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EAEU Trade and Geopolitics amidst a Slowing Global Economy and the Rearrangement of International Relations

28 November 2019
Торговля и геополитика ЕАЭС в условиях замедления мировой экономики и перестроения системы международных отношений
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Current state and prospects of trade and geopolitical relations of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)

The two-year period 2017-2018 marked a recovery in foreign trade for the EAEU. After a three-year period of sharp decline (annual average of −17.1% in nominal terms between 2014 and 2016), the value of the EAEU’s trade flows again started to grow in 2017 and 2018 (annual average of +21.1%), with a slight recovery of the regional share of the world total (2.2% in 2018 compared to 1.8% in 2016). However, the data for the first five months of 2019 (available for Russia alone but representing about 80% of the region’s foreign trade) has shown a contraction of around 2% compared to the same period in 2018, in parallel with a sharp slowdown in world trade.

The authors of the report point out that since its establishment, the EAEU has achieved some important results. A start has been made to the process of harmonizing the energy sector, transports and free trade. At the same time, progress has been made in the areas of safeguarding competition, consumer rights protection, cooperation in space projects and in the strategic sectors of security and defense. The attention of the EAEU has been progressively geared to the strengthening of its position on the international stage, through the search for free trade agreements (several already ratified) and economic cooperation agreements with many countries both in Asia and elsewhere. In the nearest future, the efforts of the EAEU will be focused on a broad project referred to as the Great Eurasian Partnership, between the members of the EAEU, the ASEAN and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and on a normalization of relations between the EU and Russia.

Factors behind the slowdown in global trade

Economic factors are significantly affecting the development of trade, primarily the slowdown in the world economy. The manufacturing production index fell to 1.2% in the first half of 2019, from 3.1% in 2018 and 3.5% in 2017. But geopolitical and institutional factors are also contributing to the decline. The reference is mainly to international trade disputes (between the USA and China in particular, and also between the USA and the EU), restrictive measures on trade and foreign direct investment introduced in various contexts, and uncertainties surrounding the future regulatory structures of the global trade system.

Geographical redistribution of trade

In a period of increasing tensions at the geopolitical level and intense transformations in the direction of international trade, the EAEU countries have recorded significant changes in the last five years in the geographical distribution of trade, with partial shifting of the flow of goods from the West to the East. The flow of EAEU exports to China has jumped both in terms of percentage share of the total (from just under 8% to 11.5%) and in terms of absolute value (from USD 50.6Bn to USD 63.0Bn). Significant changes were observed in sectoral dynamics. In relative terms, Russia’s share of machinery imported from China in relation to that imported from the EU rose from 57% to 92% in the period of 2013-2018. The growth of trade relations between Russia and China has been accompanied by the signing of numerous investment agreements, partly also included among the projects related to the new Chinese «Belt and Road» initiative.

Trade relations between the EAEU and Italy

The report also features a separate analysis of trade relations between the EAEU and Italy. The two-year period 2017-2018 also marked a significant recovery in Italian trade with the EAEU countries. After a three-year period of sharp decline (annual average of −17.7% in nominal terms between 2014 and 2016, in line with the negative dynamics of foreign trade for the EAEU countries), the value of trade between Italy and the EAEU began to grow again in 2017 and 2018 (annual average of +11.4%).

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