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Weak and Unequal Recovery: Advanced Countries Need a New Growth Model

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The World Economic Forum today issued a report proposing a shift in economic policy priorities to respond more effectively to the insecurity and inequality accompanying technological change and globalization. The Inclusive Growth and Development Report 2017 concludes that most countries are missing important opportunities to raise economic growth and reduce inequality at the same time because the growth model and measurement tools that have guided policymakers for decades require significant readjustment.

The Report finds that annual median incomes declined by 2.4% or $284 per capita across 26 advanced economies between 2008 and 2013 (or most recent period available). Developing countries fared much better, with median incomes rising by an average of 10.7% or $165. However, 23% of them experienced a decline in median per capita income of 9%, as compared to 54% of advanced countries experiencing a decline of an average 8% or $1044 per person equivalent to $2,505 per average household.

The Report argues that sustained, broad-based progress in living standards, a concept that encompasses income as well as economic opportunity, security and quality of life, should be recognized by policymakers as the bottom-line objective of national economic performance rather than GDP growth. It proposes a new policy framework and set of measurement tools to guide the practice and assess the performance of countries accordingly.

Inclusive Development Index (IDI). The report ranks countries based on 12 Key Performance Indicators of inclusive development. Providing a more complete measure of economic development than GDP growth alone, the Index has three pillars: Growth and Development, including GDP growth, labour force participation and productivity, and healthy life expectancy; Inclusion, including median household income, poverty and two inequality measures; and Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability, including adjusted net saving (including natural capital depletion and human capital investment), demographic dependency ratio, public debt and carbon intensity.

51% of the 103 countries for which these data are available saw their IDI scores decline over the past five years, attesting to the legitimacy of public concern and challenge facing policymakers regarding the difficulty of translating economic growth into broad social progress. In 42% of countries, IDI decreased even as GDP per capita increased. A chief culprit was wealth inequality, which rose in 77% of economies by an average of 6.3%.

Some countries rank significantly higher in the IDI than GDP per capita, suggesting they have done a relatively good job of making their growth processes inclusive, including countries as diverse as Cambodia, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam. By contrast, others have significantly lower IDI than GDP per capita rankings, indicating that their growth has not translated as well into social inclusion; these include Brazil, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and the United States.

According to Richard Samans, Member of the Forum’s Managing Board, “There is a global consensus on inclusive growth, but it has been far more directional than practical. To respond more effectively to social concerns, economic policy needs a new compass setting, broad-based progress in living standards, and a new mental map in which structural reform is reimagined and reapplied to this task, with chief economic advisers and finance ministers prioritizing it every bit as much their traditional focus on macroeconomic, financial supervisory and trade policy.”

New Framework or “Growth Model.” The Report suggests that 15 areas of structural policy and institutional strength together constitute the underlying “income distribution system” of modern market economies and are the crucial tools available to policymakers to strengthen economic growth and social inclusion in tandem. It argues that rising inequality reflects mainly “a lack of attention to this policy ecosystem rather than an iron law of capitalism.” Moreover, for many countries such a reimagined process of structural reform encompassing both demand- and supply-side elements also offers the best hope for boosting economic growth given their limited monetary and fiscal policy space in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

The Report also includes policy metrics — 140 Policy and Institutional Indicators across the 15 policy domains that have the potential to drive both stronger growth and wider social inclusion. These permit countries to benchmark their institutional strength and policy incentives in these areas against their peers.

Education and Skills Development – access; quality; equity

Basic Services and Infrastructure – basic and digital infrastructure; health-related services

Corruption and Rents – business and political ethics; concentration of rents

Financial Intermediation of Real Economy Investment – financial system inclusion; intermediation of real economy business investment

Asset-building and Entrepreneurship – small business ownership; home and financial asset ownership

Employment and Labour Compensation – productive employment; wage and non-wage labour compensation

Fiscal transfers – tax system; social protection

An Agenda for Global Inclusive Growth. Based on its findings, framework and tools, the Report proposes a coordinated international initiative to combat the prospect of secular stagnation and dispersion (chronic low growth and rising inequality) by placing progress in median living standards – people – at the heart of national policy and global economic integration:

· Major economies to undertake mutual effort to address their structural weaknesses within this Framework with support of OECD and other international organizations, potentially by expanding and reprioritizing the G20 Enhanced Structural Reform Agenda, launched during China’s recent presidency.

· All countries experiencing labour market challenges related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution to set national investment targets and public-private implementation strategies across five areas of human capital formation: active labor-market policies (training); equity of access to quality basic education; gender parity; non-standard work benefits and protections; and school-to-work transition. Data indicate few countries are well positioned.

· International financial institutions to embrace this reformulation and reprioritization of structural economic policy in their public signaling, country advice, and development cooperation programs as well as catalyze a scaling of blended, public-private financing of sustainable infrastructure – crucial for attainment of the SDGs — by shifting from direct lending to risk mitigation, co-investment, aggregation and project development.

· Trade and investment cooperation to be refocused from the negotiation of formal new norms such as free trade agreements to the facilitation of trade and investment activity within as well as among countries, particularly in respect of SMEs, services and value chains, encouraging convergence around best practices and standards to reduce frictions and boost development impact, while increasing capacity-building assistance for these purposes.

The Report was developed as part of the Forum’s multistakeholder System Initiative on Economic Growth and Social Inclusion and includes written contributions from five international organizations, three companies and one G20 government highlighting their contributions to this challenge.

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Cash flow the biggest problem facing business during COVID-19 crisis

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A new report  on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  on businesses shows that their greatest challenges have been insufficient cash flow to maintain staff and operations, supplier disruptions and access to raw materials.

With businesses already undergoing significant competitive pressure prior to the crisis, government restrictions, health challenges and the economic fall-out brought by COVID-19 further set back many enterprises.

Interrupted cash flow was the greatest problem, the survey found. More than 85 per cent reported the pandemic had a high or medium financial impact on their operations. Only a third said they had sufficient funding for recovery. Micro and small enterprises (those with 99 employees or fewer) were worst affected.

The survey, carried out by Employers and Business Membership Organizations (EBMOs), involved more than 4,500 enterprises in 45 countries worldwide. EBMOs gathered data from their enterprise members between March and June 2020. The businesses were asked about operational continuity, financial health, and their workforce.

At that time, 78 per cent of those surveyed reported that they had changed their operations to protect them from COVID-19, but three-quarters were able to continue operating in some form despite measures arising from government restrictions. Eighty-five per cent had already implemented measures to protect staff from the virus.

Nearly 80 per cent said they planned to retain their staff – larger companies were more likely to say this. However, around a quarter reported that they anticipated losing more than 40 per cent of their staff.

Looking into the future, preparing for unforeseen circumstances and mitigating risks associated with a disruption of business operations is needed. Fewer than half the enterprises surveyed had a business continuity plan (BCP) when the pandemic hit, with micro and small businesses the least likely to have made such preparations. Additionally, only 26 per cent of the enterprises who responded said they were fully insured and 54 per cent had no coverage at all. Medium-sized enterprises, (those with 100 to 250 employees), were most likely to have full or partial coverage.

Strengthening government support measures for enterprises are also vital for their recovery. Four out of ten enterprises said they had no funding to support business recovery while two-thirds said funding was insufficient. Of the sectors analysed, the tourism and hospitality sector, followed by retail and sales, were most likely to report funding issues.

The report production was facilitated by EBMOs who collected and shared the survey data with the Bureau for Employers’ Activities  (ACT/EMP) at the International Labour Organization. ACT/EMP is a specialized unit within the ILO Secretariat that maintains close and direct relations with employers’ constituents.

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Lithuania: COVID-19 crisis reinforces the need for reforms to drive growth and reduce inequality

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Effective containment measures, a well-functioning health system and swift public support to firms and households have helped Lithuania to weather the COVID-19 crisis to date. That said, the pandemic still carries significant economic risks, and the recent upsurge in infections is very concerning. Once a recovery is under way, Lithuania should aim to reform public companies, strengthen public finances, and ensure that growth benefits all people and regions, according to a new OECD report. 

The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Lithuania says that prior to COVID-19, good economic management and an investment-friendly business climate were helping to lift average Lithuanian incomes closer to advanced country levels. While the recession provoked by the virus has been milder than elsewhere – with GDP projected to drop by 2% in 2020 before rebounding by 2.7% in 2021 – Lithuania’s small and open economy will be vulnerable to any prolonged disruption to world trade. Increasing public investment and improving governance at state-owned enterprises could help lift growth and productivity. Other reforms should focus on improving the effectiveness of spending and taxation. Over the longer term, Lithuania should establish a clear debt reduction path and a long-term debt target.

“Lithuania’s sound economic management of recent years, and its swift response to both the health and economic aspects of the pandemic, are helping the country to weather the COVID-19 crisis,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “It is now key to build on these achievements and restart the reform engine to ensure robust, sustainable and inclusive growth for the future.”

The pandemic has exposed high levels of income inequality in Lithuania, where relative poverty is high among the unemployed, the less educated, single parents and older people due to a tax-benefit system that is insufficiently redistributive. The Survey recommends Lithuania to continue providing temporary support to people and businesses hit by COVID-19, as well as to increase regular social support while retaining incentives to work.

In terms of support to the economy, the Survey notes that while Lithuania’s government spending has increased considerably over the past two years, it remains below the OECD average. Public investment also remains low. Given the importance of modernising infrastructure and stimulating crisis-hit demand, the Survey recommends maintaining or increasing current levels of investment and improving investment quality by carrying out rigorous cost-benefit analysis for individual projects. Increasing investment in rural areas, and giving local government more say in tax policy and spending, could help reduce regional disparities and promote inclusive growth.

The Survey also recommends phasing out environmentally damaging fossil fuel subsidies and increasing environmental taxation, which would benefit public finances while helping the shift to a lower-carbon economy.

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United States confirms its leading role in the fight against transnational corruption

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The United States continues to demonstrate an increasing level of anti-bribery enforcement, having convicted or sanctioned 174 companies and 115 individuals for foreign bribery and related offences under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) between September 2010 and July 2019. The United States is thus commended for a significant upward trend in enforcement and confirming the prominent role it plays globally in combating foreign bribery.

The 44-country OECD Working Group on Bribery has just completed its Phase 4 evaluation of the United States’ implementation of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and related instruments.

Given developments since the United States’ last evaluation in 2010, the Working Group made a range of recommendations to the United States, including to:

  • Consider ways to enhance protections for whistleblowers who report potential FCPA anti-bribery violations by non-issuers and provide further guidance on available whistleblower protections;
  • Continue to further evaluate and refine policies and guidance concerning the FCPA;
  • Make publicly available the extension and completion of NPAs and DPAs with legal persons in foreign bribery matters as well as the grounds for extending DPAs in FCPA matters;
  • Continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the Corporate Enforcement Policy in particular in terms of encouraging self-disclosure and of its deterrent effect on foreign bribery; and
  • Continue to address recidivism through appropriate sanctions and raise awareness of its impact on the choice of resolution in FCPA matters.

The report praises the United States for its sustained commitment to enforcing its foreign bribery offence as well as its key role in promoting the implementation of the Convention. This achievement results from a combination of enhanced expertise and resources to investigate and prosecute foreign bribery, the enforcement of a broad range of offences in foreign bribery cases, the effective use of non-trial resolution mechanisms, and the development of published policies to incentivise companies’ co-operation with law enforcement agencies.

The report also notes a large number of positive developments and good practices, such as the DOJ’s reliance on several theories of liability to hold both companies and individuals responsible for foreign bribery, and the United States’ successful co-ordination that has allowed multi-agency resolutions against alleged offenders in FCPA matters. In parallel, the United States has increasingly sought to co-ordinate and co-operate in investigating and resolving multijurisdictional foreign bribery matters with other jurisdictions. Finally, the United States has helped foreign partners build their capacity to fight foreign bribery through joint conferences and peer-to-peer training thus enabling the law enforcement authorities of these countries to better investigate and sanction prominent foreign bribery cases.

The United States’ Phase 4 report was adopted by the OECD Working Group on Bribery on 16 October 2020. The report lists the recommendations the Working Group made to the United States on pages 111-113, and includes an overview of recent enforcement activity and specific legal, policy, and institutional features of the United States’ framework for fighting foreign bribery. In accordance with the standard procedure, the United States will submit a written report to the Working Group within two years (October 2022) on its implementation of all recommendations and its enforcement efforts. This report will also be made publicly available.

The report is part of the OECD Working Group on Bribery’s fourth phase of monitoring, launched in 2016. Phase 4 looks at the evaluated country’s particular challenges and positive achievements. It also explores issues such as detection, enforcement, corporate liability, and international co-operation, as well as covering unresolved issues from prior reports.

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