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Chabahar Port and India-Afghanistan trade

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One of the issues raised by the Afghan Delegation, led by Interim Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, which met with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on November 12, 2021 in Islamabad, was permitting the transportation of Indian wheat via Pakistan territory (it would be pertinent to point out, that in October 2021, India had asked Pakistan for allowing the movement of trucks carrying 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan).

. The Pakistan PM is supposed to have told the delegation, that he will consider the request favourably. A tweet by the Pakistan Prime Minister’s office said:

    ‘The Prime Minister conveyed that in the current context Pakistan would favourably consider the request by Afghan brothers for transportation of wheat offered by India through Pakistan on exceptional basis for humanitarian purposes and as per modalities to be worked out’.

After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, bilateral trade with India – via Pakistan – had been suspended. This had caused a huge loss to many Indian businesses. For the year 2019-2020, trade between India and Afghanistan surpassed 1.5 Billion USD.

Chabahar Port and India-Afghanistan Air Freight corridor

  While Pakistan has been allowing Afghan goods to enter India through Wagah, it does not permit export of Indian goods to Afghanistan via Pakistani territory. To overcome this problem, India has been focusing on the Chabahar Port Project in Iran (the port dubbed as India’s gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia has been used for transportation of relief consignments to Afghanistan) and had also initiated air corridors with Afghanistan (New Delhi-Kabul,  Mumbai-Kabul and New Delhi-Herat)

The recent demand of Afghanistan to allow relief materials from India, underscores two points. First, the Taliban realizes the importance of economic ties with its neighbours – especially India and Iran (a lot of attention is focused on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, but the latter needs to have robust economic ties with other neighbours as well). In September 2021, Taliban had sent the proposal for resuming air connectivity with India. Alhaj Hameedullah Akhunzada, acting minister, Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority had written to the Director General of Civil Aviation Arun Kumar for resumption of flights between both countries. Even before the formation of the Interim Taliban Government, Interim Deputy Foreign Minister, Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, had said that Taliban would seek to build robust bilateral relations with India, and had categorically said that trade with India, both through air corridors and the land crossing, was important for Afghanistan. Stanekzai had also spoken in favour of regional connectivity.

Second, that while the Taliban has repeatedly stated that it accorded highest priority to its economic relations with China, it wants to balance its relations, and not be excessively dependent upon Beijing (Beijing has committed assistance to the tune of 31 Million USD to Afghanistan, and has also resumed air connectivity with Afghanistan). Taliban Spokespersons have said that they want cordial relations with all countries including the US. While humanitarian aid from the world community will help Afghanistan in dealing with the grave humanitarian crisis (according to estimates over half of Afghanistan’s population are facing food insecurity), connectivity as well as resumption of bilateral trade is essential. Apart from this, Taliban needs support of the world community for the unfreezing of the reserves of the Afghan Central Bank (the US had frozen 9.5 billion USD assets of the Afghan Central Bank). So far very few countries, with China being the most vocal, have extended support to the demand that these assets be released (the Taliban interim government will need to cultivate ties with other countries, and also reassure them that it will keep its commitments with regard to rights of minorities and women, in order to receive their support).

  In conclusion, while there is a strong consensus over assisting Afghanistan in dealing with its humanitarian crisis, it remains to be seen whether countries will also resume economic linkages and connectivity, and also if they will support the demand of the Taliban interim government with regard to the assets of the Afghan Central Bank being released. It would also be interesting to see, if Pakistan actually allows relief materials from India to pass through its territory, and if it does whether such a step could pave the way for resumption of bilateral linkages between both countries which it had been snapped in August 2019. While analysts and commentators are viewing Afghanistan purely from the lens of geopolitics, it is important for the world community and Taliban to work jointly to address the country’s economic problems and prioritise the welfare of Afghan citizens.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India

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Bregret Reigns Britain: Blaming Brexit over Economic Exigency?

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Sometimes I blunder that the UK is still a part of the European Union (EU). Whether when discussing a unified policy stance on sanctions targeting Russia or a common polity on sustainable energy strategies for a resilient future of Europe. Brexit may be a figment of the recent past, but its tremors are certainly not bygone. And the European cohesion, which should’ve been envied at a time when Russia is wreaking havoc on its energy security, seems ephemeral as Britain’s vexed relationship with the EU refuses to recede. However, amid the boiling economic crisis in Britain and the rest of Europe, public sentiments betray an inherent admission: Britain’s exit from the Union might have been a mistake. But the connotation of this public rhetoric is just as awry as the Brexit chatter leading up to the 2016 referendum.

The opinion of Britons has been notoriously fickle throughout history. But the outcome of the Brexit referendum was razor-thin at inception. Now, a stagnant economy; a revolving-door political leadership; and decades-high inflation are turning the tide against the championed narrative of the Conservatives. According to a recent opinion poll by YouGov – a leading market research and data analytics firm headquartered in Britain – 56% of the Britons surveyed concurred that leaving the EU had been a mistake. Only 32% believed that Brexit was a good idea. However, while many Brexit critics would jump onto this opportunity to bash the Tories, this perception is misguided, a product of frustration of an irate populace looking to blame something for their woes. And Brexit has been a notable feature of the ruling government.

Britain installed its fourth prime minister since 2016 last month. But the damage was already done a few months back. Britons were already reeling from soaring energy prices and acute food shortages. The economic slowdown was heralding an unfamiliar era of high-interest rates and unemployment. Then entered Liz Truss, the former prime minister who eschewed economic orthodoxy with her trickle-down tax-cut plans. Her disastrous stint in office – that barely lasted 50 days – tipped the pound into a free fall, sparked a liquidity crisis for pension funds, and sent government borrowing costs spiraling to harrowing levels. While the incumbent Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has managed to calm the turbulent economy, the wreckage is still visible in the mortgage market.

Earlier this year, mortgage rates in Britain typically remained below 2.5%. Since October, however, the average two-year fixed rate mortgage is hovering around 6.25% – slightly down from the peak of 6.65% on Oct. 20. The lowest two and three-year fixed rates are still above the 5% mark, according to Moneyfacts Group, a financial information company. Unlike the United States, British mortgages run for shorter terms. For instance, about 2 million mortgages in Britain would reach the end of their fixed terms by the end of next year, pushing many Britons to refinance at rates more than double their initial settlements. An estimated 1.6 million borrowers in Britain have variable mortgages, which track the central bank’s policy rate. Thus, as inflation keeps running ablaze, no respite seems on the cards. 

The annual rate of inflation in Britain has reached a multi-decade high of 11.1%. And at its last policy meeting, the Bank of England (BoE) – the central bank of Great Britain – hiked its interest rates by 75 basis points, taking the policy rate to 3% – the highest level since the financial crisis of 2008. Andrew Bailey – governor of the Bank of England – doubled down on his commitment to raising interest rates higher to deter double-digit inflation fuelled by pandemic-induced supply chain logjams and the mercurial energy prices triggered by the Russian retaliation against Western sanctions. While the logistics backlogs seem to be improving, the Russian dilemma shows no sign of resolution. And as the Western coalition prepares to implement a price cap on Russian energy supplies, economic difficulties would only worsen for the British citizenry.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), a fiscal watchdog group in Britain, inflation-adjusted disposable income is projected to slump by circa 7% over the next two years under the government’s new budget plan. Introduced as the “autumn statement,” the 55 billion pound ($65.4 billion) budget virtually reversed every plan by Ms. Truss. Mr. Jeremy Hunt – the new chancellor of the Exchequer – has frozen the annual taxable income threshold until April 2028 rather than having those bands adjust to the inflation rate. Consequently, the top tax rate of 45% would now be applicable on earnings starting from £125,140 instead of the current level of £150,000. The government has also raised the windfall tax rate on energy firms from 25% to 35% until March 2028. Hence, economists believe that aggressive rate hikes coupled with such steep tax increments could trigger a brutal recession – perhaps the most debilitating since the 1930s.

So blaming Brexit for the economic turmoil battering Britain is not an accurate depiction of the public sentiment regarding Brexit. And it is chiefly because the throes of the British economy are tricky to quantify under a defining rubric. 

True, the UK is struggling with labor shortages. But this issue is not entirely driven by Britain’s inability to replace workers from Europe, who left after Brexit. A substantial portion of workers are Britons, who left during the pandemic and never returned to the labor force. Many started their own businesses; some settled into the groove of remote work. 

Admittedly, Britain’s sluggish growth further worsened when investments diverted to other epicenters of commerce in Europe after Brexit. Britain is the only member of the Group of Seven (G-7) advanced economies with an economy smaller than its pre-pandemic level. Recently, India replaced Britain as the world’s fifth-largest economy; Paris supplanted London as Europe’s highest-valued stock market, according to data published by Bloomberg. But Britain’s productivity has been in decline since 2009; public funding has been in the dumps ever since austerity policies were implemented in the aftermath of the 2007 financial collapse. High-interest rates are visibly hurting the domestic outlook of the British economy. But it is mainly because people were so conditioned to the ultra-low interest rates over the past decade that their perspective is dovishly askew.

Nonetheless, the British government has the incentive to structure a trade mechanism with the EU. While the hardliner Conservative MPs who voted Sunak into the office would definitely resent (and veto) an intimate relationship – like that enjoyed by Switzerland and Norway – with the single market, a settlement of disputes revolving around the hybrid trade status of Northern Ireland is imperative to Britain’s economic revival. Yet, if the Labour Party manages to topple the Tories in the next general elections, a closer alignment with Brussels should be in the vanguard. Because while Britain’s economic debacle might not be entirely Brexit’s unraveling, the UK cannot resurface without improving relations with Europe in an openly hostile neighborhood with a bleak future.

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Global Recovery: Mobilize SME, Digitize Economies and Commercialize Exportability

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Like an open book, all such deployment ideas are already available for last many years to allow immediate mobilization of any national small medium business economy. On the world stage, as a recovery, nations can digitize on fast tracks any selected sectors of economies and get ready to dance on global digital platforms. Nations can become examples on creating superior exportable goods and services while commercializing innovative ideas on the global stage. There are no secrets on how to achieve all this, but there are huge secrets why it is still not being done despite all the economical struggles?

How to capture opportunity losses; the biggest tragedy of any disconnected economic progress is watching the world ‘continuously’ advancing, consuming and growing, while nations ‘persistently’ despite extraordinary resources abandoned, talented citizenry only herded and left as spectators, trade associations, chambers and government agencies remain disconnected. Therefore, needed are precise world-class goals, as national symbols of unity, diversity and tolerance. So, what are the top missing rules to mobilize a nation on economic development fronts and what is stopping?

How to grow economic development? The fastest way is via right meaningful collaborations, alliances and brokering of deals, the fears of communications must be eliminated, the trepidations of opening global markets is just a mindset issue but not having bold open dialogue on fast track vibrant programs is a killer. Establish, define and articulate a long term agenda and drive like a formula car.

National mobilization of SME entrepreneurialism is a step by step methodology, if there is still no progress after a decade, which only raises serious questions about available skills to lead such a charge. Similarly, 50% mobilization of the qualified SME if allowed to dance on global digital platforms creates productivity, performance and profitability and therefore brings foreign exchange to improve national grassroots prosperity. If local economic development teams do not openly engage, adapt and utilize available blueprints and related mobilization expertise little or nothing will happen.

This is not about good or bad management; this is about core competency to move national economies towards pragmatic progress, particularly, when national mobilization of entrepreneurialism is already an entrepreneurial movement. This is far apart from the traditional bureaucratic procedural paperwork and especially in most cases not necessarily new funding dependent rather execution hungry and deployment starved. In most cases, the lack of knowledge on the global age demands and transformation of digital platforms, that leaves the SME behind. Study more why will population-rich-nations lead knowledge-rich-nations?

Matter of choice: Unless immediately exercised the required departmental tests and measure capabilities matching right mindset and speedy execution requirements, just piling up degree-holders and highly preferred staffing without precision is in reality what is destroying economic development.  So, choose economic progress or choose bad HR, the economic recovery has no time to waste. Explore new options on how to acquire mastery on such affairs. What level of efficiency is required to become a productive nation to cope with the consumption hungry world?

Furthermore, to play in global commerce, the global age speed of communication acts as a power of progress rate. There is no room for departmental responses to take days, weeks and months, but must face global age demands as a thriving 24x7x365 living world waiting for immediate response. What will it take to create a LIVE economic development recovery program of highly integrated departments? What levels of expertise are required to start deployments of such thinking? Better understand how other nations are doing, study a new world of G20 and national mobilization of small medium business economies

Capitalism is not failing; it is economic development. Unless mandated differently, the circus will go on. The skills gaps are not about lack of degrees; rather, global age experiences to understand how the pyramid of global consumption works, how to open new markets and how to produce real value to stand up to the global age of competitiveness. Skills are not about degrees, but now translated into global age skills as art of communication, presentation and global age level understanding of diversity, tolerance and entrepreneurial mindsets.

Why blind leading blinds; why high priced and fancy studies on SME always select ‘access to finance’ as the mother lode problem but they critically lack centricity of entrepreneurialism as such studies are academic driven. Hence the biggest disconnect, SME founders are not interested in loans but sales. Sales are more about value creation and globally accepted production standards to cope with global age competitiveness, where they do not require consultants rather developed skills to become better executives and better producers. They need help but not the loans, they need skills and knowledge and not the procedural and conflict resolution compliances. They know too well what to do but need to know how to do it better. Cookie cutter complex forms and rubber stamping will never do the trick, they need entrepreneurial dialogue, but not from academia but real entrepreneurs. They strive for meritocracy and not bureaucracies.

No, this is not an academic study but an entrepreneurial response to grand economic failures by the majority of nations on up-skilling SME and re-skilling manufacturers at national digitized levels. Furthermore, failing to understand the difference between the job seeker and job creator mindsets is the first step to get eliminated from any serious dialogue on the subject of SME economic recovery. Failing to articulate on the national mobilization of entrepreneurialism is the second step to get eliminated from any economic development activity as a whole. Study more on Google.

Proof is mandatory; when it takes 10 days to debate, strategies and finalize a national mobilization programs, and when it takes 100 days or organize digital platforms to deploy 10% to 50% selected SME on digital platforms and 1000 days to turn around small medium business economies so why still there is no show after last 5 or 10 years. If there is nothing wrong, why are the restless citizens marching in protest? Why are economies openly collapsing and what is stopping them to correct the course and how much it has to do with core competencies at the source of economic development? Is it possibly now a time for the first industrial revolution of the mind

Next key steps: What can current teams learn and what can they deploy within 90 days in any sector or any national economic realignment. How can they be framed as a customized national mobilization of entrepreneurialism model? How can they select and identify 5K to 50K SME and get them ready for a digital platform? How can they start intense programs to up skill and re-skill all layers of the economic departments to become a global age expert and start thinking of future applications and methodologies of economic growth? What does it take to acquire mastery on national mobilization of entrepreneurialism within a specific SME sector or across the nation? The rest is easy.  

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Why the burden on business women to ‘do it all’ must stop

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Glorifying multi-tasking by women is something we are all guilty of – across the globe we celebrate women who have responsibility piled on their shoulders. For those running their own businesses, the burden can be even greater. And why? Because of outdated expectations. It’s time for us all to shake up our thinking and act, so female entrepreneurs can thrive.

The expectation that a woman should be the primary childcare giver and that the man should be the breadwinner are views so ingrained they remain consistently unchallenged. New research from CARE’s Ignite program confirms that women entrepreneurs worldwide are so bound by these norms, it is stunting their business success – meaning less income for the household and less employment for the community.

  • In Vietnam, 80% of men and 60% of women agreed that businesswomen should be the main childcare giver, despite the pressure of running a business.
  • In Peru, 80% of women interviewed say they are bound by traditional gender roles and the expectations and pressures from the family and society as caregivers.
  • In Pakistan, 76% of respondents felt that family members will disapprove if a woman entrepreneur’s earnings surpass her husband’s.

One of the most alarming findings was that when women entrepreneurs start to succeed, they can face sabotage by their male family members, sometimes even violence or sexual harassment. In Pakistan, women told us that if they start earning more than their male family members, they are overburdened with household responsibilities to the point that they are forced to cut down on, or even discontinue, their business. Furthermore, women entrepreneurs who leave the house for business without a male family member are considered less moral and may be subject to harassment or sexual requests in return for work-related agreements.  In Peru, 100% of the women entrepreneurs interviewed had either seen or heard about a case of violence in their close environment. And broader research shows that 70% of women owners of formal small businesses have experienced violence by their partner including physical and economic violence. It is estimated that due to gender-based violence, women micro-entrepreneurs lose around $ 9,000 USD each year, causing a loss of 5.72% of GDP in Peru.

Revealingly, it is not just men who are piling expectations on women – it is also women themselves and their female family members. In Vietnam, mothers-in-law were revealed as the staunch enforcers of the norm related to childcare, the ones who would most disapprove if the man does more childcare than the woman.  In Pakistan, it is predominantly the husband’s mother and his sisters who load pressure onto women to be at home taking care of the children and the household, and for the man to be the main breadwinner.

It is clear that little is being done to shift these norms and the time to act is now. Having worked in financial inclusion for 15 years, I have seen many fantastic initiatives focused on helping women gain better access to finance so that they can grow their businesses. But very few initiatives try to understand or address the deeply entrenched gender norms that are holding women entrepreneurs back. Time poverty is one of the biggest challenges facing women, a condition deeply intertwined with childcare and household duties. Admittedly, shifting gender norms is not an easy task, as it requires longer-term commitment and won’t necessarily provide a short-term return. But that shouldn’t stop us. At CARE we know that engaging directly with families can be transformational, increasing both the time women can spend on their business and their decision-making power.

I recently met with Thu in Vietnam who runs an organic farming network, as well as her own food business.  She told me that she was really struggling with a lack of support from her husband which was affecting her marriage and her business. Following an event that we ran for women entrepreneurs and their families that promoted shared responsibility at home, she told me she had seen a transformation, she said: “On that day, for the first time, he acknowledged my work and my contribution to society and the community. Since then he is really helping out with the children and the household chores.  Now I can travel much more for work.”

Through a combination of far-reaching social media campaigns and in-person workshops, CARE is beginning to see small changes. Media campaigns in all three countries, with male and female role models, have showcased shared responsibility in the home and are normalizing the growth and success of women entrepreneurs, with the campaigns generating a widespread appreciation for female entrepreneurs.

We know that by giving women increased opportunities and time, it allows them to focus on growing their own businesses so that they can further contribute to their local economies. We also know that women employ women and invest their incomes in their families and their communities. The benefits are indisputable.

My message to NGOs and financial institutions working in financial inclusion is clear:

  • Design holistic programming for women entrepreneurs that includes addressing restrictive gender norms.
  • Design programs that promote the benefits of shared responsibility in the household and the economic contributions of women entrepreneurs.
  • Collect data related to perceptions and expectations around gendered roles and how these present barriers for the growth of women-led enterprises.
  • Advocate for policies that respond to the specific challenges that women entrepreneurs face.
  • Investing in women will always provide a return.

Having conducted this research, we are also making changes to our programming. We are developing new training, not just for women and their families, but also for our financial partners. We will also continue our campaigns and outreach activities which promote and normalize shared responsibility and women’s financial and digital independence.

By studying the barriers that are holding women entrepreneurs back, and then working closely with local partners to break down those barriers, CARE is building new opportunities for women entrepreneurs wanting to grow their businesses.

Despite the Ignite program launching in the midst of the pandemic, the program has unlocked 115 million USD in loan capital for women entrepreneurs, a twenty-two-fold uplift of the original program funding provided by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. 83% of Ignite participants tell us that the program has contributed to an increase in their business sales, helping to build their financial resilience.

By working together with women and their support networks we want everyone to recognize the importance of shared responsibility at home, and to value the enormous contribution women entrepreneurs are making to their families, communities and economies.

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