China propone crear zona de libre comercio en el noreste de Asia

China impulsará la creación de un área de libre comercio con Japón, las dos Coreas, Mongolia y el Lejano Oriente Ruso, con el fin de aunar una región con 300 millones de habitantes y un Producto Interior Bruto combinado que supone una quinta parte del global. Aunque la economía mundial se está recuperando de la crisis, existen obstáculos e incertidumbres y “bajo tales circunstancias, es más importante impulsar la promoción de una cooperación regional en el noreste de Asia”, señaló Jiang Zengwei, viceministro de Comercio, en declaraciones recogidas por la agencia Xinhua. El área propuesta por China incluye sus provincias nororientales de Heilongjiang, Jilin y Liaoning, así como la región septentrional de Mongolia Interior. De formar parte del proyecto, la futura zona de libre comercio cubriría una superficie de 9 millones de kilómetros cuadrados en los que se produce más del 70% del PIB asiático. El viceministro lanzó esta idea en el marco de la actual edición de la Feria de Comercio e Inversiones del Noreste de Asia que se celebra desde el martes en Changchun, capital de Jilin. “Los países de Asia Oriental deberían construir un marco de cooperación y explorar la creación de un área de libre comercio con el telón de fondo de la integración económica y global”, planteó Bai Lichen, vicepresidente del principal órgano consultivo chino. A pesar de su posición en la economía mundial, los intercambios económicos en el noreste de Asia se mantienen a un bajo nivel en comparación con el Sudeste Asiático o con Asia Oriental. “Los países del noreste de Asia vivieron históricamente aislados y carecían de un entorno eficiente para la comunicación mutua”, recordó Bai. El funcionario reconoció que la base para la cooperación económica en la región sigue siendo “inestable”, por lo que propuso dar prioridad a la economía y el comercio “y dejar a un lado las diferencias ideológicas”. Pekín ha impulsado en los últimos años los lazos económicos con los países de la región, como el acuerdo firmado en junio con Corea del Norte para la construcción de la Zona Económica y Comercial de Rason, o el avance en la construcción de autovías y ferrocarriles para unir China con Rusia y Corea del Norte. El comercio de China con su rival asiático e histórico enemigo, Japón, aumentó en un 19% hasta los 162.000 millones de dólares en el primer semestre del año, mientras que con Corea del Sur el dato ha sido de un 20,5% hasta los 118.000 millones de dólares en ese mismo periodo. (Fuente: Agencia EFE – 09/09/2011)

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Stop dithering. Only full integration can save Europe

After many months of muddling through, but not getting at the systemic roots of the economic, fiscal and financial crisis, Europe is at the tipping point. If it continues any longer with the status quo of dithering instead of decisiveness, the eurozone will break up and its national economies will weaken. Only by moving forward towards full integration – now – can Europe save itself. (source: by Nouriel Roubini and Nicolas Berggruen – The Guardian, UK – 07/09/2011)

So far, as the former Spanish prime minister Felipe González has put it, Europe’s leaders have been “acting as fireman”, putting out one fire after the next but not putting in place a system to prevent the next outbreak. Extend and pretend; pray and delay; kick the can down the street. These are not real and stable solutions but futile Band-Aids. Along with persistent partisan gridlock and the clear slippage of the recovery in the US, Europe’s crisis of governance is dragging down the entire global economy. Stall speed is yielding to contraction and double-dip risk. It is by now clear that short-term financial stability in Europe can only be purchased with a credible long-term strategy to complete a political and fiscal union. The incoming head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has rightly argued that Europe urgently needs to “make a quantum step up in economic and political integration”. How do we get from here to there?

Clear steps, some outlined this week by the Council for the Future of Europe, include the following. In the short-term further market contagion needs to be avoided. Rapid implementation of July’s decision to allow the established stabilisation mechanisms to intervene is of critical importance. In addition, the size of these mechanisms must be expanded to avoid a self-fulfilling run on Italian and Spanish debt while their economic policies take time to restore market confidence. Thus, by 2012 – not 2013, as previously planned – these mechanisms should be transformed into a permanent, fully fledged European fund. Moreover, the eurozone must practically ensure banks are properly capitalised, including through private sector participation. The markets, rightly or wrongly, believe that the capital needs of some banks are larger than the stress tests suggested. Action to restore credibility is necessary. It is now clear that a monetary union without some form of fiscal federalism and co-ordinated economic policy will not work. Nation-states will need to share certain aspects of sovereignty with a central European entity that would have the capacity to source revenue at the federal level in order to provide European-wide public goods. Furthermore, eurobonds should be created with control mechanisms to avoid large fiscal deficits in any given country.

The stability and growth pact has proven insufficient. Not only Greece, but the central powers of Europe – Germany and France – have ignored its limits in the past. To protect the public from irresponsible policies by any government, and to give comfort to Germany and other core countries that a fiscal union won’t turn out to be a transfer union that puts at risk their own credit rating, the eurozone requires an effective control system. While standards must be strict, the diversity of conditions across the eurozone requires flexibility. Liquidity support via a fund is sometimes warranted, but situations of clear insolvency should not be addressed with bailouts. Mechanisms for orderly debt resolution must be established for both public and private liabilities if lasting and unmanageable insolvencies arise. Greece, which is clearly insolvent, will soon engage in an orderly restructure of its debt via an exchange offer. The same mechanism can be applied to other nations. Additionally, in pursuing the necessary fiscal austerity and structural reforms, we must be careful not to undermine any fragile recovery in the short run. We can’t wait years to restore growth, because debt sustainability depends on growth, and because the social and political backlash against austerity may undermine reforms if stagnation persists. Adequate macro-economic policies must be employed to avoid this, including monetary easing by the European Central Bank, a weaker euro to restore competitiveness, and fiscal stimulus in the core countries to compensate for the fiscal drag deriving from austerity in the periphery. We should recognise that austerity is necessary but not sufficient to restore growth. To compete in the globalised world, Europe needs to implement an ambitious agenda for growth and employment to boost competitiveness and long-term productivity. Such a growth strategy should include use of existing EU funds to finance infrastructure spending and stimulate job creation in the periphery, as well as programmes to enhance research and development, professional skills and higher education. Without growth, the temptation for economic nationalism will arise.

One of Europe’s key challenges will be a readjustment of the social compact. A social safety net is necessary to allow for labour flexibility when workers need to change jobs and industries over their working lives. But it must face the reality of a fiscal squeeze brought on by the demographic shift to ageing societies. Finally, beyond these more technical steps, the greatest stumbling block to the assured success of Europe is the lack of legitimacy of its institutions. Only stronger institutions can save Europe, but their strength can be enhanced only through greater popular support. Yet that support is being undermined daily by their present ineffectiveness. In this sense, the crisis in Europe today is above all political. Further political integration and union can only be built hand in hand, step by step, through a broad and deep engagement of the public. The democratic deficit deriving from the perception that important decisions are taken by unelected Eurocrats in Brussels needs to be filled by political reforms that empower further the European parliament, and by appropriate forms of democratic oversight of legislative and executive decisions. In short, the greatest task of European leadership today is to re-sell the European idea. They need to remind the public that the absence of war, the freedom of mobility and the rising prosperity they have taken for granted since the end of the cold war has been due to the path toward unity and away from the nationalist demons of the past. To change course now is to put all of that at risk. That is why more European integration, not less, is the only solution. 

Netanyahu is biting off the U.S. hand that feeds him

Robert Gates was one of the most experienced and sophisticated figures in the U.S. administration. Through his skills and connections he became head of the CIA, won the confidence of presidents and members of their inner circles as far back as the Carter administration and was appointed the second secretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration. Gates was the only top Bush aide who was asked, and agreed, to remain in his post in the Obama administration as a Republican among Democrats. His worldview is acceptable to the centrist stream of the American establishment, and even in retirement his remarks find an attentive audience. All this gives extra weight to his harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gates described Netanyahu as “ungrateful” and as one who does not bother to do his homework prior to important working meetings. It is rare for a figure of Gates’ stature to express such views about the leader of a friendly country that has excellent military ties to Washington, despite and alongside chilly diplomatic relations. Gates referred initially to the issue of the qualitative military edge of the Israel Defense Forces, in other words U.S. military exports to moderate Arab states. Israel is apprehensive about a potential confrontation with American weapons. The United States, on the other hand, sees these arms and the advice that goes along with them as powerful levers, and refuses to abandon the markets in the region to competitors such as Russia and France. Israel, which for years has depended on generous U.S. aid packages, comes off appearing indifferent to U.S. needs, including the need to create jobs. But this is just one aspect of U.S.-Israel relations. Israel needs Washington’s assistance in intelligence and operational matters, including surface-to-surface missile interception. It would be difficult for Israel to take military action against Iran without U.S. consent. In peacetime, Israel will expect additional military and economic aid. Netanyahu’s conduct not only repays generosity with ingratitude but also erodes support for Israel in critical U.S. centers of powers. What Gates is saying, in effect, is that the United States could live with this in a pinch, but Netanyahu is dangerous for Israel. Ehud Barak, who presents himself as an old friend of Gates, cannot escape responsibility for his own partnership with Netanyahu. (source: Editorial – Haaretz.com – 09/09/2011)

Germany’s Mittelstand: Beating China

Electric pumps are like burgers, reckons Christian Haag. They should be made at the last possible moment and delivered to the client precisely as he specified. Mr Haag runs a unit of KSB, a German firm that produces pumps and the motors that power them. His business is typical of the Mittelstand (Germany’s legion of small and medium-sized family firms). Its products are well-engineered and built to last. They are not cheap, yet they are holding their own against Chinese competition. (source: The Economist – 30/07/2011)

Speed helps. By stripping the manufacturing process to its leanest, ensuring that no component is hanging around for long, Mr Haag reckons he can deliver his products at least a month quicker than any Chinese rival. Quality helps, too. In an uncertain world, many clients opt for German reliability. Mittelstand firms have refined their supply chains, factories and distribution networks to reach far-flung markets more quickly. Mittelstand companies have long relied on the enviable network they already have at home. German universities work hand in glove with researchers at local firms. Suppliers cluster round big manufacturers. Owner-managers rub shoulders with workers. The Mittelstand model works well, but globalisation is forcing it to adapt: many family firms have sales and service outlets and even factories abroad. Even if they have developed their niche and are sticking to it, they cannot compete by staying still. “Companies in emerging markets have a much quicker growth potential,” says Peter Englisch, a partner at Ernst & Young, an accounting firm. “There’s no area of business now that is safe from competition.” To compete, Mittelstand firms need to hire foreign staff and raise new capital, perhaps via private equity, he says. Others caution against leaving a comfy niche and entering a hypercompetitive mass market. “Look what happened to the photovoltaic industry,” says Thomas Kautzsch, a partner at Oliver Wyman, a consultancy. Small German start-ups jumped into the sizzling global market for solar cells. They prospered for a while. But the Chinese government deems solar power “strategic”, so before long huge, well-capitalised Chinese firms had put them into the shade. There are sectors that the Mittelstand should simply avoid in China, such as machinery for construction, energy or raw-materials extraction, unless the machines are extremely sophisticated, says Mr Kautzsch.

Wittenstein, a maker of high-quality gears and drive systems in Baden-Württemberg, has steered a sensible middle course. Exports make up 57% of its €200m ($287m) annual sales, with most going to Europe and North America, and 9% to Asia. It is expanding its footprint slowly, opening one plant in Romania and another in Switzerland. “We’re not replacing our core production in Germany,” says Manfred Wittenstein, the chairman of the board and a son of the founder. Being in Switzerland gives the firm access to ETH Zurich, a fine technical university, Mr Wittenstein says. It is also a testing-ground for a possible move into China or elsewhere. Mr Wittenstein was briefly tempted to leave the company’s secure niche and venture into “electro-mobility” (ie, electric cars, buses and bicycles). “But it’s growing at such a pace it’s not for us,” he concluded. “There are other niches.” Mr Kautzsch at Oliver Wyman reckons that China, where millions ride electric bicycles, is already winning the electro-mobility battle. Despite, or perhaps because of, its caution, the Mittelstand is booming. Sales are reckoned by some to be growing at nearly 12% a year. As René Obermann, the boss of Deutsche Telekom remarked, this “is faster than the Chinese economy.” 

Damocles

Una buena noticia para quienes nunca pierden la esperanza de que los actos arbitrarios reciban un día algún tipo de sanción la constituyó el conocer que la Corte Interamericana había fallado a favor de los magistrados de Corte Suprema que fueron destituidos para instalar en su lugar a otros abogados, con quienes se integró lo que, en su momento, la ácida crítica política denominó “Pichicorte”. Han pasado algunos años desde aquel ingrato acontecimiento, y quienes reclamaron ante la justicia internacional por el abuso han sido satisfechos en su pretensión. Veremos qué consecuencias trae este fallo y qué tipo de sanción debe enfrentar el Estado ecuatoriano por el desafuero que se cometió desde el poder. Cuando, hace pocos años, la mayoría del Tribunal Supremo Electoral echó la Constitución por la ventana y, de cuajo, destituyó a 57 legisladores de la oposición para brindarle al Gobierno, al más puro estilo Salomé, un Parlamento degollado, en pocas horas, el ministro de la Política empleó sus mejores recursos y logró una madrugada concentrar a más de 30 diputados suplentes para que se posesionen y constituyan una mayoría proclive a sus directrices. Previamente, los habían congregado en una hostería, en la que fueron descubiertos por los eternos curiosos de la prensa, lo que motivó que los aspirantes a legisladores huyeran cubiertos con manteles, para evitar ser identificados por los “perversos” reporteros. Para el Gobierno, los noveles parlamentarios, bautizados como los diputados de los manteles, que ese amanecer dieron la espalda a sus partidos para integrar la mayoría gobiernista, actuaron con patriotismo, y tan aplaudido fue su gesto por el sector oficialista que los propios suplentes principalizados terminaron convenciéndose de que les cupo ser gestores de una gran jornada para la democracia. El hecho es que, para un gran sector de la ciudadanía, se había retornado a las viejas y truculentas prácticas que tanto se criticó como lacras del pasado. No conocemos si los diputados defenestrados tan violentamente han recurrido a la justicia internacional para impugnar ante esa instancia los mecanismos que se utilizó para arrebatarles su condición de representantes del pueblo, para la que habían sido elegidos legítimamente. Tampoco conocemos si igual paso han dado quienes, en circunstancias parecidas de violencia, fueron destituidos como ministros del Tribunal Constitucional. El hecho es que, si no han dado el paso, podrían darlo en cualquier momento, y el fallo recién conocido marca la pauta de que existe un camino que garantiza a quienes se consideran víctimas de los excesos de los gobernantes, para obtener que una instancia independiente y supranacional repare los daños institucionales que puede causar la desnaturalización del correcto sentido de la Ley. Esa instancia, a manera de espada de Damocles, debe constituir una permanente amenaza para todos aquellos que olvidan que el ejercicio del poder es efímero, pero la búsqueda de la justicia es permanente. (Fuente: Enrique Valle Andrade – Diario Hoy – 07/09/2011)