced back from -6.7% to 3.1% in June demonstrating market sales improvement and fast growth in retail sales of goods for basic living.

Exports went up by 22% which is 6.7% higher than the previous month. By ensuring supply and price stability in the market, focusing on grain and energy production, and overcoming the impacts of imported inflation, the consumer price is also generally stable and the employment improved. 

Second, China’s economy is expected to recover gradually and maintain steady growth. The risk of stagflation in the global economy is on the rise these days, thus raising the concerns of instability and uncertainty in China’s economic growth. However, China’s economy has strong resilience and great potentials and the fundamentals sustaining China’s long-term economic growth remain unchanged. With the implementation of a series of policies and measures to stabilize growth, China’s economic performance is expected to gradually improve. First, a major economy like China always has enormous resilience.

We should be aware of the considerably large scale of China’s economy and its advantages for having a solid material foundation and a huge domestic market. Second, the potentials of demand recovery are significant. Chinese government is determined to stabilize investment, accelerate the issuance and use of special-purpose bonds, speed up major projects construction, and encourage infrastructure investment. We expect to see further consumption recovery as the offline consumer services are reviving and the government policies to boost consumption are coming into effect.

Moreover, China’s foreign trade sustained great resilience. In May, China’s total import and export volume increased by 9.5% year-on-year, 9.4% higher than the previous month; and 14.3% in June, 4.8% higher than that in May. Third, there is a concrete foundation for production to rebound. Following the steady recovery of production, the industrial and supply chains have been gradually smoothed, and the promoting effects of key industries such as automobiles and electronics will further strengthen. And the service industry turned from a decline to an increase in June as the pandemic situation improved.

In addition, the promising recovery of transportation industry will also be of great help for the further production boost. Fourth, innovation will provide new momentum for economic growth. Under the pandemic, traditional industries have accelerated their transition and expansion towards digitization and intelligentization, meanwhile new industries continue to develop steadily and rapidly. Fifth, China’s macroeconomic policies are consistent and precise. The positive effects of policies such as large-scale tax refunds, issuance and use of special-purpose bonds, and increased financial support for the production will emerge, which will contribute to the steady recovery and growth of the economy.

Third, China’s economy has been deeply integrated into the global economy, and opening-up is one of China’s fundamental national policies. China cannot develop in isolation from the world, and the world also needs China for its development. Affected by factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis, the global industrial chain, and supply chain are disturbed. As a result, many countries are stuck in multiple crises in terms of food and energy. Rising prices have forced major economies to tighten their economic policies, and pushed the world economy into a substantial risk of stagflation. China, as the largest developing country in the world, has profound developmental potentials and can certainly provide a strong impetus for the global economic recovery.

China will deepen high-level opening-up, stay committed to free trade and fair trade, and help keep the two wheels of multilateral and regional trade cooperation running in parallel. Continued efforts will be made to foster a market-oriented, world-class business environment governed by a sound legal framework, and ensure foreign enterprises’ equal access to unlimited sectors in accordance with law in order to realize mutual benefit amid fair competition. China is ready to strengthen international cooperation against COVID-19 and willing to make its COVID control measures more targeted and well-calibrated under the premise of ensuring safety against the pandemic. We will steadily optimize the visa issuance and COVID testing policies and keep resuming and increasing international passenger flights in an orderly manner, and prudently advance overseas commerce and cross-border travel for labor services, so as to better promote personnel exchanges and China’s cooperation with the world.

In the first half of this year, the bilateral trade between China and Iran increased dramatically, consolidating China’s position as the top trading partner of Iran. We are sure that the steady recovery and growth of China’s economy will provide more opportunities for countries around the world including Iran. In the second half of this year, China will hold a number of exhibitions like the 7th China-Eurasia Expo, the 22nd China International Fair of Investment and Trade, the 132nd Canton Fair, and the 5th China International Import Expo which are great chances for Iranian merchants to learn more about China’s market and conduct cooperation with China. China will actively implement the Global Development Initiative and all countries around the world, including Iran, are welcome to benefit from China’s economic development, promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation through greater openness and cooperation in trade, investment and other fields. In this way, we will be able to collectively build a community with a shared future for mankind.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Seventh Package of Sanctions against Russia Presents Unaccounted-for Risks

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The seventh package of the European Union sanctions against Russia in connection with the events in Ukraine will be remembered for its ban on the import of Russian gold, the expansion of export controls, as well as its list of blocked individuals and organisations. However, an important new feature hasn’t been thoroughly discussed. In Art. 9 Council Regulation EU No. 269/2014, a rule was introduced that sanctioned individuals are required to report to the competent authorities of an EU country about their assets in the jurisdiction of the European Union. The deadlines are stringent. Reports must be submitted before September 1 of this year. Those who are slapped with sanctions in the future must report within six weeks. In addition, blocked persons are obliged to cooperate with the competent authority in the verification of this information.

Let’s recall that the essence of blocking sanctions is that the assets of individuals and organisations that fall under them in the EU are frozen. In other words, they formally remain the property of such persons, but their use is forbidden. These assets may include bank accounts, real estate, capital goods, vehicles, etc. In addition, blocked persons are prohibited from providing “economic resources”. This essentially means a ban on most economic relations with them.

What is the meaning of this new feature? Most likely, the EU authorities want to facilitate the search for the assets of blocked persons. They specify that the sanctioned individuals themselves should do this “legwork.” If they refuse to comply by reporting their assets, then according to Art. 9 of the said Regulations, their actions will be regarded as circumvention of the sanctions regime. In turn, violation of the Regulations may lead to criminal liability and the confiscation of property obtained as a result of the circumvention of the sanctions. Article 15 of the Regulation obliges Member States to develop criminal prosecution measures for violation of the EU sanctions regime, as well as to take all necessary measures to confiscate the proceeds of such a violation. In other words, by failing to report their assets in the EU, blocked persons risk being sued, facing criminal charges, or losing their property.

The West has actively discussed the confiscation of the assets of blocked Russians since February 2022. Work on legal mechanisms is underway in the United States. In Canada, the forfeiture framework has been approved by the Senate.

Now that the seventh package of sanctions has been adopted, a similar mechanism is now being seen in the EU, albeit in the context of circumventing sanctions due to failure to provide information.

It is not yet clear how these rules will be applied. However, the existing legal mechanism may well be interpreted by the member countries in a way that is detrimental to the sanctioned individuals. To date, 110 legal entities and 1,229 individuals have been targeted by EU blocking sanctions over the Ukrainian issue. While not everyone has property in the EU, for others, the value of the assets may be huge, and attempts to confiscate or prosecute will inevitably cause new political tensions. For example, within the framework of the seventh package, Rossotrudnichestvo, which has a network of Russian centres of science and culture in the EU countries, was blocked. The same applies to the Russkiy Mir Foundation and its Russian Centres in the EU countries. It can be assumed that Sberbank and a number of other blocked Russian banks, enterprises and individual entrepreneurs have assets in the EU. Access to their property should be blocked by EU authorities anyway. The new rules of the seventh package also add the risks of confiscation in the event of a lack of reporting within the specified timeframe or a refusal to cooperate with the competent authorities.

The experience of the crisis concerning transit to the Kaliningrad region has shown that the authorities of individual member states can interpret EU sanctions very broadly. It cannot be ruled out that the new features of the seventh package will receive similarly broad interpretations. It is necessary to be ready for a scenario where the property of individuals and structures in the EU is confiscated, as well as their criminal prosecution in certain EU countries for violating sanctions legislation.

From our partner RIAC

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