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How digital is your country? Europe needs Digital Single Market to boost its digital performance

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European Commission published the results of the 2018 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), a tool which monitors the performance of Member States in digital connectivity, digital skills online activity, the digitisation of businesses and digital public services.

According to it, the EU is getting more digital, but progress remains insufficient for Europe to catch up with global leaders and to reduce differences across Member States. This calls for a quick completion of the Digital Single Market and increased investments in digital economy and society.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: “This is a shift, albeit small, in the right digital direction. As a whole, the EU is making progress but not yet enough. In the meantime, other countries and regions around the world are improving faster. This is why we should invest more in digital and also complete the Digital Single Market as soon as possible: to boost Europe’s digital performance, provide first-class connectivity, online public services and a thriving e-commerce sector.”

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said: “We look forward to a rapid progress on major reforms such as the European Electronic Communications Code aiming at boosting investments in enhanced connectivity. This year’s Digital Economy and Society Index demonstrates that we must deploy further efforts to tackle lack of digital skills among our citizens. By integrating more digital technologies and equipping them with skills, we will further empower citizens, businesses and public administrations. This is the way to succeed the digital transformation of our societies.”

Over the past year, the EU continued to improve its digital performance and the gap between the most and the least digital countries slightly narrowed (from 36 points to 34 points). Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands scored the highest ratings in DESI 2018 and are among the global leaders in digitalisation. They are followed by Luxembourg, Ireland, the UK, Belgium and Estonia. Ireland, Cyprus and Spain progressed the most (by more than 15 points) over the last four years. However, some other EU countries still have a long way to go and the EU as a whole needs to improve to be competitive on the global stage.

DESI 2018 shows:

Connectivity has improved, but is insufficient to address fast-growing needs

  • Ultrafast connectivity of at least 100 Mbps is available to 58% of households and the number of subscriptions is rapidly increasing. 15% of homes use ultrafast broadband: this is twice as high as just two years ago and five times higher than in 2013.
  • 80% of European homes are covered by fast broadband with at least 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) (76% last year) and a third (33%) of European households have a subscription (23% increase compared to last year, and 166% compared to 2013).

The number of mobile data subscriptions has increased by 57% since 2013 reach 90 subscriptions per 100 people in the EU. 4G mobile networks cover on average 91% of the EU population (84% last year).

Indicators show that the demand for fast and ultrafast broadband is rapidly increasing, and is expected to further increase in the future. The Commission proposed a reform of EU telecoms rules to meet Europeans’ growing connectivity needs and boost investments.

More and more Europeans use the internet to communicate

The highest increase in the use of internet services is related to telephone and video calls: almost half of Europeans (46%) use the internet to make calls, this is almost a 20% increase compared to last year and more than 40% increase compared to 2013. Other indicators show that 81% of Europeans now go online at least once a week (79% last year).

To increase trust in the online environment, new EU rules on data protection will enter into force on 25 May 2018.

The EU has more digital specialists than before but skills gaps remain

  • The EU improved very little in the number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates (19.1 graduates per 1000 people aged 20 to 29 years old in 2015, compared to 18.4. in 2013);
  • 43% of Europeans still do not have basic digital skills (44% last year).

Alongside the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, the Commission has launched the Digital Opportunity Traineeships to tackle the digital skills gap in Europe. The pilot initiative will provide digital traineeships for up to 6,000 students and recent graduates until 2020 in another EU country.

Businesses are more digital, e-commerce is growing slowly

While more and more companies send electronic invoices (18% compared to 10% in 2013) or use social media to engage with customers and partners (21% compared to 15% in 2013), the number of SMEs selling online has been stagnating over the past years (17%).

In order to boost e-commerce in the EU, the Commission has put forward a series of measures from more transparent parcel delivery prices to simpler VAT and digital contract rules. As of 3 December 2018, consumers and companies will be able to find the best deals online across the EU without being discriminated based on their nationality or residence.

Europeans use more public services online

58% of internet users submitting forms to their public administration used the online channel (52% in 2013).

  • 18% of people use online health services.

In April 2018, the Commission adopted initiatives on the re-use of public sector information and on eHealth that will significantly improve cross-border online public services in the EU.

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Bitcoin Legalization In El Salvador: Heading Towards A Crypto-Friendly Regime

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Cryptocurrencies are surely one of the hotly debated topics across the globe. There’s always an ambiguity surrounding the usage and permissibility of crypto assets. Various government entities fear that crypto holds the tremendous power to disrupt the financial and banking sector & it will surely replace the existing financial systems present across the globe. This is 21st century & with the growing technological advancements, the world is rapidly getting acclimatized into the domain of crypto currencies. With this move, some government entities are also changing their perception of cryptocurrencies. The recent legalization of bitcoin in El Salvador can be construed as a prime example of this which apparently came as good news for crypto enthusiasts. The news made El Salvador appearing at the forefront of leading international news channels and websites. By this move it became the first ever country across the globe to legalize any cryptocurrency. The step came after the El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele announced via twitter that bitcoin will now be accepted as a legal tender across the nation. Earlier in the bitcoin conference 2021 held in Miami, the President gave subtle hints of passing a bitcoin legalization bill. From using bitcoin/paypal hashtags to modifying his twitter profile image depicting red lazer eyes (a trendy way to used in internet by crypto enthusiasts to exhibit their support for crypto), the President’s fascination with bitcoin can be construed prominently. The congress passed the bill on 9th June 2021 by the margin of 62 votes out of 84 favoring for legalization apparently termed by the President as what is called a supermajority. The successful execution and implementation of this bill will make way for the proper legalization of bitcoin. The prominent excerpt from the bill said – “The purpose of this law is to regulate bitcoin as unrestricted legal tender with liberating power, unlimited in any transaction, and to any title that public or private natural or legal persons require carrying out.” To further promote the acceptance of bitcoin the president also made it clear that persons holding bitcoin or persons investing in bitcoin in El Salvador will be offered citizenship of the country.

This pro-active stance by the El Salvador government was very much applauded by the industry experts and crypto enthusiasts around the globe. One of the reasons why the congress took such a drastic step is that El Salvador doesn’t have any currency of its own. Up till now, it has been using the United States Dollar as official currency across the nation. With this move the dependence of nation on US Dollar is likely to be diminished. Nevertheless, the President made it clear that US Dollar would be used for accounting and official purposes. As a matter of fact, the El Salvador government also promised to provide training and necessary guidance to the fellow citizens on the usage and holding of bitcoin. For the purpose of creating a robust bitcoin economy, the government will take assistance from newly launched home country based payment service provider platform Strike. Jack Mullers, the founder and CEO of Strike said – “Adopting a natively digital currency as legal tender provides El Salvador the most secure, efficient and globally integrated open payments network in the world.” The announcement of this legalization increased the value of bitcoin which faced a sharp decrease after the infamous crypto market crash few weeks back.

Apart from authorizing a potential future currency, the legalization will have a plethora of benefits for the country as a whole. For instance, it will boost the overall economy, create new job opportunities for citizens, facilitate faster remittances, help in increasing the low banking penetration rate among others, enable citizens of El Salvador living abroad to send tokens into their home country among others and permit the government to officially own bitcoins among others. It will also make El Salvador future proof from the crypto perspective as there is a strong possibility that crypto market will takeover the traditional banking and financial systems of the world in near future. When formally enacted, the citizens will be able to pay taxes in bitcoins, the price of commodities will be displayed in bitcoin, and almost everything related to price can be calculated from bitcoin terms apart from creating a alternative currency working simultaneously along with US Dollar.  

The legalization of bitcoin in El Salvador also holds the potential to make a remarkable shift in crypto perspective by other Latin American countries given the fact that the region may become a hub for crypto powered finance. Observing this move many Latin American nations have raised a voice to show support for this move. Countries like Argentina, Brazil, Panama, Paraguay and Mexico have given signs of making a similar move. The top-notch politicians fo the above mentioned countries have already commenced the discussion for providing legal backing to crypto assets. 

But taking such a big leap of faith won’t give fruitful results unless & until there’s a strong backing and support provided to it. To realize this bitcoin powered project, the government officials have made it absolutely clear that the geothermal energy will be used for mining bitcoins considering the fact that the country has large repositories of volcanoes. The state-owned geothermal electric company LaGeo will work in assistance with the government officials. Since the President is aware of the ill effects of bitcoin mining on the environment, only the renewable energy source would be used for this project.  As per the estimates the carbon dioxide emissions from worldwide bitcoin mining industry has reached a whopping 60 million tonnes, equal to that of exhaust fumes from 9 million cars. Hence keeping in mind the environmental concern, the President gave assurance via twitter that the nations geothermal energy exclusively will be used. He also took to twitter to show his followers about the zero emission bitcoin mining process being tested by the engineers.

A major obstacle in this project comes from the reluctancy of International Monetary Fund (IMF) with this move which highlights the tensed relations between El Salvador and IMF citing the intricacies in economic and financial conditions currently prevailing in the nation. The IMF is of the view that providing legal backing to bitcoin will make El Salvador a safe haven for tax frauds and money laundering. Since bitcoin doesn’t involve tax on capital gains, it will surely pave a way for wealthy individuals and organizations to save themselves from paying heavy taxes. Also, it may facilitate laundering of billions of dollars by criminal enterprises and drug trafficking organizations. Although IMF earlier gave green signal to this move but lately it has been skeptical about the aftereffects of bitcoin legalization.

All in all, what future holds for crypto market is hard to comprehend. However, the scale at which crypto usage is growing, one can easily anticipate that the 2021-30 decade will observe a boom in the crypto financial market. Considering the disruptive nature, potential and audacity of cryptocurrencies, it will definitely replace the traditional financial systems present across the globe. Even then nothing can be predicted with 100% surety. Being a crypto enthusiast, I hope the world adopts a crypto-friendly policy so as to make sure crypto market is being regulated by regulatory bodies to ensure the authentic, safe and secure environment for crypto investors.  Meanwhile, we can speculate, make bets and invest on various crypto assets based on our own perceptions and calculations. Till then let’s enjoy the existing regime of crypto around the world.

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Assessing the trends of Globalization in the Covid Era

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coronavirus people

Coronavirus largely represents acceleration in existing globalization trends, rather than a full paradigm shift.

Globalization has ebbed and flowed over the years, but the event panelists agreed that the 2007-08 global financial crash marked a turning point and kicked off a trend “slowbalization”. Falling income, increasing unemployment and inequality proved fertile ground for the rise of nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric. One of the most potential shifts towards domestic production, which is well underway before corona virus, can accelerate, as rising barriers to the free movement of goods, people and capital that underpin globalization. Technology is at the heart of this unilateralism. In the past two decades, we have seen a shift in the global economy, from a reliance on tangible to intangible assets such as software, which does not require complex supply chains. The rise of artificial intelligence could also displace cheap labor and drive restoring in advanced economies. COVID-19 lockdowns have only accelerated such digitization. Another rise in populism could be on the horizon as well, the whitepaper noted, as millions of people around the world are plunged into poverty. And the reputation of international organizations such as the World Health Organization has been weakened, which may further reduce global cooperation.

Compounding this is the deterioration in US-China relations and an escalating trade war. The resulting uncertainty is delaying companies’ investment decisions and curbing the global capital flows which are a key pillar of globalization.

It will categorize the globe in losers and winners. The most successful countries in the near future are likely to be those that can generate social consensus on policies; small economies that are protected by nearby large markets like China or Europe; and countries with strong public finances that can prop up their domestic economy, such as Switzerland. Exporting countries that cannot rely on domestic markets will be the big losers, such as India and many African nations. Oil exporting countries may also run into trouble because of growing sustainability concerns. So-called green policies will become a key differentiator for countries, as will taxation to finance the post-pandemic recovery.

Globalization has proved to be game changer for whole world in terms of mobility of people resources and capital; flow of people and resources has also made the flow of diseases especially viral diseases through global interconnectedness. Since the occurrence of Covid-19 on December 2019 in China, the world has totally changed and it has left strong impacts on global security as states have faced many challenges in health, domestic and economic sector. The Corona virus was reported in China initially and later due to free movement of people across borders and lack of availability of  knowledge on its symptoms and causes it spread to almost all over the world and hit the states from highly developed states to least developed states and alarmed the Global Health and Security.

According to World Health Organization, the total number of covid cases registered is 162773940 and 3375573 people died due to Corona. The pandemic has also posed a great impact on health care systems and huge burden on world economy and social set-up and contributed to the shift in Globalization trends.

Although globalization has ensured economic and cultural growth in recent past but as mobility of people across borders become easier, the spread of diseases also became easier as the bubonic plague was transmitted from China to Europe through trade routes and influenza pandemic spread during WW1 due to movement of armies and Asian flu of 1957 was spread via land and sea travel. Hence, the phenomenon of globalization has amplified global transmission of diseases and there is link of how the close integration of people and flow of trade and commerce also causes disease transmission. The year 2019 proved to be fatal for whole world as novel coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2) observed in Wuhan city of China spread so rapidly that in March, 2020 WHO declared COVID-19 as pandemic and by October 2020, over 41 million confirmed cases and 1.13 million deaths have reported worldwide.  The lockdown measures adopted by states to counter the spread of virus during the global pandemic in has not only impacted our livelihood but also affected economy in terms of supply and demand as market places were closed most of the time and decelerated the economic growth of affected countries which reduced trade and increased poverty. As with all forms of volatility, there are both losers and winners as discussed above, and the case of COVID-19 is no different. While globalization may be negatively impacted in the form of the trade of goods and certain services such as travel, other sectors may experience heightened demand. More remote forms of work will only spur on the cross-border flow of data and of dispersed but easily exchanged professional services. As such, not only the suppliers of these services but also the enablers such as Zoom and broadband providers will be the beneficiaries.

Moreover, the low and middle income countries like Pakistan have faced a collapse in health care systems. The lockdowns and restricted movement has put pressure on transportation systems resulting in loss of income, disruption of global trading and halt of tourism sector, decrease in production, consumption, employment and supply chain. Globally centralized supply chains in low labor-cost countries are also being challenged by the increased use of robotics and automation, allowing firms to keep production in relatively expensive countries. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of automation, as the threat to operations posed by “non-essential” business closures is based on the need to keep people at home. As such, operations that leverage robotics will be less affected. Ironically, among those countries that have weathered this pandemic the best are many with high levels of robotics usage such as South Korea.

Moreover, unemployment has become major issue with 14% decline in jobs related to industry. Moreover, globally over 140 million people are estimated to face extreme poverty along with food insecurity. Along with economic system, countries with active corona cases are vulnerable like Ireland, UK, and Italy despite having good health care facilities. In African continent, the countries that are more vulnerable are South Africa and Egypt, In Europe, Germany, Russia and Italy are more vulnerable and in Asia and Oceania, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia and Turkey and in America Brazil, Chile, USA, Mexico and Peru. The Covid came in three different waves and posed more challenge for states like India where the whole health system collapsed and people were helpless.

In Addition to Health care system and economy, the education sector has been affected too mostly in developing and under-developing states. For example, initially when the schools, colleges and universities were closed the students as well as teachers couldn’t adapt immediately to online mode and that made it difficult to acquire quality education. Moreover, the states like Pakistan where internet availability is limited and there are many household that lack access to internet especially rural areas, education could not be provided through online mode. Although the studies at University level continued through online mode, but primary and secondary education sector were severely affected. And this is clear , that the learning acquired by attending institutions and learning at home through online mode are very different and the later requires self-regulation that is very less in today’s youth who have various other distractions in terms of electronic gadgets, social media and mobile phones.

 COVID became a global issue in past two years and all the states and international organizations were active to cooperate and spread awareness and adopted measures that could halt its spread. It affected all states and posed challenges on economy, health, education and has exposed the urgent need to revisit disaster preparedness and health care systems as health care capacity of powerful nations have been tested during pandemic. The developed states like US have faced difficulties in controlling the spread of epidemic and less developed have been further unable to respond to and control the situation.  The Covid has not only posed challenges to economic and health system but the trends of globalization have also shifted. The states adopted counter strategies where institutions were closed, lockdowns were implemented, travel banned and people have to restrict movement.

In short, Covid has been and still is a challenge that states are facing and all states and international organizations have cooperated to fight this evil through research on its causes and effects. The Global community has been successful to produce vaccine that will control the spread of Corona in future and generate immunity for Virus among people.  The fight against corona is still there and future hold secrets of this Global Virus that has changed the whole global structure and posed challenge to developed and under developed sates equally as no one was prepared for this deadly outbreak.

We are shifting to a new model of globalization that is more localized, focused on services, less capital and energy intensive. Globalization will survive in the COVID-era, but it will look vastly different.

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How has Russia’s economy fared in the pandemic era?

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Authors: Apurva Sanghi, Samuel Freije-Rodriguez, Nithin Umapathi

COVID-19 continues to upturn our lives and disrupt economic activity across the world. The World Bank estimates that well over 100 million people would be pushed into extreme poverty by the end of this year alone. Global food insecurity is on the rise, and the pandemic is expected to leave long-term scars, world over. How has Russia’s economy fared in the global “pandemic-onium”? What about jobs, food prices, and poverty?

First, the economy. In our most recent World Bank Russia Economic Report, we examine how Russia’s GDP fell by 3% in 2020 compared to larger contractions of 3.8% in the world economy, 5.4% in advanced economies and 4.8% in most commodity-exporting economies. Several factors helped Russia perform relatively better. Well-known ones are Russia’s sizeable fiscal buffers and supportive monetary policy. This allowed for a substantial countercyclical fiscal response (about 4.5 percent of GDP, on par with benchmark countries). Lesser-known factors, perhaps, are a relatively small services sector and a large public sector that buffered against unemployment.

Russia’s pre-pandemic advances in digitization also paid off and enabled Russian society to operate reasonably effectively during lockdowns. And closer and growing ties to a relatively fast-growing China, stabilization in new COVID-19 cases, loosening of OPEC+ production cuts – all helped. Indeed, the economic recovery is gathering pace — and with all the caveats of uncertainty around the evolution of the pandemic – we now project Russia’s GDP to grow at 3.2% in 2021 and 2022.

Second, when it comes to jobs, although employment remains below pre-pandemic levels, the labor market is improving. The unemployment rate in March 2021 was 5.4%, down from 6.4% in last August. Interestingly, most jobs were created in the informal sector: about 828,000 in the 2nd half of 2020. Job losses have not been the same across economic activities. Total losses of 1.78 million jobs were concentrated in four sectors: manufacturing, construction, retail and hospitality, and health/social services.

Job losses in manufacturing, construction, and retail and hospitality can be explained by the lockdown measures and the difficulty of tele-work in these sectors. However, the fall of employment in health and social services during a pandemic, is more difficult to explain. It could be because of increased mental and physical fatigue of health workers, increased infections in this segment of the workforce, or the fall in employment in social care facilities (including the private ones), which were hit by the pandemic.

Third, turning to food prices, both cyclical and structural factors are behind the rise for items such as sugar and eggs. Higher global demand, global supply disruptions due to bad weather, and lower domestic harvest such as for sugar crops and oilseeds, along with the sizeable ruble depreciation last year, have contributed to this rise. Structural factors stem from the 2014 food embargo, which reduced competition in the domestic market, as domestic production has been unable to respond fully to demand.

At the same time, short-term (cyclical) policy responses to rising food prices have been geared towards export restrictions such as bans, quotas, tariffs, and price caps and subsidies. While politically attractive, and administratively easily implementable, these measures are economically distortive. A recent Higher School of Economics study found that consumer losses amounted to 2000 rubles per Russian citizens, each year, with the beneficiaries being Russian producers and non-sanctioned importers, such as Belarus. Moreover, it is the low-income families and poor who are disproportionately affected by food price increases, as they spend nearly half of their income on food. Therefore, a better approach to help those most affected by food insecurity would be to improve the targeting of Russia’s social safety nets in order to reduce food insecurity and poverty.

Finally, this brings us to poverty.

Russia has admirably contained additional spikes in the COVID-19 induced poverty rate. This success, in large part, is due to various compensatory social policies, such as the increase in unemployment benefits, child allowances, and support to single parent families. With the economic recovery now gathering pace, and assuming effective implementation of announced policies, we forecast Russia’s poverty rate by end-year 2021 to decline to 11.4 from the pre-pandemic poverty rate of 12.3%. However, double-digit poverty remains stubbornly high, and strong growth will play an important role in achieving Russia’s goal of halving it by 2030.

That being said, we believe that growth will not be enough – it will need to be complemented by a social safety net system that is more scalable and inclusive (the current welfare system transfers around only 10% of the total social assistance budget to the poor). Successful implementation of Russia’s strategic directive (Послание Президента Федеральному Собранию) will also require a safety net capable of addressing the complex financial, health, labor market and long-term care needs of the poor and vulnerable.

A concrete example of how a scalable and inclusive safety net could be weaved is through a national program, which aids people who fall below the poverty threshold. They would be provided with an income-gap-filling payment combined with incentives to graduate them out of poverty through labor activation support. With many caveats, such as excellent targeting, we estimate the lower-bound cost of such a program to be around 0.3% of GDP. As Russian policymakers tackle the goal of halving poverty, at least based on our analysis, accomplishing this laudable goal is within reach.

First appeared in the print version of the Kommersant newspaper via World Bank

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