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Geo-economics and power

Gagliano Giuseppe

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the international system witnessed a number of transformations like globalization of trade exchanges, de-industrialization of the Western World and the rise of new powers like China, Brazil and even post-Soviet Russia.

Before then the geo-economic analysis considered the enterprise as the center of the economic balance of power and was mainly focused on competition. At the present stage, this model appears not to be accurate enough to address the contradictions between power politics, market practices and territorial approaches. The chart elaborated by French strategist Christian Harbulot (PMT) allows considering other elements like power, market and territory that better address the complexity of this analysis.

The main challenge is finding a convergence between long-term business interests and state power politics strategies while taking an environmental friendly approach. The enterprises, for example, tend to have a preference for short-term policies, whereas state-led industrial policies are set on a long-term basis.

Nevertheless, there are indeed some cases in which coordination between corporate development strategies and state-led economic policies is successful: for instance, Russian state-led Gazprom as far as the choice of international markets for Russian gas supplies is concerned, and the American Boeing, that refused to open a branch for aircraft assembly in China, in order to avoid transferring sensitive technologies.

On top of business and state policies coordination problems, the economic needs of the territories do not necessarily merge with state-led or business practices, which refer to the logic of competition, like in the case of de-localizations.

The graph below (PMT) highlights the intersection between the three above-mentioned levels (power, market, territory). Its goal is providing a dynamic reading of different economic scenarios, not exclusively centered on the enterprise or on financial actors, whose decisions do not always take into account environmental contexts. This cross-referenced analysis facilitates the drafting of anticipation or corrective economic strategies.

The interpretation of power politics must take into account a political understanding of economic relations, which are promoted especially in developing countries. The interpretation of the market operations, mainly performed by entrepreneurs, must consider a certain amount of detachment from political objectives, especially in the Western world. Lastly, the interpretation of the actions of local stakeholders must consider the fact that the territory has always suffered from the aggressiveness of competition, to which territorial representatives tried to react through innovative management and appealing policies.

Another category that also influences economic decision-making is civil society that does not account to state, business or local stakeholders. Civil society’s stances are progressively boosting a broader reflection on market economy and advocating an ethical regulation of economic affairs through some forms of sustainable development.

The organization and management of strategic provisions is a fundamental feature of any discussion related to strategic economic development and the increase of state power. The strategic decision that are more often taken in order to increase strategic provisions security are: creating a special State-business committee, establishing partnership with other states, research and development investments, relaunching production capacity, adopting a recycle policy.

The creation of a State – Business commission on strategic provisions could better connect the public and the private sector so that services provided by the states in key sectors (defense, foreign affairs, industry, ecology, etc.) are available to the business sector. The Committee for strategic metals (COMES), established in France in 2011, is an example of this synergy even though its high level of specialization sometimes limits its broader efficiency.

Many of the OCSE countries, like the United States and Japan, set up a reserve of strategic raw material provisions to draw from in case of a block in supplies. However, this option presents some problematical aspects: 1) setting aside a certain amount of strategic raw materials to accumulate in the reserve can determine a lack of capital supplies for the entrepreneurs; 2) it is not really clear what is more convenient to fill the stockpile with. Accumulating low-alley materials or semi-finished products can be difficult for a country where the first transformation process of final products does not take place.

In order to keep supplies constant over time, the securitization of strategic provisions must rely on the partnership with foreign countries or companies as well. A good example of partnership could be setting up a mining site in a state possessing a given raw material and working on its production and transformation capacities through transferring capitals and know-how.  In this regard – as many businessmen highlight – the choice of the partner countries depends on geopolitical risk factors. Argentine and Brazil, for instance, are more likely to attract foreign investment compared with the Democratic Republic of Congo that is not considered as a safe country.

Investing in research and development (R&D), instead, is fundamental to find alternative solution to the substances that are either too expensive or toxic, and to decrease the quantities that are needed without affecting the performance.

Relaunching domestic production capacity contributes to the requalification of the abandoned production sites or whose value for some reasons decreased over time. This option can be challenging for a number of reasons: reopening existing plants is expensive, sometimes the know-how of a given district disappeared over the years, and it is difficult to identify what is the best business opportunity to restore (mines, transformation chains, etc.). On top of a cutting waste practices, businessman prefer to adopt a material recycling policy, especially in the automotive and aeronautical sector. However, even recycling has its downsides, like expensive and polluting processes, and cannot be considered as a determined solution because there is still some waste percentage that cannot be fully eliminated.

Nevertheless, even in a context of perfect synergy between the investments, the policies presented so far are just the starting point for the securitization of strategic provisions. A successful strategy to address this issue requires an accurate assessment and forecast of the current and the future needs of both enterprises and people of a given community. Before pursuing any kind of policy in this field, the state must necessarily have a clear perspective on its own plan for strategic provisions.

An accurate forecast should envisage future needs and the kind and quantity of the materials that are necessary for the functioning of technologies of the future. Identifying supply chains is another aspect worth considering – especially as far as rare materials are concerned – in light of the possible risks for the industrial plants.

The French government in the early ’70 adopted a similar plan after the oil crisis: assessment of future energy needs, development of technologies to cope with it (nuclear power plants), and identification of uranium supply chains and implementation of a strategy based on a reduction in hydrocarbons provisions. The creation of the COMES is part of this plan.

The issue of provisions can be observed from two different angles. Strategic provisions are mainly raw materials of which the state needs constant supply: energy sources like oil, gas, uranium and rare earth elements that are indispensable for the functioning of information technologies and communication, to “green” energy and defense technologies. The Strategy of provisions, instead, consists in the policies to be adopted to guarantee a sufficient supply of strategic materials to sustain prosperity of the French socio-economic model over time.

The enterprise is the main actor of the economy and plays a significant role vis-à-vis the economic war that is relentlessly replacing traditional conflicts in the international arena at the present moment. An example of the combination between war and economics is the fight in the acquisition of post-war reconstruction contracts, like in Bosnia and Kosovo in the ‘90s but even more in Iraq or Libya. In Africa, especially in the Great Lakes region, great powers compete between each other for the control of strategic raw materials that are vital for the future of industrialized economies.

At this stage of globalization in which the future of the economy is mainly determined by non-state actors, the presence of the State is highly put into question. Nevertheless, it would be impossible to completely cut out the state from the economy because the roles it inevitably plays in a market: client, sponsor and producer all at the same time.

According to the definition provided by British historian and WWII expert Liddel Hart, setting up a “strategy” means coordinating and canalizing all the resources of a given state (political, military, diplomatic, economic, cultural) towards the outcome desired. With the end of the Cold War, the importance of the military element is progressively decreasing, while trade and economic resources became the main domain of competition between states.

This new setting of inter-state competition is also the result of the rise of new actors, the BRICS countries, alongside the West and Japan, which represent the traditional industrial powers. As far as European countries are concerned, there are some less evident elements to rely on in order to draft a more accurate plan for the future: ensuring state control on strategic sectors through providing incentives for domestic enterprises and, most importantly, aiming at economic growth, employment and gaining presence on foreign markets.  

The United States and China are the major great powers that show how state support to the private sector – especially vis-à-vis the protection of strategic sectors and promoting domestic business abroad – is not only possible but also indispensable at power politics.

An interesting feature of the French economy is the difference of treatment – and sometimes the conflict – between multinational and small/medium enterprises. Multinational corporations are the driving force of the economy and although for a long time benefited from the national industrial policies, they are currently trying to weaken the ties with the state. Small and medium enterprises are instead more rooted in the national territory but are often struggling for financing, access to foreign markets, protection of their specific know-how and acquisition of new capacities that are indispensable for their survival. The state should then play a key role in coordinate public and private sphere. However, mutual mistrust between these two sectors – although understandable – turns out to be a hurdle for development in most European countries.

In the United States the situation is quite different: strong ties between public administration, private sector, academia and think tank built up a network that strongly favors communication and obtaining information. This aspect tends to get little attention in Europe, where state power is considered as a limit to overcome rather than an opportunity to take. It is true that public institutions have a significant advantage in terms of intermediation capacities and access to information compared to the private actors. However, if oriented towards the needs of the real economy, multi-level coordination between public and private sector can provide a competitive advantage for both multinational and small/medium enterprises.

Creating competitive clusters allows to use the networks at its full capacity, helps local sharing of good-practices with regard to economic intelligence, protection of intangible heritage of information, and know-how of the enterprises. The state cannot refuse to take this pressing challenge: it must promote the access to good practices especially for small enterprises following the rules of transparency.

In recent years, investment funds became a popular topic in the debate around economic power as possible threat to the survival of western corporation model, especially as far as middle-eastern and Chinese sovereign funds are concerned. However, Chinese investments in European companies are still quite low and mainly concentrated in sectors like raw materials, energy resources and other operations that does not lead to a real control the enterprise.

In some cases, however, some acquisitions are deemed to gain technological (or other) competences, without a real interest to invest in the local development of the acquired undertaking, as the cases of Intel (investment fund with CIA connections), Carlyle Group (in the aerospace industry) and TPG (that from 2006 controls the main French company producing smart cards) demonstrate. In this framework, there are several instruments aiming at protecting State’s sovereignty, which is threatened by massive purchasing of economic activities by sovereign funds. Firstly, a screening of foreign investment in strategic fields can be put in place, especially to protect Small and Medium Enterprises. Secondly, a change of attitude is needed, in order to accept that developing countries will control more and more European companies. In these cases, however, the principle of reciprocity shall be respected.

Particular relevance has to be granted to standard and rules, which are normally set out at the international level. Accordingly, lobbying within international organizations, as the United States knows very well, is of the highest importance. Otherwise States could elaborate their own standards or invest, for example, in the International Organization for Standardization, as China is doing.

In this subject matter, the European Union is not able to “speak with one voice”. In particular, the lack of a Union’s comprehensive strategy, and thus the predominance of national interests, is particularly evident. In accordance with the Treaties, in fact, in the internal market, the protection of competition takes precedence over an effective industrial policy. In light of the foregoing, new priorities should be set out, in order to enhance the coordination that could increase the penetration in non-EU markets (especially concerning some strategic sector, i.e. the defense one) and improve the existing competition. Nevertheless, it should be noticed that these changes might not be possible without the creation of real “United States of Europe”.

The current debate often focuses on energy security, not only from an economic point of view. The need to swift from “energy security” to the “energy supply” has been underlined, as well as the importance of securing the energy flows. This is demonstrated by the so-called “oil wars”, as the two Gulf wars, the war in Afghanistan and in Libya could surely be defined. However, despite the fact that the oil supply is one of the main causes of these conflicts, delicate international geopolitical balances are crucial elements to be take into account.

Along with the control of the “black gold”, the “gas issue” should be given a great importance for several reasons. Research demonstrates that the increasing in energy demand in the next years (from developing countries in particular) could not be satisfied by oil only. Furthermore, it is necessary to find alternative solutions in order to overcome difficulties stemming from extraction techniques in newly discovered oil fields.

Accordingly, States are trying to revise their energy policy, by reducing consumption and improving the quality of their infrastructures to avoid leaks, by diversifying their energy sources, especially by increasing the use of renewable energy (i.e. wind, sun and wave power), and by controlling the use of national resources (as France does with hydropower and nuclear energy).

Moreover, security of supplies is related to raw materials, where the interplay between economic and geopolitical aspects is evident. Agricultural products, minerals and rare earths elements are only few examples.

China holds more than 90% of rare earth elements and uses this monopoly to achieve its political purposes, against Japan for instance, towards which the Chinese government applies restrictions on exports in light of their territorial disputes. Furthermore, conflicts arise in relation to abundant resources, such as cultivable lands (as it happens with land grabbing) or common goods, such as water, air, biodiversity and the genetic heritage. In this framework, countries, in a globalized word, have to deal with the scarcity of resources, caused by demographic growth, as well as by the increasing of material and immaterial trade flows, flows of goods and people, information and money. In particular, supplies are granted only when flows are safe and this implies several economic and military consequences.

On the one hand, different economic elements shall be protected: the ownership of infrastructures, the technical control of the exploitation of resources, the choice of transport routes (such as pipelines for the European supply) and the control on access routes (such as harbours).

On the other hand, security depends on military capacity to oversee production and export areas, as well as on seaway’s extension and control. Examples are the protection of the Gulf of Aden by EU’s Atlanta and NATO’s Ocean Shield operations.

One of the main geopolitical issues in the current debate concerns rare earth elements These include 17 elements that are fundamental for high-tech industries, even though they are used in small quantities. For instance, lanthanum can be found in electric vehicle batteries and in sonar; samarium in some missiles’ elements; gallium in night vision devices; indium in flat panels. These specific Raw materials are actually at the center of the dispute between China and the United States, which are two of the main actors in international relations of XXI century. Evidence supports the predominance of China in this field: the country holds between 34 and 50% of world reserves and produced, in 2010, 95% of rare earth elements (130,000 tonnes out of 133,000). This was possible after having progressively abandoned the exploitation of western sites and the complete integration in the global economy system. Therefore, Pekin is able to use this leverage in its dialogue with western countries, by imposing very high prices or, even worse, by breaking their supply chain. There is no doubt, however, that a problem of dependence exists and that it is not clear how to solve it. Nevertheless, China’s position seems not to be so safe. The country should become an importer of rare earth elements by the end of the current decade.

Between 2006 and 2010 China reduced its export share of these metals from 5 to 10% per year. Furthermore, their production was limited, to avoid the depletion of reserves. However, China-Japan tensions of September 2010 (following the Japanese inspection of a Chinese vessel in “contested” waters) have worsened their relationship. As a result, the Chinese Trade Minister set 30% reduction of export share.

China was trying to use rare earth metals as an economic weapon, which led to a real embargo on its exports towards the European Union, Japan (representing one fifth of its final demand) and United States, whose diplomats were able to obtain by their Chinese colleagues full assurance concerning liability in the future. This demonstrated that Sino-US relations are of the highest importance in the American politics. Currently, 87% US imports of rare earth elements come from China, while the remaining 13% is from domestic reserves.

The Chinese embargo forced the United States to implement a strategic vision that was missing so far, because of the dependence of the country form external resources. Therefore, the US needed to undertake some measures stimulating mining, refining and transformation of this kind of raw materials.. As a result, the US pursued a policy of differentiation of trade partners.

Nevertheless, the exploitation of mines in order to obtain rare earth elements is rather difficult, both at the administrative (the re-opening of one of these mines takes 9 years) and at the political level (environmental organisations are often against these projects). Molycop case represents a successful story in this field. The enterprise, in fact, owned Mountain Pass mine, which is the biggest site of non-Chinese rare earth metals in the world, and obtained in 2010 (few months after the above-mentioned diplomatic tensions with China) the authorization to relaunch the activity. Molycorp’s efforts ended at the end of 2012 and the company increased its production from 3.000 tonnes to 20.000 tonnes per year and received 531 million dollars of funds. Currently, the company is the only one that extracts these materials outside China. The step of this process will be summarised in the following paragraph.

In June 2010 Molycorp signed an agreement with Canadian company NeoMaterial, which provides technical assistance and know-how on the production of rare earths elements. Moreover, in December of the same year, Molycorp set up a joint-venture with the Japanese Hitachi, in order to create several associated enterprises producing alloys and magnets in the United States. Furthermore, Molycor signed a memorandum of understanding with Sumitomo Corporation trough which Molycorp completed its supply chain of rare earth metal-manufacturing products. These products are then delivered to Sumitomo Corporation. In April 2011 Molycorp acquired the American branch of the Japanese enterprise Santoku for 17.5 million dollars and the Estonian Silmet for 89 million dollars. Therefore, Molycorp can actually count on a network of customers that goes from the Far East to Europe.

Molycop has secured funds, mines, know-how, logistical cooperation and a network of buyers, and became the only western enterprise with a full control of the entire supply chain of rare earth elements, from the mining to the sale process . The United States could thus avoid direct conflicts with China, after the threat of embargo and the increase in prices.

Despite the fact that China could not be excluded from rare earth elements-market, its power shall be controlled, as tensions arisen in 2010 showed. The idea of an embargo in September 2010 stimulated competition and pushed western countries to diversify their supply sources. As a result, the offer increased and Chinese power decreased.

Economy

Understanding the Tourism in the European Union

MD Staff

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The new report ‘European Union Tourism Trends’, prepared by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in cooperation with the European Commission, underscores tourism’s major social and economic benefits for 28 countries comprising the European Union (EU). EU destinations welcomed 538 million international overnight visitors in 2017, 40% of the world total. EU accommodation establishments provide over 3 billion nights a year, half of which to domestic guests (residents) and half to international guests. Tourism accounts for 6% of the EU’s overall exports, while the direct contribution of tourism to individual EU economies reaches up to 11% of the GDP.

Preliminary results for 2017 indicate that international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) grew by 8% in the EU last year, to reach 538 million, or 40% of the world’s arrivals. The EU has enjoyed continued growth in international arrivals following the global economic crisis of 2009, with annual growth rates exceeding 4% in the last five years.

The UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili stated that “Sustained growth in tourism has been instrumental  in the economic recovery of many countries in Europe and around the world, contributing to job creation, economic growth and a healthy balance of payments”

EU countries earned EUR 342 billion in international tourism receipts in 2016 (31% of the world’s total), making a significant contribution to their balance of payments. As EU destinations earn more in international tourism receipts than EU residents spend on international tourism (EUR 315 billion), EU consequently boasts a surplus of EUR 27 billion in the travel trade balance.

International passenger transport (rendered to non-residents) is estimated to have generated another EUR 67 billion, resulting in total export earnings from international tourism of EUR 409 billion. This represents 6% of the EU’s exports of goods and services, making tourism the fourth largest export category, after chemicals, automotive products and food.

Over two million businesses dedicated mainly or partially to tourism operate in the EU, most of them small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), employing some 12 million people. For individual EU economies, the direct contribution of tourism to GDP is as high as 11%.

The UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili added that “Tourism is a key pillar of the EU strategy for jobs and inclusive growth and I am confident that our strong partnership with the European Union will continue to drive the quality, sustainability and competitiveness of the European tourism sector forward”.

EU tourism is driven by both domestic and international visitors. Accommodation establishments in the EU offered 31 million bed-places in 2016. Guests spent a total 3.1 billion nights, half of which were by domestic visitors (residents) and half by international visitors. Of the 1.5 billion international nights, 1.1 billion were spent by guests from EU countries and 413 million by guests from outside the EU.

EU-UNWTO cooperation

The European Union Tourism Trends report provides a comprehensive overview of tourism in the European Union and constitutes a tool for policy makers and other tourism stakeholders for developing market strategies and enhancing the knowledge base of the EU Virtual Tourism Observatory. The report is the result of a cooperation agreement between UNWTO and the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs of the European Commission (DG GROW) and is part of the ‘Enhancing the Understanding of European Tourism’ initiative. The project aims to improve the socio-economic knowledge of the tourism sector, enhance the understanding of European tourism and contribute to economic growth, job creation and the overall competiveness of tourism in Europe.

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Economy

World Bank: Commodity prices to rise more than expected in 2018

MD Staff

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Oil prices are forecast to average $65 a barrel over 2018, up from an average of $53 a barrel in 2017, on strong demand from consumers and restraint by oil producers, while metals prices are expected to rise 9 percent this year, also on a pickup in demand and supply constraints, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

Prices for energy commodities – which include oil, natural gas, and coal — are forecast to jump 20 percent in 2018, a 16 percentage point upward revision from October’s outlook, the World Bank said in its April Commodity Markets Outlook. The metals index is expected to rise as an 9 percent drop in iron ore prices is offset by increases in all base metals prices, led by nickel, which is forecast to rise 30 percent.

Agricultural commodities, including food commodities and raw materials, are anticipated to see a price rise of over 2 percent this year on diminished planting prospects. Weather disruptions are expected to be minimal.

“Accelerating global growth and rising demand are important factors behind broad-based price increases for most commodities and the forecast of higher commodities prices ahead,” said Shantayanan Devarajan, World Bank Senior Director for Development Economics and acting Chief Economist. “At the same time, policy actions currently under discussion add uncertainty to the outlook.”

Oil prices are expected to average $65/bbl over 2019 as well. Although prices are projected to decline from April 2018 levels, they should be supported by continued production restraint by OPEC and non-OPEC producers and strong demand. Upside risks to the forecast include constraints to U.S. shale oil output, geopolitical risks in several producing countries, and concerns the United States may not waive sanctions against Iran.  Downside risks include weaker compliance with the oil producers’ agreement to restrain output or outright termination of the accord, rising output from Libya and Nigeria, and a quicker-than-expected rise in shale oil output.

“Oil prices have more than doubled since bottoming in early 2016, as the large overhang of inventories has been reduced significantly.” said John Baffes, Senior Economist and lead author of the Commodity Markets Outlook. “Strong oil demand and greater compliance by the OPEC and non-OPEC producers with their agreed output pledges helped tip the market into deficit.”

Upside risks to the metals price forecast include more robust global demand than expected. Supply could be held back by slow incorporation of new capacity, trade sanctions against metals exporters, and policy actions in China. Downside risks include slower-than-expected growth in major emerging markets, the restart of idle capacity, and an easing of pollution-related policies in China. Precious metals are expected to climb 3 percent this year in anticipation of U.S. interest rate increases and higher inflation expectations.

Grains and oils and meal prices are expected to rise in 2018, mostly due to lower planting intentions.  The mild La Niña cycle that extended into the early part of the year only affected banana production in Central America and soybean production in Argentina and did not impact global markets for those crops substantially. The possible introduction by China of countervailing duties in response to U.S. tariff increases could impact the soybean market.

A special focus section examines the changed landscape for oil-exporting economies after the 2014 oil price collapse. The oil price plunge eroded oil-related revenues, forcing abrupt cuts in government spending that accentuated the slowdown in private sector activity in many regions. Income inequality and political instability also weakened the ability of some oil-exporting economies to weather low oil prices.

“Oil exporters with flexible currency regimes, relatively large fiscal buffers, and more diversified economies have fared better than others since the oil price collapse,” said Ayhan Kose, director of World Bank’s Development Economics Prospects Group. “However, most oil exporters still face significant fiscal challenges in the face of revenue prospects that have weakened since 2014.”

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Financial Inclusion on the Rise, But Gaps Remain

MD Staff

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Financial inclusion is on the rise globally, accelerated by mobile phones and the internet, but gains have been uneven across countries. A new World Bank report on the use of financial services also finds that men remain more likely than women to have an account.

Globally, 69 percent of adults – 3.8 billion people – now have an account at a bank or mobile money provider, a crucial step in escaping poverty.  This is up from 62 percent in 2014 and just 51 percent in 2011. From 2014 to 2017, 515 million adults obtained an account, and 1.2 billion have done so since 2011, according to the Global Findex database. While in some economies account ownership has surged, progress has been slower elsewhere, often held back by large disparities between men and women and between the rich and poor. The gap between men and women in developing economies remains unchanged since 2011, at 9 percentage points.

The Global Findex, a wide-ranging data set on how people in 144 economies use financial services, was produced by the World Bank with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with Gallup, Inc.

“In the past few years, we have seen great strides around the world in connecting people to formal financial services,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “Financial inclusion allows people to save for family needs, borrow to support a business, or build a cushion against an emergency. Having access to financial services is a critical step towards reducing both poverty and inequality, and new data on mobile phone ownership and internet access show unprecedented opportunities to use technology to achieve universal financial inclusion.”

Download The Global Findex Database 2017: Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution

There has been a significant increase in the use of mobile phones and the internet to conduct financial transactions. Between 2014 and 2017, this has contributed to a rise in the share of account owners sending or receiving payments digitally from 67 percent to 76 percent globally, and in the developing world from 57 percent to 70 percent.

 “The Global Findex shows great progress for financial access–and also great opportunities for policymakers and the private sector to increase usage and to expand inclusion among women, farmers and the poor,” H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, said. “Digital financial services were the key to our recent progress and will continue to be essential as we seek to achieve universal financial inclusion.”

Globally, 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked, yet two-thirds of them own a mobile phone that could help them access financial services. Digital technology could take advantage of existing cash transactions to bring people into the financial system, the report finds. For example, paying government wages, pensions, and social benefits directly into accounts could bring formal financial services to up to 100 million more adults globally, including 95 million in developing economies. There are other opportunities to increase account ownership and use through digital payments: more than 200 million unbanked adults who work in the private sector are paid in cash only, as are more than 200 million who receive agricultural payments.

“We already know a lot about how to make sure women have equal access to financial services that can change their lives,” Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said. “When the government deposits social welfare payments or other subsidies directly into women’s digital bank accounts, the impact is amazing. Women gain decision-making power in their homes, and with more financial tools at their disposal they invest in their families’ prosperity and help drive broad economic growth.”

This edition of the Global Findex database includes updated indicators on access to and use of formal and informal financial services.  It adds data on the use of financial technology, including mobile phones and the internet to conduct financial transactions, and is based on over 150,000 interviews around the world. The database has been published every three years since 2011.

“The Global Findex database has become a mainstay of global efforts to promote financial inclusion,” World Bank Development Research Group Director Asli Demirgüç-Kunt said. “The data offer a wealth of information for development practitioners, policymakers and scholars, and are helping track progress toward the World Bank Group goal of Universal Financial Access by 2020 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

Regional Overviews

In Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile money drove financial inclusion. While the share of adults with a financial institution account remained flat, the share with a mobile money account almost doubled, to 21 percent. Since 2014, mobile money accounts have spread from East Africa to West Africa and beyond. The region is home to all eight economies where 20 percent or more of adults use only a mobile money account: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Opportunities abound to increase account ownership: up to 95 million unbanked adults in the region receive cash payments for agricultural products, and roughly 65 million save using semiformal methods.

In East Asia and the Pacific, the use of digital financial transactions grew even as account ownership stagnated. Today, 71 percent of adults have an account, little changed from 2014. An exception is Indonesia, where the share with an account rose by 13 percentage points to 49 percent. Gender inequality is low: men and women are equally likely to have an account in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Digital financial transactions have accelerated especially in China, where the share of account owners using the internet to pay bills or buy things more than doubled—to 57 percent. Digital technology could be leveraged to further increase account use: 405 million account owners in the region pay utility bills in cash, though 95 percent of them have a mobile phone.

In Europe and Central Asia, account ownership rose from 58 percent of adults in 2014 to 65 percent in 2017. Digital government payments of wages, pensions, and social benefits helped drive that increase. Among those with an account, 17 percent opened their first one to receive government payments. The share of adults making or receiving digital payments jumped by 14 percentage points to 60 percent. Digitizing all public pension payments could reduce the number of unbanked adults by up to 20 million.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, wide access to digital technology could enable rapid growth in financial technology use: 55 percent of adults own a mobile phone and have access to the internet, 15 percentage points more than the developing world average. Since 2014, the share of adults making or receiving digital payments has risen by about 8 percentage points or more in such economies as Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, and Peru. About 20 percent adults with an account use mobile or the internet to make a transaction through an account in Argentina, Brazil, and Costa Rica. By digitizing cash wage payments, businesses could expand account ownership to up to 30 million unbanked adults—almost 90 percent of whom have a mobile phone.

In the Middle East and North Africa, opportunities to increase financial inclusion are particularly strong among women. Today 52 percent of men but only 35 percent of women have an account, the largest gender gap of any region. Relatively high mobile phone ownership offers an avenue for expanding financial inclusion: among the unbanked, 86 percent of men and 75 percent of women have a mobile phone. Up to 20 million unbanked adults in the region send or receive domestic remittances using cash or an over-the-counter service, including 7 million in the Arab Republic of Egypt.

In South Asia, the share of adults with an account rose by 23 percentage points, to 70 percent. Progress was driven by India, where a government policy to increase financial inclusion through biometric identification pushed the share with an account up to 80 percent, with big gains among women and poorer adults. Excluding India, regional account ownership still rose by 12 percentage points—but men often benefited more than women. In Bangladesh, the share with an account rose by 10 percentage points among women while nearly doubling among men. Regionwide, digitizing payments for agricultural products could reduce the number of unbanked adults by roughly 40 million.

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