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Capital Market Reforms Needed To Boost Colombia’s Growth

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A new World Economic Forum white paper highlights the key obstacles that prevent the further development of deep and liquid capital markets in Colombia, and defines measures to help overcome these challenges and boost economic growth.

Recent gains in Colombia’s capital market development have come under significant pressure in the new macroeconomic environment. The size of the Colombian equity market as a share of GDP has declined by almost half in two years and liquidity in the local equity market has declined over time, placing Colombia’s turnover ratio among the lowest in emerging markets. Colombia has only 74 companies listed on the stock exchange and has a low free float at less than 30%.

“Colombia’s capital markets have developed significantly over the past decade, and we believe there remains great potential for further development,” said Michael Drexler, Head of Investors Industries, World Economic Forum. “However, given today’s challenging macroeconomic environment, the job is often easier said than done. This white paper reflects the views of all key stakeholder groups on how Colombia can further develop its equity market, helping create both the necessary conditions for sustained economic growth as well as providing a roadmap on how to unlock new pools of investment capital to finance economic development imperatives, such as the next generation of infrastructure.”

The white paper identifies four key areas of action – encouraging greater issuer participation, improving the investor value proposition, enhancing market efficiency and transparency, and attracting global interest – as key steps that must be taken to develop Colombia’s capital markets in the near term. Within these areas, the report specifically points to several areas that Colombia must tackle in the short term to develop its equity market:

Creating additional investment opportunities by encouraging increased issuer participation: the report points to the limited number of investment opportunities as a primary barrier to deepening and developing the Colombian equity market. As of December 2015, Colombia has only 74 companies listed on its stock exchange, which is dominated by only a few companies, including Ecopetrol, the state-run oil company that accounts for nearly 45% of the total market capitalization.Furthermore, compared to peer economies, the Colombian equity market has a very low level of free float, at only 29% as of 2014, which can threaten the market’s liquidity and discourage investor participation. In contrast, its closest peers in Latin America are ahead – Mexico has 159, Chile 230, and Peru 275. The average free float at the end of 2014 was 39% in Chile, Peru 43%, Brazil 53%, and Mexico 59%. Promoting greater issuer education, addressing the burden and cost of issuance versus bank funding, and improving corporate governance were the areas identified as short-term priorities to reverse this recent decline.

Broadening the investor base by improving the investor value proposition: Tax regimes that align with financial development objectives, robust regulatory and legal frameworks that protect investors, strong corporate governance standards, and regulatory changes that encourage greater risk-taking were identified to help attract investors across all segments. While Colombia has made significant progress in developing a local investor base – especially pension funds – the equity market could benefit from a larger and broader investment base and specifically, from additional shorter-term investors with more speculative strategy. Insurers, mutual funds, hedge funds and family offices were identified as key groups to lead to a more liquid market with a wider range of investors and a broader suite of professionally managed capital market products.

Improving market access and efficiency: Despite significant development over the past decade, some operational and regulatory challenges still constrain access and efficiency in the Colombian equity market. For the market to continue growing in the future, Colombia’s risk culture needs to evolve, recognizing that risk is inherent in capital market activities. Therefore, all market stakeholders need to strengthen risk management practices rather than create restrictions that can stymie further development. Further developing repurchase agreements, securities lending and derivative markets, increasing transparency and flexibility in the foreign exchange market, and encouraging access for foreign investors were the key areas identified that needed to be addressed.

Latin America’s capital markets grew rapidly in recent years. The total stock market capitalization more than quadrupled in the decade before 2012, with Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Colombia representing the largest markets for equities. Similarly, bond markets have grown steadily across the region, with government bonds making up the majority of the market. However, since the end of the commodities boom in 2012, all markets have faced headwinds, and Colombia has fallen behind its emerging market peers in several areas. Given the complexity of capital market development, this white paper reflects the views of multiple stakeholders that policies must continue to be put in place now that will allow capital markets to flourish far into the future. Additional measures could improve Colombia’s long-term economic growth prospects, particularly if key issues, such as the underdevelopment of the country’s infrastructure, are addressed.

This white paper also defines a set of recommendations in the context of further development of the corporate bond market in Indonesia.

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‘Industry 4.0’ tech for post-COVID world, is driving inequality

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Developing countries must embrace ground-breaking technologies that have been a critical tool in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, or else face even greater inequalities than before, UN economic development  experts at UNCTAD said on Thursday.

“Very few countries create the technologies that drive this revolution – most of them are created in China and the US – but all countries will be affected by it”, said UNCTAD’s Shamika Sirimanne, head of Division on Technology and Logistics. “Almost none of the developing countries we studied is prepared for the consequences.”

The appeal, which is highlighted in a new UNCTAD report, relates to all things digital and connective, so-called “Industry 4.0” or “frontier technologies”, that include artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, nanotechnology and solar energy.

Gene editing, another fast-evolving sector, has demonstrated its worth in the last year, with the accelerated development of new coronavirus vaccines.

Drone aid

In developing countries, digital tools can be used to monitor ground water contamination, deliver medical supplies to remote communities via drones, or track diseases using big data, said UNCTAD’s Sirimanne.

But “most of these examples remain at pilot level, without ever being scaled-up to reach those most in need: the poor. To be successful, technology deployment must fulfil the five As: availability, affordability, awareness, accessibility, and the ability for effective use.”

Income gap widening

With an estimated market value of $350 billion today, the array of emerging digital solutions for life after COVID is likely to be worth over $3 trillion by 2025 – hence the need for developing countries to invest in training and infrastructure to be part of it, Sirimanne maintained.

“Most Industry 4.0 technologies that are being deployed in developed countries save labour in routine tasks affecting mid-level skill jobs. They reward digital skills and capital”, she said, pointing to the significant increase in the market value of the world’s leading digital platforms during the pandemic.

Innovation dividends

“The largest gains have been made by Amazon, Apple and Tencent,” Sirimanne continued. “This is not surprising given that a very small number of very large firms provided most of the digital solutions that we have used to cope with various lockdowns and travel restrictions.”

Expressing optimism about the potential for developing countries to be carried along with the new wave of digitalisation rather than be swamped by it, the UNCTAD economist downplayed concerns that increasing workforce automation risked putting people in poorer countries out of a job.

This is because “not all tasks in a job are automated, and, most importantly, that new products, tasks, professions, and economic activities are created throughout the economy”, Sirimanne said.

‘Job polarization’

“The low wages …for skills in developing countries plus the demographic trends will not create economic incentives to replace labour in manufacturing – not yet.”

According to UNCTAD, over the past two decades, the expansion in high and low-wage jobs – a phenomenon known as “job polarization” – has led to only a single-digit reduction in medium-skilled jobs in developed and developing countries (of four and six per cent respectively).

“So, it is expected that low and lower-middle income developing countries will be less exposed to potential negative effects of AI and robots on job polarization”, Sirimanne explained.

Nonetheless, the UN trade and development body cautioned that there appeared to be little sign of galloping inequality slowing down in the new digital age, pointing to data indicating that the income gap between developed and developing countries is $40,749 in real terms today, up from $17,000 in 1970.

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Greater Innovation Critical to Driving Sustained Economic Recovery in East Asia

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Innovation is critical to productivity growth and economic progress in developing East Asia in a rapidly changing world, according to a new World Bank report launched today.

Countries in developing East Asia have an impressive record of sustained growth and poverty reduction.  But slowing productivity growth, uncertainties in global trade, and technological advances are increasing the need to transition to new and better modes of production to sustain economic performance.

To support policy makers in meeting this challenge, The Innovation Imperative for Developing East Asia examines the state of innovation in the region, analyzes the key constraints firms face in innovating, and lays out an agenda for action to spur innovation-led growth.

A large body of evidence links innovation to higher productivity,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific. “The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, along with the fast-evolving global environment, have raised urgency for governments in the region to promote greater innovation through better policies.

While developing East Asia is home to several high-profile innovators, data presented in the report show that most countries in the region (except China) innovate less than would be expected given their per capita income levels. Most firms operate far from the technological frontier. And the region is falling behind the advanced economies in the breadth and intensity of new technology use.

“Aside from some noteworthy examples, the vast majority of firms in developing East Asia are currently not innovating,” said Xavier Cirera, a lead author of the report. “A broad-based model of innovation is thus needed – that supports a large mass of firms in adopting new technologies, while also enabling more-sophisticated firms to undertake projects at the cutting edge.”

The report identifies several factors that impede innovation in the region, including inadequate information on new technologies, uncertainty about returns to innovation projects, weak firm capabilities, insufficient staff skills, and limited financing options. Moreover, countries’ innovation policies and institutions are often not aligned with firms’ capabilities and needs.

To spur innovation, the report argues that countries need to reorient policy to promote diffusion of existing technologies, not just invention; support innovation in the services sectors, not just manufacturing; and strengthen firms’ innovation capabilities. Taking this broader view of innovation policy will be critical to enabling productivity gains among a broader swath of firms in the region.

“It is important for governments in the region to support innovation in services, given their rising importance in these economies – not only for better service quality but increasingly as key inputs for manufacturing,” said Andrew Mason, also a lead author of the report.

Countries also need to strengthen key complementary factors for innovation, including workers’ skills and instruments to finance innovation projects. Building stronger links between national research institutions and firms will also be critical to fostering innovation-led growth in the region.

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Sea transport is primary route for counterfeiters

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More than half of the total value of counterfeit goods seized around the world are shipped by sea, according to a new OECD-EUIPO report.

Misuse of Containerized Maritime Shipping In the Global Trade of Counterfeits says that seaborne transport accounts for more than 80% of the volume of merchandise traded between countries, and more than 70% of the total value of trade.

Containerships carried 56% of the total value of seized counterfeits in 2016. The People’s Republic of China was the largest provenance economy for container shipments, making up 79% of the total value of maritime containers containing fakes and seized worldwide. India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are also among the top provenance economies for counterfeit and pirated goods traded worldwide.

Between 2014 and 2016, 82% of the seized value of counterfeit perfumes and cosmetics by customs authorities worldwide, 81% of the value of fake footwear and 73% of the value of customs seizures of fake foodstuff and toys and games concerned sea shipments. Additional analysis showed that over half of containers transported in 2016 by ships from economies known to be major sources of counterfeits entered the European Union through Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. There are also some EU countries, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Romania, with relatively low volumes of containers trade in general, but with a high level of imports from counterfeiting-intense economies.

To combat illicit trade, a number of risk-assessment and targeting methods have been adapted for containerised shipping, in particular to enforce against illicit trade in narcotics and hazardous and prohibited goods. But the analysis reveals that the illicit trade in counterfeits has not been a high priority for enforcement, as shipments of counterfeits are commonly perceived as “commercial trade infractions” rather than criminal activity. Consequently, existing enforcement efforts may not be adequately tailored to respond to this risk, according to the report.  Tailored and flexible governance solutions are required to strengthen risk-assessment and targeting methods against counterfeits.

As well as infringing trademarks and copyright, counterfeit and pirated goods entail health and safety risks, product malfunctions and loss of income for companies and governments. Earlier OECD-EUIPO work has shown that imports of counterfeit and pirated goods amounted to up to USD 509 billion in 2016, or around 3.3% of global trade.

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