Kiplinger: Heavy Load for the BRICS

The economic engines of the BRICS (that's South Africa added to Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries are slowing down a bit, according to analysts from Kiplinger. Of course, there is still growth expected in each of the countries.

(By the way, our latest BizVoice magazine features a story on international business but skips the BRIC contingent. South Africa is included in a much larger look at business prospects in all of Africa. Check it out online or in our interactive version).

Back to the BRICS, here's what Kiplinger has to say:

  • Brazil: 2% growth this year and not much more in 2014, partially due to reduced exports to China and continued union protests
  • Russia: About 2.5% this year, maybe 3.5% next. A $14 billion investment in infrastructure and small business lending will help, but hostile climate toward overseas capital is a long-term problem
  • India: 5%, a drop from the 8% annual growth for much of the past decade. High inflation (10%) and decreases in investment and savings rates are troublesome
  • China: 7% this year and slightly more in 2014. Wage increases will make it difficult to maintain massive government investment
  • South Africa: 2%, a drop from 2.5% in 2012, with a similar outlook for 2014

Guest Blog: Reset Africa; Obama Tours the Continent

The following is a guest blog by Asoka Ranaweera, managing partner of Grid2Grid LLC, a company based in Washington, D.C. that advises investors on structuring investments and developing projects in West, East and Central Africa. Ranaweera penned this back in July, and was a source in our upcoming BizVoice story, "Africa Under Construction," set for release in the new edition next week.

I am sitting in a hotel in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. The town is buzzing with anticipation and excitement. Any day now, President Obama will touch down and thousands of Tanzanians will be out to greet him. Everywhere you go and almost everyone you speak to will have something positive to say about our President and Michelle Obama.

By some remarkable coincidence, President George W. Bush and Laura Bush are also in town. President Bush is on a regional tour, and is fondly remembered by many Africans for providing billions of dollars in funding for combating AIDS and for starting the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which has had a significant impact in countries like Tanzania.

As I ponder the countless hours of traffic jams, security roadblocks and searches to come, my attention wanders toward the hotel bar. I see a large group of Chinese businessmen and women enjoying a drink and chatting animatedly. Dar es Salaam is abuzz not just with Obama’s visit, but also by the sounds of an economy growing at an average of 7% per annum.

Wherever you might look in Tanzania, you will find Africans, Chinese, Indians, Malaysians and Arabs vying for a slice of Tanzania’s economic growth and business. Meanwhile, as I left Washington, D.C. for Dar es Salaam, President Obama was getting some flak for embarking on a weeklong tour of Africa at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

Rather than thinking about Africa as a place where development is now taking place rapidly, many in the American press still view it from a 1980s perspective. Meanwhile, Brazil, Russia, India, China, Turkey and many other countries are increasingly seeing Africa as a land of opportunity, a place to trade, invest and to develop bilateral relations with African people.

Africa is where all the economic action is taking place these days with 15 of the 20 fastest growing economies and approximately 300 million people attaining middle-class status in the last 20 years, according to the African Development Bank (AFDB). It’s possible that in the years to come, Africa will overtake Asia to become the fastest growing region of the world.

In 2009, President Obama visited Africa for about 20 hours. His election at the time energized many Africans into believing that his Kenyan heritage would lead to greater cooperation between Americans and Africans. Unfortunately, that never panned out; President Obama and his administration had huge domestic challenges to overcome such as the global financial crisis, which we are all still recovering from.

As we entered the recession, many Americans realized that Africa — a continent long associated with starving children, conflict diamonds and corrupt dictators — was growing and that altogether a new dynamic was shaping it. And we also came to the understanding that countries such as China had come to have a profound impact on the continent and that Africa was now a destination for business, trade and investment. Thus after more than four years of being primarily absent from the scene directly, President Obama is finally back, and this time his advisors say it is with the intention to “reset relations with Africa."

Afrophiles hope that this could be the beginning of a more concerted and directed engagement with the continent, especially in light of the fact that many people both at home and in Africa believe that this belated engagement has its roots more in economic competition than anything else.

Interestingly enough, from my experience America is more welcomed and viewed in higher terms in Africa than in any other part of the world. Africans feel a strong affinity for all things American and have been yearning for our support and partnerships. Africans in this generation are more likely to ask for investment and trade projects to promote bilateral investment than that dreaded term, "aid." And so the dynamic today is so much more different than it was.

As I get ready to leave the hotel for a meeting downtown, I hear a few Tanzanians discussing what President Obama will be doing in the country. It turns out he will be visiting Symbion, a U.S. company that is playing a significant role in the power generation sector. I am relieved to hear we as American business people are doing something constructive with the Tanzanian people.

As I am being driven through the streets of downtown Dar es Salaam, we almost collide with a high speed convoy. And I am told that we just saw Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on his way to the statehouse. It turns out this is the first official state visit to Africa by a Sri Lankan leader; times have really changed and I hope we hit that Africa relations reset button sooner rather than later.

Findings in this G8 Study May Surprise You

One in five American companies allow pets in the workplace? Russia is the country most likely to have women in executive positions? See some of the interesting findings about workplace satisfaction in G8 countries in this article from The Guardian:

Canadian workers are the happiest in the G8, Japan has the oldest workforce and Russian companies are the most likely to employ women in senior management, according to data collected to mark the summit of rich nations beginning today.

The human resources body, CIPD, says its roundup of workplace statistics from around the G8 and the emerging BRICS economies highlight the stark contrasts in work and working lives around the world.

The UK is close behind Canada in the contentment rankings, followed by Germany, Italy and the US. In Canada 91% of those in work report being satisfied with life. At 81%, France was the lowest ranked in the G8 and India was bottom, at 39%, once the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are included. Unsurprisingly, the CIPD found a strong correlation between average pay and satisfaction with life, in its analysis of data from a variety of sources including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and International Labour Organisation.

Among the more wacky facts about workplaces around the world, it found that nearly one in five American companies allow pets in the workplace. In France, the average lunch break is now 22 minutes, compared with 90 minutes 20 years ago. In the UK, the average worker spends 29 minutes on lunch, with people in Birmingham and Coventry taking the shortest break, at 25 minutes.

The group also highlighted signs of growing pressures – both financial and physical – on UK workers.

One third of UK employers say they have seen more people coming into work sick in the past year. The proportion of the UK workforce who are "underemployed" – not getting as many hours of work as they wish – has risen to 9.9% in 2012 from 6.2% in 2008.

Against a backdrop of high unemployment and falling wages in many member states, CIPD is urging G8 leaders meeting in Northern Ireland to look at workers and ways to nurture talent alongside their talks on tax, trade and transparency.

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese commented: "As we compete in an increasingly globalised economy, it's more important now than ever that we open our eyes to the enormous differences in the ways the world works. We need to see what we can learn from other countries, and think carefully about what we can productively contribute to a global economy."

He added: "Employers are increasingly seeing a mismatch between the skills available to them locally and the skills they need from a workforce: what skills do we need to be developing in our workforce to ensure that we're able to do productive work in the modern world?"

The analysis found that Russia topped the rankings for the percentage of senior management positions held by women at 46%. Italy was second with 36%, followed by South Africa, Brazil and Canada. The UK was 8th out of the 12 countries and the US was 9th.

Ranking the Best to Invest for 2011 Around the Globe

Site Selection magazine is well known for its tracking of business projects and rankings of economic activity. One of its newest projects (in its fourth year) is Best to Invest ratings. Half of the evaluation is based on its comprehensive database of new and expanded facilities, with the other 50% an analysis of business environment, business risks, foreign direct investment and infrastructure.

Here are top countries in five global regions. The metro rankings in these regions are based on similar factors as above, but with a slightly different weighting formula.

Western Europe

  • Top five countries: Ireland, United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and (tie) Switzerland and Italy. Top five metros: Dublin, Ireland; Frankfurt, Germany; Edinburgh, Scotland; Birmingham, England; and (tie) Belfast, Northern Ireland and Paris, France.

Eastern Europe

  • Countries: Hungary, Poland, Slovak Republic and (tie) Estonia and Czech Republic. Metros: Budapest, Hungary; Moscow, Russia; Bucharest, Romania; Prague, Czech Republic; and Warsaw, Poland.


  • Countries: Singapore, Australia, (tie) Malaysia and South Korea, Vietnam. Metros (first three in China and last two in India): (tie) Beijing and Shanghai; (tie) Chongqing and Chennai; and Bangalore.

Africa and the Middle East

  • Countries: South Africa, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Metros: Port Elizabeth, South Africa; (tie) Nairobi, Kenya; Cairo, Egypt; and Kinsasha, Congo; and Casablanca, Morocco.

Latin America

  • Countries: Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile and Argentina. Metros: Sao Paulo, Brazil; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; (tie) Guadalajara, Mexico and Monterrey, Mexico.


Congress to Reconvene Nov. 15 for Lame Duck Session

According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), the U.S. House of Representatives will reconvene for a post-election “lame duck” session of Congress. What will be on the agenda? Probably not much, as Republicans will attempt to block any major Democrat legislation.

Some compromise will likely result as some bills demand immediate action. These include: a new continuing resolution to keep the government open past December 3; an extension of ’01 and ’03 tax cuts set to expire at year’s end without affirmative action by Congress, resulting in increases in marginal income tax rates; and yet another short-term fix for the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which will otherwise affect millions of middle-class taxpayers this year. Expect an extension of a year or two on the AMT while Congress awaits the report of President Obama’s debt and deficit commission on December 1 and then a decision on how to treat upper income-earners and small business pass-through entities.

In the Senate, there is talk of bringing the new START Treaty with Russia to the floor, but opposition by some GOP conservatives to the nuclear forces treaty and a recent glitch with our command-and-control systems at a Wyoming air base (50 nuclear-armed ICBMs went “offline” for a period of time – yikes!) may derail this effort.

It remains to be seen how Democrats will react to the election results and how motivated they will be to either pass legislation or punt issues. Stay tuned…

Internships Can Launch Surprising Opportunities

This post was originally published at Indiana INTERNnation.

The fun part of interning is that you never know what events you will have a chance to attend and what people you will get an opportunity to meet.  If you keep your eyes wide open, your internship can extend beyond your primary responsibilities and the department to which you are assigned.

After my Washington D.C. internship in international affairs did not work out because of differences in mine and the company’s schedules, I was desperately looking for something in Indiana.  I picked up the phone and called the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. To be honest, at that point of time, in mid-May, I did not expect that there would be anything available.  I picked up the phone because I thought that trying every single opportunity would be the right thing to do.

To my surprise, I was offered an exciting internship assisting Indiana INTERNnet with marketing and communications. What was even more surprising is that sometime later, I was able to participate in an international affairs event and had the opportunity to expand my professional network with a few interesting people – a high governmental official from my native country and some Indiana business community representatives interested in doing business in Russia.

Last Friday, the Russian Senator, Mikhail Margelov, who also heads the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Russian Federation Council, gave a presentation at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce about Russian investment opportunities and potential reset in US-Russia economic relations.  He was accompanied by the senior management of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, which promotes mutually beneficial business relations between the countries. 

I introduced myself to the Senator, took a picture with him, and we chatted in Russian.  I thought that he would be the only person to whom I would speak my native language. But you know what?  I was approached in Russian by the CEO of one of the Indiana firms that deals with the Russian Space Agency about working part-time and assisting them in communication with their Russian partners.

I also had a chance to speak Russian with the Director of International Government Affairs of one of the biggest American companies. It turned out that he went to the university in Moscow 18 years ago.  He still practices his Russian and has a dream of reading the books of famous Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, in original print.  Now I have the memories of the great conversation, his card, and his promise to introduce me to the staff of their office in Moscow.

So, keep your eyes wide open, pay attention to what is going on in different departments in your company, and do not miss the opportunity to meet new people.  As it happened in my case, even if you do not go to D.C., some international official might come to see you in Indianapolis.

Trust in U.S. Businesses on the Rise

This time last year, collective faith in American businesses was down, both domestically and abroad. Then again, at this time last year Brett Favre seemed to be settling into retirement and Conan O’Brien was eagerly awaiting fulfilling his dream of taking over "The Tonight Show." Quite a bit can change in a year.

And it looks as though trust in American businesses is rebounding, according to PR Newswire:

Trust in business and government in the United States has improved significantly, according to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer. Among informed publics(1), trust in U.S. business to do what is right jumped 18 points since last year to 54 percent. Trust in U.S. companies is trending up in 19 of the 20 countries surveyed, with the largest increases – 20 percentage points or more – recorded in Europe, reversing years of low trust in U.S. companies across the EU and Russia. In the U.S., trust in government also rose 16 points since last year, to 46 percent, one of the largest increases in trust in government among the countries surveyed. These levels of trust are approaching those measured by Edelman before the "great recession," at the height of the economic expansion in 2006 and 2007. However, nearly two-thirds (59 percent) of U.S. respondents express concern that business and financial institutions will return to "business as usual" after the recession is over… 

For the first time, this year’s survey shows that trust and transparency are as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services. In the U.S. and in much of Western Europe, those two attributes rank higher than product quality – and far outrank financial returns, which sits at or near the bottom of 10 criteria in all regions. This is in stark contrast to 2006, when financial performance was in third place in a list of 10 attributes shaping trust in the United States. An increasing number of respondents also expressed trust in information from a company’s CEO – up 12 points, from 19 percent to 31 percent, which is still relatively low.

Countries to Watch, (Intellectual) Piracy Wise

Did you know there was a Congressional Anti-Piracy Caucus? (I’ll take a chance and guess not). Neither did I.

The caucus has been in place for six years. The primary goal is laudable — protecting intellectual property, particularly for the entertainment and software industries. I just didn’t know it took a caucus of members of Congress to focus on this issue.

Anyway, the group released its watch list of countries to keep a close eye on. The caucus will offer briefings for congressional delegations traveling to these countries.

The five countries range from the expected (China and Russia) to several surprises (Canada, Spain and Mexico). Do you agree or disagree that these countries are threats? Any anecdotes you can share?

Russia/Georgia Battle Shows Value of PR

If your communications team has gone round and round about your public relations initiatives, this article by Reuters UK might give you some insight into how valuable messaging can be in the midst of crisis. This piece explains how Russia and Georgia are fighting not just with weapons, but with PR strategies:

Russia wants to convince the world of its role as an honest broker, reluctantly intervening against an out-of-control Georgian president whose forces have carried out ethnic cleansing against the Ossetian people.

 Georgia in turn portrays itself as a plucky little country fighting off the resurgent Russian bear and suffering unfair Kremlin punishment on account of its drive to become a Western democracy and NATO ally.