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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Tax Cuts – Enough to Make India a Global Manufacturing Hub?

India has recently announced an unprecedented reduction in its corporate tax rates. Not only is this a respite for domestic and existing foreign companies, but it is also expected to boost India’s position as a preferred investment destination for international companies looking to diversify their manufacturing footprint. Amidst the ongoing trade war between China and the USA, many companies, such as Apple, are looking to relocate a chunk of their manufacturing facilities away from China as part of a de-risk strategy. This presents the perfect opportunity for India to swoop in and encourage manufacturers to set base there instead of other Asian countries. However, tax reduction alone may not be enough to score these investments as the government needs to provide additional incentives apart from improving logistics and infrastructure, as well as land and labor laws in the country.

For the past three decades, India had one of the highest corporate tax rates in the South Asian region standing at 30% (effective rate of about 35% including surcharge and cess), making it one of the biggest sore points for investors looking at setting up a shop here.

However, September 2019 brought an unprecedented move, as the Indian government slashed the corporate tax rate to 22% from the existing 30%. Moreover, new manufacturing units established after 1 October 2019, are eligible for even lower tax rate of 15% (down from 25%) if they make fresh manufacturing investments by 2023.

The effective tax rate in these cases (subject to the condition that companies do not claim benefits for incentives or concessions) will be 25.75% (in case of 22% tax rate) and 17.01% (in case of 15% tax rate). These companies will also be exempt from minimum alternate tax (MAT). The tax cuts in effect are believed to have improved India’s competitiveness among investment destinations in the region.

The tax cuts in effect are believed to have improved India’s competitiveness among investment destinations in the region.

To put this into perspective, India’s new tax rate is lower than the rate in China (25%), Korea (25%), Bangladesh (25%), Malaysia (24%), Japan (23.2%), however still a little higher than that of Vietnam (20%), Thailand (20%), Taiwan (20%), Cambodia (20%), and Singapore (17%). However, for new companies/MNCs looking to set up a unit in India, the country offers the most competitive rates in the region.

This tax break by India is also well-timed to exploit the degrading US-China relationship, which is resulting in several US-based companies, such as Apple, Google, Dell, etc., to look for manufacturing alternatives outside of China. Currently, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand have been the prime beneficiaries of the trade war, with the three countries attracting about 80% of the 56 companies that have relocated from China during April 2018 to August 2019. However, India’s recently introduced tax cuts may act as a major stimuli for companies (that are looking to partly move out of China or are already in the process of doing it) to consider India for their investments.

While the tax reform stands across all industries, India is looking to boost investment in the labor-intensive electronics manufacturing sector including smart phones, televisions, etc. To achieve this, the government recently scrapped import tax on open cell TV panels, which are used to make television displays. In addition to large brands such as Apple, India is also targeting component and contract manufacturers for such companies (such as Wistron, Pegatron, and Foxconn) to shift their business from China and set a shop in India.

India's Tax Cuts Not Enough by EOS Intelligence

Is a tax break enough?

While this is a big step by the Indian government to attract foreign investments in the manufacturing space, many feel that this alone is not enough to make India the preferred alternative to its neighbors. Companies looking to relocate their manufacturing facilities also consider factors such as infrastructure (including warehousing cost and set-up), connectivity (encompassing transportation facilities and logistical support), and manpower (such as availability of skilled manpower and training costs) along with overall ease of doing business, which covers the extent of red tape, complexity of policies, and transparency of procedures.

The Indian government has to work towards improving the logistical infrastructure, skilled labor availability, and cumbersome land-acquisition process, among many other aspects. As per the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019, India ranks 70 (out of 141 countries) in terms of infrastructure. While India heavily depends on road transportation, it needs to invest in and develop modern rail and water transportation and connectivity if it wishes to compete with China (rank 36).

India also ranks poorly with regards to skilled workforce and labor market, ranking 107 and 103 on the indices, respectively. To put this in perspective, Indonesia ranks 65 with regards to skilled workforce and 85 for labor market, and Vietnam ranks 93 for skilled workforce and 83 for labor market. Other than this, India also struggles with complex land acquisition laws and procedures, and must look into streamlining both to position itself an attractive investment destination.

Apart from this, the government also needs to provide additional incentives for investments in sectors that are its key priorities, such as tech and electronics manufacturing for export. As per industry experts, electronics manufacturing in India carries 8-10% higher costs in comparison with other Asian countries. Thus the government must provide other incentives such as easy and cheaper credit, export incentives, and infrastructural support, to steer companies into India (instead of countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand).

Several experts and industry players suggest that the government should provide the electronics manufacturing industry incentives for exports that are similar to those under the ‘Merchandise Exports from India Scheme’, which provides several benefits including tax credits to exporters.

In August 2019, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) proposed incentives to boost electronics manufacturing in India. These include a 4-6% subsidy on interest rates on loans for new investment, waiver of collateral for loans taken to set up machinery, and the renewal of the electronics manufacturing cluster (EMC). EMC creates an ecosystem for main company and its suppliers to operate in a given area (the previous EMC scheme ended in 2018).

Apart from this, industry players are also seeking an extension of another scheme, Modified Special Incentive Package Scheme (MSIPS), which also ended in 2018. MSIPS provided a subsidy of about 25% on capital investment.

EOS Perspective

India’s tax break came at an extremely opportune time, with several MNCs having expressed their plans to branch out of China (for at least 20% of their existing manufacturing facilities). From imposing some of the highest corporate taxes, India has now become one of the most tax-friendly markets, especially for new investments.

This is likely to put India in the forefront for consideration, however, it is probably not enough. The government needs to work on several other facilitating factors, especially infrastructure, land laws, and availability of skilled labor, which are more favorable in other Asian countries.

Moreover, the appeal of some countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, seems to remain high, as several of them introduced a ‘single point of contact’ facilities for investors. Under these facilities, in various forms, investors are provided with investment-related services and information at a single location, and/or are provided with single point of contact within each ministry and agency they have to deal with. This makes the access to information and investment procedures much easier for foreign investors, and increases the perception of transparency of the whole process. India on the other hand struggles with bureaucracy, fragmented agency landscape, and red tape. Despite initiating a single window policy, multinational representatives need to visit multiple offices and meet several officials (also in many cases offer bribes) to get an approval of their proposals and subsequently get the required permits. Bureaucratic and procedural delays, as well as poor work culture remain to be considerable deterrents for foreign investors.

India struggles with bureaucracy, fragmented agency landscape, and red tape. Bureaucratic and procedural delays, as well as poor work culture remain to be considerable deterrents for foreign investors.

Also in 2018, India only managed a mere 0.6% of its GDP from manufacturing FDI, indicating a low confidence level among foreign companies to make medium to long-term commitments in India. However, large part of the reason for this were also the high tax rates. Therefore, the recent tax reduction is a major step in the right direction, while the government still has some distance to bring India to replace China in the position of manufacturing giant of Asia, especially in the electronics sector.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Coworking Shakes Up Traditional Office Space Rental

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Touted as the future of real estate rental, the coworking model is rapidly taking over the traditional office space rental. In less than a decade, there has been a sudden rise in the number of operators offering space-as-a-service. Driven by more and more people looking to work flexible hours, while still having access to space and services offered in a traditional office setting, coworking space market has experienced a steady growth. Coworking space operators have come up with new ideas to explore secondary sources of revenue generation rather than just relying on offering memberships. While the ideas are successful and earn profits for the business operators, the road ahead is not all rosy.

Coworking space is growing

Globally, the number of coworking spaces are forecast to cross the 30,000 mark by 2022, more than double from a little more above 14,000 spaces in 2017. It is expected that in 2019 alone, approximately 1,700 new spaces will open worldwide with more than 40% of these sites coming up in the USA. In terms of members who use coworking spaces, between 2017 and 2022, the number is expected to increase nearly three times, from 1.74 million to 5.1 million.

A decade ago, when the concept of coworking space was still new to many, the demand for such spaces was limited, as it came mainly from freelancers. However, with the upsurge in entrepreneurial excursions, growing instances of corporate employees working from remote locations, and proliferation of other independent professionals, coworking spaces started to offer not only a place to work but also a platform for the users to grow and exchange ideas.

Enhanced work flexibility, emphasis on work-life balance, and better networking opportunities are some of the key factors that drive the coworking market growth. Easy availability of these spaces at cost-effective prices also contributes to the soaring demand.

Future of coworking spaces is promising

According to the 2018 Global Coworking Survey* conducted by coworking magazine Deskmag, 42% of all coworking spaces reported being profitable. Larger coworking spaces occupied by more than 200 tenants are reported to be nearly twice more profitable than coworking spaces used by 50 or fewer occupants.

Between 2014 and 2018, the number of coworking spaces housing more than 200 members increased 2.5 times, while spaces that rent out more than 200 desks have increased six times.

Coworking spaces operators have robust expansion plans. One out of four is planning to expand their current location by adding more desks. Every third player plans to expand operations by opening new spaces. In comparison to the existing size, operators plan to expand their area by an average of 70% in the future.

Coworking space operators are capitalizing on members’ needs

Memberships and space rentals

The primary revenue stream for any coworking space is providing services at a fee. This includes, but is not limited to, renting out desks (open or flexible), renting out space (conference halls and meeting rooms), virtual offices, private cabins, etc.

Coworking space operators are currently offering fixed and tier-based (one day pass or monthly pass) memberships to tenants. Apart from these, the operators’ revenue stream comes from membership packages for using particular spaces such as conference halls and meeting rooms for fixed duration charged per head and from virtual memberships granting the users access to a virtual address and mailbox.

Promotional events and pop-up set ups

Coworking space operators are using common working areas for promotional activities, marketing campaigns, or other pop-up shops over the weekend when tenants are not utilizing the space for their work.

They rent out space to exhibition organizers who set up booths for showcasing and marketing their products or utilize the space for arranging pop-up retail for small-scale entrepreneurs such as artists, jewelry suppliers, toy sellers, and others. For instance, WeWork often organizes external events where it invites non-member hosts (not having a WeWork space membership) to conduct events in their premises, for which it signs an external event agreement.

Coworking space operators charge the hosts (both member or non-member) for such events in multiple ways – fixed price a day or price per square meter of the area occupied in addition to charging a percentage of commission for the sales made by the stall or pop-up shop.

Ancillary services

Rather than just offering a place to work, coworking spaces are also offering additional amenities to members such as nursery, gym, or pet daycare facility. Cuckooz Nest, a based in London 36-desk coworking space, offers onsite childcare service for children up to two years of age at a chargeable fee while employing certified nannies. In October 2018, The Wing, a women-focused coworking space, announced that it would start offering on-site childcare across all its current and upcoming locations – the service will be staffed by certified babysitters at an extra cost.

Similarly, Work & Woof, a coworking space based in Austin, Texas, offers free pet daycare with each membership starting from US$30 a day. WeWork also has a pet friendly policy wherein members can bring their pets to work, though they are permitted only in private offices or be leashed in common areas. These add-on services act as diversified revenue streams for the space operators.

Coworking Shakes Up Traditional Office Space Rental by EOS Intelligence

Challenging times ahead

Even though the future of coworking space looks positive, the players operating in the coworking space market do face some challenges and threats.

Pure-play coworking space operators face competition from hotels doubling as coworking spaces while offering a place to stay. For instance, Dubai-based Hotel Tryp by Wyndham offers hotel guests and walk-ins easy access to its coworking space called ‘Nest’ at a fee charged hourly, daily, or monthly, depending on the length of the guest’s stay.

Another hotel, Hotel Schani Wien in Austria, has transformed its lobby into a small space of 12 desks for coworking purposes; while in-house guests can utilize the space for free, others can choose a coworking pass (priced at € 90 for 10 days or € 150 for 30 days) or rent a coworking desk for €190 a month.

Another mixed-use infrastructure development that could hurt the coworking space players are unused or empty shops in shopping malls. According to a survey conducted in 2018 by Jones Lang LaSalle IP, a Chicago-based commercial real estate services firm, it is estimated that coworking space in retail properties will grow at a rate of 25% annually by 2023. The need to generate revenue from vacant spaces has forced retail landlords to find new ways to fill the space with alternative tenants; offering this space for coworking purposes seems to be a feasible option.

The concepts of hotel or retail coworking are unlikely to become the next big thing in the near future. However, with individuals exploring easily accessible work spaces, it would be interesting to see how these ideas unfold and how they affect the players in the coworking space.

EOS Perspective

Since its inception over a decade ago, coworking space has grown from an idea to a full-fledged industry reshaping the entire work landscape. Coworking space has had a striking and multi-dimensional impact on the commercial real estate industry.

Coworking space has reformed the commercial real estate industry for good. Players are remodeling and utilizing old abandoned buildings, warehouses, and factories to set up new premises. In 2013, Amity Packing Co., a 40-year-old meatpacking facility (with an area of 83,000 square feet) based in Chicago, was acquired by WeWork (along with other partners) and was renovated into a mixed-use commercial building with 77% of the space being used as office space.

The impact of coworking has not been all positive for the real estate developers (who play in the traditional office space development) since they are losing out to developers inclined to the concept of coworking. Such players should modify their real estate portfolio to fit both traditional and coworking users, since the demand for traditional office space is not extinct, but only diminished.

For real estate agents, the increasing number of coworking spaces does not paint a rosy picture either. As tenant and space provider deal with each other directly, the role of middlemen will gradually cease to exist. However, not all is bad as agents can sign commission deals with coworking spaces for recommending new members. Brokers also see advantage in making connections with start-ups or businesses in their incubation stage at these places, hoping to benefit while they expand and search for new premises or coworking space.

Nonetheless, unlike developers and agents, real estate landlords seem to benefit from the coworking space. Their flow of revenue is constant – when the premises are occupied by multiple independent tenants in a coworking space, steady income is guaranteed. Coworking also eliminates issues such as losing money during phases of vacant property (in case the tenant moves or closes operations) and pulling out money from own pocket (such as agent fee to look for new tenants or operational costs of the facility while it lies vacant, which in traditional rentals can stretch over longer periods of time).

Banks and financial institutions also seem to be optimistic about the coworking concept. Banks consider coworking spaces to be a low risk investment because of multiple and diversified income coming from many tenants. Single-occupant office spaces are dependent on the success of the business – in case the business fails, the banks are stuck with limited options to recover the investment. In case of coworking spaces, the premises will never go empty all at once.

Coworking spaces are agile and are likely to prosper as they adapt to the changing needs of the users, who demand flexibility at work. Other than offering flexible office space, unrestricted work hours, and a place to connect with like-minded people, coworking spaces have transformed the way many people work. It is clear that the future belongs to coworking spaces provided the space keeps evolving and upgrading to meet the ever-changing demands of the occupants.

*All results indicated for 2018 represent year ending 31st Dec, 2017. (n=1980, including coworking spaces (operators or staff members), coworking members, planned/future coworking spaces, former coworking members, and people who have never worked in a coworking space).

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: Thomas Cook’s Demise – An Eye Opener for Tourism Sector?

There are few people who would not recognize Thomas Cook, as the company carved its name as a premier travel company in the UK as well as globally. Its name became synonymous with travel for many customers, as reminiscent from its slogan of “Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it”. Unable to strike a deal to refinance its burgeoning debt, Thomas Cook, UK’s oldest package tour company, shut down operations this Monday, facing compulsory liquidation, and sending passengers as well as the tourism sector into panic. While the announcement may come as a shock, warning signs of the company’s jeopardized existence have surfaced several times over the past decade.

Thomas Cook has been in the news for large part of this year, as the company reported a record pre-tax loss of GBP1.5 billion, with the auditor raising concerns about Cook’s ability to manage a recovery. The company has been trying to secure funding of GBP900 million from banks and the Shanghai-based conglomerate Fosun, while also offloading parts of its packaged tours and airlines business.

However, an inability to secure an additional GBP200 million funding as working capital to cover cost of operations for winter season, which is traditionally characterized by low demand, meant that the company failed to secure its near future. As a result, Thomas Cook entered compulsory liquidation, fate it would have faced earlier, had it not funded its operations through accrued debt over the years, which eventually led to the company’s collapse.

Thomas Cook’s debt problem

It is not the first time that Thomas Cook has to run for its life, with serious doubts rising about the company’s existence already in 2011. At that point, Thomas Cook managed to survive by securing some expensive credit facilities, as well as restructuring and cost-cutting. However, all this came at a cost. High interest paid on these credit facilities left a heavy burden on cash flows.

The company showed signs of recovery in the following years, even posting a pre-tax profit in 2015 and bringing net debt to more acceptable levels. However, due to market conditions and other contributing social and economic factors, the company’s tour operator business displayed a particularly weak performance, suffering massive losses in 2018. These losses resulted in the company struggling to maintain working capital, as well as witnessing net debt increasing close to GBP350 million by end of 2018, with the trend continuing in 2019.

Other contributing factors

While debt remained the largest problem, other factors contributed to Thomas Cook’s demise. Proliferation and growth of budget airlines and hotel offerings such as Airbnb had already increased competition for Thomas Cook, impacting the company’s bottom line, as customers were shifting to these low-cost options.

Demand was also impacted by the 2018 heatwave in Europe, with customers from UK and Northern Europe preferring to stay at home instead of travelling to other warmer European countries, such as Spain and France, which are key contributors to Thomas Cook’s business. Total demand has also been impacted by the lack of clarity around Brexit, with customers delaying their travel decisions under the growing economic uncertainty.

Impact on the tourism sector

The collapse of a major player such as Thomas Cook is expected to impact the tourism sector, albeit primarily in the short term. Thomas Cook had developed relationships with hotels and businesses in key destinations, which are dependent on the company’s customers for majority of their revenue during peak seasons. Thomas Cook’s collapse will negatively impact these players, at least in the short term. In the long term, however, business is expected to return to normal as these companies will develop new relationships.

While customers may look to Thomas Cook’s competitors for their travel needs in the short term, limited capacities (or partnerships) are likely to make the competitors unable to take up this additional demand unless they are paid a premium for it.

EOS Perspective

The collapse of Thomas Cook highlights the challenge that traditional tour operators face in the current tourism market. Customers are shifting from traditional packaged tours to offers that allow them to decide their own destinations, and make bookings through lower-cost online service providers. Traditional players, which generate most of their revenue through offline sales channels, have been put under pressure to evolve their business model, to adopt an online channel that offers more convenience and flexibility to their customers.

Emergence of innovative travel platforms, such as Airbnb, has also put pressure on the bottom lines of these traditional players, impacting their ability to invest in new business opportunities without accumulating debt. Thomas Cook is not the only one impacted. Recently, SOTC (formerly known as Kuoni) has also been in the news for its negative debt position.

Thomas Cook’s case, however, comes as an eye-opener for the tourism industry players, clearly showing that they cannot continue to take on excessive debt. More conservative approaches and cost management need to be considered to build a profitable, and more importantly, sustainable business.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Europe Fights Back to Curb China’s Dominance

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Given the swiftness of China’s economic development in the past three decades, transitioning from an impoverished and insular country to one of the formidable economic powers of the world, it has taken some time for Europe to accept China’s growing power and influence. Not only does China sit on largest currency reserves worldwide, but it has also become a significant provider of foreign investments, including in EU nations. This has recently strengthened China’s influence over the EU, which has created a sense of caution amidst European policymakers.

How is Europe benefiting from China’s growing investments?

Europe-bound Chinese investments were six times higher than Chinese investments in the USA – in H1 2018, Chinese investments in Europe stood at US$ 12 billion as compared to US$ 2 billion in the USA. For some of the economically struggling EU countries, Chinese investments are critical for developing and upgrading infrastructure, including energy plants, railways, motorways, and airports.

China’s Belt and Road initiative, under which cross-border infrastructure will be developed, will reduce transportation costs across Europe and China, creating an opportunity to facilitate trade expansion, regional integration, and attract foreign investments.

Besides infrastructure development, the investments are likely to create job opportunities and enhance economic competitiveness across Europe.

Then why is China’s growing influence alarming Europe?

Europe now sees a range of threats that China’s rising dominance in the region could bring along. Recently, the European Commission labelled China as economic competitor seeking technological leadership and systemic rival encouraging alternative models of governance. Europe realizes that China pursuits to shape globalization to suit its own interests.

The EU is deeply concerned regarding China exercising divide and rule tactics to strengthen its relationship with individual member countries that are susceptible to pressure, which could eventually harm the European cohesion. Recently, Italy signed the Belt and Road initiative, a landmark move against the counsel of western European nations, such as France and Germany, thus, raising questions on cohesion of EU countries.

The other concern is China’s rising influence over key governments of EU nations, thus, empowering itself with political leverage across the continent. China has already yielded political returns by wearying EU unity, particularly, when it is related to European policy on international law and human rights. In 2017, Hungary broke EU’s consensus by refusing to sign letter on human right violation against China. During the same year, Greece blocked an EU statement, which condemned China’s human rights record, at the UN human rights council.

Besides politics, China has also spread wings across key sectors of economy such as infrastructure, high-end manufacturing (including critical segments such as electronics, semiconductors, automotive, etc.), and consumer services, among others – growing dominance of China across these sectors is another cause of worry for the EU.

Europe also condemns China’s discrimination against foreign businesses, rendering limited market access to European firms and employing a non-transparent bidding processes. European firms operating in China face several trade and investment barriers such as joint venture obligations and discriminatory technical requirements that entail forced data localization and technology transfers. On the other, European markets have been open to foreign investments leading to massive Chinese FDI. However, lack of reciprocity harms European interest and could lead to unfulfilled EU-China trade ties.

The EU also criticizes China’s Belt and Road project for its lack of respect for labor, environment, and human rights standards. Other concerns include non-transparent procurement procedures with majority of contracts being awarded to Chinese companies without issuing public tenders, meagre use of domestic labor and limited contractor participation from host country, and use of construction materials from China – all of which undermine Europe’s interests.

Europe Fights Back to Curb China’s Dominance

How is Europe responding to China’s actions?

Europe is adopting strategies to limit China’s influence and reach across Europe and beyond, in African and Pacific countries.

Development of EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy

The EU’s new initiative, EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy, is an implicit response to China’s Belt and Road initiative, signifying a crucial first step to promoting European priorities and interests in terms of connectivity. The initiative aims to improve connectivity between Europe and Asia through transport, digital, and energy networks, and simultaneously promote environmental and labor standards.

The EU’s initiative emphasizes sustainability, respect for labor rights, and not creating political or financial dependencies for the countries.

Robust FDI screening process

European nations have been increasingly alarmed due to state-owned Chinese companies acquiring too much control of critical technologies and sensitive infrastructure in the continent, while China shields its own economy.

For the same reason, EU parliament is developing an EU-level screening tool to vet foreign investments on grounds of security to protect strategic sectors and Europe’s interests. The regulation will protect key sectors such as energy, transport, communication, data, space, technology, and finance.

While the EU still remains open to FDI, the regulation will protect its essential interests. Nonetheless, stringent investment screening procedures are likely to limit foreign investments in the continent, particularly from China.

Tackling security threat posed by China

In March 2019, the EU Parliament passed resolution asking European institutions and member countries to take action on security threats arising from China’s rapidly rising technological presence in the continent.

The resolution is likely to impact the ongoing debate of whether to eliminate China’s Huawei Technologies from building European 5G networks. The EU is concerned that the Chinese 5G equipment could be used to access unauthorized data or sabotage critical infrastructure and communication systems in the continent.

To minimize dependence on Chinese technology firms (such as Huawei Technologies), EU countries would need to diversify procurement from different vendors or introduce multi-phase procurement processes.

EU countries expanding footprint to counter China’s reach

Since 2011, China has invested US$ 1.3 billion in concessionary loans and gifts across the Pacific region, and has established its supremacy by becoming the second largest donor. China has been trying to build its influence, as the Pacific is bestowed with vast expanse of resource-rich ocean and the regional countries have voting rights at international forums such as the United Nations.

To counter China’s reach and ambitions across the Pacific countries, European nations such as the UK and France plan to open new embassies, increase staffing levels, and engage with leaders in the region. The UK plans to open new high commissions in Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa by the end of May 2019 and France is looking to meet and engage with Pacific leaders during the year.

Investment in Africa to limit China’s influence

As a strategy to curb China’s growing influence, the EU plans to deepen ties with Africa by boosting investment, creating jobs, and strengthening economic relations. The plan is to create 10 million jobs in Africa over the next five years. Europe is also aiming to establish free trade agreement between the two continents.

In recent times, China has been blamed of neo-colonial approach towards Africa, which is aimed at emptying the continent of its raw mineral in exchange for inexpensive loans, extensive but inferior infrastructure, among others. Europe aims to curb such influence by attempting to do business ethically. 

EOS Perspective

Unnerved by flurry of Chinese investments in the continent, the EU is looking to regain its control over matters. Europe has adopted a defensive approach against China’s initiatives, reflected through measures taken to protect critical sectors using investment screening system. The EU understands the downsides of enormous Chinese investments/loans, which may seem hugely enticing in the beginning, but could saddle vulnerable countries in debt they cannot repay – for example, a Chinese-built highway in Montenegro is likely to increase the country’s debt to about 80% of its GDP.

Currently, the key issue is the fact that Europe is standing divided on the right strategy to respond to bolder and ambitious China. While countries such as Germany, France, and UK have grown skeptical of China and are revolting against it, Italy, Hungary, Portugal, Greece, among others, are generally China-friendly. Europe has certainly become stern and tougher on China, but cannot pursue its interests without standing united.

The current situation does not demand Europe opposing China outright, but rather ensuring fair business conditions and equal market access through dialogue and cooperation with China.

Nonetheless, the EU has been quite slow to wake up to the various challenges that excessively ambitious China brings to the table. However, if Europe is able to become united now, there is still a chance to build a decent Sino-European partnership that serves interests of both parties.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Tunisia’s Bruised Tourism Industry Starts to Recover

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The tourism sector of Tunisia has been in turmoil over the past few years. The terrorist attacks on Sousse beach and Bardo National Museum in Tunis in 2015 crippled the industry, which had been witnessing a healthy growth before these events. As the Tunisian government and tourism industry players have been implementing strategies to revive the industry, some progress has been witnessed. However, the damage to the country’s image was grave and it is yet to be seen if the measures being taken will put the industry back on the growth trajectory.

Grave repercussions to the sector

Post Tunisia’s political revolution in 2011, the government started promoting tourism both domestically and internationally, and by 2014, the tourism sector contributed 15.4% to the country’s GDP. However, the terrorist attacks in 2015 in Sousse and Tunis killed nearly 60 foreign tourists (including 30 UK nationals) and significantly tarnished the image of Tunisia as a safe tourist destination.

The concerns over safety, reinforced by travel bans and no-travel recommendations issued by some EU countries, resulted in a drastic fall in the number of overseas tourists arriving in Tunisia. A travel ban issued by the UK authorities was particularly damaging to the local tourism sector, as UK had been the key demand-generating market for Tunisia. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of incoming travelers from the UK declined by 93% to 28,000 and many renowned UK travel companies, including Thomas Cook and TUI, discontinued their services in Tunisia.

The tourism sector had always been crucial for Tunisia’s economy and was one of the country’s key employment sectors, employing over 200,000 people before the attacks. The sudden decline in country’s tourism industry impacted cash inflow, business operations of several tourism industry players, and further destabilized the already faltering economy of the country.

The Recuperating Tourism Sector of Tunisia

Government reaction and first results

After two years of struggle, the Tunisian tourism market started showing first modest signs of recovery in 2017, following measures undertaken by the government to boost tourist footfall in the country. The Ministry of Tourism’s initial steps to help the industry survive included covering of social security contributions for tourism entities such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, etc., by the government, with the intention to help the providers maintain their employees and stay afloat. While this helped reduce the impact, the country still saw a massive loss of jobs in travel and tourism in 2015.

Simultaneously, the government tried to address the most pressing issue directly responsible for the decreased demand for Tunisian tourism services – traveler safety. To make tourists feel safe, the government tightened security around touristic sites, particularly in Sousse and Tunis. Additional surveillance equipment was placed at airports, hotels, and resorts to enhance security, while sector staff and various security forces received training on detecting suspicious behaviors and on counter-terrorism. Over the following years, Tunisia also received help from western countries in raising its security standards and procedures.

While these initiatives were needed and welcome, preventing attacks of this sort in a country located in close proximity to conflict zones, requires massive funding and complete, deep overhaul of its security and counter-terrorism system at all levels. Regardless of whether the steps already taken are sufficient or not to truly ensure safety, they certainly offered greater sense of protection to tourists, a fact promptly and extensively communicated to target customers across British and other European media.

The government of Tunisia has also taken measures to balance out the losses by trying to diversify its demand markets. To attract tourist from outside Europe, visa requirements for countries including China, India, Iran, and Jordan were eased with the introduction of visa on arrival. This strategy helped Tunisia attract Chinese tourists, whose footfall increased 56% y-o-y in January-May 2018 period.

To fuel business travel arrivals, the MoT started granting one-year multi-entry visa to businessmen and investors of these countries as well. Further, the MoT also removed entry visa requirements for countries including Angola, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Cyprus.

In parallel, the industry realized the need to broaden the sector’s offering. One such initiative was to expand the premium and luxury tourism segment targeting (quite interestingly) particularly British affluent travelers (indicating a continuous bet placed on British customers). In 2017, Four Seasons Hotel Tunis was opened, a major step in putting the country on the luxury tourism map, followed by a few more luxury resorts openings. In several locations premium activities have been developed, including marine spas and golf courses.

Europe’s cautious return to holidays in Tunisia

The measures appeared to have worked, and in 2017, the industry witnessed growth of the number tourists by 23.2% y-o-y to reach 7 million. While the government actions were to some extent successful, it was the lifting of travel ban to Tunisia by EU countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and the UK that was the main factor leading to growth.

Recovery was further supported by the return of travel companies such as Thomas Cook and TUI, which resumed operations in Tunisia. Moreover, an air service agreement was signed in late 2017 between the EU and Tunisia to increase the number of direct flights between European countries and Tunisia, which soon led to the return of European airlines including Air Malta and Brussels Airlines on these routes.

All these developments have helped to revive tourism sector and regain European visitors to a certain extent. The number of tourists, particularly, from France and Germany, increased by 45% and 42%, respectively, y-o-y for the period of January-May 2018. This growth in tourist footfall was a great sigh of relief for local industry players, whose businesses have suffered tremendously post attacks.

UK tourist, the most valuable visitor, reluctant to come back

Despite Tunisia’s attempts to diversify its demand markets, the country sees UK as the most important source of tourists for its tourism sector. According to the Tunisian Hotel Association, the market will not fully recover until the British visitors are back in numbers from before the attacks, which will also send a strong message to the world that Tunisia is safe for travel again.

Before the attacks, tourists from the UK formed the bulk of most valuable visitors to Tunisia with high spending capacity, the strongest inclination to spend on high-end accommodation and local cuisines, staying for longer duration in the country, and shopping extensively for locally-made products.

Rebuilding Tunisia’s image in the eyes of British tourists is therefore seen as of great importance. While some British tourists started to return to Tunisia (following tightened safety measures and an extensive publicity thereof) many UK travelers continue to remain wary, and in spite the lift of the travel ban, British arrivals have not reached pre-2015 levels. This reluctance is difficult to break, as UK tourists still do not fully trust that their safety will be ensured, a fear further underpinned by tensions in Tunisia’s neighboring Muslim countries (e.g. Libya).

Some issues remain unresolved

The inability to bring back the UK tourists at levels from before 2015 is still a major problem to the local industry. Although the government undertook several initiatives to improve tourist safety, these steps are likely to be insufficient to prevent such events in the future.

Amidst Tunisia’s frail economic conditions, the availability of sufficient funds to truly and permanently ramp-up security is limited. Moreover, Tunisia must be able to ensure ongoing counter-terrorism abilities as a preventive measure, a task requiring a systematic approach and continuous financing, without dependence on western governments. Considering Tunisia is surrounded by areas prone to continuously produce this sort of danger, ensuring the right intelligence and financing is likely to be a challenge.

Tunisian tourism sector is fighting several battles at the same time, and the blow it received in an aftermath of the attacks had broad repercussions. Various structural issues, which had been present before 2015, still persist. This includes a relatively large share of poor quality accommodation and hotel services, which are not up to par with international standards and expectations of a western tourist, therefore are detrimental to market growth. The 2015 events put several hotel operators under heavy debt and in fight for survival, which pushed upgradation of hotel facilities much lower on their priority list.

There is also a shortage of well-trained hotel and other tourist services staff, which makes it difficult for the Tunisian tourism industry to compete with countries such as Turkey, especially if the substandard service level is paired with outdated and poorer hotel amenities and services. Tunisia does have training centers, however the aftermath of 2015 attacks put the entire sector along with ancillary industries in a standstill, therefore several training center have not been functioning at full capacity. Recovery will take time and it will be a while till a sufficient number of well-trained hotel staff will become available.

EOS Perspective

With tourism playing a pivotal role in Tunisia’s economy, the country found itself in a very difficult position as a result of the attacks. The revival of tourist footfall since the summer of 2017 is definitely encouraging, however the industry is still not out of the woods and needs to continue to work along with the government to ensure the return of the tourists, by addressing the key issues – safety and quality of services.

This should also be a good moment for Tunisia to realize the risks of reviving the industry with the same over-dependence on limited variety of demand markets as before (i.e. UK), and intensify its efforts to diversify target markets across Europe and beyond.

Apart from introducing and maintaining fundamental changes to the safety of the traveler and to what the industry offers, the country needs to revamp the way it markets itself so that it can improve its image and boost tourism. In the past, public authorities and industry players have not paid much attention to promoting the country’s tourism market on social media, relying largely on tour operators and agencies. However, promoting a positive image of the country along with advertising tourist facilities through online channels might help Tunisia reach broader customer segments across markets, e.g. by influencer endorsements (quite a successful approach for Abu Dhabi and Turkey, to name just a few, in the past).

It is also important for Tunisia to look beyond traditional mass-market, organized tourism and explore other avenues of revenue. More focus could be put on promoting cultural tourism as well as access to Sahara Desert – key attraction for people visiting south of Tunisia. Local investors have already started working to develop offers with local cuisines and immersive desert experiences, along with authentic-themed hotels and restaurants.

Tunisia has also made the right (although modest) steps to address the issue of substandard hotel amenities and unclear standard of accommodation that can be expected by tourists. Changes are being made to classification of hotels, as the current star rating system is outdated and based on size and capacity rather than quality of services. Efforts are being made to re-classify hotels in line with international standards. Such reforms are crucial for the industry to ensure higher level of customer satisfaction.

Rebuilding damaged image is always a long and difficult process and Tunisian authorities must do whatever possible to prevent similar attacks in the future. If the public authorities along with the industry players continue to make efforts to pull the country’s tourism market out of the pit, the optimistic expectations about tourist arrivals reaching 12 million by 2028, with a CAGR of 4.6% over 2018-2028, are likely to become reality, bringing back much needed employment and revenue to the economy.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Zambia Government’s Pro-tourism Steps to Take the Sector to New Heights

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Zambia, like many other African countries, has struggled with the image of being underdeveloped, poor, and unsafe, a perception which has kept foreign travelers at bay. While these aspects do remain true to some extent, the Zambian government has initiated efforts to rebrand Zambia’s image as an attractive tourist destination. To this effect, the government is working on improving the country’s infrastructure as well as increasing marketing efforts to position Zambia as a premiere tourist destination to the world. With the right investments and policies, Zambia has the potential to become a popular tourist place within Africa, giving stiff competition to its neighbors, such as Zimbabwe, and to Africa’s key tourist destinations, such as Kenya. This goal might be achievable, considering that in addition to having a wide range of national parks and game reserves, Zambia is home to Victoria Falls (shared with Zimbabwe), one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Previously neglected tourism industry to receive a new push

While Victoria Falls remains Zambia’s most unique attraction, Zambia seems to have more on its tourist offer. The country boasts of around 23 million hectares of land being dedicated to diverse wildlife, in the form of 20 national parks and 34 game management areas (GMAs).

In addition, it is rich in other natural resources and tourist attractions such as waterfalls, lakes, woodlands, several museums, and rich and diverse culture, which gives tourists a taste of the land through many traditional ceremonies and festivals.

Despite all of this, tourism has never flourished in the country, although this might change now, as the government launched a National Tourism Policy 2015, aiming at positioning Zambia among the top five African tourist destinations of choice by 2030. The initiative is hoped to bring increased revenues from tourism needed by Zambia to improve its economic diversification, as the country has largely been dependent on revenues from copper mining and agriculture, a model only moderately sustainable at best.

The government has undertaken multi-pronged approach to put Zambia’s tourism on the map

Regions prioritization

In order to achieve this, the government is prioritizing two major regions, namely Livingstone (which provides access to Victoria Falls) and the Northern Circuit, situated in the Southern and Northern Provinces of Zambia, respectively. It is for this purpose that the government has opened up investments in the Northern Circuit region that encompasses the David Livingstone memorial in Chitambo, Kasanka National Park, beaches at Banguelu, Kasaba Bay, Lumangwe, and Kabweluma Falls, among other key tourism sites.

Appointment of investments facilitator

Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), a state-owned investment company undertaking the government’s commercial investments has assumed the job of facilitating long-term financing of several projects that will help boost tourism, in addition to acting as a co-investor alongside private investors in the sector.

Establishing of tourism development fund

The government has taken several other measures under the Tourism and Hospitality Act 2015 to provide the needed push to its tourism sector. It has established a tourism development fund, a special fund for the sole purpose of developing and funding the various spheres of the sector. To support this fund, in March 2017, the government introduced Tourism Levy, a tourist tax charged at 1.5% of a tourist’s (both domestic and international) total bill in respect to accommodation and tourist events. As per Zambia’s Ministry of Tourism and Arts (MoTA), the tourism fund collection through this tax equaled US$338,885 (K3.4 million) as of 31 August 2017.

An increased tourism marketing budget to the Zambia Tourism Agency (ZTA) for 2018 has been allocated to promote Zambia as a prime tourist destination. In April 2018, the ZTA hosted the Zambia Travel Expo (ZATEX), a tourism fair, which is one of the most important marketing platforms for Zambia’s tourism products. The fair hosted close to 60 international buyers (including both trade and media) from Southern and East Africa, the UK, Germany, the USA, China, France, India, and several other countries.

Hotels grading and licensing

In addition, the ZTA, which acts as the tourism industry regulator in Zambia, has taken up the task of licensing and grading hotels and other accommodation facilities in order to promote efficient service delivery and maintain a certain minimum standard in the tourism sector.

Under its 2018 National Budget, the government is also working on reducing bureaucracy and the cost of doing business in the tourism sector. To achieve this, the government, along with the Business Regulatory Review Agency, is expected to establish a Single Licensing System, which will act as a one-stop shop for obtaining a tourism license.

Quest to re-launch national airlines

Apart from investments and efforts to enhance efficiency and quality of ground infrastructure (such as accommodation facilities), the government has also announced the launch of national airlines, which were expected to commence operations in 2018 (later pushed to unspecified date in early 2019, hurdled by Zambia’s difficult fiscal position). The airline, a strategic partnership between the Zambian government and Ethiopian Airlines, was to have an estimated first year budget of about US$30 million.

Infrastructure investments

In similar lines to the Tourism and Hospitality Act 2015, Zambia’s 7th National Development Plan (NDP) (2017-2021) also outlines several key strategies and measures to boost tourism sector growth. Under the NDP, the MoTA (along with other sectors and ministries) aims at developing and upgrading several roads, bridges, and air-strips that interlink and ease access to the main wildlife reserves and other tourist destinations across the Northern and Southern Circuits. The NDP allocated US$870 million (K8.7 billion) towards road infrastructure development that is pertinent to growth in the tourism sector, such as the Link Zambia 8000, the C400, and the L400 projects.

In addition to this, the NDP allocated about US$94.7 million (K950.5 million) towards the construction of the Kenneth Kaunda and Copperbelt International airports. These airports, once established, are expected to position Zambia as a regional transport hub and in turn uplift tourism.

Furthermore, the government intends to develop requisite infrastructure with the aim to facilitate an increased length of stay, rehabilitate heritage sites, and strengthen wildlife protection.

Ensuring viability of wildlife tourism

The authorities have also realized the importance of rehabilitation and restocking of the country’s wildlife parks, where wildlife population has declined to levels that make it non-viable for safaris and photographic tourism. To achieve this, the government is looking into establishing strict anti-poaching rules and is exploring various public-private partnership models to aid conservation and develop national parks.

Development of non-traditional modes of tourism

To boost further awareness about Zambia’s tourism, the government aims to develop and promote ethno-tourism through events such as the Pamodzi Carnival, which showcase Zambia’s rich art and culture. Developing non-traditional modes of tourism, such as green tourism (covering eco- and agro-tourism), sports tourism, etc., is also on the agenda.

Boosting domestic private and business tourism

The government is also undertaking efforts to boost domestic tourism, by engaging and marketing to the Zambian middle class population. This will help open another revenue avenue for tourism, as local populations are likely to be easier to encourage and fuel the sector growth while Zambia’s international brand is still being developed.

Similarly, the government is also encouraging business tourism by turning several large cities, such as Livingstone and Lusaka, into premiere conference destinations. There is a huge untapped potential in the conference category that will help attract a host of domestic as well as bit of international business-based tourism to the region. In April 2017, the Zambia Institute of Chartered Accountancy (ZICA) bought 102 hectares of land in Livingstone to set up a 5,000-seat convention center, 10 presidential VIP villas, and an international-standard golf course at a cost of US$350 million. This will be the first international convention center of this scale in Zambia.

Zambia is also the host country of the African Union Heads of State and Government Summit 2022. The Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure Development is undertaking the construction of a 2,500-capacity international conference center in Lusaka, which will be the venue for the summit. The government has garnered support from the Chinese government to help construct the center.

 

Zambia Government’s Pro-Tourism Steps to Take the Sector to New Heights

The initiatives start to show modest results

In-bound international tourism on the rise

All these efforts have yielded visible results in the last couple of years and are expected to boost tourism in the future as well. This can be seen in the number of international tourists entering Zambia. While the number of international tourists visiting Zambia remained largely stagnant between 2011 and 2015 (registering a CAGR of only about 0.3%), the government’s initiatives brought an increased influx of tourists, estimated to have reached 1,057,000 by the end of 2018, in comparison with 931,782 in 2015 (registering a CAGR of about 4.3% during the period). International tourist figures are further expected to reach 1,585,000 by 2028, maintaining a CAGR of about 4.1%.

A nudge to the industry job creation

A similar trend is also visible in job creation in the tourism sector (both direct and indirect). In 2016, about 306,000 people worked in the tourism sector (including indirect jobs supported by the industry). Employment in the sector increased by about 2.5% in 2017 and was expected to further rise by 3.4% in 2018 to reach 324,500 jobs. The number of jobs created by the tourism sector is expected to increase to 448,000 by 2028, registering a CAGR of 3.3% during 2018-2028.

Early signs of increased contribution to the GDP

The total contribution of the travel and tourism sector (encompassing both direct and indirect contribution) to Zambia’s GDP was about US$1.79 billion in 2017, rising from US$1.4 billion in 2016. The sector’s contribution to the GDP is further estimated to rise to reach about US$1.87 in 2018 and is expected to reach US$2.9 billion by 2028 (accounting for 7.1% of total GDP).

Sprouting opportunities for investors

The government’s efforts and increasing tourist numbers also result in significant opportunity for investors to enter this sector. A large number of global hotel brands, such as Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group (Radisson), Marriott, Accor Hotels, South Africa’s Southern Sun, Protea Hotels and Sun International, as well as Taj Hotels, have already established presence in the country.

However, further scope for growth in the accommodation sector remains, especially in the 3-5 star category hotels that have 50-500 beds. As per African Hotel Report 2015, Zambia ranked as the 2nd best destination for Hotel Developers in Africa in 2015. During the same year, Zambia had a supply of 122 branded bedrooms per million population. This was well below the average in the Southern African region of about 350 branded bedrooms per million population.

Further scope exists in the development of conference facilities, tourist transport services, global cuisine restaurants, communication facilities, and other supporting infrastructure.

Investment opportunities are also present in the development of gaming venues, considering that gambling is legal in Zambia. This could help build a unique tourism offer that would combine city life and wildlife activities.

Investors are likely to find several reasons to consider investment in the country. Zambia offers easy access to a pool of English-speaking work force at competitive costs. The country has one of the lowest power tariff rates in Africa. Even after a 75% increase in power rates in 2017 (now ranging between US$0.05 and US$0.07), they are still much lower than rates in other countries in the region (where they range between US$0.06 and US$0.11 per kWh). Zambia is also well endowed with abundant water resources, which is essential to the tourism industry (as per World Bank, Zambia’s internal freshwater resource per capita was estimated at about 5,134m3, much higher than in its neighboring countries – Kenya (450m3), Zimbabwe (796m3), Botswana (1,107m3), Namibia (2,598m3), and Mozambique (3,686m3)).

Tourist safety and complex legislation hamper growth of the industry

While Zambia seems to have all the right ingredients to become a popular travel destination, there are several challenges that exist.

The key challenge is tourist safety. Zambia’s reputation has for long been affected by cases of tourists being targeted in financial scams or other types of crimes such as theft, murder, rape, etc. Continuous and consistent efforts to minimize such risks are essential to change the situation, which, apart from greater police involvement and law enforcement, should also include marketing campaigns voicing the benefits of tourism in the country to the local population.

Another challenge that the government must deal with is the level of bureaucracy and excessive number of laws governing various aspects of the tourism operations. Currently, some 10 pieces of legislation that affect tourism business are in force, most of which need to be simplified and harmonized, and in doing this, the government should use input from the local industry players.

The excessiveness in regulations is also paired with magnitude of charges and levies added on many activities, resulting in higher retail pricing. These include 16% VAT, 10% service charge on accommodation, food and beverage, and conferencing, 1.5% tourism levy, and 0.5% skills levy in addition to other levies, such as business levy, fire, health permit, food handling, etc. This leads to Zambian hotels being more expensive than hotels in neighboring countries. A prime example of this is found in Victoria Falls – Zambian tourism offer in Victoria Falls remains largely uncompetitive with regards to price in comparison to the offer on the Zimbabwe side of this major attraction.

EOS Perspective

With the ongoing government support along with growing interest in African wildlife holidays, Zambia has all the ingredients to emerge as a popular tourist destination in the future. China could be one of the key target markets for Zambia, as a large number of financially-capable Chinese tourists have shown keen interest in travelling deep into Africa. Zambia should also bet on business travel and conferences (both domestic and international) to form another lucrative revenue streams.

While efforts to boost tourism are being made in the right direction, with somewhat visible results, revamping such a long-neglected industry will take more than that. Ensuring the safety of the travelers is an objective that should remain on top of the government’s priorities list.

Further, it appears that some forms of tourism have been marginalized in the government’s focus areas, but should probably receive more attention in the long-term plans. Despite the fact that Zambia has about 35% of South African Development Community’s (SADC) water resources, little emphasis has been put on marine tourism development in the form of boat cruises (on lakes), fishing, etc. Similarly, considering the country’s rich wildlife and natural reserves, education tourism seems like an obvious segment to offer a great potential.

It appears that the required will and leadership from the government are in place to change the industry. However, Zambia’s current fiscal struggles (as it is coping with rapidly increasing debt and implementing austerity measures) might limit the resources needed to realize the plans and ambitions. This might lead to lost opportunities (much needed in this agriculture and copper mining reliant economy), as Zambia has the potential of becoming a popular travel destination, giving stiff competition to its neighboring popular travel destinations, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

China’s Investments in Africa Pave Way for Its Dominance

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Connecting nearly 70 countries through an extensive land network and sea routes across Asia, Europe, and Africa, the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) Initiative is the focal point of China’s foreign policy that is publicized as providing various economic developmental opportunities. Proposed by China’s President, Xi Jinping, in September 2013, the action plan and framework of the OBOR, also known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was officially presented in March 2015. Since the unveiling, the initiative has gained huge momentum in certain parts of the world. Africa is one such region that has witnessed major infrastructural development across road and rail network, telecommunication, and energy sectors in the early stages of BRI.

Africa is keen on receiving investment from China to boost its economic development. Owing to its location, the continent, as such, is placed perfectly on the sea route as part of China’s global plan. Although the continent lies on the Maritime Silk Road, the sea route that connects Indian Ocean to Suez Canal via Red Sea, only few African countries are of direct strategic importance to China along the OBOR route (including Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Djibouti). However, in its growth strategy, China is involved in several projects to increase its presence across other African nations as well.

Focus on strategic sectors

China is focusing intensely on infrastructure projects in the initial years of this initiative, as strengthening the railway and road network across the countries and developing sea ports is crucial for the success of the project. However, the expansion plans are not only limited to logistics. China is also investing heavily in other sectors, such as energy, mining, and telecommunications.

China’s Investments in Africa Pave Way for Its Dominance

Logistics and industrial zones

China is involved in a number of mega infrastructure projects in Africa. Railway projects rolled out by Chinese companies across Africa are amongst the ones (along with road network and sea ports projects) that have gained momentum in terms of execution and become operational ahead of scheduled time. The Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (Madaraka Express) in Kenya at a cost of US$3.2 billion, built by China Road and Bridge Corporation (a Chinese state-owned construction and engineering company) and funded by China Exim Bank (90% funding by the bank and remaining 10% by Kenya government) connecting Mombasa to Nairobi, became operational in June 2017 (construction of the railway line began in January 2015) as against the timeline of four years. In due course, the line will link Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan to Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit (AA-LRT) built by China Railway Group Limited, a Chinese construction company. Initiatives such as this, when married with port connectivity across sea-based countries, will not only improve trade amongst nations within the continent but will also boost Africa’s commerce market by opening new trade routes with other continents.

Some of the railway projects initiated by China were planned long before OBOR came to play, however, they could still form a crucial part of the initiative. For instance, the Tanzania-Zambia railway line built in 1970 with the technical and financial aid from China, is now being revived again with the help of Chinese companies Plans are underway to link it with other ports and build an industrial economic belt along the railway line to utilize the line more effectively. Chinese government has given Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) a US$22.4 million interest-free loan to not only improve the operations but also to extend the line to other countries that include Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. This line is of strategic importance to China in terms of better connectivity, which could lead to improved trade partnerships in the future, as this is the only railway line in Africa that connects three economic blocs, namely East African Community, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and Southern African Development Community (SADC).

China is effectively planning for future stability of its position in the continent, as evident from its plan to build Africa’s largest free trade zone in Djibouti, considered as China’s gateway to the continent.

China is effectively planning for future stability of its position in the continent, as evident from its 2016 announcement to build Africa’s largest free trade zone in Djibouti, considered as China’s gateway to the continent, spread over an area of 48 sq. km. The port will be built by Dalian Port Corporation Limited, Chinese largest port operator, and is expected to handle US$7 billion in trade within two years of becoming operational. About 15,000 direct and indirect jobs are expected to be created from the project. Strengthening Djibouti air transport sector is also of crucial importance to China and in light of this, two new airports – Hassan Gouled Aptidon International Airport and Ahmed Dini Ahmed International Airport – are also being set up to boost connectivity between the two countries. Funded by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), a Chinese construction engineering company, at a combined cost of US$599 million, this paves way for the country’s economic growth and development by making it a trade hub.

Telecommunications

China Communications Services Corporation Limited (also known as China Comservice), a subsidiary of China Telecommunications Corporation, is planning to revamp the original Africa Information Superhighway to Trans Africa Information Superhighway, an information and communication technology (ICT) project. The 20,000 km long optical cable is expected to pass through 48 African countries and involves an investment of US$10 billion. With growing internet penetration in many African countries (as per World Bank report, Kenya had an internet penetration rate of 45.6% in 2015 which was above the world’s average of 44%), the ICT project offers huge potential.

Mining and energy

China has already been heavily investing in energy, power, and mining sectors in Africa as part of its FDI policy, and now under the OBOR initiative the investments are expected to rise further. China General Nuclear Power Holding Corporation (CGNPC), a Chinese player that develops, constructs, and operates power plants, started mining uranium in the western-central part of Namibia in 2016. Known as the Husab Uranium Project or Husab Mine, it is amongst China’s largest projects in Africa, and has received investment worth US$2 billion, expected to produce 6.8 million kilograms of uranium oxide every year.

Although China has been investing in Africa for development of renewable energy projects, China’s focal point on the energy and power sector under OBOR initiative is still diluted. However, investments across this sector can be expected to happen in the near future owing to abundance of natural resources in the continent.

EOS Perspective

China’s OBOR initiative seems to be successfully transitioning from a theoretical plan to reality, at least within African continent. It provides developing countries across Africa what they need the most – infrastructure (roads, railways, sea ports, airports, power plants, refineries) along with supporting various other sectors such as information technology, telecom, and financial services. Apart from streamlining infrastructural development in Africa, African countries can also benefit in terms of better trade within the continent as China plans to build high speed rails, ports, and roads across the continent as indicated in the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the African Union (AU), signed in 2015. Though this means some good news in terms of job creation, infrastructural development, and overall growth, African nations need to strategically think and analyze how they can emerge truly stronger in the run for economic development, without the threat of being increasingly dominated by the Chinese influence.

Projects undertaken as part of OBOR are of great size and offer growth opportunities, but also involve large amount of investment, long periods of construction, and associated operational risks – we wrote about it in our article OBOR – What’s in Store for Multinational Companies? in July 2017. African domestic stakeholders should wisely chalk out their approach tactics and secure participation in implementation plans when partnering with Chinese companies, in order to favor their own economic and sustainable development as well as share in benefits. Governments and local leaders of each African country will have to play an active and important role in negotiating and finalizing business terms with Chinese companies, if they want these partnerships to benefit their country and local population in the long run.

African stakeholders should secure participation when partnering with Chinese companies, in order to favor their own economic and sustainable development as well as share in benefits.

While it cannot be denied that African countries are surely bound to benefit from the OBOR initiative, it is the Chinese companies leading these projects that will reap the largest benefits as well as China that will intensify and strengthen its economic hold in the region. Starting off with successful road and railway projects in Africa, Chinese companies are going to focus on sectors such as manufacturing and real estate in the coming years. Presence of natural resources in the continent is also likely to attract Chinese players in the mining sector. And with so much investment already happening in the initial phase of OBOR, Chinese players are planning for the long haul by developing large industrial zones to avoid issues related with labor costs and tariffs.

This sudden inclination of China towards developing and helping African nations seems overwhelming. It draws attention to the fact that China may try to overpower and dominate the economic and geo-political scenario across Africa in disguise of offering the countries development opportunities. With easy loans, with no stringent clauses related to intellectual property, legal matters, and human rights policies, all of which are conditions far more attractive than those that would be offered by China’s Western counterparts, China makes sure to have an upper hand in all the projects that are undertaken as part of the OBOR initiative.

With loans from Chinese banks and projects led by Chinese companies, there is no doubt that the Chinese influence in the continent is already on the rise. While the immediate effect of growing Chinese dominance in Africa will first be realized in the countries that fall directly on the OBOR sea route (or are easily connected to these sea routes via road and rail), other regions, that are currently not on the OBOR map, are highly likely to also witness the rising control of Chinese companies in less than a decade.

It is also being speculated that if Chinese investment continues to grow at this speed, it can be expected that in relatively near future many sectors will be dominated by Chinese companies, leaving no room for African players to grow. This could lead to exploitation of African players by the Chinese side, local governments finding themselves under huge debt with Chinese banks hampering plans for domestic development, and leaving local people to deal with meaner jobs as all the high paid jobs would be retained with the Chinese – these are just a few of possible immediate repercussions, but the list might not end here.

If Chinese investment continues to grow at this speed, it can be expected that in relatively near future many sectors will be dominated by Chinese companies.

A drive such as OBOR definitely seems to greatly contribute to putting the African economy on a growth path by pouring the much needed billions of dollars to link China’s trade route to African countries through a strategized set-up of railways, roads, sea ports, and airports thus opening doors for investment in other sectors as well. In the short term, it is clear that African countries have more to gain than to lose when receiving huge investments from China as this drives the continent towards economic prosperity. But China’s intentions behind investing in developing African economies, under the disguise of OBOR initiative, might be more than meets the eye. In the long run, Africa’s economic scene may be China-dominated, not only reshaping the continents’ infrastructural and business scenario, but also initiating a new phase of globalization and development, which most of the African nations have been void off for a long time.

Amid these discussions of the extent to which African nations will let China take control in the name of growth, one thing is clear that China is a strong ally for African nations and the association can only be expected to strengthen under OBOR. Both China and Africa stand to gain from this association – China to notch up a step to reach its goal for global expansion by leaving an imprint on the continent that will be clearly visible for decades to come, and Africa, with regular investment from China, to work on the development and economic upliftment of the continent.

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Venezuela – Economic Crisis Strikes Consumers and Companies

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Venezuela, a country considered as a role model economy for other Latin American countries a few decades ago, has now fallen into deep economic, social, and political crisis that seems to never end. Venezuela’s economy, highly dependent on oil exports, witnessed a steep decline when global oil prices dropped dramatically during 2014-2017, followed by the government ill-treating national funds, and a massive reduction in import of goods. Under this scenario, several multinational companies, such as PepsiCo, Palmolive, and Coca Cola, chose to reduce or temporarily cease production in the country, which has led to increased unemployment. As a result, many Venezuelans started to flee the country in search for a better life quality, while those who chose to stay face low salaries, hyperinflation, empty supermarket shelves, and increasing violence as political turmoil is deepening amid opposition and criticism of the current government of Nicolas Maduro.

The root of the problem

Venezuela’s deep social and economic crisis is driven mainly by mismanagement of national funds and lack of investment in industries of national importance. For several years, the Venezuela’s government-established projects involved providing social aid for households with low income, and these programs were supported by revenue generated through oil exports. Therefore, as gas and oil sector revenue accounts for 25% of the country’s GPD, a steep plunge in global oil prices from US$85 in 2014 to US$36 in 2016 deeply affected Venezuela’s social projects turning them unsustainable.

Venezuela’s deep social and economic crisis is driven mainly by mismanagement of national funds and lack of investment in industries of national importance.

In addition, Venezuela did not invest in its oil industry, one of the main pillars of the country’s economy. Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PVDSA) the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company has witnessed limited investment, causing Venezuela’s crude oil production to decline from 2.7 million barrels per day in 2014 to two million in 2017, expected to further crumble to 1.4 million barrels per day in 2018. This also translated into a decrease in oil exports revenue by 64% during 2010-2015, deepening scarcity of funds and progressing economic instability in the country.

Venezuela - Economic Crisis Strikes Consumers and Companies

Plummeting imports in import-dependent economy

Venezuela has been highly dependent on imported goods and raw materials such as food staples and medicines, among other goods. After the fall in oil prices and decrease of crude oil production, Venezuela redirected a large percentage of the remaining revenue from oil export to repay foreign debt, drastically reducing import volume of goods. As a result, imports severely dropped from US$58.7 billion in 2012 to US$18 billion in 2016, leaving the country with shortage of wide range of goods, including pharmaceuticals, sugar, corn, wheat, etc.

Soaring inflation and unemployment

In addition, Venezuela established strict price control regulations as a way to counterbalance hyperinflation, which directly hindered production of goods by multinational companies. Consequently, several key market players reduced or partially stopped operations in the country as a way to avoid losing profits. In February 2018, Colgate Palmolive, a US-based consumer goods company, stopped production for a week after the government demanded that the company reduces the price of its products, which resulted in a large loss in profit for the company. Subsequently, the reduction of multinationals’ operations in Venezuela greatly increased the unemployment rate to 30% as of 2018, causing Venezuelans to opt for unreported employment or to flee the country looking for job opportunities. It is estimated that between one to two million Venezuelans will have migrated by the end of 2018.

EOS Perspective

Throughout 2017, the ministry of urban farming encouraged people to grow food, e.g. tomatoes and lettuce, at their homes and to start eating rabbits as a way to prevent starvation as a result of massive shortage of basic goods. Meanwhile, as a way to ease the situation, Venezuelan authorities sell a monthly bag containing corn flour, beans, rice, pasta, dried milk, and some canned foods at VE$25,000 – this is less than a dollar. These bags with food are distributed only among people registered in the communal councils and those who possess a Carnet de la Patria, a home registry system in order to receive the food. Additionally, president Maduro decided to open 3,000 popular meal centers as part of a nutritional recovery scheme seeking to feed hungry Venezuelans. However, none of these measures have clearly had enough impact to aid in the difficult situation amid the deepening crisis in Venezuela.

Migration to neighboring countries in Latin America has been the way many Venezuelans have found to escape the crisis. Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, among other Latin America countries, have received over 629,000 Venezuelans in 2017 alone, which is 544,000 more Venezuelans than in 2015. The mere number of fleeing people indicates the scale of the issue, yet the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro refused to accept any help, aggravating the already strained political relationships with his Latin American counterparts. Further, Venezuela also refused to accept any aid from international institutions such as the WHO, which would help as a short-term solution or at least a relief for starving Venezuelans.

Moreover, Venezuela seems to be continuing to drown, as South American trade bloc Mercosur – one of the most important commercial blocs in the region, suspended Venezuela’s membership indefinitely in 2017. Such a measure translates into further reduction of imports into Venezuela from the bloc and, potentially, Venezuelans banned from legally migrating to any of the countries from the Mercosur bloc. So far, South American countries have welcomed waves of Venezuelans, but the dormant prohibition could negatively affect a considerable volume of the population seeking to flee from the crisis.

Venezuela seems to be continuing to drown, as Mercosur suspended Venezuela’s membership indefinitely in 2017. Such a measure translates into further reduction of imports by Venezuela from the bloc.

In addition, the USA issued an executive order banning any American financial institution from investing in Venezuela, that same year, which restricted the inflow of capital and increased the financial isolation of Venezuela from the North American markets.

This dramatic situation, both in Venezuela’s domestic as well as international arena, calls for president Maduro to reevaluate and encourage reforms that should empower small domestic producers, e.g. coffee makers, agricultural producers, among others, in order to reactivate internal consumption and counterbalance shortage of food and other supplies. Further, it is high time that the country’s leadership opens their borders to external help, however this seems unlikely to happen, considering that this would mean an acknowledgment that the socialist political management of the country has failed, and this in turn would play into Maduro’s opposition’s hands to easily overturn his government.

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