Micro-business in France: specificity, role in the national economy, system of state support

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Abstract


Micro-business functioning has a significant impact on the state of the economy and social sphere of any country. The French pattern is noteworthy because a country, that had been aiming at the development of large groups for a long time earlier, only in two decades managed to build a successful system of governmental support for micro-business that includes both specific and common measures for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The study attempts to identify current development trends of the micro-business in France and also to analyse the effectiveness of the state support system provided for the activities of the considered category of the economic entities. Depending on the nature of the subject matter, the author used such methods and approaches of scientific knowledge as induction and deduction, analysis and synthesis, system-structural, comparative and statistical analysis. The study analyses in detail the current development trends of the micro-business in France, including its sectorial and regional specifics, estimates the contribution of micro-enterprises to the economic and social development of the country and deeply examines the system of state support. Micro-enterprises take an important place in the French economy by providing one fifth of the employment in the country and the same share of value added. Meanwhile, micro-enterprises are quite weakly oriented towards export because their activities are targeted mainly at the local markets and concentrated in the services sector. Micro-enterprises contribute little to research and development (considering the percentage of total expenditure on research and development and the percentage of total employment in scientific research sector). However, micro-business remains an absolute leader in terms of research and development intensity by spending almost one third of its turnover on researches and considering the share of the direct financial assistance from the state in total expenditures on scientific researches. To date, a sufficiently effective system of public support to micro-business has been formed in France. Apart from providing financial assistance, the system includes substantial tax benefits and simplified taxation schemes, easy reporting system and simple procedures for filing tax return, facilitated social regime, simplification of major bureaucratic formalities and strong information support in all stages of functioning of an enterprise.

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Introduction Review of experience in micro-business functioning of the particular countries is topical since micro-enterprises have a significant impact on the state of the economy and social sphere. By being a significant source of employment, they provide reduction of unemployment, improved human welfare and reduced social burden on the national budget. The important directions of French policy in the post-war period were the implementation of the state program aimed at strengthening the country’s political and economic power, the promotion of production concentration and the centralization of capital. One of the major results of this policy became a rapid development of the large groups and growth of their international economic activities from the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, the number of self-employed workers was nearly halved from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s. The situation began to change in the late 2000s due to the establishment of a specific regime for micro-entrepreneurs. The French model is noteworthy because a country, aimed at the development of large groups for a long time earlier, has managed to build a successful system of governmental support for micro-business only in two decades. The system includes both specific and common measures for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Review of the literature General issues related to the research are widely discussed in scientific circles. The theoretical aspects of SMEs (including micro-business) functioning are reflected in a number of works both Russian (Barinova et al., 2019) and foreign (Arlotto et al., 2011; Marniesse, 2000) economists. The matter of its role estimation for the national economy and social sphere are reviewed by N.L. Vlasova (Vlasova, 2015), N.V. Zakharova, A.V. Labudin (Zakharova, Labudin, 2017), J. Arlotto, A. Cyr, O. Meier, J. Pacitto (Arlotto et al., 2011), К. Kushnir, М. Mirmulstein, R. Ramalho (Kushnir et al., 2010) et al. The study of the activities within the frames of country-specific circumstances and system of state support for small business entities is conducted in the works of N.V. Zaharovoj, A.V. Labudina (Zakharova, Labudin, 2017), Zh.N. Komissarovoj (Komissarova, 2015), V.A. Barinovoj, S.P. Zemcova, A.Yu. Knobel, A.N. Loshchenkovoj (Barinova et al., 2019), К. Kushnir, М. Mirmulstein, R. Ramalho (Kushnir et al., 2010) et al. At the same time the development specifics of the French microbusiness as well as the system of its state support are insufficiently considered in the present literature, that is why the author referred mainly to the official sources while analyzing a whole range of aspects on the research. The main sources of information for this study were statistical data and publications of the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (French: Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, INSEE) and the Organizations for the Collection of Social Security and Family Benefit Contributions (French: la Сaisse nationale des Urssaf, Acoss); publications from the European Commission, the Ministry of Higher Education, French Science and Innovations; materials from the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and Social Security of Self-Employed Workers Fund (French: Sécurité sociale pour les indépendants, SSI); both European and national general documents. Methods and approaches Depending on the nature of the subject matter, the author used such methods and approaches of scientific knowledge as induction and deduction, analysis and synthesis, system-structural, comparative and statistical analysis. The results of the study Micro-enterprise in France: definition, specifics, role in the national economy. In France, micro-enterprise economic category was introduced the Decree No. 2008-1354 of 18 December 2008[64] that defined four enterprise groups according to the Law on the Modernization of the Economy No. 2008-776 of 4 August 2008[65]. It established the qualification criteria in order to refer an economic entity to a particular criteria group (number of employees, annual turnover or total balance, whereas the first criterion is the key point). The decree is based on the EU common approach on the definitions of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises stated in the EU commission recommendations 2003/361/EC of 6 May 2003[66] (Barinova et al., 2019; Goffee, Scase, 2016). Micro-enterprise, thus, must satisfy the following conditions: to employ less than 10 persons and to have either an annual turnover or a total balance sheet not exceeding 2 million euro. In legal terms, a micro-enterprise in France may be created in the form of individual enterprise (French: entreprise individuelle, EI), individual enterprise with limited responsibility (French: entreprise individuelle à responsabilité limitée, EIRL) or single-owner limited liability enterprise (French: entreprise unipersonelle à responsibilité limitée, EURL). The first two organizational and legal forms do not refer to the establishment of a company; such enterprises may be created only by a physical person and belong to a single person or a tax household. In the latter case, either a physical person or an entity may be the only partner, but only a physical person has access to the micro-enterprise tax regime (see later).[67] In 2017 there were 3,7 million micro-enterprises with 2 445 thousand employees[68] in France (96% of all enterprises and 19% of employment of the country). On average, there was one employee per a micro-enterprise, whereas 73% of micro-enterprises didn’t have any employees, 13% of micro-enterprises had the only employee and 14% of micro-enterprises had two or more employees.[69] According to the European statistics, in 2018 micro-business represented 95,5% of the total number of enterprises in France (for comparison, the same rate in the EU was generally at the level of 93% and in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands - at the level of 82,0, 94,6 and 95,6% respectively)[70] (Zakharova, Labudin, 2017; Barinova et al., 2019). The distribution of enterprises, employment, turnover, export and value added by different enterprise size categories in France is presented in Table 1. Table 1 Share of different categories of enterprises[71] in the French production system in 2017, % Enterprise size categories Share of total rates of industry and service In total balance of enterprises In total employment In turnover In exports In value added Micro-enterprises 96,0 18,8 13,0 2,7 19,9 Small and medium-sized enterprises (not including micro-enterprises) 3,8 29,9 22,4 11,8 23,3 Intermediate-sized enterprises 0,2 25,1 30,3 31,9 26,0 Large enterprises 0,01 26,2 34,3 53,6 30,8 Total 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 Source: the author’s calculations based on data of the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies. The table indicates that micro-business provides around 20% of value added, 13% of turnover and only 2,7% of export, which is appropriate because micro-enterprise activities generally refer to the local markets and focused on provision of services for individuals, trade, artisanal activities and construction operations (Barinova et al., 2019). Overall, only 10% of micro-enterprises function in industry, whereas in construction operations and service sector work 18 and 72% of micro-enterprises respectively (for comparison: the same figures of the total population of enterprises are 24, 10 and 66% respectively).[72] It should be noted that micro-enterprises export only 3,9% of their production while small and medium-sized enterprises (except for micro-enterprises) export 10,5% of their production and the total number of enterprise categories exports collectively 19,3% of their production.[73] By analyzing region-specific distribution of micro-business, it should be noted that while large and intermediate-sized enterprises are concentrated mainly in the Paris region Île-de-France and in the other industrially developed regions, SMEs (including micro-enterprises) function mainly in the south of the country and largely oriented on the sphere of hotel and restaurant business. Thus, 24% of the total employee number in province Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, for instance, is occupied in micro-enterprise and in Corsica the rate reaches 38%.[74] The large number of micro-enterprises in the southern regions of France is provided by a considerable concentration of persons employed in the liberal professions. For instance, there are 1996 practitioners per 100 thousand inhabitants in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region (which surpasses even the metropolitan area with the rate of 1945 specialists, whereas one fourth of the specialists works as micro-entrepreneurs).[75] Table 2 Dynamics of value added and employment of varisized categories of industrial enterprises according to the level of knowledge-intensity in France and some other countries with a similar level of development in 2018 France Germany Belgium The Netherlands Value added/Employment Micro-enterprises Less knowledge-intensive 4,3/2,7 4,3/1,3 1,5/2,0 3,1/1,5 Knowledge-intensive 8,3/4,7 3,4/1,2 3,1/2,2 4,3/1,6 Small enterprises (not including micro) Less knowledge-intensive 2,2/1,0 3,7/1,0 7,8/1,7 6,2/1,6 Knowledge-intensive 6,1/1,5 2,3/0,8 12,6/3,1 7,6/2,1 Medium-sized enterprises Less knowledge-intensive 0,0/0,7 4,0/1,5 -0,5/2,0 7,5/2,6 Knowledge-intensive 0,9/1,1 2,8/1,1 -0,1/1,1 8,7/3,0 Large enterprises Less knowledge-intensive 1,1/1,1 5,0/1,0 0,5/2,5 6,5/4,9 Knowledge-intensive 3,4/1,7 3,4/0,8 1,9/0,5 7,5/5,5 Source: European Commission. (n.d.). Annual Report on European SMEs 2018/2019. Retrieved May 15, 2020, from https://ec.europa.eu/growth/smes/business-friendly-environment/performance-review_en#annual-report Although micro-enterprises are in general oriented to a much lesser extent to research and development than other categories of enterprises (Barinova et al., 2019), the French micro-enterprises showed a positive dynamic, compared to the national enterprises of the other categories and micro-enterprises of some countries with a similar level of development in 2018 (Table 2). Overall, French SMEs accumulate 17% of domestic spendings on research and development (more than 70% of which goes to the services sector, while large enterprises spend around 75% on high-technology and medium-technology industries), 24% of employment in scientific research and 24% of public financial support to research and development enterprises.[76] Merely 5% of employment in research and development (68% of which are employees in scientific research) accounts for micro-enterprises; only 3% of domestic expenditures on research and development is spent directly on micro-enterprises (although it represents 31% of their turnover). For comparison: SMEs (without micro-enterprises), intermediate-sized enterprises and large enterprises spend 7, 3 and 2% respectively of their turnover on research and development. Micro-enterprises carry out nearly 21% of their research and development spending by means of the direct public funding and this share is growing steadily (compare: the same indicator for SMEs (without micro-enterprises) intermediate-sized enterprises and large enterprises is 9, 2 and 10% respectively).[77] Government support for micro-business in France. The French government acknowledges the special role of micro-business in the French economy (Vlasova, 2015; Goffee, Scase, 2016) and expresses strong support for micro-enterprises. The state assistance falls within the framework of the common European Small Business support strategy stated in the Small Business Act for Europe (SBA) of 25 June 2008. According to SBA, it is prior to the community to promote entrepreneurship, to reduce bureaucracy, to facilitate small businesses access to finance and to bring them to international markets[78] (Barinova et al., 2019; OECD, 2016). This strategy is implemented into the French Law on the Modernization of the Economy (French: Loi de modernisation de l'économie) No. 2008-776 of 4 August 2008[79], which introduced the individual entrepreneur status (French: аuto-entrepreneur). In 2016 the individual entrepreneur status was abolished (with a transition period up to the end of 2019) and replaced by the special micro-enterprise regime created in 2014. In order to enjoy the special regime micro-enterprise should meet the criteria. In particular, the annual turnover of enterprises, profiting from trade and commerce (purchase and sale of goods, production and sale of products and food, short-term rental of unfurnished living quarters, accommodation in specific touristic furnished facilities) (French: Bénéfices industriels et commerciaux, BIC) must not exceed 176,2 thousand euro (the micro-BIC regime); the annual turnover of enterprises with non-commercial income (i.e. from the provision of services) (French: Bénéfices non commerciaux, BNC) must not exceed 72,5 thousand euro (the micro-BNC regime). Enterprises that provide short-term rental of unfurnished living quarters must accumulate the annual turnover not exceeding 70 thousand euro. In case of mixed activity, the total turnover must not exceed 176,2 thousand euro and service sector income must not surpass 72,5 thousand euro. Besides, those members of liberal professions who are not related to the regimes of Social Security of Self-Employed Workers Fund or Inter-profession Body for Retirement Planning and Insurance (French: Caisse interprofessionnelle de prévoyance et d'assurance vieillesse, CIPAV) are excluded from micro-enterprise regime. Furthermore, an enterprise must be properly registered and have the legal status (Table 3). Table 3 Key features of tax and social regime of micro-enterprise (as at 17 January 2020) General conditions for inclusion in micro-enterprise regime 1. Allowable legal status. 2. Registration with Artisan Enterprise Register (French: Répertoire des métiers), or Company and trade register (French: Le registre du commerce et des sociétés, RCS), or Organizations for the Collection of Social Security and Family Benefit Contributions (French: Unions de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d’Allocations Familiales, URSSAF) (for the liberal professions)[80]. 3. Respect the upper limits of turnover Conditions for exclusion from micro-enterprise regime 1. Exceeding the upper limits of turnover two times for two years running. 2. Absence of turnovers or failure to submit turnover declaration for eight consecutive quarters. 3. According to micro-entrepreneur’s wish TAX REGIME [81] General Additional Tax on personal income Special conditions - Taxable revenue per each family member (considering family quotients) for the year before last must not exceed the upper limit of the second tranche fixed in the same year in order to pay tax on personal income (27 086 euro in 2018)[82] (Komissarova, 2015) Tax base Profit[83] Turnover Tax rate Profit adds up to the other taxable incomes of a household. The amount received is subject to the progressive income tax taking into account family coefficients 1% - sale of goods, production and sale of products and food, accommodation services. 1,7% - other commercial and artisanal services. 2,2% - those who provide their services within liberal professions Payment date Annually Either monthly or quarterly (according to taxpayer’s wish) Value-added tax Tax exemption requirements The micro-BIC regime: value-added tax is not charged until the turnover of 94,3 thousand euro. The micro-BNC regime: value-added tax is not charged until the turnover of 36,5 thousand euro. Beyond these thresholds value-added tax is paid according to the general rules. On condition that these thresholds are not exceeded value-added tax is excluded from the price of goods and services for the final consumer Table 3, ending SOCIAL REGIME Social contributions Basis of assessment Turnover[84] Rate 12,8% - sale of goods, production and sale of products and food, short-term rental of unfurnished living quarters, accommodation in specific touristic furnished facilities. 22% - service sector (including commercial, artisan and certain liberal professions services), short-term rental of furnished living quarters Payment period Monthly or quarterly (according to taxpayer’s wish) Contributions to the system of vocational training Basis of assessment Turnover Rate 0,10% - trade and services of unregulated liberal professions. 0,20% - services of regulated liberal professions. 0,30% - artisanal activity Payment period Monthly or quarterly (according to taxpayer’s wish) Source: made by the author according to the data of the French Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Among the main benefits of micro-entrepreneur status, the following deserve mention. 1. Streamlined bureaucratic procedures, specifically, registration and closure procedures, the order of the status of an enterprise changes (from micro-enterprise to another, etc.) The free of charge registration can be made via the official web-site[85] of Organizations for the Collection of Social Security and Family Benefit Contributions (French: Unions de recouvrement des cotisations de sécurité sociale et d'allocations familiales, URSSAF) or in a special section via the official web-site of the French Ministry of Economy and Finance.[86] To terminate the entrepreneur's activity one should fill in the special form Cerfa n°13905*03 and send it to the Centre for business formalities (French: Centre de Formalités des Entreprises, CFE). 2. Substantial tax relief and simplified taxation, simple tax declaration procedure and easy reporting system as a whole. Furthermore, an entrepreneur may choose one of the two variants of paying income tax (the availability of an additional regime is possible on condition of respecting the certain turnover limits). 3. Facilitated social regime (social contributions are calculated according to the turnover and paid monthly or quarterly only if the turnover data is positive). 4. Vast public financial assistance, aiming also at research and development realization. 5. Strong information support, provided foremost by Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Organizations for the Collection of Social Security and Family Benefit Contributions[87] (Barinova et al., 2019; OECD, 2016; 2017). Role of micro-entrepreneurship in the French economy. 1,36 million micro-entrepreneurs that enjoyed special tax and social regimes (42% of self-employed persons versus 26% in 2011) were registered in France at the end of 2018. This mechanism has been proved to be attractive due to the stable positive growth dynamics of its users: if the average annual growth rate in 2011-2017 was 8,3%, in 2018 after the twofold increase of the upper threshold of the turnover (from 82,8 to 176,2 thousand euro in the micro-BIC regime and from 33 to 72,5 thousand euro in the micro-BNC regime) it reached 15,4%. It is estimated that the increase of the upper limit provided at least one quarter of the growth.[88] Micro-entrepreneurs carry out their activities almost in all economic sectors. A detailed structure of their distribution by economic activities is shown in Table 4. The table indicates that the majority of micro-enterprises functions in constructions, activities in culture and recreation, transport services, business and other management consulting, manufacturing, health care, education, hair and body care services (more than 40% of the registered entrepreneurs are occupied in these fields). The biggest growth in number of micro-entrepreneurs is registered in transport services (due to the popularity of the Internet trade and home delivery), real estate operations, cleaning services, sports activities and health care (due to alternative medicine spread). The rate of micro-entrepreneurs with profit and registered micro-entrepreneurs varies from 40,4% in transport services to 89,2% in health care (overall it amounts to 74,6%). According to Accosstat, this indicator is tightly linked to micro-enterprises functioning period: just over 54% of entrepreneurs announces about profit during the first year of work, more than 85% states the same after two years of work and 90% - after five years of work. So, the low rate of profitable enterprises in transport services can be explained by their high rotation. Distribution of micro-entrepreneurs by gender and age as well as the ratio of registered micro-entrepreneurs and micro-entrepreneurs with profit according to the criteria is introduced in Table 5. Men dominate among micro-entrepreneurs (60,7%) however, enterprises, that are run by women, demonstrate a higher rate of profit (79,6 against 71,4%) that could be generally explained by gender-specific sectoral composition of activities within micro-enterprises. Women traditionally dominate in hair and body care services, health care and some other activities where the ratio between micro-entrepreneurs with profit and registered micro-entrepreneurs is relatively high. At the same time female presence is minimal in constructions, repair (excluding vehicle repair) and transport services where the above-mentioned ratio is lower than average. With regard to the age structure of micro-entrepreneurs, it should be noted that as the age of entrepreneurs raises, the number of entrepreneurs decreases (exceptions are persons under the age of 30), while the profitability of entrepreneurs, on the contrary, grows. Thus, 86,1% of micro-entrepreneurs over the age of sixty are with profit, while the same rate of persons under thirty years old is at the level of 58%. Table 4 Distribution of micro-entrepreneurs by types of economic activities in 2018 Types of economic activities Number of registered micro-entrepreneurs Micro-entrepreneurs with profit, % of the registered Thous. pers. % of total Change, % 2017/2011 2018/2017 Agriculture, forestry and fishing 2,6 0,2 7,8 7,8 83,7 Manufacturing 73,7 5,4 9,9 11,4 82,9 Catering trade/profession 20,5 1,5 7,6 5,8 75,9 Finishing works 75,7 5,6 6,6 8,3 80,4 Constructions (other types of activities) 83,9 6,2 5,8 9,3 78,9 Trade and auto maintenance 30,8 2,3 10,9 11,9 64,1 Wholesale and intermediate trading 37,0 2,7 9,4 21,0 62,8 Retail trade of food (not including catering trade/profession) 3,3 0,2 6,6 11,1 70,7 Retail trade of non-food products 45,0 3,3 4,5 8,3 74,5 Retail trade of unclassified products 48,1 3,5 3,7 1,0 80,5 Non-specialized retail trade 37,4 2,8 -0,1 15,1 66,8 Transport services 78,2 5,8 44,0 80,6 40,4 Accommodation and food service 41,3 3,0 10,8 13,3 73,1 Information services 43,8 3,2 3,1 11,3 70,6 Financial services and insurance 7,4 0,5 9,2 20,7 64,9 Real estate operations 25,9 1,9 15,6 31,0 60,4 Legal services 1,2 0,1 2,9 2,5 83,6 Accounting and consulting services, engineering 47,3 3,5 9,7 14,5 74,2 Business and other management consulting 79,3 5,8 9,3 26,2 64,0 Other scientific and technical activities 58,4 4,3 8,5 12,3 77,1 Design services 28,4 2,1 4,1 13,6 75,2 Cleaning services 38,6 2,8 14,3 18,4 78,6 Other administrative and support activities 44,6 3,3 3,0 13,0 76,8 Education 58,4 4,3 9,0 11,9 80,4 Health care 65,9 4,9 19,3 12,5 89,2 Activities in culture and recreation 93,9 6,9 11,2 11,9 78,9 Sports activities 37,4 2,8 14,1 13,1 83,7 Repair (excluding vehicle repair) 23,0 1,7 1,3 4,1 84,9 Hair and body care services 57,1 4,2 5,3 9,7 88,8 Other services to individuals 51,5 3,8 5,6 20,0 77,5 Others 17,0 1,3 19,3 24,3 68,8 TOTAL 1356,8 100,0 8,3 15,4 74,6 Source: Acosstat. (2019, juillet). Les micro-enterpreneurs en 2018: un nouvel elan qui confirme l’attractivité du dispositive. N° 289. Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.acoss.fr/files/Publications/ Acoss_Stat/Acoss_stat_289.pdf Table 5 Gender and age distribution of micro-entrepreneurs by the end of 2018 Number of registered micro-entrepreneurs Micro-entrepreneurs who are employed as well, % of the registered Micro-entrepreneurs with profit, % of the registered Thous. pers. % of total Gender distribution Male 823,0 60,7 39,0 71,4 Female 533,7 39,3 38,8 79,6 Age distribution Under 30 years 263,6 19,4 54,9 57,7 30-39 years 366,3 27,0 44,3 72,6 40-49 years 316,2 23,3 38,2 78,5 50-59 years 245,5 18,1 31,2 83,1 Over 60 years 165,1 12,2 14,2 86,1 TOTAL 1 356,8 100,0 38,9 74,6 Source: Acosstat. (2019, juillet). Les micro-enterpreneurs en 2018: un nouvel elan qui confirme l’attractivité du dispositive. N° 289. Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.acoss.fr/files/Publications/ Acoss_Stat/Acoss_stat_289.pdf Basically, the effective current system of state support of the micro-enterprise makes it the most suitable and convenient form to start one’s own business. Conclusion The following conclusions could be drawn from the analysis. Micro-enterprises take an important place in the French economy by providing one fifth of the employment in the country and the same share of value added. Meanwhile, micro-enterprises are oriented towards export extremely weak because their activities are concentrated in the services sector and target mainly at the local markets. Moreover, while large and intermediate-sized enterprises are centered in the industrially developed regions, SMEs (including micro-enterprises) are largely oriented to the hotel and restaurant business sphere and operate mainly in the south of the country. Micro-enterprises contribute little to research and development and remain far below the enterprises of other categories, considering the percentage of total expenditure on research and development and the percentage of total employment in scientific research sector. Besides, by spending almost one third of its turnover on researches and considering the share of direct financial assistance from the state in total expenditures on scientific researches, micro-business is an absolute leader in terms of research and development intensity. Another important feature of research and development is that micro-business provide a high degree of its concentration in the service sector (unlike large enterprises that conduct researches mainly in high and medium technology branches of industry). To date, a sufficiently effective system of public support to micro-business has been formed in France. Apart from providing financial assistance, the system includes substantial tax benefits and simplified taxation schemes, easy reporting system and simple procedures for filing tax return, facilitated social regime, simplification of major bureaucratic formalities and strong information support in all stages of functioning of an enterprise.

About the authors

Zhanna N. Komissarova

Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia (MGIMO University)

Email: Jeanne.25@mail.ru
76 Vernadskogo Ave, Moscow, 119454, Russian Federation
PhD in Economics, Associate Professor at the World Economy Department

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