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Canada has high levels of well-being but trade tensions and housing market pose risks

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Canada is one of the OECD economies delivering the best outcomes for its citizens, according to a new OECD report presented in Ottawa today by OECD Chief of Staff and G20/G7 Sherpa Gabriela Ramos. Canada scores highly in all dimensions of the OECD’s Better Life Index, especially in regards to self-reported well-being, personal security and health status. Canada is also undertaking several programmes to foster inclusive growth – with respect to childcare benefits, gender equality and social housing – in line with the OECD Framework for Policy Action for Inclusive Growth.

The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Canada finds the macroeconomic situation to be broadly favorable, with low unemployment, inflation on target and growth expected to remain solid over 2018-19.

The greatest uncertainty weighing on the growth outlook stems from the possibility of new trade restrictions, principally in relation to the ongoing renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement. The Survey points out that outcomes will depend on political decisions, notably in the United States, while showing that business investment is already being negatively affected. A second risk underlined in the Survey concerns the combination of elevated household debt and high housing prices, which could lead to a disorderly market correction, potentially reducing residential investment and household wealth and dampening consumption.

The Survey emphasises that the rapid growth of Canadian housing prices in recent years not only represents a macroeconomic risk but has also created affordability challenges that are most acute in fast-growing major cities. Since 2016, both the national and provincial governments have responded to housing market pressures with policies that have helped to cut the national average growth rate of real estate prices to 2.9% in the year to June 2018 from 14.2% in the previous twelve-month period. The government should monitor the effects of recent targeted regulations, paying close attention to high-debt, low-income borrowers most vulnerable to high debt-service loads as interest rates rise, the Survey says. It also recommends increasing the supply of affordable housing and better maintaining the existing social housing stock.

Much of the Economic Survey is devoted to improving inclusiveness for women, youth and older people. The report welcomes many of the efforts of the federal government to achieve more inclusive growth, including through the 2017 National Housing Strategy, the increase in parental leave benefits in the 2018 Budget and the establishment in 2017 of the Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework. “Canada should continue leading by example and walk the extra mile to ensure inclusive labour outcomes for underrepresented groups such as women, youth and seniors. This will not only contribute to a more inclusive society, but also to a more productive economy, in the context of low productivity growth and the ageing of the population”, Ms Ramos said.

The gender employment gap remains virtually unchanged since 2009, and women, particularly mothers, continue to earn significantly less than men, in part due to a large disparity in unpaid childcare responsibilities. Outside the province of Quebec, low (but increasing) rates of government support for childcare should be expanded considerably, as should incentives for fathers to take parental leave. Skills development among youth should be prioritised to arrest declining skills and weak wage growth among young males with low educational attainment. Improving labour market inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in Canada is another way to boost labour force participation and well-being, and the Survey argues that better alignment between federal and provincial Indigenous labour market programmes, targeted work experience, expanded access to higher education and rigorous monitoring and evaluation are all important.

Growth in old-age poverty is linked to the indexing of minimum public pensions to the consumer price index, which has meant that they have grown more slowly than earnings. This should be tackled through further increases in basic pension payments over time. Increasing the age of eligibility for public pensions, in line with life expectancy, would boost growth by increasing the employment rate of older Canadians still willing and able to work. This should be accompanied by greater flexibility in working arrangements for older workers.

The Survey also devotes special attention to Canada’s immigration system, which has been highly successful, welcoming large numbers of immigrants from diverse backgrounds who contribute to the economic dynamism and cultural diversity of the country while maintaining high levels of social cohesion. With the introduction in 2015 of the Express Entry system, the focus has been on the selection of immigrants with higher levels of human capital and earnings prospects. Canada has also developed a range of successful settlement programmes and initiatives to facilitate immigrant integration.

To further enhance the benefits immigration generates for the Canadian economy, the Survey suggests increasing the weight given to skilled Canadian work experience in selection processes and prioritising applications from candidates with skilled work experience and relevant job offers before others. Canada should also expand bridge and mentoring programmes, which help immigrants with post-secondary credentials gain recognition and develop professional networks, and redirect resources for settlement programmes so that utilisation patterns better reflect needs. Immigration policy will also need to continue to strike a balance between maximising ease of integration through selection of highly skilled immigrants and maximising the welfare gains for migrants by supporting migration of less-skilled migrants.

On the key challenge of climate change – an area where Canada has scope to do better- the Survey welcomes the launch of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and recommends further steps by governments to progressively increase the carbon price, which would make it possible to reduce overlap between other measures and allow Canada’s greenhouse gas abatement objectives to be met in the most efficient way.

The Survey also notes Canada’s disappointing productivity growth, and reiterates past recommendations to close the gap with the OECD economies having the highest productivity levels. These include reducing barriers to entry in network industries and services as well as restrictions on internal trade.

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Asia and Pacific on course to miss all Sustainable Development Goals

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Unless progress is accelerated, Asia and the Pacific are on course to miss all of the 17 Goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Executive Secretary of the UN regional commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), told UN News at the Organization’s Headquarters on Wednesday.

Under-Secretary-General Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana was in New York to take part in the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the main UN platform for monitoring the progress that countries are making towards the Agenda, which is the UN’s blueprint for ending poverty and preserving the planet.

ESCAP’s latest Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report shows that, when it comes to some of the Goals, the region is actually going backwards. These are the goals related to access to clean water and sanitation (Goal 6), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), and responsible consumption and production (Goal 11).

There are, said Ms. Alisjahbana, several reasons for this: “There is water scarcity, because of the pressure of urbanization, and the management of natural resources and the environment are making the situation worse. As for moving towards sustainable consumption, that has to do with behaviour and lifestyle. With increasing wealth you consume more, but what you consume is something that is actually not sustainable.

Governments, said the head of ESCAP, must ultimately be responsible for investments in sustainable development. Investing in basic infrastructure costs money, but there is a considerable multiplier effect, that has a positive effect on the economy. Countries with smaller financial resources should look at raising money through fiscal reforms rather than looking for aid, and risking becoming dependent, she added.

The Progress Report complains about a lack of data, an important point because, says Ms. Alisjahbana, without the correct data you can’t track progress, or evaluate the best actions to take going forward. Improved data must go hand in hand with improved capacity for analysing data, which means national statistical offices, and SDG monitoring.

Despite the many challenges facing the region’s efforts to achieve the Goals, Ms. Alisjahbana remains optimistic. The situation, she believes, can be turned around, through better cooperation, as well as the abundant talent and expertise found in the region.

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Asia and Pacific Growth Steady Amid Global Trade Tensions

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Developing Asia will maintain strong but moderating growth over 2019 and 2020, as supportive domestic demand counteracts an environment of global trade tensions, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report released today.

In a supplement to its Asian Development Outlook (ADO), ADB maintains growth forecasts for developing Asia at 5.7% in 2019 and 5.6% in 2020—unchanged from its April forecast. These growth rates are slightly down from developing Asia’s 5.9% growth in 2018. Excluding the newly industrialized economies of Hong Kong, China; the Republic of Korea; Singapore; and Taipei,China, the regional growth outlook has been revised down from 6.2% to 6.1% in 2019 and maintained at that rate in 2020.

Deepening trade tension between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States (US) remains the largest downside risk to this outlook, despite an apparent truce in late June that could allow trade negotiations between the two countries to resume.

“Even as the trade conflict continues, the region is set to maintain strong but moderating growth,” said ADB Chief Economist Mr. Yasuyuki Sawada. “However, until the world’s two largest economies reach agreement, uncertainty will continue to weigh on the regional outlook.”

The growth outlook for East Asia in 2019 has been revised down to 5.6% because of slower than expected activity in the Republic of Korea. The subregion’s growth outlook of 5.5% for 2020 is unchanged from April. Growth for the subregion’s largest economy, the PRC, is also unchanged, with forecasts of 6.3% in 2019 and 6.1% in 2020, as policy support offsets softening growth in domestic and external demand.

In South Asia, the economic outlook is robust, with growth projected at 6.6% in 2019 and 6.7% in 2020, albeit lower than forecast in April. The growth outlook for India has been cut to 7.0% in 2019 and 7.2% in 2020 because the fiscal 2018 outturn fell short.

The outlook for Southeast Asia has been downgraded slightly to 4.8% in 2019 and 4.9% in 2020 due to the trade impasse and a slowdown in the electronics cycle. In Central Asia, the growth outlook for 2019 has been revised up to 4.3% on account of an improved outlook for Kazakhstan. Central Asia’s growth outlook of 4.2% for 2020 is unchanged from April. The growth outlook in the Pacific—3.5% in 2019 and 3.2% in 2020—is unchanged, as the subregion continues to rebound from the effects of Cyclone Gita and an earthquake in Papua New Guinea, the subregion’s largest economy.

The major industrial economies have had slight revisions to their growth forecasts, with the US revised up to 2.6% for 2019 and the Euro area revised down to 1.3%. The growth outlook for Japan is unchanged at 0.8% in 2019 and 0.6% in 2020.

Developing Asia’s inflation projections were revised up from 2.5% to 2.6% for both 2019 and 2020, reflecting higher oil prices and various domestic factors, such as the continuing outbreak of African swine fever in several Asian economies, which is expected to drive up pork prices in the PRC.

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How to measure blockchain’s value in four steps

MD Staff

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To help organizations identify the value of blockchain technology and build a corresponding business case, the World Economic Forum, the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation, has released the Blockchain Value Framework as part of the white paper, Building Value with Blockchain Technology: How to Evaluate Blockchain’s Benefits.

Co-designed with Accenture, the Blockchain Value Framework is the second in a series of white papers for organizations to better understand that blockchain technology is a tool deployed to achieve a specific purpose, not a goal in itself. This new framework provides organizations with the tools to begin measuring blockchain’s value, including key questions to consider. It is the first visual roadmap of its kind and is based on a global survey of 550 individuals across 13 industries, including automotive, banking and retail, public-sector leaders, chief executive officers and an analysis of 79 blockchain projects.

“In our last paper, we stressed that blockchain deployment is not the end goal,” said Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain at the World Economic Forum. “We wanted to get beyond the hype. This new framework is for those business leaders that have figured out blockchain is the right solution for a specific problem, but don’t know what to do next.”

“Organizations need to make business decisions and investments with confidence and that requires proof of the value-add and an analysis of why, or why not, they should consider something new,” said David Treat, Managing Director and Global Blockchain Lead at Accenture. “Through this new framework, we aim to educate businesses and challenge them to rethink their current business models, relationships between ecosystem partners, customers and their investments in technology. The path to blockchain adoption starts here with evaluating the technical and strategic priorities and aligning them with investments in innovation.”

The framework starts with questions on blockchain’s role and desired impact. Assessing potential pain points and areas for opportunity without thinking about the technology is essential. Next is to examine the three key dimensions of blockchain’s role alongside its capabilities. The roadmap can assist organizations in moving from current-state assessment to future blockchain opportunity, and to identify where the value will be created and delivered. Cost savings, increased revenue and improved customer experience are all possible business case results.

According to the global survey conducted in conjunction with the new framework, 51% of survey respondents identified “missing out on developing new products/services” as the number one expectation if they do not invest in blockchain technology in the near future. The other two most common answers were missing out on speed/efficiency gains (23%) and missing out on cost savings (15%). The interviews highlighted the potential of the technology to simplify and optimize complete value chains through the sharing of simplified real-time data with increased efficiency. However, the paper also cautions businesses to carefully consider whether blockchain is the best solution, relative to other technologies or other digitization strategies. As noted in the Blockchain Beyond the Hype white paper, blockchain may not be a viable solution or it may not be the correct time to pursue this avenue.

In nine of the industries surveyed, the full traceability and integrity of the data were the top two potential advantages of using blockchain technology. Most of the industries surveyed could benefit from smart contracts and automation provided by blockchain. Surprisingly, few organizations selected “new business products or services” as one of the benefits. This suggests the current focus for organizations is on improving existing products and services before considering investing in new opportunities.

“We may be moving beyond the hype, but blockchain isn’t going away. Central banks are experimenting with digital currencies and supply chain networks are piloting blockchain policies. We are also seeing companies like Facebook and Starbucks entering the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. This means practical use cases of the technology will become more widespread,” Warren said. “A draft of the framework was further validated at a multilateral session of global leaders at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos-Klosters.”

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