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Global Economy to Edge Up to 3.1 percent in 2018 but Future Potential Growth a Concern

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The World Bank forecasts global economic growth to edge up to 3.1 percent in 2018 after a much stronger-than-expected 2017, as the recovery in investment, manufacturing, and trade continues, and as commodity-exporting developing economies benefit from firming commodity prices.

However, this is largely seen as a short-term upswing. Over the longer term, slowing potential growth—a measure of how fast an economy can expand when labor and capital are fully employed—puts at risk gains in improving living standards and reducing poverty around the world, the World Bank warns in its January 2018 Global Economic Prospects.

Growth in advanced economies is expected to moderate slightly to 2.2 percent in 2018, as central banks gradually remove their post-crisis accommodation and as an upturn in investment levels off. Growth in emerging market and developing economies as a whole is projected to strengthen to 4.5 percent in 2018, as activity in commodity exporters continues to recover.

“The broad-based recovery in global growth is encouraging, but this is no time for complacency,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “This is a great opportunity to invest in human and physical capital. If policy makers around the world focus on these key investments, they can increase their countries’ productivity, boost workforce participation, and move closer to the goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.”

2018 is on track to be the first year since the financial crisis that the global economy will be operating at or near full capacity. With slack in the economy expected to dissipate, policymakers will need to look beyond monetary and fiscal policy tools to stimulate short-term growth and consider initiatives more likely to boost long-term potential.

The slowdown in potential growth is the result of years of softening productivity growth, weak investment, and the aging of the global labor force. The deceleration is widespread, affecting economies that account for more than 65 percent of global GDP. Without efforts to revitalize potential growth, the decline may extend into the next decade, and could slow average global growth by a quarter percentage point and average growth in emerging market and developing economies by half a percentage point over that period.

“An analysis of the drivers of the slowdown in potential growth underscores the point that we are not helpless in the face of it,” said World Bank Senior Director for Development Economics, Shantayanan Devarajan. “Reforms that promote quality education and health, as well as improve infrastructure services could substantially bolster potential growth, especially among emerging market and developing economies.  Yet, some of these reforms will be resisted by politically powerful groups, which is why making this information about their development benefits transparent and publicly available is so important.”

Risks to the outlook remain tilted to the downside. An abrupt tightening of global financing conditions could derail the expansion. Escalating trade restrictions and rising geopolitical tensions could dampen confidence and activity. On the other hand, stronger-than-anticipated growth could also materialize in several large economies, further extending the global upturn.

“With unemployment rates returning to pre-crisis levels and the economic picture brighter in advanced economies and the developing world alike, policymakers will need to consider new approaches to sustain the growth momentum,” said World Bank Development Economics Prospects Director Ayhan Kose. “Specifically, productivity-enhancing reforms have become urgent as the pressures on potential growth from aging populations intensify.”

In addition to exploring developments at the global and regional levels, the January 2018 Global Economic Prospects takes a close look at the outlook for potential growth in each of the six global regions; lessons from the 2014-2016 oil price collapse; and the connection between higher levels of skill and education and lower levels of  inequality in emerging market and developing economies.

Regional Summaries

East Asia and Pacific: Growth in the region is forecast to slip to 6.2 percent in 2018 from an estimated 6.4 percent in 2017. A structural slowdown in China is seen offsetting a modest cyclical pickup in the rest of the region. Risks to the outlook have become more balanced. Stronger-than-expected growth among advanced economies could lead to faster-than-anticipated growth in the region. On the downside, rising geopolitical tension, increased global protectionism, an unexpectedly abrupt tightening of global financial conditions, and steeper-than-expected slowdown in major economies, including China, pose downside risks to the regional outlook. Growth in China is forecast to moderate to 6.4 percent in 2018 from 6.8 percent in 2017. Indonesia is forecast to accelerate to 5.3 percent in 2018 from 5.1 percent in 2017.

Europe and Central Asia: Growth in the region is anticipated to ease to 2.9 percent in 2018 from an estimated 3.7 percent in 2017. Recovery is expected to continue in the east of the region, driven by commodity exporting economies, counterbalanced by a gradual slowdown in the western part as a result of moderating economic activity in the Euro Area. Increased policy uncertainty and a renewed decline in oil prices present risks of lower-than-anticipated growth. Russia is expected to expand by 1.7 percent in 2018, unchanged from its estimated growth rate in 2017. Turkey is projected to moderate to 3.5 percent this year from 6.7 percent in the year just ended.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Growth in the region is projected to advance to 2 percent in 2018, from an estimated 0.9 percent in 2017. Growth momentum is expected to gather as private consumption and investment strengthen, particularly among commodity-exporting economies. Additional policy uncertainty, natural disasters, a rise in trade protectionism in the United States, or further deterioration of domestic fiscal conditions could throw growth off course.  Brazil is expected to pick up to 2 percent in 2018, from an estimated 1 percent in 2017. Mexico is anticipated to accelerate to 2.1 percent this year, from an estimated 1.9 percent last year.

Middle East and North Africa: Growth in the region is expected to jump to 3 percent in 2018 from 1.8 percent in 2017. Reforms across the region are expected to gain momentum, fiscal constraints are expected to ease as oil prices stay firm, and improved tourism is anticipated to support growth among economies that are not dependent on oil exports. Continued geopolitical conflicts and oil price weakness could set back economic growth. Growth in Saudi Arabia is forecast to accelerate to 1.2 percent in 2018 from 0.3 percent in 2017, while growth is anticipated to pick up to 4.5 percent in the Arab Republic of Egypt in FY 2018 from 4.2 percent last year.

South Asia: Growth in the region is forecast to accelerate to 6.9 percent in 2018 from an estimated 6.5 percent in 2017. Consumption is expected to stay strong, exports are anticipated to recover, and investment is on track to revive as a result of policy reforms and infrastructure upgrades. Setbacks to reform efforts, natural disasters, or an upswing in global financial volatility could slow growth. India is expected to pick up to a 7.3 percent rate in fiscal year 2018/19, which begins April 1, from 6.7 percent in FY 2017/18. Pakistan is anticipated to accelerate to 5.8 percent in FY 2018/19, which begins July 1, from 5.5 percent in FY 2017/18.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Growth in the region is anticipated to pick up to 3.2 percent in 2018 from 2.4 percent in 2017. Stronger growth will depend on a firming of commodity prices and implementation of reforms. A drop in commodity prices, steeper-than-anticipated global interest rate increases, and inadequate efforts to ameliorate debt dynamics could set back economic growth. South Africa is forecast to tick up to 1.1 percent growth in 2018 from 0.8 percent in 2017. Nigeria is anticipated to accelerate to a 2.5 percent expansion this year from 1 percent in the year just ended.

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Korea: Keep supporting people and the economy until recovery fully under way

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Korea has limited the damage to its economy from the COVID-19 crisis with swift and effective measures to contain the virus and protect households and businesses. Support for workers and the export-dependent economy should continue, given falling employment and the risk of prolonged disruption to trade and global value chains, according to a new OECD report.

Thanks to the government’s prompt response to the pandemic, Korea is experiencing the shallowest recession among OECD countries. However, the recovery will be slow and uncertainty remains high, says the latest OECD Economic Survey of Korea. The Survey recommends continuing economic support measures to households and business until a recovery is fully under way, while ensuring that fiscal plans preserve long-term fiscal sustainability. Income support should be targeted to low-income households, and skills training should be offered even beyond the crisis to help vulnerable people who lost their job find employment in new areas.

Sound public finances mean there is room for fiscal stimulus. The Survey suggests focusing investment in some of the areas featuring in the recent Korean New Deal, such as 5G telecommunication and artificial intelligence. Reforming regulations, cutting barriers to competition and encouraging innovation could help to diffuse new technologies through the economy and lift productivity.

The Survey projects a rebound in activity after the sizeable drop in the first half of 2020, with a 0.8% contraction in 2020 and 3.1% growth in 2021, absent a resurgence of the pandemic. While domestic-oriented activity is normalising gradually, the global recession is holding back exports and investment. A second global wave of infections would delay the recovery: GDP would then contract by 2% in 2020, and growth reach only 1.4% in 2021.

Further disruptions in world trade and global value chains would hurt the Korean economy, which depends heavily on exports and is deeply integrated in global value chains. In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is creating financial risks, notwithstanding a wide range of policy interventions, as rising unemployment and loss of income affect debt reimbursement by households and small businesses, while uncertainty increases financial market volatility.

The Survey examines the looming pressures of an ageing population, with Korea’s old-age dependency ratio set to be the highest of any OECD country by 2060. It notes that the share of elderly people in relative poverty – defined as living on less than half of the median household income of the total population – is the highest among OECD countries. It recommends further increasing the basic old-age pension and focusing it on people in absolute poverty, as well as addressing high unemployment among disadvantaged groups and the wide gender wage gap. Along with stronger social protection, easing labour market regulations would promote productivity and reduce labour market duality.

A Survey chapter on the digital economy looks at the potential to boost productivity and well-being by building on the country’s outstanding digital infrastructure and IT technology and addressing digital skills gaps and the digital gap between large and small firms. The Survey recommends building on the system of regulatory sandboxes – where regulatory obligations can be partly waived to encourage innovation in products or business models – to improve product market regulations. It also recommends facilitating the use of telemedicine to boost productivity and well-being.

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MDBs’ Annual Climate Finance Passes $61 Billion

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Climate financing by seven of the world’s largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) totaled $61.6 billion in 2019, with $41.5 billion (67%) in low- and middle-income economies, according to the 2019 Joint Report on Multilateral Development Banks’ Climate Finance.

In addition to its traditional focus on low- and middle-income countries, the 2019 report expands the scope of reporting for the first time to all countries of operations.

Some $46.6 billion, or 76% of total financing for the year, was devoted to climate change mitigation investments that aim to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and slow down global warming.

The remaining $15 billion, or 24%, was invested in adaptation efforts to help countries build resilience to the mounting impacts of climate change, including worsening droughts and more extreme weather events from extreme flooding to rising sea levels.

The report combines data from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the African Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank Group, the World Bank Group and—for the first time—the Islamic Development Bank, which joined the working group in October 2017. In 2019, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank also joined MDB working groups, and its data is presented separately in the report.

Additional climate funds channeled through MDBs—such as from the Climate Investment Funds, the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund, the Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund, the European Union’s Funds for Climate Action, and the Green Climate Fund—also play an important role in boosting MDB climate financing. In 2019, the MDBs reported a further $102.7 billion in net climate cofinancing from public and private sources. This raised the total climate activity financed by MDBs in 2019 to $164.3 billion.

“The growing flow of MDB climate finance shows our joint resolve to take on climate change and, in the face of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, it is more important than ever to ‘build back better’ in a low carbon and climate resilient way,” said the Director General of ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department Woochong Um. “The report shows that climate finance provided by and through the MDBs is providing increasing support for these needed transitions.”

In 2019, ADB committed almost $7.1 billion in climate finance (more than $5.5 billion for mitigation and $1.5 billion for adaptation). This included $705 million from external resources, including multilateral climate funds. Further, ADB mobilized $8.8 billion of climate cofinancing.

The report shows that the MDBs are on track to deliver on their increased climate finance commitments. In 2019, the MDBs committed their global annual climate financing to reach $65 billion by 2025—with $50 billion for low- and middle-income countries—and that MDB adaptation finance would double to $18 billion by 2025. The MDBs have reported on climate finance since 2011, based on a jointly developed methodology for climate finance tracking.

The 2019 Joint Report on Multilateral Development Banks’ Climate Finance is published in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused significant social and economic disruption, temporarily reducing global carbon emissions to 2006 levels.

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Public Transport Can Bounce Back from COVID-19 with New and Green Technology

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Public transport must adapt to a “new normal” in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and adopt technologies that will render it more green and resilient to future disasters, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The report, Guidance Note on COVID-19 and Transport in Asia and the Pacific, details the profound impact of the pandemic on transport, as swift lockdowns forced millions this year to work from home overnight, schools to shift to e-learning, and consumers to flock to online shopping and food delivery.

While public transit may have been previously perceived as a mostly green, efficient, and affordable mode of travel, initial trends in cities that have re-opened have indicated that public transit is still considered to be relatively unsafe and is not bouncing back as quickly as the use of private vehicles, cycling, and walking.

“The two key challenges ahead are addressing capacity on public transport to maintain safe distancing requirements, and how best to regain public confidence to return to public transport,” said Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development. “In the short term, more effort is needed to reassure public transport users of safety and demonstrate clean and safe public transport. In the longer term, technological advances, big data, artificial intelligence, digitalization, automation, renewables and electric power can potentially offer fresh innovations to tackle changing needs, giving rise to smarter cities.”

While drastic lockdown measures around the world have brought world economies to their knees, satellites have recorded data on how the concentrations of CO2 and air pollutants have fallen drastically, bringing clear blue skies to many cities.

But as cities have reopened, traffic levels have increased. For example, Beijing traffic levels, by early April 2020, exceeded the same period in 2019. If this trend is seen on a wide scale, it could set back decades of effort in promoting sustainable development and more efficient means of urban mobility.

The report says there is a short window of opportunity for cities to promote the adoption of low-carbon alternatives to lock-in the improved air quality conditions gained during the peak of the pandemic lockdown. Public transport can play an important role through more active promotion of clean vehicles, provision of quality travel alternatives in public transport, and a better environment for non-motorized modes such as walking and cycling to enhance overall health and wellbeing.

The confidence of passengers on public transport should be restored through protective measures such as cleaning, thermal scanning, tracking and face covering, the report says. Further study to explore how protective and preventive measures can be stepped up to allow relaxation of safe distancing requirements would help mitigate capacity challenges. A possible future trend may be consolidation of services and rationalization of routes to better serve the emerging travel demand patterns and practices.

As countries enter the “recovery” phase, further preventive and precautionary operating measures and advanced technology should be implemented to enable contactless processes and facilitate an agile response. Demand management measures can facilitate crowd control in public transport systems and airports. As a complementary measure, non-motorized transport capacity could be expanded to absorb spillover demand from public transport.

Since mass public transport is the lifeblood of most economies, government policies and financial support are essential during this period, to enable public transport operators to stay viable and continue to support the movement of passengers and goods in a sustainable way.

For ADB, which committed last year $7 billion to the transport sector, behavioral trends linked to COVID-19 may require a review of the short-term viability of passenger transport and operational performance to meet changing demand for public transit systems. “Regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic it is clear that developing Asia will continue to have a large need for additional transport infrastructure and services,” the report concludes. “It would take several years before the projects currently in the pipeline would be operational and much can happen during these years.”

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