China and the European Union have both said they will accelerate negotiations in order to conclude a China-EU investment agreement by the end of this year, with its colossal infrastructure project “Belt and Road” at the centre of an era of trade and growth for economies in Asia and beyond.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road, is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived. Launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the vast collection of development and investment initiatives would stretch from East Asia to Europe.
The original Silk Road arose during the westward expansion of China’s Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), which forged trade networks throughout what are today the Central Asian countries of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as modern-day India and Pakistan to the south. Those routes extended more than four thousand miles to Europe.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is today’s new Silk Road, a trans-continental passage that links China with south east Asia, south Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe by land – and a 21st century Maritime Silk Road, a sea route connecting China’s coastal regions with south east and south Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East and Eastern Africa, all the way to Europe.
One of the greatest challenges to its success will be to overcome the complexity of multi-commodity trading - there are a number of stakeholders, intermediaries and banks operating together to make deals happen. These deals are massive in value and happen very frequently, with huge amounts of money are being transferred across borders to different parties that all use different systems and have different compliance requirements, data storage systems, currencies, and so on. The current system is expensive, slow and provides customers with almost no transparency.
Innovative digital systems using the “Blockchain” are being developed to facilitate fast and secure methods of enabling these trades to take place.
LGR Global is a leader in b2b digital money movement and end-to-end trade finance, and has launched blockchain based digital system to support supply chain finance in the Silk Road economies. LGR has also launched a new “Silk Road Coin” cryptocurrency to enable seamless and instant trade along the Belt and Road.
“I think something that we are going to continue to see is the impact of emerging technologies on the industry. Things like blockchain infrastructure and digital currencies will be used to bring added transparency and speed to transactions. Government-issued central bank digital currencies are also being created, and this is also going to have an interesting impact on cross-border money movement.” said Ali Amirliravi, Chief Executive of LGR Global
“We’re looking at how digital smart contracts can be used in trade finance to create new automated letters-of-credit, and this gets really interesting once you incorporate IoT technology. Our system is able to trigger transactions and payments automatically based on incoming data from supply chain. This means, for example, that we could create a smart contract for a letter of credit which automatically releases payment once a shipping vessel reaches a certain location. Or, a simpler example, payments could be triggered once a set of compliance documents are uploaded to the system and verified by LGR. Furthermore, the letter of credit related documents can be shared with different trading partnership using blockchain platform which further improves transparencies and reduces trading risks. Automation is such a huge trend - we’re going to see more and more traditional processes being disrupted.” he said.
“Data is going to continue to play a huge role in shaping the future of supply chain finance. In the current system, documents are paper based, data is siloed, and the lack of standardization really interferes with overall data collection opportunities. However, once this problem is solved, an end-to-end digital trade finance system would be able to generate big data sets that could be used to create all kinds of predictive models and industry insights. Of course, the quality and sensitivity of this data means that data management and security will be incredibly important for the industry of tomorrow.”
Ali Amirliravi is positive about the opportunities that the Belt and Road Initiative will bring.
“For me, the future for the money movement and trade finance industry is bright. We’re entering the new digital era, and this is going to mean all kinds of new business opportunities, particularly for the companies that embrace next generation technologies.”
EU-China investment deal stalls
European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis confirms that progress on the investment deal with China has stalled following March sanctions.
The EU concluded what Dombrovskis describes as an “asymmetric deal” with China at the end of last year. Known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), it was presented on 30 December.
Today (5 May) he said: ”There are substantially more new commitments from China as regards market access, with regards to the level playing field and this is something that European companies have been asking us for for many years. So as regards the agreement itself, that technical work is ongoing to prepare the ground for ratification.”
At the time of the agreement Dombrovskis said: “This deal will give European businesses a major boost in one of the world's biggest and fastest-growing markets, helping them to operate and compete in China. It also anchors our values-based trade agenda with one of our largest trading partners. We have secured binding commitments on the environment, climate change and combatting forced labour. We will engage closely with China to ensure that all commitments are honoured fully.”
Wider political context
When asked about whether the deal had been suspended, Dombrovskis said that the position of the European Commission has not changed. He said that the “ratification process of comprehensive agreement on investment cannot be separated from the wider political context. I will repeat that the ratification process cannot be separated from evolving dynamics of the wider EU-China relationship. And in this context, Chinese sanctions targeting among others members of European Parliament and even an entire parliamentary subcommittee are unacceptable and regrettable, and prospects and next steps concerning ratification on comprehensive agreement of investment will depend on how the situation evolves.”
The Commission faced much criticism when the agreement was reached, by appearing to move ahead of the United States, before the new administration had taken office. It was felt by some that the EU should wait to see if there was the possibility of finding common cause with the new Biden team.
There were also accusations that the EU was ignoring China’s human rights record, particularly in relation to the treatment of the Uyghur muslim population in Xianjang province and the crackdown on the democracy protesters and the introduction of the national security law in Hong Kong.
G7 to discuss decisive action to counter threats like Russia and China
Britain on Tuesday (4 May) sought to agree decisive action from G7 partners to protect democracies against global threats like those posed by China and Russia.
Hosting the second day of a foreign ministers' meeting in London designed to lay the groundwork for a leaders' summit in June, Dominic Raab (pictured) will lead talks among the Group of Seven wealthy nations on threats to democracy, freedoms and human rights.
"The UK’s presidency of the G7 is an opportunity to bring together open, democratic societies and demonstrate unity at a time when it is much needed to tackle shared challenges and rising threats," Raab said in a statement.
In addition to the G7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, Britain has also invited ministers from Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea this week.
Their first face-to-face meeting in two years is seen by Britain as a chance to reinforce support for the rules-based international system at a time when it says China's economic influence and Russian malign activity threaten to undermine it.
On Monday (3 May), having met with Raab, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was a need to try to forge a global alliance of freedom loving countries, though stressed he did not want to hold China down, but make sure it played by the rules. Read more
Tuesday's discussion also covered the coup in Myanmar, urging stronger action against the military junta in the form of expanded sanctions, support for arms embargoes and more humanitarian assistance.
In the afternoon talks will turn to Russia, including how to respond to a troop manoeuvres on the border with Ukraine and the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Raab said on Sunday he wanted the G7 to consider a joint rebuttal unit to tackle Russian disinformation and propaganda. Read more
De-coupling from China would be the wrong way to go, Germany warns
The European Union needs to engage with China despite many differences instead of opting for a more isolationist approach, Germany said on Wednesday (21 April).
"In the EU, we have been describing China as a partner, competitor and systemic rival at the same time," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (pictured) said ahead of a virtual meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
"In all these three dimensions we need strong, sustainable communication channels with Beijing. De-coupling is the wrong way to go."
Berlin's warning against de-coupling is in line with Beijing's long-held position against disengagement among nations, including with China, despite mutual differences.
Last month, China was hit by a round of coordinated sanctions from the United States, European Union, Britain and Canada over reports of forced labour in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang, accusations that Beijing rejects.
Ties between China and Germany have generally remained stable since last year, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said later in his meeting with Maas.
Wang also said major economies like China and Germany should jointly resist any de-coupling, and instead seek to uphold the stability of global industrial and supply chains, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.
At the same time, China does not approve of any re-drawing of ideological lines, and is even more opposed to engaging in “small cliques”, and even arbitrarily imposing unilateral sanctions based on false information, Wang said.
Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in his first face-to-face White House summit since taking office, where both leaders said they shared serious concerns about the human rights situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
In a show of economic cooperation to the exclusion of China, Biden said Japan and the United States would jointly invest in the tech sector including semiconductor supply chains.
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