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New Market: an exploration into the changing nature of business environments, informal barriers and emerging markets in the post-Soviet region

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NEW MARKETS (New Market: an exploration into the changing nature of business environments, informal barriers and emerging markets in the post-Soviet region)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2021-12-31

The past ten years have seen several changes in post-USSR business environments. From Kazakhstan to Belarus, and eventually Uzbekistan in 2016, a growing number of post-USSR republics have gradually begun economic reforms to allow foreign businesses to operate in their territory.
These declared intentions, however, are sometimes contrasted by non-official, or informal, barriers into domestic and regional markets. Indeed, from rampant corruption to the necessity to get protection from local oligarchs, entering post-Soviet markets involves several risks. New Markets
addresses the current limited existence of clear instructions that could enable new, and existing economic actors to gain an overview into the hidden risks associated with business activities in the post-Soviet region. Our research follows a three stage approach: First, we will conduct a
review of policy measures adopted in the past 10 years (2008-2018) to liberalize the markets in our target countries. Our analysis will compare three countries that have fully opened to foreign investors already in the early 2000 – Estonia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan - with three countries that
have only recently shown a more cooperative attitude - Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. We will survey the major mechanisms, and policies, adopted in these six countries to evaluate how they have ended up affecting the business environment. Second, we will conduct an empirical
evaluation of the measures adopted for improving the business climate in the target countries. This will be done through a national survey of core business actors in each country Third, building upon results of the second stage, we will map challenges and opportunities in the region comparing
macro and micro perspectives and testing government-led decisions against their results.
The initial objectives of the project were:
O.1) Empirically comparing measures to improve the business environment. The collected empirical material will enable our research team to provide significant policy insights for improving the market environment in the target region while also benefitting the academic community, among others.
O.2) Develop cutting-edge theorisations of informal barriers to markets and their impact on formal trade and investment relations between the EU and post-Soviet region
O.3) Training of research staff intersectorially and/or internationally

With regards to O.1 a first set of material surveying the situation in each business environment of the region has been collected. Fieldwork and interviews have been delayed because of the pandemic but this has allowed the teams to concentrate on a survey of the overarching conditions and business environments type present in the target region. As for O.2 Based on the preliminary material collected, a number of academic articles have been prepared (or are in preparation) with preliminary findings on the project. These include theorization of business environments and the concept of informal governance in the former USSR and possible ways to deal with it. With respect to the training component, 15 secondments have been completed so far allowing researchers from the former USSR region to gather experience at a EU university (or vice versa) and/or researchers from non-academic sectors to get an experience with an academic partner

In terms of work packages, the situation is the following

Management is proceeding without major disruptions (in spite of the pandemic). Meetings are held regularly and all partners are in touch. Whenever a potential secondment or collaboration is idenfified, partners agree on a zoom call (with or without the coordinator, depending on the circumstance) to agree on the details. The major issue here seems to be to meet in person at some point, since things get done faster when meeting in person.

Research has been impacted by the pandemic to some extent. Inasmuch as the project was indented to rely on novel data and processing of existing ones, collection of novel data has been delayed by the pandemic. It is, however, planned for the second half of the 2022 since most countries plan to reopen by then. The bright side is that the pandemic has not significantly affected the research component based on processing of secondary data and theorisation of the issue, that has resulted in a number of publications proportionate to the number of secondments

Training aspects of the programme have been only partly affected. While the offline components of training have been completely paused, the online and interactive aspects have remained active, albeit a bit scattered by the circumstances. Training opportunities have been sought online or at the local level when possible (i.e. some countries have remained partly open)

Dissemination and follow-up have been discussed at several occasions. Dissemination has happened, although at a slower speed, through online publications, conferences and forums. Follow-up actions have been discussed during online meetings and some of the project partners have already prepared some follow-up actions (MSCA-DN project, MSCA-RISE)
NEW MARKETS expected impacts are intended to affect capacity of individual fellows as well as of their sending and receiving organisation. In terms of personal development, the project impacted individual researchers by enhancing their expertise on trade barriers in the regional context as well as their academic/non-academic skills. The project also offered a completely new experience to seconded staff, thus contributing to their open-mindedness and views of the job market, teamwork and entrepreneurial skills

At the organisation level, the action is intended to develop new and lasting research collaborations. This has been made possible to a common agreed approach on shadow practices, creation of novel Intersectoral collaborations and participation in a number of project activities in a diverse team.

Eventually, this is intended to ensure self-sustainability of the partnership after the end of the project through staff exchange, intersectorial collaborations; joint publications efforts as well as participation to conferences together; public engagement activities and discussions of possible follow-up plans

Shadow economies and study of emerging markets are important features for both business and policy actors (in addition to local ones) in understanding and planning interventions to the target markets. By force of this, the work carried out represents a contribution towards EU policy objectives. This is particularly visible in terms of:

1) EU policies towards the Eastern Neighbourhood Region (so to be of interest of EEAS and DG involved in development, cooperation and intervention in developing regions)
2) Theoretical and empirical understanding of informal barriers in business (and overall informality theory).

The programme has resulted in a number of dissemination measures that include academic articles.
All fellows have been instructed to ensure that 1) peer reviewed publications are published open access (green, gold or diamond); 2) include a reference to EU funding. In particular, the report that each fellow needs to submit after their secondment includes a reminder to the formulation needed to acknowledge the donor.

Reference to EU funding has been done extensively (EU logo on website, EU funding mentioned in the introduction to the MSCA Ambassador session)