lunes, 23 de febrero de 2015

Why nobody stops these professional scammers ?

The bosses of HSBC have admitted they were shamed and humbled by the tax avoidance activities of the group’s Swiss banking arm as the bank revealed its chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, received £7.6m in pay and bonuses last year.

Gulliver, speaking for the first time since the Guardian and other news outlets published a series of revelations about HSBC’s Swiss operations, offered his “sincerest apologies” but was defiant about the account he had with the bank in Geneva which sheltered millions of pounds in a Swiss account through a Panamanian company. The 55-year-old who became chief executive in 2011, was born in Britain but is tax domiciled in Hong Kong, where the bank has major operations. 

Europe’s biggest bank published results showing a 17% fall in profits to $18.7bn (£12.2bn) as the investment banking arm slumped and $1.2bn of fines and other conduct issues hit the bottom line.
To justify his tax status, Gulliver said: “I would expect to die abroad.”Gulliverleft the UK in 1980 and came back for postings with the bank in 2003.

He admitted the bank was shamed by the events at its Swiss bank and hit out at the idea he should know what every one of the firm’s 257,000 employees were doing. He asserted that the bank was being held to a higher standard of account than the church and armed forces.
“I would say that a number of us, myself included, think that the practices at the Swiss private bank in the past are a source of shame and reputational damage to HSBC. Yes, I think shame is an appropriate noun,” said Gulliver.

“One of the largest impacts has been on morale inside HSBC. All of us are subject to scrutiny from our families, our friends and people we meet generally in our everyday lives. It makes people embarrassed at HSBC and concerned,” he added.

Chairman Douglas Flint, who has been with the bank since 1995, said it was “totally humbling”.

The results, along with a relaxing of its target to provide returns to shareholders, knocked 5% off the share price of Europe’s biggest bank and made it the biggest faller on the stock market. 

HSBC revealed that 1,178 of its top staff were paid at least €1m (£738,000) last year – it was 330 under a different measure the previous year – and Flint said it would be inappropriate for Gulliver’s pay to be docked to reflect the Swiss bank revelations. His £7.6m compares with £8m in 2013 and had been cut by £500,000 last year because of fines for foreign exchange rigging and other regulatory matters. 

The bonus payouts angered trade unions and politicians. The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “It is hard to see why HSBC is paying bonuses at a time when their role in tax evasion and avoidance has become so controversial.”

Cathy Jamieson, a shadow treasury minister who called for a bonus tax and wants George Osborne to answer questions on the matter, said: “People will be astounded that bonuses of this size are still being paid out after the revelations of the last few days.”

Gulliver said it was no coincidence that Swiss breaches coincided with money laundering through HSBC’s Mexican bank in the mid-2000s, for which the US has fined the bank £1bn. Gulliver, who used to run the investment bank, said HSBC had grown too large and that its management lost control of the business during the financial crisis. The bank had 35,000 employees when he joined in 1980 and by 2007 the number had grown to 330,000. “We diluted the culture while management were concentrating on trying to get through the financial crisis,” said Gulliver.

He defended his use of a Swiss bank account saying that in the 1980s accounts were free to access on the bank’s dealing floor in Hong Kong where he was based. The highest-paid employee, he used a Swiss account to hide his bonuses from colleagues and then used a Panama structure to hide the details from Swiss colleagues. He did not answer when asked if he still had a Swiss account and did not know whether colleagues were still paid through Panama.

“I have never paid less than the maximum UK marginal tax rate,” said Gulliver.

“There is absolutely no story here,” said Flint of the chief executive’s bank account. “There is nothing that Stuart has done that is not absolutely transparent, legal and appropriate.”

Flint also apologised: “We deeply regret and apologise for the conduct and compliance failures highlighted which were in contravention of our own policies as well as expectations of us. Flint, who is giving evidence to the Treasury select committee of MPs on Wednesday, said the business had been overhauled and the Swiss bank customer base shrunk by one third from their size in 2007. 

In its annual report published on Monday, HSBC listed investigations into the Swiss affair by tax administration, regulatory and law enforcement authorities around the world, including in Belgium, France, Argentina, Switzerland and India. It warned more could follow and that there “is a high degree of uncertainty as to the terms on which they will be resolved and the timing of such resolutions, including the amounts of fines, penalties and/or forfeitures imposed on HSBC, which could be significant”.

“In light of the recent media attention regarding these matters, it is possible that other tax administration, regulatory or law enforcement authorities will also initiate or enlarge similar investigations or regulatory proceedings,” the bank said. There has been no contact from the UK authorities since the latest revelations.
Lord Ken Macdonald has provided a legal opinion to the consumer action group SumOfUs saying there is evidence for bank to be investigated for conspiracy to defraud the UK tax authorities.

Details of HSBC’s Switzerland activities were obtained by Herve Falciani, a former employee of the bank in 2008, and relate to the period 2005 to 2007. Since being published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – which has collaborated with the Guardian and other media outlets in publishing the leaks, including Le Monde and BBC Panorama – they have unleashed a political storm in the UK.

The bank said Sir Simon Robertson, the former Goldman Sachs banker, had agreed to stay on the board for another year as deputy chairman instead of leaving as his nine year tenure – a typical timeframe as a non-executive – had been reached. He said that the £1.5m base salary of Flint was being reviewed.
Robertson, who chairs the bank’s remuneration committee, said: “The number and volume of regulatory changes that have been and are being proposed in connection with remuneration are, in the Committee’s view, excessive and are hindering our ability to communicate with any certainty to our current employees and potential employees the remuneration policies and structures that would apply to them.”

A year ago, HSBC had said Gulliver would get a £1.7m annual allowance on top of his £1.2m salary and other bonuses. The allowance is being used by HSBC and other banks to sidestep the EU’s bonus cap, which limits bonuses to one times salary or two-times if shareholders approve.

Flint also urged the UK to say in the EU. “One economic uncertainty stands out for a major financial institution headquartered in the UK, that of continuing UK membership of the EU. Today, we publish a major research study which concludes that working to complete the single market in services and reforming the EU to make it more competitive are far less risky than going it alone, given the importance of EU markets to British trade,” he said.

Original Link

domingo, 22 de febrero de 2015

Back to leadership ?

The United States must resist a return to spheres of interest in the international system 

 By Robert Kagan | February 19, 2015
  Brookings Institution

Great power competition has returned. Or rather, it has reminded us that it was always lurking in the background. This is not a minor development in international affairs, but it need not mean the end of the world order as we know it.  

The real impact of the return of great power competition will depend on how the United States responds to these changes. America needs to recognize its central role in maintaining the present liberal international order and muster the will to use its still formidable power and influence to support that order against its inevitable challengers.

Competition in international affairs is natural. Great powers by their very nature seek regional dominance and spheres of influence. They do so in the first instance because influence over others is what defines a great power. They are, as a rule, countries imbued with national pride and imperial ambition. But, living in a Hobbesian world of other great powers, they are also nervous about their security and seek defense-in-depth through the establishment of buffer states on their periphery.  

Historically, great power wars often begin as arguments over buffer states where spheres of influence intersect—the Balkans before World War I, for instance, where the ambitions of Russia and Austria-Hungary clashed. But today’s great powers are rising in a very different international environment, largely because of the unique role the United States has played since the end of the Second World War. The United States has been not simply a regional power, but rather a regional power in every strategic region. It has served as the maintainer of regional balances in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The result has been that, in marked contrast to past eras, today’s great powers do not face fundamental threats to their physical security. 

So, for example, Russia objectively has never enjoyed greater security in its history than it has since 1989. In the 20th century, Russia was invaded twice by Germany, and in the aftermath of the second war could plausibly claim to fear another invasion unless adequately protected. (France, after all, had the same fear.)  In the 19th century, Russia was invaded by Napoleon, and before that Catherine the Great is supposed to have uttered that quintessentially Russian observation, “I have no way to defend my borders but to extend them.” Today that is not true. Russia faces no threat of invasion from the West.  Who would launch such an invasion? Germany, Estonia, Ukraine? If Russia faces threats, they are from the south, in the form of militant Islamists, or from the east, in the form of a billion Chinese standing across the border from an empty Siberia. But for the first time in Russia’s long history, it does not face a strategic threat on its western flank. 

Much the same can be said of China, which enjoys far greater security than it has at any time in the last three centuries. The American role in East Asia protects it from invasion by its historic adversary, Japan, while none of the other great powers around China’s periphery have the strength or desire now or in the foreseeable future to launch an attack on Chinese territory. 
Therefore, neither Chinese nor Russians can claim that a sphere of influence is necessary for their defense. They may feel it necessary for their sense of pride. They may feel it is necessary as a way of restoring their wounded honor. They may seek an expanded sphere of influence to fulfill their ambition to become more formidable powers on the international stage. And they may have concerns that free, nations on their periphery may pass the liberal infection onto their own populaces and thus undermine their autocratic power.  

The question for the United States, and its allies in Asia and Europe, is whether we should tolerate a return to sphere of influence behavior among regional powers that are not seeking security but are in search of status, powers that are acting less out of fear than out of ambition. This question, in the end, is not about idealism, our commitment to a “rules-based” international order, or our principled opposition to territorial aggression. Yes, there are important principles at stake: neighbors shouldn’t invade their neighbors to seize their territory. But before we get to issues of principle, we need to understand how such behavior affects the world in terms of basic stability  

On that score, the historical record is very clear. To return to a world of spheres of influence—the world that existed prior to the era of American predominance—is to return to the great power conflicts of past centuries. Revisionist great powers are never satisfied. Their sphere of influence is never quite large enough to satisfy their pride or their expanding need for security. The “satiated” power that Bismarck spoke of is rare—even his Germany, in the end, could not be satiated. Of course, rising great powers always express some historical grievance. Every people, except perhaps for the fortunate Americans, have reason for resentment at ancient injustices, nurse grudges against old adversaries, seek to return to a glorious past that was stolen from them by military or political defeat. The world’s supply of grievances is inexhaustible.

These grievances, however, are rarely solved by minor border changes. Japan, the aggrieved “have-not” nation of the 1930s, did not satisfy itself by swallowing Manchuria in 1931. Germany, the aggrieved victim of Versailles, did not satisfy itself by bringing the Germans of the Sudetenland back into the fold. And, of course, Russia’s historical sphere of influence does not end in Ukraine. It begins in Ukraine.  It extends to the Balts, to the Balkans, and to heart of Central Europe.  

The tragic irony is that, in the process of carving out these spheres of influence, the ambitious rising powers invariably create the very threats they use to justify their actions. Japan did exactly that in the 30s. In the 1920s, following the Washington Naval Treaty, Japan was a relatively secure country that through a combination of ambition and paranoia launched itself on a quest for an expanded sphere of influence, thus inspiring the great power enmity that the Japanese had originally feared. One sees a similar dynamic in Russia’s behavior today. No one in the West was thinking about containing Russia until Russia made itself into a power that needed to be contained.

If history is any lesson, such behavior only ends when other great powers decide they have had enough. We know those moments as major power wars. 

The best and easiest time to stop such a dynamic is at the beginning. If the United States wants to maintain a benevolent world order, it must not permit spheres of influence to serve as a pretext for aggression. The United States needs to make clear now—before things get out of hand—that this is not a world order that it will accept.  

And we need to be clear what that response entails. Great powers of course compete across multiple spheres—economic, ideological, and political, as well as military. Competition in most spheres is necessary and even healthy. Within the liberal order, China can compete economically and successfully with the United States; Russia can thrive in the international economic order uphold by the liberal powers, even if it is not itself liberal. 

But security competition is different. It is specifically because Russia could not compete with the West ideologically or economically that Putin resorted to military means. In so doing, he attacked the underlying security and stability at the core of the liberal order. The security situation undergirds everything—without it nothing else functions. Democracy and prosperity cannot flourish without security.  

It remains true today as it has since the Second World War that only the United States has the capacity and the unique geographical advantages to provide this security. There is no stable balance of power in Europe or Asia without the United States. And while we can talk about soft power and smart power, they have been and always will be of limited value when confronting raw military power. Despite all of the loose talk of American decline, it is in the military realm where U.S. advantages remain clearest. Even in other great power’s backyards, the United States retains the capacity, along with its powerful allies, to deter challenges to the security order. But without a U.S. willingness to use military power to establish balance in far-flung regions of the world, the system will buckle under the unrestrained military competition of regional powers. 
Robert Kagan is a senior fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. His most recent book is the New York Times bestseller, The World America Made.  Kagan also serves as a member of the secretary of state’s foreign affairs policy board and is co-chairman of the bipartisan working group on Egypt. He writes a monthly column on world affairs for the Washington Post, and is a contributing editor at The New Republic. He served in the State Department from 1984 to 1988 as a member of the policy planning staff, principal speechwriter for Secretary of State George P. Shultz, and as deputy for policy in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.

viernes, 20 de febrero de 2015


Resultado de imagen de logo petrobras

Corrupción a gran escala: la sombra de Petrobras

Por Guillermo Pérez, analista político y 
Director de Grupo Civis, consultora en riesgos sociopolíticos

En Brasil todo es grande. Esto ha quedado comprobado con el escándalo de corrupción protagonizado por Petrobras, donde se habría producido una defraudación de más de 4.000 millones de dólares. Y es posible que su dimensión real jamás llegue a conocerse del todo; para hacerlo las autoridades cariocas tendrían que atar muchos cabos y seguirle la pista a una cadena gigante, con decenas de eslabones en el exterior, algunos de ellos invisibles pues se pierden en una maraña de operaciones de blanqueo de dinero. Toda una obra de ingeniería financiera difícil de rastrear.

Este el mayor escandalo de corrupción vivido por la democracia brasileña, un hecho que daña en forma grave la imagen y finanzas de Petrobras, del gobierno de Brasil, del Partido de los Trabajadores (PT) y de sus aliados políticos. La trama resumida era la siguiente: los autores recibían comisiones del 3% del monto de los contratos adjudicados por Petrobras, que transferían al extranjero gracias a una compleja red empresarial con centenares de cuentas bancarias en China y Hong Kong. Compañías que efectuaban importaciones y exportaciones ficticias, cuyo objetivo no era otro que el de blanquear el dinero y reitroducirlo al país.

Desde que estalló el escándalo, el valor de Petrobras en bolsa, la sexta petrolera más grande del mundo y con presencia en 27 países, ha caído un 60%. La designación del banquero Aldemir Bendine como nuevo presidente de Petrobras no ha logrado de momento parar esa caída, la cual coincide con el descuelgue de los precios internacionales del crudo. Por el contrario, podría decirse que su nombramiento ha tenido más bien un impacto negativo. Tras su designación, el 6 de febrero, las acciones de la petrolera bajaron un 8%, un indicador de la insatisfacción que generó.

Petrobras es la joya de la corona brasileña, pero el escándalo la ha golpeado con fuerza. En 2009 alcanzó el primer lugar en el ranking de las 500 mayores empresas de América Latina, superando en ventas a la mexicana Pemex y la venezolana Pdvsa. En 2010, el valor de Petrobras era 132.000 millones de dólares, aproximadamente. Cuatro años después se estima en 40.000 millones. Un revés que se cobraría caro en una empresa privada. Por otra parte, su principal atractivo, ser el líder mundial en la exploración y producción de crudo en aguas profundas, tiene ahora una relevancia relativa en el actual contexto de crisis petrolera debido a los bajos precios. Pese a ello, Petrobras continúa desarrollando alternativas con petróleo y gas de esquisto. Su apuesta por el Atlántico se basa en que allí se encuentran hidrocarburos conocidos como presal, yacimientos de petróleo y gas en aguas profudas. Actualmente, estos componen el 25% del total de la producción del gigante suramericano.

Rouseff, en la cuerda floja

Es sorprendente que a pesar de este estruendo Dilma Rouseff fuera reelegida en las elecciones de octubre pasado (51,54% de los votos). Quizá cuando estalló el escándalo (un mes antes de las elecciones), los electores lo interpretaron en clave de maniobra electoral de las fuerzas políticas de centro-derecha, y se inclinarion por darle continuidad a legado de Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Pero a medida que pasan los días y se conocen detalles el daño aumenta. La popularidad de Roussef cayó 19 puntos entre diciembre de 2014 y enero de 2015 (cuando arrancó su mandato); un 44% de los brasileños califica su gestión como mala o pésima y solo un 23% como buena o excelente, según la encuestadora Datafolha. Es el peor índice de aprobación desde que llegó al poder, y la más mala de un presidente brasileño desde 1999, superando a Fernando Henrique Cardoso, quien ese año obtuvo el 36% de desaprobación.

Rousseff hizo carrera política de la mano del sector petrolero. Entró en el primer gobierno de Lula como ministra de Minas y Energía, y como tal con responsabilidades sobre Petrobras. También fue presidente de su consejo de administración, y situó al frente de la compañía a su amiga Maria das Graça Foster, con quien buscaba darle un carácter más técnico a la empresa. Lo que evidentemente no consiguió. El hueco contable que hoy tiene Petrobras podría alcanzar los 32.000 millones de dólares, gracias a contrataciones sobrevaloradas, precios inflados, fluctuaciones del precio del petróleo y dinero sangrado por la corrupción.

Esta crisis, además, coincide con la caída del precio del petróleo que comenzó en octubre pasado, y también con un momento de desaceleración de la economía latinoamericana. La economía de Brasil cerró 2014 con indicadores macroeconómicos negativos: déficit de la balanza comercial y cuenta corriente públicas, un crecimiento del PIB del 0,2%, y una inflación de 6,4%. Pero Brasil es Brasil. La Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (Cepal) prevé que en 2015 será el motor económico de Suramérica, región que tendrá un crecimiento superior al 2% del PIB, a pesar del desfavorable panorama económico mundial. No obstante, otras fuentes consideran que Brasil crecerá apenas un 0,4% (para el verano pasado la CEPAL pronosticaba un 1,4%) a pesar de las inversiones en infraestructuras, puertos, aeropuertos, empresas y, en particular, del sector energético.

 Una industria en el punto de mira

A Petrobras, le espera una larga cuesta arriba. En enero, Foster y otros altos ejecutivos, a petición de Rousseff, decidieron amortizar más de 23.000 millones de dólares de inversiones manchadas por corrupción y negocios que no tuvieron buen fin, pero el presidente del directorio y exministro de Hacienda Guido Mantega vetó dicha amortización ante el temor de causar la percepción de que el todo el gobierno y Petrobras eran corruptos. Una decisión difícil, no asumir estas amortizaciones mantendría a Petrobras, a la que se considera la petrolera más endeudada y menos rentable de todas las grandes, fuera de los mercados de capital durante al menos tres meses. Además, retrasaría la ejecución de varios proyectos clave y forzaría a recortar el gasto en 2015 hasta en un 30%.
Lo sucedido con Petrobras ensombrece a la industria. Aunque para ser justos su caso no es el único en América Latina. En Venezuela, a finales de enero fueron detenidos la directora general de Mercados Internos del ministerio de Petróleo y Minería, Nubia Parada Mendoza, por presuntas irregularidades en los despachos de combustible, y, a comienzos de febrero, el director ejecutivo de producción occidente de Pdvsa, José Luis Parada, por presuntas irregularidades administrativas. También este mes, se ha conocido un caso grave en la colombiana Ecopetrol; el FBI divulgó un vídeo en el que el expresidente de una empresa prestadora de servicios relata cómo sobornaron a directivos de la petrolera colombiana para hacerse adjudicar contratos de una operadora de ésta. En México se está llevando a cabo una investigación en Pemex en torno a un presunto fraude en el pago de nueve millones de dólares en 2011 por remolcar una plataforma petrolera desde Emiratos Árabes Unidos hasta el golfo de México. Además, investigan irregularidades en más de 100 contratos firmados entre 2003 y 2012 por valor de 11.700 millones de dólares, sobre los cuales ha puesto los ojos la Auditoría Superior de la Federación de la Cámara de Diputados mexicana.

La caída de los precios del petróleo y estos escándalos amenazan con abrir un debate sobre la transparencia en la industria y sobre su eficiencia, un concepto exótico en el sector. De momento, será interesante ver cómo termina lo que podría ser la mayor frustración brasilera después del descalabro sufrido en el Mundial de Fútbol, el más caro de la historia, durante el cual las arcas del Estado brasilero dejaron de recibir miles de millones de dólares a causa de las exenciones fiscales concedidas por el gobierno, pese a que un amplio sector de la población vive en la pobreza y reclama mejoras en salud y educación, como lo demostraron las grandes movilizaciones que precedieron el acontecimiento deportivo.

Rousseff tendrá que hacer algo más que declaraciones y gestos. Se necesitan hechos concretos orientados a reuperar la principal y más grande empresa de Brasil, en donde todo es grande, incluso la corrupción.
Por Guillermo Pérez, analista político y director de Grupo Civis, consultora en riesgos sociopolíticos.

Hungary Between East and West

Hungary Chooses Sides to Meet Its Needs

February 19, 2015 | 22:28 GMT


For years, Hungary has maintained a balance among its opposing Russian and European benefactors. Hungary depends on Russia for much of its natural gas imports. A new interconnector from Slovakia is slated to come online soon, but it would meet only about half of Hungary's demand, forcing it to continue relying on Russia. At the same time, Hungary depends on the European Union for trade and funding and on NATO for security.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's goal is to reach a flexible and affordable energy deal with Russia without losing NATO's security guarantees or the extensive funding and trade benefits it receives as an EU member. In order to achieve this goal, Budapest is attempting to fulfill Russia's demands that Hungary avoid cooperating with key European energy projects and the West's need for Hungary's commitment as a security ally.

Orban's schedule reveals this frantic effort to maintain his balance between Russia and the West. On Feb. 2, Orban held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Budapest. On Feb. 11, Orban met with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, and the following day he met with Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna. On Feb. 13, Orban traveled to Kiev to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. On Feb. 16, he met informally with Serbian Prime Minister Alexander Vucic, and the day after that he hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin in Budapest. Two days later, Orban visited Warsaw and met with Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. That same day, the Kazakh government announced that Orban would visit the country in April.
For Russia, Hungary has grown more important throughout the Ukraine crisis. Hungary's ability to send natural gas reverse flows to Ukraine undermines one of Russia's main ways to influence Ukraine. Growing tensions between the European Union and Russia have also provided the impetus for more discussions about forming a European Energy Union, which would reduce Russia's leverage in European energy markets. Moreover, as a member of the European Union, Hungary has the ability to veto European sanctions against Russian individuals and companies, making it a strategic asset to block EU policy changes.

The Kremlin's interest in undermining plans for a European Energy Union and reducing Ukraine's ability to import natural gas from the European Union have enhanced Orban's negotiating position with Russia. Furthermore, falling natural gas prices have made the Kremlin more open to providing new, more flexible natural gas arrangements. Negotiations yielded a deal for Gazprom to waive its take-or-pay clause for Hungary, allowing the country to purchase over the next four or five years natural gas volumes that were included in its current contract but remain unused, and to pay for the supplies once they are actually used.

Orban has indicated that Hungary now pays $260 per thousand cubic meters for natural gas supplies. In 2013, the country paid about $391 per thousand cubic meters. Orban said that Hungary would be better off avoiding a long-term contract that ties the price of natural gas imports to the price of oil. Gazprom's contracts have traditionally been indexed to oil prices, but Orban's announcement signals that Hungary could be allowed to continue paying a relatively low rate for natural gas over the next few years regardless of oil price fluctuations.

The natural gas deal's favorable terms have come with concrete demands from Russia, which Orban has vowed to fulfill. A day after Putin's visit, Orban publicly announced that Hungary would not support a European Energy Union and would not provide Russian natural gas reverse flows to Ukraine. Moreover, during his meeting with Putin, Orban emphasized that Hungary would support proposals for a pipeline to connect the planned Russian-backed Turkish Stream pipeline to Macedonian, Serbian and Hungarian markets.

For the West, as for the Kremlin, Hungary has become significant as a result of the crisis in Ukraine. Orban's moves to meet Putin's demands have been met with disapproval in European capitals. The Polish prime minister described the discussion of Ukraine and prospects of regional cooperation with Orban on Feb. 19 as "honest and difficult."

Nevertheless, as a NATO member country bordering Ukraine, Hungary is a strategic ally for the West. If NATO ever needed to conduct air operations near its eastern boundary, for example, Hungary's four airfields, along with airfields in Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, would be ideally suited because of their proximity in the region. Moreover, most EU policy changes require the consent of all members. European countries are hopeful that Hungary would cooperate on some projects that would boost energy interconnectivity and security throughout the bloc.

Despite Hungary's cooperation with Russia on energy, Budapest is committed to maintaining its security and economic ties with the West. Russia is undergoing its own financial crisis and could not replace Europe as a top investor in Hungary. At the same time, Hungarian leaders know that Russia, while geographically far, could threaten Hungary's security in the event of a significant escalation of hostilities in Ukraine and an overt Russian military intervention in the country. While Hungary has not pressed for greater NATO presence in the region, Hungary will remain an active NATO member in order to guarantee its security.

Orban's series of meetings shows he will take care of Hungary's immediate need first: energy. However, Hungary also will take care to maintain ties with the West out of financial and security needs.

Stratfor provides global awareness and guidance to individuals, governments and businesses around the world.

domingo, 15 de febrero de 2015

The Dangers of some “Free Trade“ Agreements


The high price of 'free trade' with the United States

It is well known that the many bilateral FTAs signed to date in Asia have not brought significant commercial or domestic reform or benefits. For one thing, bilateral 'free trade agreements' (which are preferential in character) are less likely to deliver substantial trade opening benefits unless the partners to them are a very large part of global trade, like the United States, Europe and China are for example. For another, liberalisation under the agreement needs to be comprehensive and not carve out sensitive sectors. What economic analysts understand is that even if a country like the United States is participating in a bilateral preferential agreement there is no guarantee that overall economic benefits to its partner(s) will be positive. They could be positive; they could be negative: it all depends on the nature and circumstances of the agreement. A decade down the track, the high price that Australia paid for the conclusion of the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) has become crystal clear.

In our lead essay this week (see below), Shiro Armstrong explains how the critics of the controversial agreement at the time were right. His analysis of the impact of the agreement on trade flows shows that the agreement diverted trade away from the lowest cost sources of import supply to Australian consumers. 'Australia and the United States have reduced their trade by US$53 billion with rest of the world and are worse off than they would have been without the agreement'.

Preferential trade agreements have two main effects: one that is positive and one that is negative. The positive effect comes from the exposure of uncompetitive, sheltered home producers to competition from lower cost partner country suppliers. The problem was that AUSFTA did not remove any of the significant barriers that protected high cost US agricultural sectors like sugar, dairy or even beef. The negative effect is that these agreements divert trade away frommore efficient and competitive third country suppliers towards partner suppliers who only become competitive because of the preferential treatment they receive under the agreement. This discrimination is built into the nature of these agreements. Optimistically, discrimination against outsiders provides incentives for other countries to join the game and negotiate preferential deals of their own that will negate the discrimination they face — so long as that possibility is open. The question is where the balance of costs and benefits lies. It's a question, as Armstrong says, that can be estimated with a fair degree of confidence in advance but judged with much more certainty after implementation of these arrangements.

At the time AUSFTA was being negotiated, a comprehensive study for the Australian Senate Trade Committee warned that it would bring little or no benefit. But AUSFTA was rushed ahead and signed within a year — driven by the political determination of Australia's then prime minister, John Howard, to do a deal with US president George W. Bush after agreement to join the Iraq War. The cost of whatever political gain derived from the deal has not been trivial. And pertinently, only someone unprepared to face the facts would not now acknowledge the costs of the agreement in terms of the opportunity to spend income lost through its implementation on larger defence procurements and political security. Let's be clear. Australia alone has suffered trade losses the annual equivalent of the current price of around 18 Japanese, German, Swedish or French submarines through this deal. This is big money lost.

Vague, misguided appeals to political and security benefit from arrangements like this must be tested against the corrosion of national strength and independence calculated in terms of very substantial trade and income losses and how they impact on political as well as economic strength. Recently Australia has concluded bilateral trade arrangements with South Korea, Japan and China. They promise to be more beneficial than the 'free trade' agreement with the United Statesthough all of them are less than perfect.

With difficulties in concluding the Doha Round, the hiatus in trade reform has shifted emphasis to regional trade initiatives, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations of which the United States is the leading proponent and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in which ASEAN has taken the lead. There is more likelihood of benefits from broader arrangements like these, if indeed they do commit to substantial trade liberalisation. But there is no guarantee: that will all depend on the nature of these agreements and the circumstances of their conclusion, especially on whether they are comprehensive in their coverage and really open to others to join. While these initiatives can be used to prosecute regional economic and political cooperation, they are unlikely to bereally beneficial unless they are also directed to strengthening the global economic system.
The political pressure is now on to conclude the TPP agreement. The TPP might still turn out to be little more than a bunch of tactical bilateral deals that won't do much to solve the problem of overlapping FTAs in the region — one of its supposed core goals — and boost regional trade and incomes. Much depends on Japan and the United States — whether Japan is prepared to go for the 'zero option' on agricultural trade liberalisation and whether the United States is prepared to sacrifice its vested agricultural and other protectionist interests. A deal done simply to tie a political bow around a 'free trade' arrangement between allies and friends, new and old, would weaken not strengthen their economies and, over the years, gnaw away at their regional economic and political strength.

Peter Drysdale
9 February 2015

The costs of Australia’s ‘free trade’ agreement with America

8 February 2015
Author: Shiro Armstrong, ANU

The critics were right. Ten years after the Australia–United States free trade agreement (AUSFTA) came into force, new analysis of the data shows that the agreement diverted trade away from the lowest cost sources. Australia and the United States have reduced their trade by US$53 billion with rest of the world and are worse off than they would have been without the agreement.

When the Howard government was putting the agreement in place, there were serious concerns about whether it would distort trade and impose costs on the Australian community rather than expand and lower the costs of trade. Even key officials who negotiated the deal had doubts about whether what they could negotiate in the time they had under political pressure would serve the national interest.
The lead up to the agreement was accompanied by heated debate in Australia. AUSFTA marked a departure from the primacy of unilateral and multilateral trade and investment liberalisation in Australia’s foreign economic policy strategy. The government turned to a strategy of preferential liberalisation. Under the arrangement, US goods, services and investment were to be given preferred treatment and better access to Australian markets than those of all other countries.

Preferential treatment can divert trade to the Australian market away from the most efficient and competitive suppliers towards suppliers who would only become competitive due to the special treatment they receive under the regime. This discrimination is part of the design of these agreements and is meant to give incentives for other countries to join the game and negotiate preferential deals of their own to negate the discrimination they face. Preferential agreements can also create efficient trade but only if the lowest cost suppliers are included under the arrangement.

The question is where the balance of costs and benefits lies. It’s a question that can be estimated with a fair degree of confidence in advance but judged with much more certainty after implementation of these arrangements. Do these agreements divert more trade than they create? Do they make us better off, economically speaking, or worse off?

Australia’s foray into preferential trade deals led to a review by the Productivity Commission of Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements in 2010. This report did not include analysis of AUSFTA, due to insufficient data at the time the report was written, but it was critical of preferential deals more generally and, along with the overwhelming majority of research analysis, found very little evidence of significant gains from preferential deals beyond benefits to a few privileged sectors. Most studies of AUSFTA prior to the agreement estimated that it would have little or no impact on the Australian economy. While it was negotiating the agreement, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade commissioned a study by the Centre for International Economics that showed significant gains from concluding AUSFTA. The results were driven by the assumption of a reduction in the equity risk premium in Australia and there is no evidence that shows this came to pass. This is the study that Ross Garnaut famously said did not pass the laugh test.

Enough time has now passed and there is enough data to update the Productivity Commission’s model to estimate the effect of AUSFTA on trade. The agreement was responsible for reducing — or diverting — $53.1 billion of trade with the rest of the world by 2012. Imports to Australia and the United States from the rest of the world fell by $37.5 billion and exports to the rest of the world from the two countries fell by $15.6 billion over eight years to 2012.

Beyond the $53 billion of trade that has been diverted, there is no evidence that the agreement has been associated with an increase in trade between the two countries, or the creation of efficient low cost trade. The trade diversion from other partners suggests that Australia–US trade would have fallen even further without AUSFTA.

The Australia–US agreement did not prevent the share of US trade in Australia from falling. It could not defy gravity with the rapid growth of Asian economies, their competitiveness and their proximity to Australia delivering lower cost and higher quality goods to the Australian market, but it did provide a modest counterweight.

Some dismissed the possibility of there being any trade diversion from AUSFTA since Australian trade to East Asia continued to grow strongly after AUSFTA came into force in 2005. That interpretation fails to comprehend the appropriate benchmark, or counterfactual, needed to assess what the effects of the agreement have been. Trade between Australia and East Asian economies would have grown more — to the tune of $53 billion for both the United States and Australia — than it actually did if AUSFTA had not been put in place.

AUSFTA was negotiated and signed within a year — a feat unmatched in trade negotiations today — driven by the political determination of Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, to do a deal with America’s president, George W. Bush, after the second invasion of Iraq. One of the conclusions from the Productivity Commission’s review of FTAs was that their economic benefits are usually overstated and that they are often more political than economic in their motivation. The cost of whatever political gain derived from the deal has not been trivial.

Australia’s historic trade liberalisation efforts produced clear welfare gains, and the winners and losers from these reforms were determined by market forces and competition. Trade agreements that introduce distortions and discriminatory treatment mean that winners and losers are largely determined by preferences and privileges assigned through negotiated treaties.

The US agreement carries important lessons for Australia in its future trade and foreign policy strategy. The conclusions of the Productivity Commission’s review apply to AUSFTA. Deals that are struck in haste for primarily political reasons carry risk of substantial economic damage. The question then is whether the economic costs of such policies are worth whatever the political gain, and indeed, how the balance of properly calculated political gains and costs might look.

Shiro Armstrong is Co-Director of the Australia-Japan Research Centre at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU and Editor of the East Asia Forum. Further details of the model and results can be found in the paper on the author’s homepage.

martes, 10 de febrero de 2015

Es obvia la solidaridad profunda entre autoritarismos populistas: sean de “derecha“ o de “izquierda“ aunque puedan mantener diferencias en temas puntuales. Coincidirán siempre contra las libertades y contra la democracia

Putin y sus apoyos en los extremos europeos

Posted: 10 Feb 2015 01:07 AM PST
Blog Elcano

No sólo Rusia, sino Vladmir Putin, está ganando apoyos en posiciones influyentes en Europa. Los extremos –¿hay que llamarlos populismos?–, sobre todo por la derecha, son pro-Putin. Desde la izquierda, el triunfo de Syriza viene a reforzar la habitual posición pro-rusa de Grecia, que tiene también una base religiosa, el cristianismo ortodoxo, además de importantes relaciones comerciales y de un marcado contenido ruso en la televisión helena. Según una encuesta de Gallup, un 35% de los griegos apoya el liderazgo político de Rusia, frente a un 23% de apoyo a los líderes europeos. Cuenta también Chipre, tan ligado a Grecia, 
convertido en una plaza financiera para mucho dinero huido de Rusia, tanto que ésta tuvo que venir al rescate de las finanzas chipriotas cuando éstas colapsaron, antes de que intervinieran el BCE y el FMI. Aunque el primer ministro griego, Alexis Tsipras, que ha hablado con Putin estos días, había descartado “en este momento” pedir ayuda a Rusia. Podía ser una forma de ejercer presión sobre los otros países de la UE. Y no era una mera hipótesis, pues el ministro ruso de Finanzas, Anton Situanov, había declarado que si Grecia pedía ayuda, Rusia “con toda seguridad lo tomaría en consideración”.

Ha habido reuniones anteriores entre ANEL, socio de Syriza, y Alexander Dugin, el ideólogo ruso del concepto de Euroasia. Tsipras ha aceptado viajar a Moscú a entrevistarse con Putin el 9 de mayo, fecha de la conmemoración de la victoria de los aliados sobre la Alemania nazi. Y no es casualidad que haya sido en Nicosia, el primer viaje de Tsipras al extranjero tras llegar al cargo, donde junto a su homólogo chipriota expresara su intención de servir “de puente de paz y cooperación entre Europa y Rusia”.

Por su parte, la versión digital de Pravda en inglés –medio privado aunque mantenga la cabecera del diario oficial de la época soviética– ha calificado a Podemos de “partido pro-ruso”, quizá porque Pablo Iglesias propusiera que España se saliera de la OTAN y denunciara el acuerdo bilateral con EEUU, además de criticar el Acuerdo Transatlántico de Comercio e Inversiones (TTIP, en inglés) que están negociando Washington y Bruselas. Hay un claro antiamericanismo en el discurso de Podemos. El caso es que Iglesias ha salido, no en defensa de Putin, pero sí ha criticado duramente el “golpe de Estado” en Ucrania y la llegada de “neonazis” al poder en Kiev –algo que también hizo Tsipras en su día–, para, sobre todo, pedir un acuerdo de paz y oponerse a las sanciones y lo que llama el “doble rasero” hacia Rusia por parte de los occidentales. Algo que en el fondo pensaban muchos en España, aunque Putin no caiga bien: según el último Barómetro del Real Instituto Elcano, el presidente ruso es de los peor valorados (2,4 sobre 10) por los españoles entre los líderes internacionales antes de que la UE adoptara sus sanciones y se recrudeciera, como está pasando en las últimas semanas, la guerra en el Este de Ucrania. Iglesias cree irresponsable, según señaló en una entrevista a la agencia rusa Novosti, que la UE “renuncie a tener política exterior y asumir lo que dice la OTAN, y si no que se lo digan a los agricultores españoles que están padeciendo las sanciones rusas”. “En geopolítica”, ha explicado el líder de Podemos en otra ocasión, “la izquierda y la derecha funcionan poco. Eso tiene que ver con los intereses de los Estados”. Aunque el hecho de que Putin actúe contra el pluralismo y libertad de medios y contra los homosexuales incomoda a Podemos.

Putin cuenta con admiradores en el otro extremo del panorama europeo, la derecha radical o extrema representada, por ejemplo, en Francia por Marine Le Pen, en Austria por el FPÖ y en el Reino Unido por Nigel Farage desde el antieuropeísmo británico. La líder del Frente Nacional se ha mostrado muy antiamericana, y, por supuesto, anti TTIP y ha defendido la anexión de Crimea por Rusia. Para Le Pen, Putin defiende “valores comunes” a los suyos. “El señor Putin es un patriota”, ha dicho Le Pen, que ha sido recibida de visita en la Duma (Parlamento ruso) hace unos meses. “Está comprometido con la soberanía de su pueblo. Y seguramente no encuentra estas cualidades de coraje, franqueza y respeto a la identidad y la civilización en otros movimientos políticos franceses”.

En alianza con la iglesia ortodoxa, Putin está impulsando “valores tradicionales” en su política exterior, como refleja un informe del German Marshall Fund de EEUU. Y eso lo aplica también a la crisis ucraniana. Defiende el nacionalismo y el patriotismo, valores que vuelven en Europa Occidental. Otra conexión. Nada posmoderno sino muy moderno.

El partido de Le Pen ha recibido 9 millones de euros en préstamos de un banco ruso, el FCRB, y Rusia envió delegados significados al congreso del FN en Lyon. De hecho, todos estos grupos, de la derecha y la izquierda radicales, coincidieron bastante en su postura en el último debate en el Parlamento Europeo sobre Ucrania y Rusia. Pero en poco más. Son extremos que no se tocan. Aunque sus bases sociológicas guarden cierto parecido.

Ni se trata de quintas columnas, ni estamos, al menos aún, en una nueva Guerra Fría, aunque estas posiciones tengan una dimensión neo-ideológica y puedan serle útiles a la estrategia de Putin. Este puede encontrar mejores aliados en algunos gobiernos de la UE. Aunque el recrudecimiento de los combates en el Este de Ucrania dificulta aún más que se le pueda tender la mano a Rusia desde Europa, si bien Merkel y Hollande lo están intentado. Saben el coste de una guerra así en su vecindad.

The post Putin y sus apoyos en los extremos europeos appeared first on Elcano Blog.

lunes, 9 de febrero de 2015


« SwissLeaks » : révélations sur un système international de fraude fiscale

LE MONDE | • Mis à jour le

Les chiffres donnent le vertige. Le Monde publie le premier volet d’une enquête à la fois spectaculaire et inédite. Fruit d’investigations hors norme, menées entre Paris, Washington, Bruxelles ou Genève, elle dévoile les dessous d’un vaste système d’évasion fiscale accepté, et même encouragé, par l’établissement britannique HSBC, deuxième groupe bancaire mondial, par l’intermédiaire de sa filiale suisse HSBC Private Bank.

Le Monde, qui enquête sur l’affaire HSBC depuis son origine, est entré début 2014 en possession de données bancaires mondiales, portant sur la période 2005-2007 et établissant une gigantesque fraude à l’échelle internationale. Nous avons partagé ces données avec une soixantaine de médias internationaux, coordonnés par l’ICIJ, consortium de journalistes d’investigation. Leur révélation est susceptible d’embarrasser de nombreuses personnalités, de l’humoriste français Gad Elmaleh au roi du Maroc Mohamed VI en passant par l’acteur américain John Malkovich, mais surtout d’ébranler les milieux bancaires internationaux.

Selon les enquêteurs, 180,6 milliards d’euros auraient transité, à Genève, par les comptes HSBC de plus de 100 000 clients et de 20 000 sociétés offshore, très précisément entre le 9 novembre 2006 et le 31 mars 2007. Une période correspondant aux archives numérisées dérobées chez HSBC PB par Hervé Falciani, ancien employé de la banque.

En effet, à la fin de l’année 2008, cet informaticien français avait fourni aux agents du fisc français les données volées chez son employeur. Saisie de ces faits en janvier 2009, la justice française enquête depuis sur une toute petite partie des « listings Falciani », à savoir les quelque 3 000 ressortissants hexagonaux suspectés d’avoir dissimulé leur argent chez HSBC PB, et ce avec la complicité de la banque – de ce fait mise en examen comme personne morale pour « démarchage bancaire et financier illicite » et « blanchiment de fraude fiscale ».

Plus de 5,7 milliards d’euros auraient été dissimulés par HSBC PB dans des paradis fiscaux pour le compte de ses seuls clients français… Bercy a saisi la justice de soixante-deux cas seulement (dont celui de l’héritière de Nina Ricci, dont le procès doit s’ouvrir dans quelques jours à Paris), la plupart des contribuables hexagonaux « démasqués » par les listings Falciani ayant, il est vrai, régularisé entre-temps leur situation fiscale.

Le 28 janvier 2014, sous le, Le Monde publiait une première série d’articles dévoilant les dessous de l’enquête judiciaire française. Mais il manquait l’aspect mondial…

Quelques jours plus tard, une personne se présentait à l’accueil du journal, boulevard Auguste-Blanqui, à Paris. Cette source, dont nous protégeons l’anonymat, nous remit une clé USB contenant la totalité des fichiers établis à partir des « données Falciani », dans le plus grand secret, à compter de 2009, par les services fiscaux français, parfois en dépit des réticences du pouvoir politique.

Qui trouve-t-on sur ces listings – transmis par Bercy à plusieurs administrations étrangères –, et dont nous révélons les noms lorsqu’ils présentent un intérêt public ? Des trafiquants d’armes ou de stupéfiants, des financiers d’organisations terroristes, des hommes politiques, des vedettes du showbiz, des icônes du sport ou des capitaines d’industrie… Désireux, dans leur grande majorité, de cacher leur argent en Suisse. Et cela, bien sûr, très souvent, à l’instar des clients français, dans la plus parfaite illégalité. La disparité des profils des détenteurs de comptes est assez frappante. Les chirurgiens français désireux de blanchir leurs honoraires non déclarés y côtoient des diamantaires belges, des protagonistes de l’affaire Elf ou de nombreuses familles juives dont les avoirs avaient été mis en lieu sûr, en Suisse, au moment de la montée du nazisme en Europe…

Le paravent de structures offshore

Nombre d’entre eux ont été illicitement démarchés en France par les gestionnaires de comptes de la banque. Tous ont été encouragés par le comité exécutif d’HSBC PB à mieux camoufler leur argent derrière le paravent de structures offshore, généralement basées au Panama ou dans les îles Vierges britanniques, et ce afin d’éviter certaines taxes européennes, notamment la taxe ESD, instituée en 2005. Les enquêteurs disposent désormais d’éléments matériels attestant ces différents délits.
A affaire exceptionnelle, traitement exceptionnel : destinataire exclusif de ces informations explosives, Le Monde a décidé, au printemps 2014, afin d’en assurer le traitement le plus exhaustif et le plus rigoureux possible, de les partager avec des médias internationaux grâce à l’ICIJ, basé aux Etats-Unis, qui avait déjà collaboré avec Le Monde notamment lors des opérations « Offshore Leaks » (en 2013) et « LuxLeaks » (en 2014). Au total ont été mobilisés, dans la plus grande discrétion, 154 journalistes de 47 pays travaillant pour 55 médias (Le Guardian en Grande-Bretagne, le Süddeutsche Zeitung en Allemagne, l’émission « 60 minutes », de CBS, aux Etats-Unis…).

HSBC Private Bank comme les autorités politiques et judiciaires suisses contestent depuis le début de l’affaire aussi bien les chiffres établis par le fisc et la justice française que l’utilisation de ces données, au motif que ces dernières sont le produit d’un vol. Son auteur, Hervé Falciani, qui tenta de revendre ses fichiers avant de se raviser et de les fournir aux autorités françaises, a d’ailleurs été mis en accusation par le ministère public de la Confédération helvétique, le 11 décembre 2014, pour « espionnage économique », « soustraction de données » et « violation du secret commercial et bancaire ».

La Suisse, qui voit d’un très mauvais œil les investigations menées par la justice et le fisc français, considère surtout que les données initiales ont été trafiquées, ce que dément formellement l’enquête judiciaire française – de même que les investigations du Monde. Le 27 février 2014, les deux juges d’instruction français chargés de l’affaire concluaient d’ailleurs à propos des listings que leur « authenticité [avait] été vérifiée par les auditions de nombreux titulaires de comptes qui ont du reste transigé avec l’administration fiscale sur la base de ce fichier ». De son côté, HSBC PB semble prête à en faire de même avec la justice française afin d’éviter un procès ruineux – et pas seulement en termes d’image…

En savoir plus sur