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G20 in China should aim at global free trade treaty

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True globalization and free trade economy have been the top agenda of world economies for quite some time, but, however, practically achieving very little. Both globalization and global trade are being effectively mismanaged and thereby controlled by USA and Europe and to some extend by Russia and China to their advantages. Rest of the world has to bear the negative consequences of restricted globalization and refusal to enact global free trade.

G20, the world’s top economies, is the extended version of G8, the western top economies, incorporating medium/developing economies as well to debate and make decisions on the future goals of world economy. The 2016 G20 Hangzhou summit will be the eleventh G20 meeting. It is planned to be held on 4–5 September 2016 in the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang. It is also the first ever G20 summit to be hosted in China and the second Asian country after 2010 G20 Seoul summit was hosted in South Korea.

Sandwiched between events like the Brexit vote and the US presidential election, leaders of G-20, the world’s major economies meet this weekend in China presumably to take stock of the Brexit impact on world economy. But the world economies at G20 need to mount a realistic defence of the free trade and globalization they have long championed. At stake is the post-World War Two concord on globalization that proponents say has helped lift so much of the world out of poverty. China, the host of the Group of 20 meeting, has itself been one of the biggest winners from free trade, becoming the world’s leading exporter.

Britain’s shock vote in June to leave the EU and the rise of protectionist Donald Trump in the USA has shaken that accord ahead of the G20 summit in Hangzhou that starts on Sunday.

Hangzhou in China

China as the Olympic host this year, has left no stone unturned, no wall unpainted and no sewer unsealed in getting ready Hangzhou for the G20 Summit, an annual gathering of the leaders of the world’s 20 leading economies. Public offices will close for a special seven-day holiday. Private businesses have been urged to do the same, even though the summit itself only runs for two days. Hangzhou residents will receive 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in tourism vouchers to visit other cities in Zhejiang province (of which Hangzhou is the capital) during the G20. The mayor boasts that a 760,000-strong volunteer force stands ready to serve the G20. One persistent rumor is that the city is spending 160 billion yuan ($24 billion) on the G20. If true, this would be remarkable, eclipsing Rio’s $5 billion expenditure on the Olympics. Many public organizations, however, criticised the government for wasting money in the name of a summit and disrupting ordinary people’s lives against communist principles.

Just 40 minutes west of Shanghai by bullet train, it is one of China’s wealthiest cities. The misty waters of West Lake at its heart, fringed by rolling tea fields, have inspired poets for centuries. In recent years, it has become an entrepreneurial hub, most famously as the hometown of Alibaba, an e-commerce company.

The G20 summit, to be held on September 4th and 5th, will be the first in China in the eight-year history of such meetings and a hugely important diplomatic occasion for President Xi Jinping. He clearly hopes that the event will highlight how central China has become to solving the world’s problems

It came as a surprise when China announced that Hangzhou, a second tier city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, would host the 2016 G-20 leaders’ summit, the political equivalent of the Olympics or the World Cup.

Over the past decade, China has hosted a series of high-profile international events mainly in its first-tier cities, such as the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2014 APEC in Beijing and the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, in order to showcase the break-neck pace of China’s economic developments since it adopted the Open Door in 1978. Hangzhou, the ancient capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), was traditionally hailed as one of the most beautiful cities in China. The city has been transformed into a home for many high profile tech firms such as e-commerce giant Ali Baba, setting an example of how China’s splendid and rich culture and history in the past can still live on in a modern city with an innovative economy.

China, the economic giant

It’s an image that China wants to promote this weekend to the world’s top leaders, breaking away from its image as the world’s cheap labor factory. For China, it is beginning to catch up with the rest of the world in spending every year on research and development. The percentage is about 2.4% of the GDP, right now. That is close to what the United States is spending. And also, it’s growing at a fast pace. To make that case, Hangzhou is an obvious choice as a G-20 summit venue.

The information economy, championed as a new driving force for economic development in the era of “new normal”, accounted for 23 percent of Hangzhou’s GDP, contributing to over 45 percent of GDP growth in 2015, according to Hangzhou city. It was only natural that questions were raised as to why this relatively obscure city was chosen to host the summit meeting of the world’s 20 largest economies, representing two-thirds of the global population and 85% of the global economy.

President Xi Jinping achieved one of the highest GDP growth rates in China during the period when he held the Communist Party’s top post in this Zhejiang province between 2002 and 2007. World especially the West is eager to know whether China is capable of tackling problems stemming from slowing economic growth and overcapacity, wants to keep the focus of this year’s G-20 summit on economic growth. The summit will look at ways to build “an innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive world economy,” he said.

China remains the world’s major growth engine. Despite all the hand-wringing over the much vaunted China slowdown, the Chinese economy remains the single largest contributor to world gross domestic product growth. For a global economy limping along at stall speed – and most likely unable to withstand a significant shock without toppling into renewed recession – that contribution is all the more important.

The Chinese economy accounts for fully 18 percent of world output – more than double India’s 7.6 percent share. Excluding China, world GDP growth would be about 1.9 percent in 2016 – well below the 2.5 percent threshold commonly associated with global recessions. More broadly, China is expected to account for fully 73 percent of total growth of the so-called BRICS grouping of large developing economies. . Chinese growth would have a much greater effect on an otherwise weak global economy than would be the case if the world were growing at something closer to its longer-term trend of 3.6 percent.

If Chinese GDP growth reaches 6.7 percent in 2016 – in line with the government’s official target and only slightly above the International Monetary Fund’s latest prediction (6.6 percent) – China would account for 1.2 percentage points of world GDP growth. With the IMF currently expecting only 3.1 percent global growth this year, China would contribute nearly 39 percent of the total.

Despite all the hand-wringing over the much vaunted China slowdown, the Chinese economy remains the single largest contributor to world gross domestic product growth. For a global economy limping along at stall speed – and most likely unable to withstand a significant shock without toppling into renewed recession – that contribution is all the more important.

Chinese domestic demand has the potential to become an increasingly important source of export-led growth for China’s major trading partners – provided, of course, that other countries are granted free and open access to rapidly expanding Chinese markets. There are of course the global effects of a successful rebalancing of the Chinese economy. The world stands to benefit greatly if the components of China’s GDP continue to shift from manufacturing-led exports and investment to services and household consumption.

A successful Chinese rebalancing scenario has the potential to jump-start global demand with a new and important source of aggregate demand – a powerful antidote to an otherwise sluggish world. That possibility should not be ignored, as political pressures bear down on the global trade debate.

Unlike the major economies of the advanced world, where policy space is severely constrained, Chinese authorities have ample scope for accommodative moves that could shore up economic activity. And, unlike the major economies of the developed world, which constantly struggle with a trade-off between short-term cyclical pressures and longer-term structural reforms, China is perfectly capable of addressing both sets of challenges simultaneously.

Concerns

This meeting should send a clear message that world leaders have heard people’s concerns about globalization and are taking steps to better understand and address them. The risk is that nothing much will be achieved. More platitudes about the benefits of global trade and investment will ring hollow.

While there have been recent concessions that not everyone wins out of globalization, the White House has also signaled a renewed push on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal as President Barack Obama’s term winds down.

The G20 earned its spurs with a concerted reaction to the 2008 global financial crisis, but recently opposition to free trade seems to have gained purchase and a coherent defence has been lacking. Among the biggest sticking points is overcapacity in the global steel industry, a sore point for China as the world’s largest producer of the metal. Other concerns include barriers to foreign investment, and the risk of currency devaluations to protect export markets.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde described the global economic outlook as “slightly declining growth, fragile, weak and certainly not fuelled by trade and said this week that G20 leaders need to do far more to spur demand, bolster the case for trade and globalization, and fight inequality. The Centre for Economic Policy Research estimates that in the first eight months of 2016 alone G20 governments implemented nearly 350 measures that harmed foreign interests. The jumps in G20 protectionism in 2015 and 2016 coincide ominously with the halt in the growth of global trade volumes.

The Washington-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce fired a broadside at what it saw as creeping protectionism in the information and communications technology sector, releasing a report citing aggressive new measures from China to Russia to the EU. National security was the reason given by Australia’s government when it rejected Chinese bids for an electricity grid last month, a decision that Beijing labeled as “protectionist”.

West is opposed to free trade   with developing nations. When EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk set out their priorities for the Hangzhou meeting this week, free trade was next to last. It was preceded by the refugee crisis, jobs growth, financial stability and tax transparency. While the challenge was recognised, no solutions were offered.

The G20 might discuss how to reverse the slowdown in the growth of trade and foreign investment and to communicate the benefits of trade to citizens while addressing their concerns. The critics argue the benefits of globalization are too often over-hyped by politicians, leading to public disappointment.

Obama has promoted the TPP deal as an engine of job creation yet it might add all of 0.5 percent to economic growth after 15 years. The 12-nation TPP is the number one legislative goal of Obama’s remaining term, yet is under assault at home and abroad. Both the main candidates in the November election, Republican Trump and Democrat Hillary, have come out against it, blaming past deals for destroying Americans jobs. If anything, the TPP highlights the divisions within the G20. It was sold as the economic pillar of Obama’s broader plan to shift U.S. foreign policy toward Asia and counter the rising might of the hosts of this very meeting, China.

Observation

As China, among other advancing economies are making big strides in capitalist development actions, the G7 leaders USA and EU have brought them also into what is now called the G-20. One of the reasons is to curb fast climate disorder with the help of these developing economies that are also responsible for rising sea levels, threatening the existence of island nations, like Sri Lanka, Maldives, etc.

An officially communist country, China heavily subsidizes capitalist economy of USA, finances the NATO imperialist wars, has been sympathetic to fascist aggression of Palestine by fanatic Israel, would not appreciate Kashmiri struggle for freedom from Indian yoke primarily because China also occupies a part of Kashmir, taken from Pakistan as a stolen gift.

The G20 needs to do better in communicating the benefits of free trade, while giving the political push that’s needed to unlock stalled multilateral trade liberalization. Delivering a successful G20 summit in Hangzhou means tackling big global challenges successfully through practical actions benefit the world.

Hopefully, the G20 would seriously consider global free trade mechanism so that all under developed nations also benefit from G-20. It is urgent the G20 nations evolve a strategy for a global free trade treaty.

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Reforms Key to Romania’s Resilient Recovery

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Over the past decade, Romania has achieved a remarkable track record of high economic growth, sustained poverty reduction, and rising household incomes. An EU member since 2007, the country’s economic growth was one of the highest in the EU during the period 2010-2020.

Like the rest of the world, however, Romania has been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the economy contracted by 3.9 percent and the unemployment rate reached 5.5 percent in July before dropping slightly to 5.3 percent in December. Trade and services decreased by 4.7 percent, while sectors such as tourism and hospitality were severely affected. Hard won gains in poverty reduction were temporarily reversed and social and economic inequality increased.

The Romanian government acted swiftly in response to the crisis, providing a fiscal stimulus of 4.4 percent of GDP in 2020 to help keep the economy moving. Economic activity was also supported by a resilient private sector. Today, Romania’s economy is showing good signs of recovery and is projected to grow at around 7 percent in 2021, making it one of the few EU economies expected to reach pre-pandemic growth levels this year. This is very promising.

Yet the road ahead remains highly uncertain, and Romania faces several important challenges.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of Romania’s institutions to adverse shocks, exacerbated existing fiscal pressures, and widened gaps in healthcare, education, employment, and social protection.

Poverty increased significantly among the population in 2020, especially among vulnerable communities such as the Roma, and remains elevated in 2021 due to the triple-hit of the ongoing pandemic, poor agricultural yields, and declining remittance incomes.

Frontline workers, low-skilled and temporary workers, the self-employed, women, youth, and small businesses have all been disproportionately impacted by the crisis, including through lost salaries, jobs, and opportunities.

The pandemic has also highlighted deep-rooted inequalities. Jobs in the informal sector and critical income via remittances from abroad have been severely limited for communities that depend on them most, especially the Roma, the country’s most vulnerable group.

How can Romania address these challenges and ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery for all?

Reforms in several key areas can pave the way forward.

First, tax policy and administration require further progress. If Romania is to spend more on pensions, education, or health, it must boost revenue collection. Currently, Romania collects less than 27 percent of GDP in budget revenue, which is the second lowest share in the EU. Measures to increase revenues and efficiency could include improving tax revenue collection, including through digitalization of tax administration and removal of tax exemptions, for example.

Second, public expenditure priorities require adjustment. With the third lowest public spending per GDP among EU countries, Romania already has limited space to cut expenditures, but could focus on making them more efficient, while addressing pressures stemming from its large public sector wage bill. Public employment and wages, for instance, would benefit from a review of wage structures and linking pay with performance.

Third, ensuring sustainability of the country’s pension fund is a high priority. The deficit of the pension fund is currently around 2 percent of GDP, which is subsidized from the state budget. The fund would therefore benefit from closer examination of the pension indexation formula, the number of years of contribution, and the role of special pensions.

Fourth is reform and restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises, which play a significant role in Romania’s economy. SOEs account for about 4.5 percent of employment and are dominant in vital sectors such as transport and energy. Immediate steps could include improving corporate governance of SOEs and careful analysis of the selection and reward of SOE executives and non-executive bodies, which must be done objectively to ensure that management acts in the best interest of companies.

Finally, enhancing social protection must be central to the government’s efforts to boost effectiveness of the public sector and deliver better services for citizens. Better targeted social assistance will be more effective in reaching and supporting vulnerable households and individuals. Strategic investments in infrastructure, people’s skills development, and public services can also help close the large gaps that exist across regions.

None of this will be possible without sustained commitment and dedicated resources. Fortunately, Romania will be able to access significant EU funds through its National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which will enable greater investment in large and important sectors such as transportation, infrastructure to support greater deployment of renewable energy, education, and healthcare.

Achieving a resilient post-pandemic recovery will also mean advancing in critical areas like green transition and digital transformation – major new opportunities to generate substantial returns on investment for Romania’s economy.

I recently returned from my first official trip to Romania where I met with country and government leaders, civil society representatives, academia, and members of the local community. We discussed a wide range of topics including reforms, fiscal consolidation, social inclusion, renewably energy, and disaster risk management. I was highly impressed by their determination to see Romania emerge even stronger from the pandemic. I believe it is possible. To this end, I reiterated the World Bank’s continued support to all Romanians for a safe, bright, and prosperous future.

First appeared in Romanian language in Digi24.ro, via World Bank

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US Economic Turmoil: The Paradox of Recovery and Inflation

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The US economy has been a rollercoaster since the pandemic cinched the world last year. As lockdowns turned into routine and the buzz of a bustling life came to a sudden halt, a problem manifested itself to the US regime. The problem of sustaining economic activity while simultaneously fighting the virus. It was the intent of ‘The American Rescue Plan’ to provide aid to the US citizens, expand healthcare, and help buoy the population as the recession was all but imminent. Now as the global economy starts to rebound in apparent post-pandemic reality, the US regime faces a dilemma. Either tighten the screws on the overheating economy and risk putting an early break on recovery or let the economy expand and face a prospect of unrelenting inflation for years to follow.

The Consumer Price Index, the core measure of inflation, has been off the radar over the past few months. The CPI remained largely over the 4% mark in the second quarter, clocking a colossal figure of 5.4% last month. While the inflation is deemed transitionary, heated by supply bottlenecks coinciding with swelling demand, the pandemic-related causes only explain a partial reality of the blooming clout of prices. Bloomberg data shows that transitory factors pushing the prices haywire account for hotel fares, airline costs, and rentals. Industries facing an offshoot surge in prices include the automobile industry and the Real estate market. However, the main factors driving the prices are shortages of core raw materials like computer chips and timber (essential to the efficient supply functions of the respective industries). Despite accounting for the temporal effect of certain factors, however, the inflation seems hardly controlled; perverse to the position opined by Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

The Fed already insinuated earlier that the economy recovered sooner than originally expected, making it worthwhile to ponder over pulling the plug on the doveish leverage that allowed the economy to persevere through the pandemic. The main cause was the rampant inflation – way off the 2% targetted inflation level. However, the alluded remarks were deftly handled to avoid a panic in an already fragile road to recovery. The economic figures shed some light on the true nature of the US economy which baffled the Fed. The consumer expectations, as per Bloomberg’s data, show that prices are to inflate further by 4.8% over the course of the following 12 months. Moreover, the data shows that the investor sentiment gauged from the bond market rally is also up to 2.5% expected inflation over the corresponding period. Furthermore, a survey from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) suggested that net 47 companies have raised their average prices since May by seven percentage points; the largest surge in four decades. It is all too much to overwhelm any reader that the data shows the economy is reeling with inflation – and the Fed is not clear whether it is transitionary or would outlast the pandemic itself.

Economists, however, have shown faith in the tools and nerves of the Federal Reserve. Even the IMF commended the Fed’s response and tactical strategies implemented to trestle the battered economy. However, much averse to the celebration of a win over the pandemic, the fight is still not through the trough. As the Delta variant continues to amass cases in the United States, the championed vaccinations are being questioned. While it is explicable that the surge is almost distinctly in the unvaccinated or low-vaccinated states, the threat is all that is enough to drive fear and speculation throughout the country. The effects are showing as, despite a lucrative economic rebound, over 9 million positions lay vacant for employment. The prices are billowing yet the growth is stagnating as supply is still lukewarm and people are still wary of returning to work. The job market casts a recession-like scenario while the demand is strong which in turn is driving the wages into the competitive territory. This wage-price spiral would fuel inflation, presumably for years as embedded expectations of employees would be hard to nudge lower. Remember prices and wages are always sticky downwards!

Now the paradox stands. As Congress is allegedly embarking on signing a $4 trillion economic plan, presented by president Joe Bidden, the matters are to turn all the more complex and difficult to follow. While the infrastructure bill would not be a hard press on short-term inflation, the iteration of tax credits and social spending programs would most likely fuel the inflation further. It is true that if the virus resurges, there won’t be any other option to keep the economy afloat. However, a bustling inflationary environment would eventually push the Fed to put the brakes on by either raising the interest rates or by gradually ceasing its Asset Purchase Program. Both the tools, however, would risk a premature contraction which could pull the United States into an economic spiral quite similar to that of the deflating Japanese economy. It is, therefore, a tough stance to take whether a whiff of stagflation today is merely provisional or are these some insidious early signs to be heeded in a deliberate fashion and rectified immediately.

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Carbon Market Could Drive Climate Action

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Authors: Martin Raiser, Sebastian Eckardt, Giovanni Ruta*

Trading commenced on China’s national emissions trading system (ETS) on Friday. With a trading volume of about 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide or roughly 12 percent of the total global CO2 emissions, the ETS is now the world’s largest carbon market.

While the traded emission volume is large, the first trading day opened, as expected, with a relatively modest price of 48 yuan ($7.4) per ton of CO2. Though this is higher than the global average, which is about $2 per ton, it is much lower than carbon prices in the European Union market where the cost per ton of CO2 recently exceeded $50.

Large volume but low price

The ETS has the potential to play an important role in achieving, and accelerating China’s long-term climate goals — of peaking emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060. Under the plan, about 2,200 of China’s largest coal and gas-fired power plants have been allocated free emission rights based on their historical emissions, power output and carbon intensity.

Facilities that cut emissions quickly will be able to sell excess allowances for a profit, while those that exceed their initial allowance will have to pay to purchase additional emission rights or pay a fine. Putting a price tag on CO2 emissions will promote investment in low-carbon technologies and equipment, while carbon trading will ensure emissions are first cut where it is least costly, minimizing abatement costs. This sounds plain and simple, but it will take time for the market to develop and meaningfully contribute to emission reductions.
The initial phase of market development is focused on building credible emissions disclosure and verification systems — the basic infrastructure of any functioning carbon market — encouraging facilities to accurately monitor and report their emissions rather than constraining them. Consequently, allocations given to power companies have been relatively generous, and are tied to power output rather than being set at absolute levels.

Also, the requirements of each individual facility to obtain additional emission rights are capped at 20 percent above the initial allowance and fines for non-compliance are relatively low. This means carbon prices initially are likely to remain relatively low, mitigating the immediate financial impact on power producers and giving them time to adjust.

For carbon trading to develop into a significant policy tool, total emissions and individual allowances will need to tighten over time. Estimates by Tsinghua University suggest that carbon prices will need to be raised to $300-$350 per ton by 2060 to achieve carbon neutrality. And our research at the World Bank suggest a broadly applied carbon price of $50 could help reduce China’s CO2 emissions by almost 25 percent compared with business as usual over the coming decade, while also significantly contributing to reduced air pollution.

Communicating a predictable path for annual emission cap reductions will allow power producers to factor future carbon price increases into their investment decisions today. In addition, experience from the longest-established EU market shows that there are benefits to smoothing out cyclical fluctuations in demand.

For example, carbon emissions naturally decline during periods of lower economic activity. In order to prevent this from affecting carbon prices, the EU introduced a stability reserve mechanism in 2019 to reduce the surplus of allowances and stabilize prices in the market.

Besides, to facilitate the energy transition away from coal, allowances would eventually need to be set at an absolute, mass-based level, which is applied uniformly to all types of power plants — as is done in the EU and other carbon markets.

The current carbon-intensity based allocation mechanism encourages improving efficiency in existing coal power plants and is intended to safeguard reliable energy supply, but it creates few incentives for power producers to divest away from coal.

The effectiveness of the ETS in creating appropriate price incentives would be further enhanced if combined with deeper structural reforms in power markets to allow competitive renewable energy to gain market share.

As the market develops, carbon pricing should become an economy-wide instrument. The power sector accounts for about 30 percent of carbon emissions, but to meet China’s climate goals, mitigation actions are needed in all sectors of the economy. Indeed, the authorities plan to expand the ETS to petro-chemicals, steel and other heavy industries over time.

In other carbon intensive sectors, such as transport, agriculture and construction, emissions trading will be technically challenging because monitoring and verification of emissions is difficult. Faced with similar challenges, several EU member states have introduced complementary carbon taxes applied to sectors not covered by an ETS. Such carbon excise taxes are a relatively simple and efficient instrument, charged in proportion to the carbon content of fuel and a set carbon price.

Finally, while free allowances are still given to some sectors in the EU and other more mature national carbon markets, the majority of initial annual emission rights are auctioned off. This not only ensures consistent market-based price signals, but generates public revenue that can be recycled back into the economy to subsidize abatement costs, offset negative social impacts or rebalance the tax mix by cutting taxes on labor, general consumption or profits.

So far, China’s carbon reduction efforts have relied largely on regulations and administrative targets. Friday’s launch of the national ETS has laid the foundation for a more market-based policy approach. If deployed effectively, China’s carbon market will create powerful incentives to stimulate investment and innovation, accelerate the retirement of less-efficient coal-fired plants, drive down the cost of emission reduction, while generating resources to finance the transition to a low-carbon economy.

(Martin Raiser is the World Bank country director for China, Sebastian Eckardt is the World Bank’s lead economist for China, and Giovanni Ruta is a lead environmental economist of the World Bank.)

(first published on China Daily via World Bank)

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