The need and problems of territorial decentralization of management of the foreign economic sphere

The world economy at the present stage of development is characterized by a wide variety of forms of international cooperation, which is accompanied by the emergence of new subjects of these relations. Among the latter, regions are becoming increasingly noticeable as independent participants in world economic relations. Obviously, this phenomenon requires deep scientific understanding, since this decentralization contains not only prospects for increasing economic independence, initiative and competitiveness of the regions, but also the possibility of potential strengthening of centrifugal, separatist aspirations and, consequently, a threat to the territorial integrity of the country.

It is important to always remember that, in the context of increased global competition, tendencies towards the disintegration and economic weakening of individual countries will be strongly welcomed and stimulated by their competitors, and the leaders of the world economy have a vested interest in actively using this tool to weaken and even destroy potential competitors and maintain their economic dominance and political dominance. It is no coincidence that some very influential foreign politicians (Z. Brzezinski and others) see several independent states-principalities in the place of modern Russia, formed as a result of a similar reform to permanently delegate the powers of the center to the regions and grant the latter the rights of subjects of international economic relations. In other words, the consideration of the region as a subject of international economic relations has that thin elusive line, beyond which the increase in the economic independence of the regions turns into a potential danger of the destruction of the state.

Nevertheless, global trends are such that the role of modern nation-states in the context of globalization and orientation to market principles of regulation, changes in the information and communication infrastructure and the growth of mobility of factors of production is accompanied by an increase in the complexity of making centralized management decisions, which objectively requires its decentralization. With regard to the foreign economic sphere, it can be argued that the process of decentralization of the functions of its regulation is a measure adequate to such a phenomenon of the world economy as the regionalization of international economic relations (see paragraph 1.1). The latter is expressed in the spatial unevenness of the development of world economic relations and in practice is accompanied by varying degrees of involvement in the world economy of individual countries and their territories, the existence of differences in the geographical priorities of international economic cooperation, as well as the active development of regional forms of economic integration. In most cases, this requires a certain participation of the regional level of economic management both in the development and implementation of the foreign economic policy of the state as a whole, and in the implementation of the independent entry of the regions into international markets.

Concretizing this general regularity in relation to the conditions of the Republic of Belarus, it is necessary to note the following circumstances that require the intervention of regional authorities in the regulation of international economic relations:

openness of our country to the outside world, which objectively increases the role of government bodies at all levels in the field of activity under consideration; the presence of special foreign economic interests of individual territories. Location, features of the conditions of socio-economic activity, the specifics of the natural resource and economic potential and its structure often require special schemes for the entry of regions into the world market, which does not allow to fully take into account this specificity at the national level and necessitates adequate changes in the scope of powers of the regional management link; The level of competitiveness of enterprises seeking to occupy their “niche” in the world market is often formed by local socio-economic conditions, which ensures their deep connection with the regional economy and requires taking into account regional schemes of their location (for example, the availability of auxiliary and service industries); the spatial unevenness of the spread of world economic relations contributes to the increased role of local authorities in the regulation of international economic relations, since regional disproportions, aggravated by this unevenness, can most fully be “mitigated” within the framework of corrective regional policies; the active participation of regions in international economic relations can be considered as a way to solve many socio-economic problems of the territories (regional economic growth, employment, integrated development of the territory, its infrastructure arrangement).

Another important factor causing the need for relative decentralization of international economic relations is world practice, which indicates that the regions of almost all countries of the world are striving to strengthen their direct participation in integration economic ties.

Thus, the most liberal version of the participation of territorial authorities in the regulation of international economic relations is typical for countries with a federal structure (USA, Canada, Germany, India, Switzerland), where the prerogative of the center in this area is complemented by the possibility of participation of regions in solving certain problems of an international nature. However, the unconditional priority in the regulation of foreign economic relations is given to the federal authorities of all these states. In the legal interpretation of almost all states of the world, no subject of the federation is a subject of international law. This principle is strictly observed even in Germany, where the lands enjoy the broadest rights in the field of foreign economic activity.

In most unitary states of the world, regions act only as executors of the policy of the central government, which predetermines their insignificant independent participation in the  regulation of international economic relations. However, decentralization reforms in some European countries (Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Italy) give the regions moderate powers in the sphere of international economic relations. All this gives unitary countries signs of federalism, although it does not in the least question the unshakable principle of the center’s unconditional priority in the regulation of foreign economic activity.

Along with the objective need for liberalization of international relations of territories, it is important to note that the region, as a subject of foreign economic relations, has its own characteristics, which cause the inconsistency of its interests and behavior from the standpoint of the development of its external relations. The ambiguity of the region’s behavior as a participant in international relations is due to the fact that it is initially a multifaceted, multifunctional formation. First, the region is a subsystem of the national economy. Secondly, entering into foreign economic relations as a relatively independent subject of these relations, the region is a subsystem of international economic relations. Thirdly, the region can be represented as a social community of the population living in a certain territory and united by the general socio-economic conditions of reproduction. The contradictions arising from this multifunctionality of the region are reduced to the following aspects.

1. The region, as a participant in international economic relations, on the one hand is interested in their most diverse forms, and on the other hand, it can deliberately limit international relations, guided by the interests of the region as a social community. This is manifested in the prohibition of foreign investment in environmentally hazardous projects, the restriction of imports of goods that do not meet sanitary and environmental standards, the curbing of “wasteful” exports of natural and raw materials and imports that are “disastrous” for regional producers.

2. The interests of the region as a subsystem of the world economy are related to the development of the most profitable branches of regional specialization in the international division of labor and the creation of technologically advanced industries. At the same time, the region, in order to reduce social costs (for example, the desire for full employment), may seek to preserve technologically backward industries.

3. The participation of the region in world economic relations is contradictory from the point of view of the interests of the region as a consumer and producer. Acting as a producer, the region is interested in deepening international cooperation, as it is associated with the expansion of exports. As a consumer, the region seeks to restrict imports and protect domestic markets, which does not contribute to the external openness of the region.

4. As an integral part of the national economy, the region tends to internal integration with other regions of the country. At the same time, as a subject of international economic relations, it is focused on ties with the regions of other countries, which creates a potential threat to the territorial integrity of the country.

5. As a social community, the region is interested in leveling interregional differentiation. However, being a subject of international relations, the region, as a rule, on the contrary, demonstrates a deepening, an increase in separation from other territories of the country.

This list of contradictions of regional interests makes it very relevant to search for the optimal point of delimitation of the competence of foreign economic regulation between the national and regional levels of management.