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The Agenda of G20 Summit 2017

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Amid clashes between police and protesters, the top advanced nations known as Group of 20, or simply ‘G-20’ summit is getting underway on 7-8 July in the German port city of Hamburg with terrorism, global trade and climate change among the major issues on the agenda. From Paris Climate Accord to North Korean Nuclear threat, US-Russian ties to Indo-China strain, this G20 summit will witness the global superpowers in their worst, trying to make their best.

Germany’s G20 Presidency with three main focuses: Ensuring stability; improving viability for the future and Accepting responsibility.

 The city of Hamburg has boosted its police with reinforcements from around the country and has 20,000police officers on hand to patrol Hamburg’s streets, skies and waterways. The meeting follows skirmishes between police and protesters elsewhere in Germany’s second-biggest city. Police said that at least 76 officers were hurt, one of whom had to be taken to a hospital with an eye injury after a firework exploded in front of him. On Friday morning, dozens of protesters attempted to block cars from accessing the summit, being held at the trade fair grounds in downtown Hamburg, but they were quickly thwarted by police. Further away in the city’s Altona district, police said people set several parked cars alight and attacked a police station, though the situation quickly calmed down.

 The G-20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, France, Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Also attending the summit are the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Guinea, Senegal, Singapore and Vietnam.

 The G20 is the main forum for international cooperation among the 20 leading industrialized nations and emerging economies in the fields of finance and economics. The G20 nations are together home to almost two thirds of the world’s population, as well as generating more than four fifths of global GDP, and accounting for three quarters of global trade.

 The host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, says she hopes to find “compromises and answers” on a range of issues at the two-day meeting of leading industrial and developing nations. The G20 finance ministers will be focusing on achieving progress on the stricter regulation of financial markets, especially in the field of shadow banking.

In the run up to the G20 summit, numerous line minister meetings were held, in order to explore individual G20 issues in greater depth. Between January and May 2017, ministers responsible for finance, foreign affairs, labor affairs, health, agriculture and digital policy met. As was the case during the G7 Presidency, Angela Merkel met with representatives of civil society between March and June 2017; several dialogues took place, including events for the business community (Business20), non-governmental organisations (Civil20), trade unions (Labour20), the science and research community (Science20), think tanks (Think20), women (Women20) and youth (Youth20). The civil society organisations themselves are responsible for these meeting as well as for recommendations for Presidency, which will pick up on relevant G20 issues.

The G20 Summit, being hosted this year on July 7 and July 8 in Germany, which will see the coming together of 20 of the World’s biggest economies to discuss, debate and resolve various issue of global and continental importance. Many of the G20 nations have developed differences ranging from environmental issues to prevailing tensions or war-like situations, and are expected to use this platform to at least find a resolution acceptable to all.

While main issues to focus, given the global-political scenario, can be broadly divided into two general categories, primarily as Environmental and Political, here we will look at these in a bit detailed fashion. While the G20 Summit in its definition aims to strengthen the resilience of the global financial system and proper regulation of all financial markets, it also organizes bilateral talks among the members to discuss and if needed resolve differences, at the disposal of the two nations involved. The first meeting was hosted by Germany as well after the formation of the group in 1999.

Among the nations which are expected to directly take part in this metaphorical intervention of President Trump are British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While May will reportedly express Britain’s full commitment towards the Paris agreement and in her one-on-one talks with him will stress how the accord should not be renegotiated, Chancellor Merkel who said that the US’s withdrawal from the agreement was ‘extraordinarily regrettable’ said that her sentiments will remain similar to what it was during her last meet with Trump.

The decision to exit the European Union is irreversible now and it has been accepted by all, citizens of Britain and the European Union alike. Given that this decision to exit the Union by Britain, popularly called BREXIT, will have obvious impact upon the economical set-up and future of both Britain and the Union, G20, which is primarily an economic platform might resolve a few issues which they may encounter. While it is true that the main focus might not be upon the BREXIT phenomenon, but ignoring the economic decisions might not be possible for either of the parties here.

 Top Issues likely to dominate Geopolitics at Hamburg would be as follows:

Stability of the global economy

Germany is happy to assume the G20 Presidency as of 1 December, and to host the G20 summit in July, declared Chancellor Angela Merkel in a video podcast on the German G20 Presidency. She cited the stability of the global economy as the “top issue”. a number of issues “related to development” will be given a very high profile, in particular fighting pandemics.

Ensuring stable and resilient national economies

The first pillar involves strengthening stable environments for the global economy and the financial system, but also promoting dynamic economic growth. Structural reforms are the lynchpin here. Germany’s G20 Presidency will continue cooperation on international financial and fiscal issues, employment, and trade and investment. The aim is to strengthen free and fair trade around the globe. The German government will also be working for sustainable global supply chains.

Fit for the future

Germany not only aims to ensure the stability of the global economy, but also, and this is the second pillar, to make it more fit for the future. One main concern is to make progress on realising the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

It is every bit as important to discuss viable energy and climate strategies for the future. And the growing importance of digitalization for the global economy will play a prominent part in the discussions of the G20. To be fit for the future will also mean improving health care. The worldwide fight against antimicrobial resistance is part of this, as are efforts to put in place the mechanisms to prevent the outbreak of pandemics. And empowering women in the economy, in particular improving the quality of women’s jobs, is on the agenda. Angela Merkel will be working to give women in developing countries easier access to information and communication technologies.

Accepting responsibility – especially for Africa

Germany also intends to strengthen the G20 as a community of responsibility – and that is the third pillar. A priority concern is to achieve sustainable economic progress in Africa. German Presidency aims to take concrete steps to improve people’s living conditions in the long term and to put in place a stable environment for investment. And it aims to promote infrastructure development on the African continent. In June a separate conference entitled “Partnership with Africa” will be held in Berlin. The G20 also aims to accept responsibility in other fields. Migration and refugee movements, the fight against terrorism, money laundering and corruption will also be addressed during Germany’s G20 Presidency.

The beef over Syria, North Korea and climate

 The issues which we can expect the nations to touch upon in this meet are the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, Britain’s drift from the European Union, Syria, North Korea nuclear tensions and although off the table, but possible mentions of the rising tension between India and China.

 The long standing issue of Syria and its future, threatened by, on one hand the Assad regime and its alleged atrocities on the people and the rebels on the other, and worsened by the presence of the Islamic State terrorists. While primarily it has been speculated and confirmed by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that US President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will seek to find a common ground over Syria, the most important decision both countries may arrive could be regarding establishing no-fly zones and on the ground ceasefire norms.

The G20 and world at large looked at the decision of US President Donald Trump with an expression of predictable horror, when he declared that the USA will no longer be part of the Paris Climate agreement. While his decision was censured by citizens of the US and other nations alike, this G20 platform will be reportedly used by a couple of nations to show President Trump that in this issue, the USA is isolated from the rest and as Greenpeace Director Jennifer Morgan would say,’ The only game in town.’

Indian Hindutva agenda of anti-beef issue would not even be mentioned in the summit although such grave issues that are detrimental to normalcy and prosperity of a nation need to be debated and such nations promoting fanaticism as their key ploy as policy should be warned against the dangerous drama just for majority votes. . 

Will G20 achieve anything?

Like UN, the G20 and other such forums only promote multilateral trade and do not think about the future of poor nations and poor populations in real terms. World Bank and IMF impose economic measures to weaken the poor people. They and all governments promote ah and help  the rich and MNCs, corporate lords and their  wealthy trade outfits.

With the global political dynamics changing over the period of one year severely and more so in the last few months, perhaps the Summit is well-timed to resolve the differences which have visibly surfaced within several members and non-members of the G20 nations.

No one is sure about the outcomes as the US led Syria war is in the minds of every leader attending the summit.  While there’s little disagreement on fighting terrorism, prospects of finding common ground on climate change and trade look uncertain.

The illegal war in Syria led by USA and joined by Russia must be stopped and the remaining Syrians must be saved as the first action priority of G20 and UNSC.  Israel and India must be brought to negotiating tables to discuss the burning issue of reestablishment of Palestine and Kashmir as soverign nations as they had existed before.

Remaining Palestinians and Kashmiris must be saved. Only Big powers can make the genuine dreams of Palestinians and Kashmiris a reality as quickly as possible. 

However, since the veto powers control everything including the UN and G20, no one is yet sure if the communique that would be drafted at G20 would sternly warn the colonialist and imperialist powers destroying peace in the world, destroying climate, destroying poor people in every country, destroying nations and people; These should be warned against the crimes they perpetrate against humanity by attacking and killing the native people living in them.  Apart from helping the poor and weak nation in economy and development programs, the G20 should also make suitable recommendations to arrest the climatic change taking place globally that would make many island nations disappear from the face of our earth.

Looking forward to the best possible outcomes from the G20 summit in Germany!

Economy

Bangladesh-Myanmar Economic Ties: Addressing the Next Generation Challenges

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Bangladesh-Myanmar relations have developed through phases of cooperation and conflict. Conflict in this case is not meant in the sense of confrontation, but only in the sense of conflict of interests and resultant diplomatic face-offs. Myanmar is the only other neighbor that Bangladesh has on its border besides India. It is the potential gateway for an alternative land route opening towards China and South-East Asia other than the sea. Historically, these two countries have geographic and cultural linkages. These two bordering countries, located in separate geopolitical regions, have huge possibilities in developing their bilateral economic relations. At the initial phase of their statehood, both countries undertook numerous constructive initiatives to improve their relations. Nevertheless, different bilateral disputes and challenges troubled entire range of cooperation. Subsequent to these challenges, Bangladesh and Myanmar have started negotiation process on key dubious issues. The economic rationales over political tensions in Bangladesh-Myanmar relations prevail with new prospects and opportunities.

Bangladesh-Myanmar relations officially began from 13 January 1972, the date on which Myanmar, as the sixth state, recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign nation. They signed several agreements on trade and business such as general trade agreement in 1973. The two countries later initiated formal trade relations on 05 September 1995. To increase demand for Bangladeshi products in Myanmar, Bangladesh opened trade exhibitions from 1995 to 1996 in Yangon, former capital of Myanmar. However, that pleasant bilateral economic relations did not last for long, rather was soon interrupted mainly by Myanmar’s long term authoritarian rule and isolationist economic policy. In the twenty-first century, Bangladesh-Myanmar relations are expected to move towards greater economic cooperation facilitated by two significant factors. First, the victory of Myanmar’s pro-democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in 2011 has considerably brought new dimensions in the relations. Although this relation is now at stake since the state power has been taken over by military. Second, the peaceful settlement of Bangladesh-Myanmar maritime dispute in 2012 added new dimension in their economic relations.

Bangladesh and Myanmar don’t share a substantial volume of trade and neither is in the list of largest trading partners. Bangladesh’s total export and import with Myanmar is trifling compared to the total export and import and so do Myanmar’s. But gradually the trades between the countries are increasing and the trend is for the last 5 to 6 year is upward especially for Bangladesh; although Bangladesh is facing a negative trend in Balance of Payment. In 2018-2019 fiscal year, Bangladesh’s total export to Myanmar was $25.11 million which is more than double from that of the export in 2011-12. Bangladesh imported $90.91 million worth goods and services from Myanmar resulting in $65 Million deficit in Balance of Payment in 2018-2019 fiscal year. For the last six or seven years, Bangladesh’s Balance of Payment was continuously in deficit in case of trade with Myanmar. The outbreak of COVID-19, closure of border for eight months and recent coup in Myanmar have a negative impact on the trade between the countries. 

Bangladesh mainly imports livestock, vegetable products including onion, prepared foodstuffs, beverages, tobacco, plastics, raw hides and skin, leather, wood and articles of woods, footwear, textiles and artificial human hair from Myanmar. Recently, due to India’s ban on cattle export, Myanmar has emerged as a new exporter of live animals to Bangladesh especially during the Eid ul-Adha with a cheaper rate than India. On the hand, Bangladesh exports frozen foods, chemicals, leather, agro-products, jute products, knitwear, fish, timber and woven garments to Myanmar.

Unresolved Rohingya crisis, Myanmar’s highly unpredictable political landscape, lack of bilateral connectivity, shadow economy created from illegal activities, distrust created due to different insurgent groups, maritime boundary dispute, illegal drugs and arms smuggling in border areas, skeptic mindset of the people in both fronts and alleged cross border movement of insurgents are acting as stumbling block in bolstering economic relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Bangladesh-Myanmar relations are yet to blossom in full swing. The agreement signed by Sheikh Hasina in 2011 to establish a Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation is definitely a proactive step for enhancing trade. People to people contact can be increased for building mutual confidence and trust. Frequent visit by business, civil society, military and civil administration delegates may be organized for better understanding and communication. Both countries may explore economic potential and address common interest for enhancing economic co-operation. In order to augment trade, both countries may ease visa restrictions, deregulate currency restrictions and establish smooth channel of financial transactions. Coastal shipping (especially cargo vessels between Chittagong and Sittwe), air and road connectivity may be developed to inflate trade and tourism. Bangladesh and Myanmar may establish “Point of Contact” to facilitate first-hand information exchange for greater openness. Initiative may be taken to sign Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) within the ambit of which potential export items from both countries would be allowed to enter duty free. In recent year, Bangladesh was badly affected by many unilateral decisions of India such as onion crisis. Myanmar can serve as an alternative import source of crops and animals for Bangladesh to lessen dependence upon India.

Myanmar’s currency is highly devaluated for a long time due to its political turmoil and sanctions by the west. Myanmar can strengthen its currency value by escalating trade volume with Bangladesh. These two countries can fortify their local economy in boarder areas by establishing border haats. Cooperation between these two countries on “Blue Economy” may be source of strategic advantages mainly by exporting marine goods and service. Last but not the least, the peaceful settlement of maritime boundary disputes between Bangladesh and Myanmar in 2012 may be capitalized to add new dimension in their bilateral economic relations. Both nations can expand trade and investment by utilizing the Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of a Joint Business Council (JBC) between the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).

With the start of a new phase in Bangladesh-Myanmar relations, which has put the bilateral relations on an upswing, it is only natural that both sides should try to give a boost to bilateral trade. Bilateral trade is not challenge free but the issue is far easier to resolve than others. At the same time, closer economic ties could also help in resolving other bilateral disputes. For Myanmar, as it is facing currency devaluation and losing market, increased trade volume will make their economy vibrant. For Bangladesh, it is a good opportunity to use the momentum to minimize trade deficits and reduce dependency on any specific country.

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The Monetary Policy of Pakistan: SBP Maintains the Policy Rate

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The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced its bi-monthly monetary policy yesterday, 27th July 2021. Pakistan’s Central bank retained the benchmark interest rate at 7% after reviewing the national economy in midst of a fourth wave of the coronavirus surging throughout the country. The policy rate is a huge factor that relents the growth and inflationary pressures in an economy. The rate was majorly retained due to the growing consumer and business confidence as the global economy rebounds from the coronavirus. The State Bank had slashed the interest rate by 625 basis points to 7% back in the March-June 2020 in the wake of the covid pandemic wreaking havoc on the struggling industries of Pakistan. In a poll conducted earlier, about 89% of the participants expected this outcome of the session. It was a leap of confidence from the last poll conducted in May when 73% of the participants expected the State Bank to hold the discount rate at this level.

The State Bank Governor, Dr. Raza Baqir, emphasized that the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has resorted to holding the 7% discount rate to allow the economy to recover properly. He added that the central bank would not hike the interest rate until the demand shows noticeable growth and becomes sustainable. He echoed the sage economists by reminding them that the State Bank wants to relay a breather to Pakistan’s economy before pushing the brakes. The MPC further asserted that the Real Discount Rate (adjusted for inflation) currently stands at -3% which has significantly cushioned the economy and encouraged smaller industries to grow despite the throes of the pandemic.

Dr. Raza Baqir further went on to discuss the current account deficit staged last month. He added that the 11-month streak of the current account surplus was cut short largely due to the loan payments made in June. The MPC further explained that multiple factors including an impending expiration of the federal budget, concurrent payments due to lenders, and import of vaccines, weighed heavily down on the national exchequer. He further iterated that the State Bank expects a rise in exports along with a sustained recovery in the remittance flow till the end of 2021 to once again upend the current account into surplus. Dr. Raza Baqir assured that the current level of the current account deficit (standing at 3% of the GDP) is stable. The MPC reminded that majority of the developing countries stand with a current account deficit due to growth prospects and import dependency. The claims were backed as Dr. Raza Baqir voiced his optimism regarding the GDP growth extending from 3.9% to 5% by the end of FY21-22. 

Regarding currency depreciation, Dr. Baqir added that the downfall is largely associated with the strengthening greenback in the global market coupled with high volatility in the oil market which disgruntled almost every oil-importing country, including Pakistan. He further remarked, however, that as the global economy is vying stability, the situation would brighten up in the forthcoming months. Mr. Baqir emphasized that the current account deficit stands at the lowest level in the last decade while the remittances have grown by 25% relative to yesteryear. Combined with proceeds from the recently floated Eurobonds and financial assistance from international lenders including the IMF and the World Bank, both the currency and the deficit would eventually recover as the global market corrects in the following months.

Lastly, the Governor State Bank addressed the rampant inflation in the economy. He stated that despite a hyperinflation scenario that clocked 8.9% inflation last month, the discount rates are deliberately kept below. Mr. Baqir added that the inflation rate was largely within the limits of 7-9% inflation gauged by the State Bank earlier this year. However, he further added that the State Bank is making efforts to curb the unrelenting inflation. He remarked that as the peak summer demand is closing with July, the one-way pressure on the rupee would subsequently plummet and would allow relief in prices.

The MPC has retained the discount rate at 7% for the fifth consecutive time. The policy shows that despite a rebound in growth and prosperity, the threat of the delta variant still looms. Karachi, Pakistan’s busiest metropolis and commercial hub, has recently witnessed a considerable surge in infections. The positivity ratio clocked 26% in Karachi as the national figure inched towards 7% positivity. The worrisome situation warrants the decision of the State Bank of Pakistan. Dr. Raza Baqir concluded the session by assuring that despite raging inflation, the State Bank would not resort to a rate hike until the economy fully returns to the pre-pandemic levels of employment and production. He further assuaged the concerns by signifying the future hike in the policy rate would be gradual in nature, contrast to the 2019 hike that shuffled the markets beyond expectation.

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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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