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Asia-Pacific’s economic gains must not undercut social and environmental goals




While the Asia-Pacific trade outlook for this year is positive, some uncertainties ¬– including the possible impact of structural rebalancing of China from export orientation to domestic consumption – are forecast for 2018, the United Nations commission for the region said Monday.

In its flagship annual report on trade and investment in the region, Channelling Trade and Investment into Sustainable Development, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) underscored the importance of integrated liberalization policies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The impact analysis of different policy scenarios featured in the report make it clear that SDGs cannot be achieved through protectionist policies,” said ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar launching the report in Bangkok.

Ms. Akhtar emphasized that an integrated approach to trade and investment liberalization is essential to achieving the SDGs in the region, but that SDG-targeted trade and investment policies and complementary domestic policies need to mitigate social and environmental impacts of trade and investment.

“What we need is targeted trade and investment liberalization policies that are more inclusive and mindful of the social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development,” she stressed.

The report emphasized that cutting trade costs and deepening regional cooperation are key to reaping the benefits across the region, which may result in $100 billion more regional exports annually.

Export growth is forecast at 4.5 per cent for 2017 and foreign direct investment is also expected to rebound this year, building upon fast growth in greenfield investment in 2016 and continued investment liberalization.

The ESCAP study noted that the expected growth of exports by developing Asia-Pacific economies is 4.8 per cent while that of developed countries in the region is 3.3 per cent.

Some ‘grey clouds’ on the horizon

Countries previously affected by the slowdown of global value chains are expected to enjoy significantly better trade prospects this year. At the same time, the rising prices of industrial commodities and fuel will contribute to dynamic growth for commodity exporters.

The study also anticipates more modest export growth in 2018, at 3.5 per cent, while the import volume will increase by less than three per cent. Export and import prices, especially commodity prices, may trend downward, due to the potential slowdown of investment and consumption precipitated by rising uncertainties, causing slower trade value growth in 2018.

At the same time, deepening uncertainties may also affect the extent of investment liberalization, which is found increasing the gross domestic product (GDP) annually by $19.5 billion, while decreasing inequality in the region by 0.02 per cent per year.

Cautioning that there may be some “grey clouds on the horizon,” the report says structural factors that have contributed to weak trade performance since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis persist. For instance, import demand in China, especially for intermediate inputs, will moderate due to the structural rebalancing of China from export orientation to domestic consumption.

Moreover, while many of the fears about renewed trade protectionism from some developed economies may not be realized, rising uncertainties could be a disincentive for long-term investment and trade.

A strong message from the report is that integrated liberalization increases trade and GDP significantly more than any of the other stand-alone policy changes. This integrated approach facilitates the participation of countries in global value chains and significantly increases the competitiveness of regional exports – providing strong evidence of the important synergies that can be achieved by liberalizing and facilitating trade and investment.

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UNIDO to work together with the International Solar Alliance




The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has signed an agreement to work together with the International Solar Alliance (ISA). The joint declaration was signed on the first day of the Sustainable Energy Forum for East Africa taking place in Kigali, Rwanda from 19-21 March. The Forum has brought together key players within the sustainable energy sector to discuss challenges and opportunities for the sector within the wider East African Community.

The declaration was signed by Tareq Emtairah, Director of UNIDO’s Department of Energy and Upendra Tripathy, Deputy Director General of ISA.

UNIDO is the specialized agency of the United Nations promoting and accelerating inclusive and sustainable industrial development. UNIDO helps countries, among other things, to increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix and to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 to provide affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is a treaty based international inter-governmental organization which was launched on 30 November 2015, with headquarters in India. The ISA has been established to collectively address common key challenges to scale up solar energy and take coordinated action to aggregate demand for finance, technologies, innovation, reseach and development,and capacity building.

At the signing ceremony, the two parties agreed to cooperate in a number of areas including developing knowledge networks to raise awareness of the benefits of solar energy in member countries; and to jointly collate and provide evidence-based advice to member countries on policies and practices to create a favourable environment for solar energy.

They further agreed to work with other parties, and to strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of the global network of sustainable energy centres, which includes the East African Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. The centres provide policy support, capacity building and technical assistance on solar energy applications and energy efficiency.

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Business leaders and policy makers engage at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit




Business leaders from ASEAN and Australia attended a series of engagements with policy makers at the sidelines of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.

These engagements provided them with opportunities to share insights into regional market dynamics, as well as exchange views on opportunities from the fast-growing technological advancement and enhanced economic ties between ASEAN and Australia.

Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Lim Jock Hoi, who was in Sydney to participate in the Special Summit, also took time to engage these industry leaders and leading CEOs from ASEAN and Australia.

The business segment of the Special Summit saw the convening of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Conference and a CEO Forum.

At the SME Conference on 16 March, Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull, and his counterpart from Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, highlighted the importance of SMEs as the engine for growth, and the opportunities for SMEs to benefit from closer economic linkages between ASEAN and Australia in the digital era. On this occasion, Prime Minister Turnbull announced the launch of an initiative on digital trade standards.

Opening the CEO Forum on 17 March, Prime Minister Turnbull highlighted the importance of receiving practical feedback from businesses in progressing regional economic initiatives. He also underscored the value of sharing experiences and expertise in areas such as sustainable and smart city development. To this end, Prime Minister Turnbull launched a new AUD30 million ASEAN-Australia initiative on smart and sustainable cities. Speaking at the same forum, Indonesian President Joko Widodo highlighted the immense opportunities from economic growth and digital technology advancement in ASEAN. The one-day forum addressed key topics related to ASEAN-Australia economic partnership, including on tourism, digital transformation in services, advanced manufacturing, Industry 4.0, agri-food and energy supply chains, and infrastructure.

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Partnerships key to promoting economic empowerment for rural women in the MENA region




The economic empowerment of rural women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was the topic of a side-event organized by the governments of Italy and Tunisia, in cooperation with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), UN Women and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The event featured a range of high-level speakers from Italy, the MENA region, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, and was moderated by Omar Hilale, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations in New York. “Women face several barriers to their equal participation in the social, economic and political spheres, and these constraints are felt even more harshly by rural women,” he stated in his opening remarks.

Fatou Haidara, Managing Director of Corporate Management and Operations at UNIDO, highlighted the significance of industrialization in reducing poverty and increasing employment, and the positive benefits of this for women. She referred to the holistic approach adopted by UNIDO in its work in promoting women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in the MENA region, stating that both policy and capacity-building dimensions are crucial.

“We have facilitated an ecosystem of knowledge and support, successfully partnering with governments and the private sector to create the foundation for structural change that has mobilized women’s entrepreneurship throughout the region,” she said. “For UNIDO, this project is one step forward in our long-term strategy for enabling women’s economic independence, because the resulting benefits will go beyond women and girls to put us all on the path to achieving the 2030 Agenda.”

The importance of integrating women into the political system was stressed by Neziha Laabidi, Minister of Women, Family and Childhood of the Government of Tunisia, who also highlighted the inclusion of women in Tunisia’s national, multi-sectoral strategy.

Teresa Bellanova, Deputy Minister of Economic Development of Italy drew attention to Italy’s commitment to promoting women’s rights and gender equality and to supporting women entrepreneurs and capacity-building at the local level in light of the radical, recent economic and geographical changes shaping the MENA region’s reality.

The discussion also touched upon issues faced by women in the region, such as access to land rights and discriminatory socio-cultural norms. The need for partnerships to come up with integrated solutions to such issues was addressed by Mohammed Naciri, Regional Director for Arab States, UN Women.

Engagement with the financial sector, including making capital more easily accessible to rural women, was underlined as a key factor in empowering rural women by Emanuele Santi, founder and president of Afrilanthropy, which connects social start-ups in Africa to impact investors. Santi added that creating incentives – for example by giving bonuses to companies that invest in companies led by women and rural women in particular – was another key to success. Finally, he stated that the development community had to “work as an ecosystem” and blend financial support with non-financial support.

The event was held on the sidelines of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), an annual two-week session at the United Nations in New York. The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Speaking at the opening of the CSW, UN Secretary- General, António Guterres, stated that the Commission was “leading the way” when it comes to empowering women. “When women are already taking action, we need to listen to them and to support them,” he said. “By building equality, we give women a chance to fulfil their potential. And we also build more stable societies.”

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