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India’s Growth Story Since the 1990s Remarkably Stable and Resilient

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The Indian economy is set to revert to its trend growth rate of 7.5 percent in the coming years as it bottoms out from the impact of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetization, a new World Bank report says.

The India Development Update, released today, is a biannual flagship publication of the World Bank which takes stock of the Indian economy. The current issue (March 2018), titled “India’s Growth Story” describes the state of the Indian economy, shares India’s growth experience and trajectory over the past several decades and provides a long-term perspective on India’s growth outlook. Over the last 50 years, the Update notes that India’s average growth has accelerated slowly but steadily across sectors – agriculture, industry and services – and become more stable. This is reflected in increasing labor productivity and total factor productivity. After growing far more rapidly before the global financial crisis, the economy has grown at an average rate of about 7 percent since 2008–09.

The Update centers around an assessment of what it will take for India to return to growth rates of 8 percent and higher on a sustained basis. To sustain its growth path, India will need to keep a close eye on several factors to make the country more resilient to shocks: the changing landscape of open trade, reforms in the banking sector, strengthening financial institutions, and regulatory supervision of the financial sector. Deepening its structural reforms in the areas of health, education and service delivery will be critical for development of human capital required to sustain growth.

Outlook

India’s GDP growth saw a temporary dip in the last two quarters of 2016-17 and the first quarter of 2017-18 due to demonetization and disruptions surrounding the initial implementation of GST. Economic activity has begun to stabilize since August 2017. India’s GDP growth is projected to reach 6.7 percent in 2017-18 and accelerate to 7.3 percent and 7.5 percent in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively. While services will continue to remain the main driver of economic growth; industrial activity is poised to grow, with manufacturing expected to accelerate following the implementation of the GST, and agriculture will likely grow at its long-term average growth rate.

India’s growth in recent years has been supported by prudent macroeconomic policy: a new inflation targeting framework, energy subsidy reforms, fiscal consolidation, higher quality of public expenditure and a stable balance of payment situation. In addition, recent policy reforms have helped India improve the business environment, ease inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) and improve credit behavior.

The Update points to the positive impulse expected from India’s novel GST system which, while remaining more complex than comparable systems in other countries, is likely to improve the domestic flow of goods and services, contribute to the formalization of the economy and sustainably enhance growth.

“India’s long-term growth has become more steady, stable, diversified and resilient. In the long-run, for higher growth to be sustainable and inclusive, India needs to use land and water, which are increasingly becoming scarce resources, more productively, make growth more inclusive, and strengthen its public sector to meet the challenges of a fast growing, globalizing and increasingly middle-class economy,” said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India.

Higher growth requires reforms

Despite the recent momentum, attaining a growth rate of 8 percent and higher on a sustained basis will require addressing several structural challenges. India needs to durably recover its two lagging engines of growth – private investments and exports – while maintaining its hard-won macroeconomic stability. Crucial steps in this process include cleaning up banks’ balance sheets, realizing the expected growth and fiscal dividend from the GST, and continuing the integration into the global economy.

“Durable revival in private investments and exports would be crucial for India achieving a sustained high growth of 8 percent and above,” said Poonam Gupta, Lead Economist and the main author of the report. “This will require continued impetus for structural reforms. Resorting to countercyclical policies will not help spur sustained growth and India should not compromise its hard-earned fiscal discipline in order to accelerate growth,” she added.

Priority areas for reform

Investments 

The rate of investment needs to accelerate. Private investment in India is constrained by several factors including issues related to past leverages, credit availability, market demand, and policy uncertainty. Understanding and relieving the generic, spatial, or sector-specific constraints to investment growth is important. Further policy measures should aim at assuring an efficient mix of public and private resources to effectively use scarce public funds and crowd-in private investment. Private sector investment in particular needs to be enhanced, through measures that assure a favorable investment climate while reducing policy uncertainty.

Bank Credit

Reviving bank credit to support growth is important. The banking sector is experiencing high balance sheet stress. The genesis of the problem can be traced to the period of exuberant bank credit growth during 2004–08, and to the response to the global financial crisis, which entailed evergreening of loans. Decisive reforms will be needed to enable the Indian banking sector to help finance India’s growth aspirations. The implementation of the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code is an important step towards improving the credit behavior; and the recent efforts towards recapitalization have the potential to ease stress on the banking sector and reinvigorate bank credit. However, they need to be followed by wider reforms. Additional measures could include a consolidation of public-sector banks, revising their incentive structure to align more closely with their commercial performance, ensuring a level playing field for private banks, and opening the space for greater competition.

Exports

Export growth rate remains well below the levels registered during the boom years of 2004-2008. The Update points out that India’s export growth has lagged global growth in recent years. Among the many preconditions for India to reverse this pattern are an infrastructural boost to bring it on par with the world’s current manufacturing hubs. In addition, reforms to land, labor and financial markets would be needed to assure the continued competitive supply and use of key production inputs. Finally, building on recent improvements to its doing business ranking, India can benefit from further strengthening its competitive business environment.

Leverage external conditions

As India has increased the level of integration with the rest of the world in recent years, it could benefit from the revival in the global economy and trade volumes, both of which are poised to grow at healthy rates in the near-term. Leveraging the global recovery will be key for India to elevate its growth rates. While oil prices pose less of a risk for the Indian economy, the expected normalization of monetary policy by the US and other advanced economies are likely to tighten financing conditions.

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Transition to Low-Carbon Rice Will Help Vietnam Meet Its Emission Target

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Moving to low-carbon rice production offers the highest potential for Vietnam to meet its goal of cutting methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 while boosting the competitiveness of a strategic export item, a new World Bank report says.

The report, titled “Spearheading Vietnam’s Green Agricultural Transformation: Moving to Low-Carbon Rice,” suggests that Vietnam can transform the rice sector by cutting GHG emissions, improving resource efficiency and yields, boosting resilience, and diversifying production. Such transformation will require significant investment and major policy reforms to align incentives and coordinate behaviors of stakeholders at all levels.  

The agricultural sector, despite all its successes, is an important contributor to GHG emissions in Vietnam,” said Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “It has reached a point where a transition to lower-carbon modes of farming is imperativethe longer it takes to switch, the higher the costs will be. Experience suggests that government has a catalytic role to play in driving the green transition through strategic allocation of public investment and strengthening the enabling environment for private sector participation in a modern, green agriculture sector.”

Rice, which is Vietnam’s most important crop and grown on more than half of its agricultural land area, accounts for 48 percent of the agriculture sector’s GHG emissions and over 75 percent of methane emissions. Based on conservative estimates, improving water management and optimizing application of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticide can help farmers maintain or increase yields by 5 to 10 percent and reduce input costs by 20 to 30 percent, thereby boosting net profits by around 25 percent. More importantly, these improved techniques would also help cut GHG emissions by up to 30 percent. Such approaches were successfully piloted in over 184,000 ha of rice farming under the Vietnam Sustainable Agriculture Transformation Project financed by the World Bank.  

 “These methods have been proven effective,” said Benoît Bosquet, World Bank Regional Director for Sustainable Development in East Asia Pacific. “If we can scale them up in the whole agricultural sector, they will help Vietnam progress towards its 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target.

The report highlights five short- to medium-term policy areas to accelerate the transition to low-carbon agriculture, including ensuring policy coherence and plan-budget alignment, repurposing policy tools and public expenditures, promoting public investments, strengthening institutions, and enabling the private sector and other stakeholders to participate.

The report was launched at the “Integrated Climate Resilience and Sustainable Development of the Mekong Delta” workshop, co-organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the World Bank in Can Tho on September 24.

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World Bank calls for urgent climate action in Latin America and the Caribbean

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A new World Bank report calls on countries in the region to take urgent action to help reduce the impacts of climate change and set a path for the transition to low-carbon economies.

According to the report,A Roadmap for Climate Action in Latin America and the Caribbean 2021-2025, climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, fires, and floods are becoming increasingly frequent and intense in the region and are the cause of enormous economic losses. Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is among the regions most vulnerable to the destructive power of such events, with annual costs due to disruptions in energy and transport infrastructure equivalent to 1 percent of regional GDP and up to 2 percent in some Central American countries.

Furthermore, climate change is expected to have negative impacts on productivity and harvests in several countries in the region. This could exacerbate acute food insecurity, which increased rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic to affect more than 16 million people across the region, with many families at risk in 2022 due to higher inflation and food prices. Without action, by 2030, up to 5.8 million people could fall into extreme poverty as a result of climate change, and by 2050 over 17 million people could be forced to leave their homes to escape climate impacts.

Countries in LAC have a unique opportunity to act swiftly and lead the change towards more resilient and low-carbon economies that foster a better future for their people,” said Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean. “The World Bank has long been a strong partner to the region and as part of our long-term commitment to achieving sustainable and inclusive development, we have stepped up our support, providing about $4.7 billion in climate-related financing during the last year.”

The region is responsible for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The agricultural sector, together with changes in land use and deforestation, accounts for 47 percent of emissions in LAC, well above the global average of 19 percent. Energy, electricity consumption and transportation account for another 43 percent of emissions. The report emphasizes opportunities in these areas for both economic growth and services with lower emissions as key to accelerating climate action and leading an urgent transition to low-carbon economies to avoid the irreversible effects of climate change.

“This report offers an ambitious and urgent roadmap for transformative climate action in the region, building on country climate priorities and commitments and focusing on adaptation and resilience, while supporting countries to achieve their low carbon development goals,” said Anna Wellenstein, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean in sustainable development. 

The report highlights several priority areas in key sectors for new and accelerated climate action:

  • Managing landscapes, agriculture and food systems that include deforestation-free value chains
  • Decarbonizing power generation, transport systems and manufacturing while reducing infrastructure disruptions
  • Making cities more resilient to climate shocks and reducing urban emissions

While supporting cross-cutting actions that:

  • help vulnerable populations adapt to climate change and achieve just and equitable transitions to low carbon economies; and
  • promote green growth while reducing financial sector risks and anticipating market transitions.

In FY22, the World Bank provided US$4,691 million for climate action in the region, in projects such as:  

  • Climate Resilient and Sustainable Agriculture (Belize)
  • Resilient Connectivity and Urban Transport Accessibility (Haiti) 
  • Enabling a Green and Resilient Development Policy Financing (Peru) 
  • Second Disaster Risk Management Development Policy Credit (Honduras) 
  • Belgrano Sur Passenger Railway Line Modernization Project (Argentina)

The targets of the Roadmap for Climate Action in Latin America and the Caribbean 2021-2025 are grounded in the World Bank Group’s Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) and fully integrate all parts of the World Bank Group to work with a broad range of partners in the development of multisectoral solutions. 

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Jobs outlook highly uncertain in the wake of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine

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OECD labour markets bounced back strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the global employment outlook is now highly uncertain according to a new OECD report.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has caused lower global growth and higher inflation, with negative impacts on business investment and private consumption.

The OECD Employment Outlook 2022 says that while labour markets remain tight in most OECD countries, lower global growth means employment growth is also likely to slow, while major hikes in energy and commodity prices are generating a cost of living crisis.

Since the low point of the pandemic in April 2020, OECD countries have created about 66 million jobs, 9 million more than those destroyed in a few months at the onset of the pandemic. The OECD unemployment rate stabilised at 4.9% in July 2022, 0.4 points below its pre-pandemic level recorded in February 2020 and at its lowest level since the start of the series in 2001.

The number of unemployed workers in the OECD continued to fall in July and reached 33.0 million, 2.4 million less than before the pandemic.

Looking at individual countries however, the unemployment rate in July remained higher than before the pandemic in one fifth of OECD countries. In a number of countries, labour force participation and employment rates are also still below pre-crisis levels. Moreover, employment is growing more strongly in high pay service industries, while it remains below pre-pandemic levels in many low pay, contact-intensive industries.

“Rising food and energy prices are taking a heavy toll, in particular on low income households,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said. “Despite widespread labour shortages, real wages growth is not keeping pace with the current high rates of inflation. In this context, governments should consider well targeted, means-tested and temporary support measures. This would help cushion the impact on households and businesses most in need, while limiting inflation impacts and fiscal cost of that policy support,” he said.

Tight labour market conditions mean that companies across the OECD are confronted with unprecedented labour shortages. In the European Union, almost three in ten manufacturing and service firms reported production constraints in the second quarter of 2022 due to a lack of labour.

Nominal wages are not keeping pace with the rapid rise in inflation. The real value of wages is expected to decline over the course of 2022, as inflation is projected to remain high and generally well above the level expected at the time of relevant collective agreements for 2022. The cost of living crisis is affecting lower-income households disproportionally. They have to devote a significantly larger share of their incomes on energy and food than other groups and were also the population segment falling behind in the jobs recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In these circumstances, supporting real wages for low-paid workers is essential, according to the report. Governments should consider ways to adjust statutory minimum wages to maintain effective purchasing power for low paid workers. Targeted, means-tested, and temporary social transfers to people most affected by energy and food price hikes would also help support the living standards of the most vulnerable.

In the current circumstances, active discussions between governments, workers and firms on wages will also be key. None of them can absorb the full cost associated with the hike in energy and commodity prices alone. This calls for giving new impetus to collective bargaining, and for rebalancing bargaining power between employers and workers, enabling workers to bargain their wage on a level playing field.

Countries should step up their efforts to reconnect the low-skilled and other vulnerable groups to available jobs. About two thirds of OECD countries have increased their budget for public employment services since the onset of the COVID 19 crisis. However, more funding is not enough: employment and training services need to be integrated, comprehensive and effective in reaching out to employers and job seekers.

Improving job quality for frontline jobs should be an urgent priority for governments. More than half of OECD countries set up one-time rewards to compensate workers in the long-term care sector for extra work during the pandemic. Yet less than 30% of countries have increased pay on an ongoing basis.

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