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Western Balkans Leaders Pledge to Work Together on Deepening Integration

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Leaders from the six Western Balkans economies – Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, met today to boost cross-border cooperation and regional stability

Meeting under the auspices of the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Dialogue on the Western Balkans, which took place in Sofia, Bulgaria, today, leaders from the six economies pledged to pursue a joint agenda focused on three clear goals” strengthening growth through public-private partnership; driving a future-oriented digital ecosystem; and supporting next-generation leadership.

The move follows an initial meeting of leaders from the six economies at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. More than 50 regional and international leaders from government and business participated in today’s meeting. Reflecting the region’s significance, the meeting was opened by Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria and Sebastian Kurz, Federal Chancellor of Austria. Other speakers include Suma Chakrabarti, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Kristalina Georgieva, Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank and Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank.

“Today the leaders of the Western Balkans have signalled their serious intent to look to the future and transform their economies and their region and together work to advance the stability and prosperity the people of this region so richly deserve. The Western Balkans have the potential to become a new hub for growth and investment and the World Economic Forum is keen to provide a platform for this important dialogue and catalyse initiatives, which also bring together the business leaders and next generation to create investment, jobs and skills,” said Borge Brende, President, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum.

“Helping restore the Western Balkans on a path towards stability and prosperity will be one of the priorities of Austria’s upcoming presidency of the European Union. I see this meeting as an important milestone towards this goal,” said Kurz.

The meeting also convened a session focusing on transport infrastructure, where transport ministers from all six Western Balkans economies committed to expand efforts to improve physical and digital connectivity.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018, the economies of the Western Balkans are among the least competitive in Europe. Of the four measured in the report, Albania ranks the highest, at 75 in the global ranking, closely followed by Montenegro (77) and Serbia (78). Bosnia and Herzegovina is the least competitive of the four, ranking 103.

Representing the six Western Balkans economies at today’s meeting were; Ana Brnabic, Prime Minister of Serbia; Zeljka Cvijanovic, Prime Minister of the Srpska Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Dusko Markovic, Prime Minister of Montenegro; Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania; Hashim Thaci, President of Kosovo; and Kocho Angjushev, Deputy Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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Ebola: EU announces new funds to strengthen preparedness in Burundi

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The Ebola virus disease outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to spread in the east of the country with a high risk of a spill-over into the neighbouring countries. The European Union is stepping up its assistance to Burundi with €465,000 to further strengthen Ebola preparedness measures by authorities and aid organisations in the country.

Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, who is also the EU’s Ebola Coordinator, said: ”To effectively fight the Ebola virus we do not only have to address the affected cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also increase our efforts to prevent the disease from spreading to neighbouring countries like Burundi. The European Union is therefore supporting ongoing Ebola preparedness measures in the country, including infection prevention and control. Everything possible must be done to avoid a further spread of the deadly virus.”

The new EU funding will be allocated through the World Health Organisation. It will strengthen the coordination, surveillance and response capacities to Ebola in high-risk districts in Burundi, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. This new funding complements the existing financial support to the ongoing EU efforts in Ebola surveillance and awareness-raising via NGOs and UN.

Background

Since 2018, the EU has provided €47 million to humanitarian partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo involved in the Ebola response in the affected areas as well as in high-risk areas. In parallel, the EU has also been supporting Ebola prevention and preparedness measures in the neighbouring countries most at risk – Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi – with over €4 million in humanitarian aid to ensure rapid detection and treatment in case of spill-over.

Supporting Ebola preparedness in neighbouring countries is crucial in this region with the high mobility and considerable cross-border trade. Uganda has recently witnessed three cases of a family returning from an Ebola-affected area in the Democratic Republic of Congo. No Ebola cases have been detected in Burundi, but the threat has become increasingly real with two newly confirmed cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s province of South Kivu, which shares a border with Burundi.

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Wildlife Demand in Asia Under the Spotlight at International Wildlife Trade Conference

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Demand for illegal wildlife products in Asia is not only driving wildlife population declines in the region, but across the globe. Tigers, elephants and rhino will be some of the species to take the spotlight in relation to the illegal trade in Asia at the upcoming 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Geneva.

Vietnam is now the largest destination for illegal shipments of elephant ivory and rhino horn according to independent analyses presented to the meeting by TRAFFIC, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). These wildlife products are either consumed in country, or may be shipped on to other destinations in Asia.

“Vietnam has been a country of great concern for its role in the illegal wildlife trade for many years now and although there have been significant steps forward in relation to improved policy to address illegal trade, it’s clear that much more has to be done. WWF is encouraging CITES to look closely at Vietnam’s compliance,” says Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader.

In addition to Vietnam, its neighbours Lao PDR, Thailand and China are key countries of concern, particularly when it comes to tiger farms. For now, China has banned all trade in tiger parts, but the continued existence of state-run tiger farms, with thousands of captive tigers creates political pressure and economic incentive for trade from captive tigers to be allowed in the future. WWF believes that such trade would be impossible to control and could put the world’s remaining wild tigers at risk. Meanwhile, there is already evidence of tiger parts from farms leaking into markets in the region which by escalating demand, puts the remaining 3,900 wild tigers at increased risk from poaching.

“CITES agreed in 2007 that tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and products,” said Heather Sohl, tiger trade expert. “Yet over 12 years later, we have more tigers, in more tiger farms, in more countries, and more captive tigers and their parts and products entering the illegal trade. It’s high time the governments of the world stood by their commitments to tigers, and hold the defaulting countries accountable.”

This CITES CoP will be the busiest to date with a record number of proposals to discuss the trade in other iconic species such as saiga antelope, lions, rhino and jaguars as well as weird and wonderful creatures like the spider-tailed horned viper. Their fate will be greatly impacted by the outcomes of the trade discussions set to take place over the course of the two weeks.

Whilst marine turtles have survived for 120 million years, six out of seven species are now assessed as threatened with extinction (‘vulnerable’ to ‘critically endangered’) according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. According to the CITES Secretariat, over the last couple of years, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have played a major role in the unsustainable trade of Hawksbill and other turtles. WWF is calling for stronger measures to be directed at range and consumer countries and for CITES to hold these countries accountable over the coming years.

Not blessed as a charismatic creature, but critical for its role in the marine ecosystem, the trade in one type of sea cucumber known as teatfish will be a highly debated topic this year. WWF supports a proposal to add these species – which are prized in Asian cuisine and are extremely vulnerable to overfishing – to the list of species whose trade is regulated by CITES.

As always, elephants feature heavily on the conference agenda. WWF is calling for CITES to prioritise action with regard to countries that, either through lack of capacity or lack of political will, are implicated in the illegal ivory trade. These include Burundi, Gabon, Togo, Nigeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates, Lao PDR, Malaysia and – above all – Vietnam.

Finally, underpinning many of the species being discussed, including the near-extinct vaquita porpoise is the important role that Natural World Heritage Sites play in their conservation. These unique places host a high proportion of the remaining populations of such endangered species, and many are menaced by illegal hunting, fishing and logging. WWF is supporting measures to strengthen cooperation between CITES and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

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World Bank Supports Maldives in its Journey Towards Resilience and Prosperity

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Minister of Finance for Maldives, Hon. Ibrahim Ameer and the World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Dr. Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough. Photo: Richa Bhattarai/World Bank

The World Bank is providing support to the Government of Maldives to strengthen the country’s sustainability of public finances while minimizing impacts of natural hazards. Two complementary agreements – one to enhance budget credibility and reduce fiscal pressures, and the other to help the government support reforms for increased resilience and take immediate action during an emergency – were signed to that effect. 

The first agreement, a $20 million Development Policy Financing (DPF), will focus on improving the policy framework for enhancing sustainability of public finances and strengthening the policy framework to increase budget credibility. The second agreement is a $10 million Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option, (Cat DDO), with an associated Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). The Cat DDO will help enhance the Maldives’ financial capacity to effectively manage the human, physical and fiscal impact of climate change, natural disasters and diseases.

The suite of instruments are quick disbursing sources of financing that will support the government to take immediate response, relief and recovery activities following a disaster or an emergency, including health.

The agreements were signed today at the Ministry of Finance by Minister of Finance, Hon. Ibrahim Ameer and the World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Dr. Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough.

“The agreements are part of integrated risk management options to improve the country’s resilience to shocks and safeguard macroeconomic sustainability,” stated Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. “In addition, it is for the first time that a country in South Asia has prepared a Cat DDO that is linked with this new pandemic emergency financing. This is a kind of insurance for the future.”

Maldives has made considerable progress in its macroeconomic and human capital indicators. However, due to its unique geographical placement, vulnerability remains high, and Maldives can increase its resilience by strengthening its fiscal management and preparedness for shocks. The country also continues to be vulnerable to natural hazards and extreme climatic events with considerable economic consequences.

The co-task team leaders of the projects, Fernando Im and Armando Guzman, commended the Maldivian government on their vision, and commitment in achieving a remarkable and innovative milestone. This is particularly important given that Maldives is a small island state. 

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