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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

The Smoke around Legal Cannabis

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Till date, 31 countries and 41 states in the USA either legalized cannabis in various forms, including making it legal for medical or recreational use, or decriminalized it while still maintaining its illegal status. Few countries are preparing to legalize or decriminalize the use of marijuana for all purposes while many countries are still debating over the legalization of this plant only for medical and not for recreational use. With the rise in education about cannabis and its benefits for humans, economies, and culture, chances of positive changes in laws around cannabis are growing across the world. As legalizing cannabis is still a topic of debate with variety of business, political, and cultural views involved, we are looking at how the legalization of cannabis might impact the economy and businesses in the countries taking the step towards less restrictive approach to handling the issue.

Cannabis – a controversial medicinal plant

Cannabis or marijuana plant and its alleged benefits and risks for human body have been a difficult topic of debate amongst law makers, medical professionals, researchers, economists, politicians, and (of course) cannabis users. In many parts of the world, it still has negative connotations with a narcotic drug, due to presence of psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which brings an intoxicating effect to human mind.

In many countries, cannabis has been treated similarly to other chemical drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, etc., in terms of its legal status, by banning from legal cultivation, purchase, or selling for any purpose. However, there has been a continuous development in spreading awareness by the medical professionals, researchers, and scientists on the benefits of using cannabis for medical purposes. This has been followed by voices being raised on people’s right to legalized cannabis also for recreational purposes, comparing it with alcohol and tobacco, which are claimed to have far worse impact on human health, yet are enjoying legal status in many countries.

In addition to this, many economists too are coming forward in favor of legalizing cannabis to bring a boost to economies. As a result of such strong petitions, more and more countries are considering legalization of cannabis and the future might see countries such as USA (including all 50 states), Mexico, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Columbia, France, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Jamaica, and Portugal legalizing the plant for all purposes, along with legalization of personal cultivation of cannabis with an aim of bringing cure or relief to several diseases, helping to control healthcare costs, curbing illegal drug businesses, and stimulating country’s economy through adding another taxable business activity.

The Smoke around Legal Cannabis

Countries signal green light for marijuana

The league of countries with full legalization of cannabis for all purposes is still a small, two-member club, which was most recently entered by Canada (in October 2018) with more than 100 legal cannabis retail stores running across the country. After Uruguay that started this league in December 2013, Canada is the second country in the world to completely legalize cannabis, and it does not seem that the club will expand any time soon.

The USA are considering to gradually legalize cannabis for recreational use along with medical use. As of November 2018, The District of Columbia and 10 states including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have legalized the recreational use of cannabis. An addition of 30 states along with US territories of Puerto Rico and Guam allow the use of cannabis only for medical purposes.

Amongst the European countries, none of them has legalized smoking cannabis or using it for recreational purposes yet, but there are several countries which have legalized the medical use of cannabis under a treatment process, while also decriminalizing the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. Malta, Greece, Luxemburg, and Denmark are amongst the European countries that legalized medical cannabis in 2018 adding to the group of other European countries such as Italy, Norway, Poland, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Slovenia, to name a few.

Some Asian countries are also moving towards legalizing cannabis but exclusively for medical purposes and that too with strict policies. Recently, in November 2018, Thailand legalized medical marijuana, but with very stringent rules to get access to marijuana plants. Also, in November 2018, South Korea became the second Asian country to legalize medical cannabis, while Malaysia is expected to be the third nation to fall into this group. Interestingly though, India, known to be the origin of cannabis sativa plant, has not legalized the use of cannabis for any purpose yet, although the country runs a huge illegal trade of marijuana as well as hashish (a drug made of cannabis resin). There are many petitions already submitted by various Indian economists and politicians in favor of legalizing cannabis for use in cancer patients and even hemp cultivation for horticulture use, but due to changing political environment in India, the petitions are still pending to be considered by the relevant law-making bodies.

Cannabis business – boom in economies

According to a report published in 2018 by Brightfield Group, with the on-going trend of countries moving towards legalizing cannabis, the global legal cannabis market is expected to reach US$ 31.4 billion by the end of 2021, owing to the growing adoption of medical cannabis in treatment or relief in a range of diseases and ailments, such as cancer, mental disorders, chronic pains, and others.

Apart from medical applications, the recreational use of cannabis too has led to a continuous rise in sales of cannabis for direct and indirect use, thus giving a push to retail businesses as well as tourism sector in countries that moved towards legalization. As a result of the rise in sales, governments of these countries and states have registered increased tax revenues and a boost to local economies. For instance, California that legalized cannabis for recreational use in January 2018, generated US$74.2 million of tax revenue during second quarter, with a rise of 22% over the first quarter. In another, more hypothetical example, according to a report by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer, Canada could generate US$463.74 million in tax revenue by 2021 if the projections of nearly 734 metric tons of legal cannabis to be consumed by that year are correct.

Similarly, according to a study by New Frontier Data, if cannabis was legalized in all American states, it would generate a combined US$131.8 billion in federal tax revenue between 2017 and 2025, considering 15% retail sales tax, payroll deductions, and business tax revenue. In fact, according to a research study by Ameri Research Inc. in 2017, in the USA, tax revenues from legal cannabis are now comparable with revenues from other products, such as draft beer and e-cigarettes, a fact highlighting the recent growth of sales in legal cannabis market in the USA.

Apart from tax revenue generation, creating new business opportunities is also one of the reasons for countries to seriously consider legalization of cannabis. States such as Colorado, for example, have registered some 431,997 new business entities between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, it also experienced a 17.7% rise in employment over 2016 with 17,281 full-time equivalent jobs. Also, in 2017, across the USA, there were 9,397 active licenses with slightly more than 3,000 licenses active in Colorado. These licenses were made active for cannabis businesses dealing with cultivation, manufacturing, retailing, distributing, delivering, and even lab testing that generated 121,000 jobs in 2017 across the District of Columbia plus 10 US states. This number is expected to reach 1.1 million jobs by 2025, if cannabis is legalized in all 50 states, across all ends of cannabis industry supply chain, from farmers to transporters to sellers.

It is expected that through legalization of cannabis, several countries, especially Mexico, USA, and Canada, are also expected to witness significant drop in illicit activities related to drugs industry. According to a study by Deloitte in 2018, cannabis users in Canada are willing and in fact looking forward to pay more for legal purchase of cannabis grown and processed under federal laws and sold through legal channels rather than going for illegal drug purchase options. This goes hand in hand with Canadian government’s hopes to crack down on illegal drug trade while also finding new sources of stimulation to the country’s economy.

Impact of legal cannabis market on other business sectors

The emergence of legal cannabis market has raised many business opportunities in various sectors such as retail, food and beverages, real estate, and even tobacco and alcohol industry.

Amongst these sectors, real estate has been developing strongly in many countries allowing for legal cannabis for medical as well as recreational use. Properties and facilities that are well-suited for cannabis-related operations are experiencing rise in industrial rents and sales price premiums owing to the rise in demand for warehouses, industrial and storage facilities, agricultural, and other properties.

In Canada, legalization of growing and sales of recreational cannabis has fueled a six-fold surge in plant-growing facilities to 8.7 million square feet in 2018 according to data from Altus Group, Canadian real estate company. Aurora Cannabis, one of Canada’s leading cannabis companies, has already started its project for cultivation of cannabis in a new 8 million square feet facility in 2018. Canopy Growth, market leader in cannabis industry of Canada, has announced plans in October 2018 to develop 3 million square feet of greenhouse space in British Columbia through October 2019, which will be more than double its production surface as of 2018. With the legalization of cannabis, the demand is also rising for commercial real estate thus giving an opportunity for struggling retailers to make a move into a new market. Alberta, where cannabis industry is fully private, has experienced a sharp surge in demand for 1,200 to 3,000 square feet retail real estate to set up cannabis shops and dispensaries in malls and street-front locations.

Similarly, within the USA, Colorado, experienced a rise in real estate sector through increase in housing values by about 6% owing to increasing development in retail sector through legal cannabis pharmacies, dispensaries, cafés, and retail shops. Going beyond real estate, the retail industry is also likely to receive a push thanks to opportunities in auxiliary businesses such as accessory shops, cannabis cafés, weed gardening products stores, bakeries, and candy shops, contributing to rising demand for retail locations.

The impact of cannabis legalization is visible also in food and beverage industry thanks to new products such as cannabis-infused edibles such as cakes, candies, and drinks. In 2017, California reported sales of US$180 million of edibles, whereas Colorado has seen about a 60% rise in edibles sales volume (with 11.1 million edibles unites been sold in the same year). The future of food and beverage industry with cannabis-infused edibles is projected to be promising due to the benefits of cannabis plant for using it in food products. According to a food and beverage industry expert, Sylvian Charlebois, cannabis offers good nutrients (proteins, vitamin E and C, to name a few), hence for food products manufacturers looking for new avenues of growth, cannabis could be deemed the next ‘superfood’.

On the other hand, the legalization of cannabis has affected alcohol industry due to the emerging inclination of people towards choosing the “green high” over alcoholic drinks.

According to a study by Deloitte in 2018, in Canada, cannabis is likely to be increasingly perceived as a substitute to beer, spirits, and wine which could negatively impact the alcoholic beverages-related revenues for governments, liquor companies, and retailers. This is already observed in the USA, where a joint recent research study of 10 years conducted by two US-based universities, namely University of Connecticut, Storrs and Georgia University, Atlanta in cooperation with Universidad del Pacifico in Peru, has suggested that the counties located in medical marijuana states showed almost a 15% decline in monthly alcohol sales between 2006 and 2015.

At the same time, some industry experts believe that since it is part of American and European food culture to drink alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine with food, the legalization of cannabis is not going to affect the demand for such food-complementing alcoholic drinks. In fact, cannabis legalization is also coming out to be a stepping stone for large alcohol brands to enter the cannabis industry with cannabis-infused alcoholic beverages, mostly through mergers and acquisitions with leading cannabis growing companies. In August 2018, New-York based Constellation Brands acquired more that 50% stake of Ontario-based Canopy Growth for US$4.0 billion, the largest investment registered in cannabis industry so far. The received investment is believed to help Canopy Growth strengthen and expand its leadership position in Canada and other countries with legalized cannabis. It is expected that in the future, other alcohol industry leaders will also consider getting involved in cannabis industry in order to expand through cannabis-infused drinks, creating a new segment of products with combination of alcohol and cannabis.

EOS Perspective

The benefits of cannabis on human body in diseases such as cancer, acute and chronic pains, or neurological and mental illness, have resulted in a growing count of countries legalizing use of cannabis. On the other hand, the legalizing of cannabis for recreational purpose is still receiving mixed views by industry experts and public opinions in several countries. The only way to make this experiment work, is to follow the steps of those countries that have legalized recreational cannabis and are simultaneously focusing on implementing a completely regulated system to scrutinize the whole supply chain in order to curb illegal drug activities and over-dose of cannabis by the users.

For this purpose, the leaders – Uruguay and Canada – have created systems of registration cards with a specific limit to purchase a quantity of cannabis for recreational use per month. As a result of this, the situation is expected to be under control and authorities believe that this will help in curbing illegal trade activities while keeping check on personal consumption of cannabis.

It is also recommended to consider the fact that legalization of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes is likely to reduce the use of other, more harmful and addictive drugs, as well as curb (at least to some extent) the over-consumption of alcohol that is associated with serious health hazards and many deaths, generating huge social burden and healthcare costs in many countries.

Considering all these factors, the success of legalizing cannabis for all purposes in any country depends on how the processes across cultivation, distribution, retail, all the way to the end buyer is regulated and scrutinized by the law makers and law enforcers of the country. There surely are both pros and cons of legalizing cannabis but with solid work towards improved awareness, and, more importantly, a regulated system with proper (enforced) laws, it can give the countries a boost to their economies along with rise in employment, better medical treatments, and decline in illegal drug activities.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

NAFTA 2.0 – Mexico Left with Little Choice but to Renegotiate, and Fast

Over the years, NAFTA has been one of the most contentious FTAs that have ever been inked, especially for the USA. While the treaty and its merits (or mostly alleged lack of them) featured in political campaigns of a few previous US presidential candidates, NAFTA’s shape and scope have never been revisited in its many years of existence – until now. Mexico, along with Canada, wishes to maintain the NAFTA as is, however US president Donald Trump has strongly condemned the treaty and, though earlier threatened to walk away from it completely, has agreed to attempt a renegotiation. Any possible changes to the shape of NAFTA might have profound impact especially on Mexico, however, the country has little choice but to renegotiate. Some of the negotiation objectives, such as tougher ‘rules of origin’, can be greatly damaging to Mexico’s several sectors, including the automobile industry. The upcoming elections in Mexico in July 2018 may further complicate matters – if the renegotiations are not completed by then (which is a highly probable scenario), they may be brought to a standstill, especially if the government changes. This presents a great deal of uncertainty for companies that have investments in Mexico.

The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into force in 1994, removed trade tariffs and duties on most goods for trade between the USA, Mexico, and Canada. While the deal has been mostly considered a positive in Mexico and Canada, its benefits have often been debated in the USA. The main reason behind this remains the high US trade deficit with Mexico (which stood at around US$64 billion in 2016) and the loss of several US manufacturing jobs to the south of the US border.

The NAFTA issue also found itself at the center of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, as he called the treaty one of the worst trade deals ever signed by the USA and talked about withdrawing from it once he came to power. Although several previous presidential campaigns also involved talks of renegotiating NAFTA (including campaigns of both Democratic candidates – Barrack Obama and Hilary Clinton, in 2008), none has been as strong-worded as Trump’s campaign. Therefore, with Trump coming to power in 2016, revisiting the 23-year old treaty became largely inevitable.

Chapter 19

Initially threatening to back out from NAFTA, Trump agreed to renegotiations, which according to him would ensure bringing jobs back to the USA. However, a few aspects on the renegotiation agenda are a hard line for Mexico. Firstly, the USA wishes to eliminate Chapter 19 of the treaty, which encompasses a dispute settlement mechanism wherein dispute resolution (in cases such as anti-dumping and countervailing duty disagreements) is undertaken by independent and binational panels instead of domestic courts. This prevents NAFTA countries from putting unfair duties on products from other NAFTA countries to protect their own industries. While the USA is trying to disregard this clause, Mexico is largely opposing it, as without Chapter 19, it would become much easier for the USA to implement protectionist policies and duties that would inherently threaten free trade. However, Mexico is not alone in pushing back this change as Canada also strongly opposes any change in the dispute settlement mechanism.

Impact of NAFTA on Mexico

NAFTA Minimum Wage

Another negotiation objective (where Canada stands in support of the USA), is to incorporate some kind of standardization for trade-related labor issues and wages, by introducing a minimum wage across the three NAFTA participants. This will be greatly damaging for Mexico, which has for long benefited from lower wage rates that have incentivized several industries, such as automobiles, to shift base to Mexico to reduce costs and maximize profits. Stating that wage-related policies are an internal matter, Mexico has strongly opposed any such amendments and may make this a non-negotiable aspect.

Rules of Origin

However, one of the most dampening renegotiation objectives, especially for Mexico and in particular for its the automobile industry, are the restrictive changes to the rules of origin. As per the current NAFTA rules, for a car to qualify for a tariff-free entry in the NAFTA region, 62.5% of the value of the car must have originated in NAFTA countries. Thus, over the years, automobile manufactures have perfected their value chains, wherein auto components such as body-works, engines, gear panels, etc., are manufactured in various parts of NAFTA countries, and then assembled in another part of the region, to attain greatest benefits in terms of costs and quality. However, the current US administration is proposing changes to these rules, which may wash away a great deal of efficiencies and synergies attained by global automobile manufacturers under the current rules. As per the proposal, the US government aims to increase the US content in the finished vehicles to 50% for these products to attain tariff-free entry into the USA. In addition to going against the basic fabric of a free-trade agreement, this will jeopardize the competitiveness of the North American auto industry, which has greatly depended on integrated supply chains that also have deep roots in Mexico. This definitely spells bad news for Mexico, as the economy has significantly benefited from investments made by global automobile manufacturers in the country.

Moreover, apart from increasing the share of US content requirement to 50%, the US administration has also proposed raising the regional content requirement for NAFTA to 85% as against the current 62.5%. While this may seem to be a positive amendment for the region in general, analysts call it largely counter-productive as not all components can be competitively sourced from the North American region. If brought into action, automobile companies would have to spend huge sums to try to source/produce most components in the North American region at competitive prices. However, if they fail to accomplish that (which is quite likely) and as a result are unsuccessful in qualifying for tariff-free entry into NAFTA, they would shift to suppliers outside NAFTA and pay WTO tariff of 2.5% to access the North American market (which they will pass onto the consumers). Such developments might mean that by increasing regional content requirements, the region may end up pushing automobile players away from the region rather than encouraging them to continue and intensify their operations. This will be catastrophic not only for the Mexican automobile sector, but also for the US and Canadian auto market. To make matters tougher, the new proposal asks for technology-based automotive parts, electric vehicle batteries, etc., that are currently not included in the origin tracing list (as they did not exist when the NAFTA was originally negotiated). Most of these products are now sourced from Asian markets.

Due to the US president’s known cold sentiment towards NAFTA, the onus of ensuring the treaty remains unterminated is on Mexico and Canada. While Mexico (along with Canada) has previously mentioned that the American demands to change the rules of origin are unworkable with and unacceptable, the Mexican government is working on a compromise proposal to toughen the rules of origin clause in hope to meet the USA somewhere half-way. As per the proposal, Mexico is willing to accept the extensive tracing list and is also willing to negotiate on the 85% North American content requirement in exchange for the USA withdrawing from the 50% US content provision. The tracing list proposal will be drawn in a manner ensuring that low-cost technology-based components that are currently sourced from Asian countries would be sourced from within North America, especially Mexico. However, the proposal, which is not finalized yet, is not expected to be presented in the current (fifth) round of talks.

Sunset Clause

Mexico and Canada’s openness to negotiate can also be gauged by their willingness to work around the sunset clause proposed by the US administration during the fourth round of negotiations. As per the proposed clause, the treaty will expire every five years unless the member countries agree to keep it in place. While the remaining two parties refused to accept this clause when proposed, they have softened their stance on the matter during the current negotiations and counter-proposed a five-yearly review system. This showcases Mexico and Canada’s keen desire to ensure NAFTA is preserved and their willingness to work around USA’s fixed stance. While the review proposal may be a better option compared with the sunset clause, purely from a business or investment point of view, it still leaves room for a great amount of uncertainty for companies looking to invest, as five-year horizon is too short for several heavy-investment industries such as automobiles.

2018 Mexican Elections

Lastly, it is extremely critical that the negotiations are completed by the set date of March 2018 as any delay will result in their overlap with the 2018 Mexican elections and that will further complicate the matters. NAFTA has not only been instrumental in providing Mexico with economic stability, but has also played a significant political role, especially in terms of economic policy. The basic framework of the treaty has ensured protection for investments and, to an extent, economic equity as over the years it restricted the government from granting protections, incentives, and subsidies to a set of companies or industries, while discriminating against others. The termination of NAFTA would allow the future government to modify the current economic framework of the country, and this will directly impact Mexico’s attractiveness as an investment destination. This becomes all the more relevant in case the leftist candidate, Lopez Obrador, comes to power in 2018.

Mexico’s Contingency Plans

While Mexico is certainly hopeful and is working towards retaining the NAFTA, it is not putting all its eggs in that one basket alone. Mexican government is looking at deepening Mexico’s ties globally and reducing its dependence on the USA. Mexico is currently negotiating with the EU to modernize its existing FTA which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. Moreover, it is looking at Argentina and Brazil as alternative sources of agricultural imports to replace those from the USA. In a similar move, Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, met with his Russian counterpart in Mexico to discuss Mexico’s openness to do business with nations other than the USA. In November 2017, Mexico participated in a meeting of the nations that were formerly a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which ceased to exist in its previous form in early 2017 (we talked about it in our article TPP 2.0 – Minus the USA in May 2017). This meeting resulted in an official announcement that the TPP nations will negotiate a new deal, without the USA, and that it will be called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The creation of CPTPP will provide a much-needed cushion to Mexico’s automobile industry in case NAFTA fails. Also, in case NAFTA toughens its rules of origin but the CPTPP relaxes them, Mexico may continue to be part of the global automobile supply chain (this time in combination with CPTPP members such as Japan, Canada, and Chile – instead of the USA).

EOS Perspective

It is safe to say that Mexico and its automobile industry have a lot riding on the NAFTA negotiations. While Mexico along with Canada are working hard to ensure NAFTA stays, US president’s tough stand on several aspects and his willingness to walk out of the deal in case his demands are not met, complicate the negotiations greatly. It is uncertain how the situation is going to develop, and even if NAFTA continues, new provisions that might find their way into the revised treaty may not offer a great deal of benefits for companies to invest and for intra-regional trade to flourish.

The pressure of upcoming elections in Mexico in 2018 makes the situation even tighter. If the negotiations are not completed before the elections, all progress made up till then can easily go in vain in the event of the government change. Therefore, companies are extremely cautious about investing/expanding in Mexico at the moment, and are likely to wait at least up till mid-next year. They may find respite in the fact that the Mexican government is trying to do its best – both in terms of being flexible during negotiations as well as diversifying its export markets and import sources – but this respite might just not be enough to ease investors’ minds and businesses’ worries over the operating and trade environment within the North American region.

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