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Vietnam’s Economic Policy and adaptation to COVID-19

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Vietnam which was seen as a success story in terms of countering COVID-19 is facing challenges with regard to re-invigorating its economy given the fact that the constraints related to international travel, trade and investment are still looming large on the horizon. As part of the initiative to provide the necessary support to the economy, Vietnam is opening its borders for international travel from the January 1st of next year. The primary aim is to showcase that Vietnam is a safe country and is willing to support its economy through tourism and travel. Invariably, Vietnam is also hard pressed to promote it exports while at the same time protecting its citizens from the newer variants of COVID-19. Under the new economic policy, the unnecessary expenditures have been curtailed by the government while provisions have been made for emergency expenditures. The top leadership of Vietnam has been visiting countries in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. In most of these visits the common agenda is to procure vaccines for the Vietnamese people, and seek agreements to promote trade and investment opportunities with the other country. Vietnam is slowly emerging as an alternate destination and manufacturing hub for those companies which want to shift base from China. Countries like Japan have already given stimulus and support packages to companies which want to move out of China.

Vietnam is preparing itself for Industrial Revolution 4.0 and for that it has made structural changes in terms of productivity, efficiency, quality controls and promoting competitiveness of the economy. The 35 years of reforms which has been undertaken under the Doi Moi reform process have gained momentum. Vietnam is increasingly seen as a modern middle-income country which is sustaining innovation and research in futuristic technologies. Increasing globalisation and interconnectedness with the global supply chain has also exposed Vietnam to the vagaries of global geopolitics and economic pressures. Vietnam is aspiring to be a upper middle income country by the year 2035 with the per capita GDP of more than US dollars 10,000. In terms of average per capita GDP, it has always aspired for an annual GDP growth of 6 to 7 per cent.

Right since the year 2018 it has embarked on ambitious programme of economic reforms. This includes multiple facets of economic modernisation and promotion of private equity in development of infrastructure. Other aspects related to promotion of innovation, organisation and geospatial planning, environmental sustenance and resilience towards climate change, social equity and inclusiveness along with development of modern institutions and better integrated market.

In terms of economic modernisation and liberalisation process, it has proposed structural reforms in the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and promotion of private sector in the larger economics. It has also been working with regard to promotion of scientific acumen and skill sets among labour force which can help in promotion of its services sector and building technology capital within the country. This required mobilisation of resources for experts and scientific community. In certain urban spaces there is a lack of development initiative and also land resources. As a result of which there is an effective plan to bring about development of smart cities and interconnected satellite cities along with marked improvement in public services which includes transportation and maintenance of good road networks.

Along with all of these there has been effective controls with regard to green production facilities and developing mechanisms for adaptation to climate change. The problem of equal distribution of financial and economic resources is also one of the challenges for growing countries such as Vietnam. In such a context it has become imperative for the Vietnamese government to efficiently utilise state institutions and distribution of public services.
Vietnam has been working with regard to lifting restrictions and removal of government oversight for promotion of businesses, providing land rights and intellectual property rights to private sector, provision of resources such as land and capital to private sector and effective promotion of FDI in sectors which are promising. In terms of state-owned enterprises, the remarkable progress that the Vietnam has made is in terms of liquidity of 137 state-owned enterprises and now the government will hold equity 100 per cent equity in about 103 state-owned enterprises only. This will promote good governance and market liberalisation in a time bound manner.

Few of the sectors which the Vietnamese government is effectively looking for international support includes space, cyber, high-tech and artificial intelligence. In pursuit of building capital and human skill sets, Vietnam has been promoting to send its students and scientist abroad for training and developing necessary knowledge in that field.
For the purpose of developing human capital it has already embarked on a programme for national innovation networks, smart agriculture, green cities and promoting tourism in certain promises. For promoting education in English language, it has brought about structural reforms in the field of knowledge and education in higher educational institutions. Taking cue from other developing economies, Vietnam has already embarked on collecting start of proposals and supported nearly hundred joint-venture start-ups. The institutionalising of national innovation and Start-up Centre is one of the manifestations of a serious approach for promoting new Economy.
In terms of developing necessary infrastructure it is already upgrading highway projects such as North-South highway, new airports such as Long Thanh airport, developing network of smaller ports and upgrading transport systems in major cities. The power supply and uninterrupted power to the new manufacturing hubs is the core concern for the government and is also making efforts that the energy requirements for the country will be met by renewable energy up to the level of 10% of total energy requirements. Vietnam government have also taken efforts to develop the information technology draw structure and innovation centres to promote IT innovation and set up for the government systems.

In the context of coronavirus there is increased concerns that all these objectives will be met by the year 2035 when will be celebrating 90 years of its existence as a free and independent country. From the point of view of Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment, it has already date taken serious look into engaging the international community and developing a more modern and internationally integrated market economy. The discussions within the ASEAN organisation is with regard to integrating old manufacturing practises with a new digital revolution and the industrial revolution 4.0 which requires development of acumen, skill set and new entrepreneurial qualities. The coronavirus and the increase in cases have pushed the government for make structural reforms so that provisions could be met with regard to healthcare, research in medicines and general drugs, and developing alternate medicine with collaboration with international partners. 

 Vietnam’s economic policies has been manifesting in its approach regarding reinvigorating its economy, looking for possible trade destinations and promoting investment in those areas which have suffered the most during the corona pandemic. It has been also seen that given the fact that Vietnam economy has performed relatively well during the pandemic therefore it needs a new infusion of foreign direct investment and possible re-invigoration of important sectors which are lucrative for long term investments. It has been seen that because of the impact of the COVID-19, the Vietnam’s economic growth will be moderate of about 2.3% in the year 2021 which will be marginally lesser than the growth which was achieved closer to 3% in the year 2020. As it has been witnessed that in the year 2020, Vietnam was one of the most formidable and resilient economies and was a bright spot in Asia. There have been expressions from various multilateral organisations that Vietnam might be surging ahead in the first half of 2021 with an expected economic growth of 6.6% over the previous year. However, the resurgence of COVID-19 infections has led to slight decrease in the expected GDP growth. However, many of these international institutions have expressed that the manufacturing sector how shown promise in the third quarter of the year 2021. Much of the anticipated economic support was expected to come from the European market but given the fact that the Delta variant has also wrecked the European market and livelihoods so the exports from Vietnam are not going to get that kind of support which was expected.

If one evaluates the total foreign direct investment in Vietnam which came in the year 2019 it was U.S. dollars 20.4 billion which showed an increase of nearly 7% on a year-to-year basis. One of the primary companies which have been majorly investing in Vietnam has been Samsung and which has invested nearly $17 billion between the year 2008 to 2018. Many of the Samsung products particularly smartphones and tablets have been manufactured in Vietnam and even the company has built its largest research and development centre in Hanoi. In this context it has been seen that weather Vietnam will be able to regain the economic growth which was there during the pre-COVID times or it will have to make strong policy decisions so as to improve performance in industrial manufacturing as well as exports. The bright spot in the overall FDI inflows to Vietnam has been the fact that in half yearly analysis the Vietnam has received the foreign direct investment to the tune of U.S. dollars 9.2 billion.

Vietnam been showing signs of improvement with the decreasing impact of pandemic. However, the government authorities are trying to reduce unnecessary expenditure and boost funding for medical assistance and health care. There have been also apprehensions that in case there is a surge in the infections then the government might have to impose lock down restrictions in few select provinces. As a result of which there can be certain constraints in manufacturing because of limited supply of raw materials at industrial centres. As it has been seen that with sizable improvement in the pandemic infections and great efforts made by the government for vaccinating the people the supply side disruptions are taken care of. The efforts have been made with regard to restoring the supply lines and transportation networks all throughout Vietnam so that manufacturing doesn’t suffer. Because of supply side disruptions there has been increased in input costs and given the slowdown in the shipping industry, the freight rates have also been impacted. China has been also increasing the cost of the raw materials that it has been supplying to many of the manufacturing centres in Southeast Asia and also freight costs escalated in proportionality.

The Vietnamese government has made extra measures so that labour disruptions should not happen which could impede manufacturing sector. As a result of government efforts migrant workers have returned back to the city centres and manufacturing hubs, thereby protecting the economy from lockdown or factory closures because of shortage of labour. The government has also made efforts so that unemployment doesn’t increase do a certain level and the poor and marginalized sections of the society have been provided with monetary support so that they can take care of their families and livelihood. One of the major elements of Vietnam’s export is seafood and despite compelling situation the sectors such as seafood, textiles and garments which were temporarily closed in August and September, has been opened once again.

There has been a lot of talk with regard to supply side disruptions and the need for resilient supply chains across the globe. Companies such as Samsung, Apple and many others have tried to shift their production and increase their production capacities in those countries which were unaffected by the pandemic. Vietnam has done remarkably well in terms of exports because it has risen to more than 21% on a year-to-year basis analysis in the last quarter of 2021.

Vietnam is trying to provide support to its tourism services which have suffered a lot during the pandemic. The tourism economy requires the infusion of international tourists and that’s one of theirs in the year 2019 before the pandemic nearly 18 million people have visited Vietnam. Even during the pandemic despite the reduced number of international tourist arrivals, the domestic tourism has supported the hotel and hospitality industry as well also one of the important measures that the government has taken is that it has procured vaccines from more than seven different countries so as to protect its citizens from infections and severe health complications.

The total vaccination which has been conducted in Vietnam by the end of November 2021 husband showing remarkable progress and it’s nearing 70% in terms of those people who have been vaccinated at least once. Government is looking into long term strategy against the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore is seeking licensed production of few of the international vaccines such as Sputnik V. Countries such as Russia have supported Vietnam in endeavour and have given license to produce Sputnik V and Sputnik Light in Vietnam itself. Japanese government have also started to support Vietnam in terms of raw relocating Japanese companies to Vietnam which were earlier located in China. Vietnam being one of the preferred destinations for the Japanese multinational companies would benefit from the Japanese stimulus package of 220 billion yen for supply chain reassuring program earned additional 23.5 billion yen of the supply chains.

In terms of free trade agreements that the Vietnam has signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership would come into being from the 1st of January 2022 while the European treated agreement which is seen as an important boost for Vietnam’s export sector with the reduction of 79% of tariff between the two sides would provide impetus to the manufacturing sector. The European Vietnam free trade agreement which came into being on 1st of August 2020 is expected to provide support to Vietnam creating services, investment flows and government procurement. The bilateral investment protection agreement is also seen as a reassurance from Vietnam to protect the investment coming from European foreign direct investors and institutions.

It is expected that with decrease in COVID-19 cases Vietnam will be one bright spot in Asia showing community resilience and economic growth even during Covid times.

Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]gmail.com

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Economy

Rebalancing Act: China’s 2022 Outlook

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Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze and Li Yusha

After a strong rebound last year, the world economy is entering a challenging 2022. The advanced economies have recovered rapidly thanks to big stimulus packages and rapid progress with vaccination, but many developing countries continue to struggle.

The spread of new variants amid large inequalities in vaccination rates, elevated food and commodity prices, volatile asset markets, the prospect of policy tightening in the United States and other advanced economies, and continued geopolitical tensions provide a challenging backdrop for developing countries, as the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report published today highlights.

The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by dampening export performance, a key growth driver last year. Following a strong 8 percent cyclical rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects growth in China to slow to 5.1 percent in 2022, closer to its potential — the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.

Indeed, growth in the second half of 2021 was below this level, and so our forecast assumes a modest amount of policy loosening. Although we expect momentum to pick up, our outlook is subject to domestic in addition to global downside risks. Renewed domestic COVID-19 outbreaks, including the new Omicron variant and other highly transmittable variants, could require more broad-based and longer-lasting restrictions, leading to larger disruptions in economic activity. A severe and prolonged downturn in the real estate sector could have significant economy-wide reverberations.

In the face of these headwinds, China’s policymakers should nonetheless keep a steady hand. Our latest China Economic Update argues that the old playbook of boosting domestic demand through investment-led stimulus will merely exacerbate risks in the real estate sector and reap increasingly lower returns as China’s stock of public infrastructure approaches its saturation point.

Instead, to achieve sustained growth, China needs to stick to the challenging path of rebalancing its economy along three dimensions: first, the shift from external demand to domestic demand and from investment and industry-led growth to greater reliance on consumption and services; second, a greater role for markets and the private sector in driving innovation and the allocation of capital and talent; and third, the transition from a high to a low-carbon economy.

None of these rebalancing acts are easy. However, as the China Economic Update points out, structural reforms could help reduce the trade-offs involved in transitioning to a new path of high-quality growth.

First, fiscal reforms could aim to create a more progressive tax system while boosting social safety nets and spending on health and education. This would help lower precautionary household savings and thereby support the rebalancing toward domestic consumption, while also reducing income inequality among households.

Second, following tightening anti-monopoly provisions aimed at digital platforms, and a range of restrictions imposed on online consumer services, the authorities could consider shifting their attention to remaining barriers to market competition more broadly to spur innovation and productivity growth.

A further opening-up of the protected services sector, for example, could improve access to high-quality services and support the rebalancing toward high-value service jobs (a special focus of the World Bank report). Eliminating remaining restrictions on labor mobility by abolishing the hukou, China’s system of household registration, for all urban areas would equally support the growth of vibrant service economies in China’s largest cities.

Third, the wider use of carbon pricing, for example, through an expansion of the scope and tightening of the emissions trading system rules, as well power sector reforms to encourage the penetration and nationwide trade and dispatch of renewables, would not only generate environmental benefits but also contribute to China’s economic transformation to a more sustainable and innovation-based growth model.

In addition, a more robust corporate and bank resolution framework would contribute to mitigating moral hazards, thereby reducing the trade-offs between monetary policy easing and financial risk management. Addressing distortions in the access to credit — reflected in persistent spreads between private and State borrowers — could support the shift to more innovation-driven, private sector-led growth.

Productivity growth in China during the past four decades of reform and opening-up has been private-sector led. The scope for future productivity gains through the diffusion of modern technologies and practices among smaller private companies remains large. Realizing these gains will require a level playing field with State-owned enterprises.

While the latter have played an instrumental role during the pandemic to stabilize employment, deliver key services and, in some cases, close local government budget gaps, their ability to drive the next phase of growth is questionable given lower profits and productivity growth rates in the past.

In 2022, the authorities will face a significantly more challenging policy environment. They will need to remain vigilant and ready to recalibrate financial and monetary policies to ensure the difficulties in the real estate sector don’t spill over into broader economic distress. Recent policy loosening suggests the policymakers are well aware of these risks.

However, in aiming to keep growth on a steady path close to potential, they will need to be similarly alert to the risk of accumulating ever greater levels of corporate and local government debt. The transition to high-quality growth will require economic rebalancing toward consumption, services, and green investments. If the past is any guide to the future, the reliance on markets and private sector initiative is China’s best bet to achieve the required structural change swiftly and at minimum cost.

First published on China Daily, via World Bank

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The US Economic Uncertainty: Bitcoin Faces a Test of Resilience?

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Is inflation harmful? Is inflation here to stay? And are people really at a loss? These and countless other questions along the same lines dominated the first half of 2021. Many looked for alternative investments in the national bourse, while others adopted unorthodox streams. Yes, I’m talking about bitcoin. The crypto giant hit records after records since the pandemic made us question the fundamentals of our conventional economic policies. And while inflation was never far behind in registering its own mark in history, the volatility in the crypto stream was hard to deny: swiping billions of dollars in mere days in April 2021. The surge came again, however. And it will keep on coming; I have no doubt. But whether it is the end of the pandemic or the early hues of a new shade, the tumultuous relationship between traditional economic metrics and the championed cryptocurrency is about to get more interesting.

The job market is at the most confusing crossroads in recent times. The hiring rate in the US has slowed down in the past two months, with employers adding only 199,000 jobs in December. The numbers reveal that this is the second month of depressing job additions compared to an average of more than 500,000 jobs added each month throughout 2021. More concerning is that economists had predicted an estimated 400,000 jobs additions last month. Nonetheless, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the unemployment rate has ticked down to 3.9% – the first time since the pre-pandemic level of 3.5% reported in February 2020. Analytically speaking, US employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, yet businesses are still looking for more employees. The leverage, therefore, lies with the labor: reportedly (on average) every two employees have three positions available.

The ‘Great Resignation,’ a coinage for the new phenomenon, underscores this unique leverage of job selection. Sectors with low-wage positions like retail and hospitality face a labor shortage as people are better-positioned to bargain for higher wages. Thus, while wages are rising, quitting rates are record high simultaneously. According to recent job reports, an estimated 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November alone. Given that this data got collected before the surge of the Omicron variant, the picture is about to worsen.

While wages are rising, employment is no longer in the dumps. People are quitting but not to invest stimulus cheques. Instead, they are resigning to negotiate better-paying jobs: forcing the businesses to hike prices and fueling inflation. Thus, despite high earnings, the budget for consumption [represented by the Consumer Price Index (CPI)] is rising at a rate of 6.8% (reported in November 2021). Naturally, bitcoin investment is not likely to bloom at levels rivaling the last two years. However, a downfall is imminent if inflation persists.

The US Federal Reserve sweats caution about searing gains in prices and soaring wage figures. And it appears that the fed is weighing its options to wind up its asset purchase program and hike interest rates. In March 2020, the fed started buying $40 billion worth of Mortgage-backed securities and $80 billion worth of government bonds (T-bills). However, a 19% increase in average house prices and a four-decade-high level of inflation is more than they bargained. Thus, the fed officials have been rooting for an expedited normalization of the monetary policy: further bolstered by the job reports indicating falling unemployment and rising wages. In recent months, the fed purview has dramatically shifted from its dovish sentiments: expecting no rate hike till 2023 to taper talks alongside three rate hikes in 2022.

Bitcoin now faces a volatile passage in the forthcoming months. While the disappointing job data and Omicron concerns could nudge the ball in its favor, the chances are that a depressive phase is yet to ensue. According to crypto-analysts, the bitcoin is technically oversold i.e. mostly devoid of impulsive investors and dominated by long-term holders. Since November, the bitcoin has dropped from the record high of $69,000 by almost 40%: moving in the $40,000-$41,000 range. Analysts believe that since bitcoin acts as a proxy for liquidity, any liquidity shortage could push the market into a mass sellout. Mr. Alex Krüger, the founder of Aike Capital, a New York-based asset management firm, stated: “Crypto assets are at the furthest end of the risk curve.” He further added: “[Therefore] since they had benefited from the Fed’s “extraordinarily lax monetary policy,” it should suffice to say that they would [also] suffer as an “unexpectedly tighter” policy shifts money into safer asset classes.” In simpler terms, a loose monetary policy and a deluge of stimulus payments cushioned the meteoric rise in bitcoin valuation as a hedge against inflation. That mechanism would also plummet the market with a sudden hawkish shift.

The situation is dire for most industries. Job participation levels are still low as workers are on the sidelines either because of the Omicron concern or lack of child support. In case of a rate hike, businesses would be forced to push against the wages to accommodate affordability in consumer prices. For bitcoin, the investment would stay dormant. However, any inflationary surprises could bring about an early tightening of the policy: spelling doom for the crypto market. The market now expects the job data to worsen while inflation to rise at 7.1% through December in the US inflation data (to be reported on Wednesday). Any higher than the forecasted figure alongside uncertainty imbued by the new variant could spark a downward spiral in bitcoin – probably pushing the asset below the $25000 mark.

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Platform Modernisation: What the US Treasury Sanctions Review Is All About

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Image source: home.treasury.gov

The US Treasury has released an overview of its sanctions policy. It outlines key principles for making the restrictive US measures more effective. The revision of the sanctions policy was announced at the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidential term. The new review can be considered one of the results of this work. At the same time, it is difficult to find signs of qualitative changes in the US administration’s approach to sanctions in the document. Rather, it is about upgrading an existing platform.

Sanctions are understood as economic and financial restrictions that make it possible to harm the enemies of the United States, prevent or hinder their actions, and send them a clear political signal. The text reproduces the usual “behavioural” understanding of sanctions. They are viewed as a means of influencing the behaviour of foreign players whose actions threaten the security or contradict the national interests of the United States. The review also defines the institutional structure of the sanctions policy. According to the document, it includes the Treasury, the State Department, and the National Security Council. The Treasury plays the role of the leading executor of the sanctions policy, and the State Department and the NSS determine the political direction of their application, despite the fact that the State Department itself is also responsible for the implementation of a number of sanctions programmes. This line also includes the Department of Justice, which uses coercive measures against violators of the US sanctions regime.

Interestingly, the Department of Commerce is not mentioned among the institutions. The review focuses only on a specific segment of the sanctions policy that is implemented by the Treasury. However, it is the Treasury that is currently at the forefront of the application of restrictive measures. A significant part of the executive orders of the President of the United States and sanctions laws imply blocking financial sanctions in the form of an asset freeze and a ban on transactions with individuals and organisations. Decrees and laws assign the application of such measures to the Treasury in cooperation with the Department of State and the Attorney General. Therefore, the institutional link mentioned in the review reflects the spirit and letter of a significant array of US regulations concerning sanctions. The Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Industry and Security are responsible for a different segment of the sanctions policy, which does not diminish its importance. Export controls can cause a lot of trouble for individual countries and companies.

Another notable part of the review concerns possible obstacles to the effective implementation of US sanctions. These include, among other things, the efforts of the opponents of the United States to change the global financial architecture, reducing the share of the dollar in the national settlements of both opponents and some allies of the United States.

Indeed, such major powers as Russia and China have seriously considered the risks of being involved in a global American-centric financial system.

The course towards the sovereignty of national financial systems and settlements with foreign countries is largely justified by the risk of sanctions.

Russia, for example, is vigorously pursuing the development of a National Payment System, as well as a Financial Messaging System. There has been a cautious but consistent policy of reducing the share of the dollar in external settlements. China, which has much greater economic potential, is building systems of “internal and external circulation”. Even the European Union has embarked on an increase in the role of the euro, taking into account the risk of secondary sanctions from “third countries”, which are often understood between the lines as the United States.

Digital currencies and new payment technologies also pose a threat to the effectiveness of sanctions. Moreover, here the players can be both large powers and many other states and non-state structures. It is interesting that digital currencies at a certain stage may present a common challenge to the United States, Russia, China, the EU and a number of other countries. After all, they can be used not only to circumvent sanctions, but also, for example, to finance terrorism or in money laundering. However, the review does not mention such common interests.

The text does propose measures to modernise the sanctions policy. The first one is to build sanctions into the broader context of US foreign policy. Sanctions are not important in and of themselves, but as part of a broader palette of policy instruments. The second measure is to strengthen interdepartmental coordination in the application of sanctions in parallel with increased coordination of US sanctions with the actions of American allies. The third measure is a more accurate calibration of sanctions in order to avoid humanitarian damage, as well as damage to American business. The fourth measure is to improve the enforceability and clarity of the sanctions policy. Here we can talk about both the legal uncertainty of some decrees and laws, and about an adequate understanding of the sanctions programmes on the part of business. Finally, fifth is the improvement and development of the Treasury-based sanctions apparatus, including investments in technology, staff training and infrastructure.

All these measures can hardly be called new. Experts have long recommended the use of sanctions in combination with other instruments, as well as improved inter-agency coordination. The coordination of sanctions with allies has escalated due to a number of unilateral steps taken by the Trump Administration, including withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal or sanctions against Nord Stream 2. However, the very importance of such coordination has not been questioned in the past and has even been reflected in American legislation (Iran). The need for a clearer understanding of sanctions policy has also been long overdue. Its relevance is illustrated, among other things, by the large number of unintentional violations of the US sanctions regime by American and foreign businesses. The problem of overcompliance is also relevant, when companies refuse transactions even when they are allowed. The reason is the fear of possible coercive measures by the US authorities. Finally, improving the sanctioning apparatus is also a long-standing topic. In particular, expanding the resources of the Administration in the application of sanctions was recommended by the US Audit Office in a 2019 report.

The US Treasury review suggests that no signs of an easing are foreseen for the key targets of US sanctions. At the same time, American business and its many foreign counterparties can benefit from the modernisation of the US sanctions policy. Legal certainty can reduce excess compliance as well as help avoid associated losses.

From our partner RIAC

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