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Government and Business Leaders Remain Optimistic about ASEAN Economic Outlook

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Government and business leaders at a World Economic Forum on ASEAN today said they remain optimistic about the region’s economic outlook despite threats of an escalation in the US-China trade war, rising interest rates and fear of emerging countries’ currency contagion.

Nazir Razak, Chairman, CIMB Group Holdings, Malaysia, said he is more concerned about the global economy at a time when US leadership has turned away from its traditional globalist stance and is reacting negatively to the rise of China. In contrast, ASEAN has transformed itself remarkably from “a zone of tensions and conflicts to one of peace and stability” and continues to enjoy tremendous economic growth.

Judy Hsu, Regional Chief Executive Officer, ASEAN and South Asia, Standard Chartered Bank, United Kingdom, and Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Minister of Finance of Indonesia, pointed to lessons learned from earlier regional crises that have prepared businesses and governments to manage the current bout of emerging-market volatilities triggered by problems in Turkey and Argentina. “Clients become well versed in managing these risks; they have access to hedging tools. Clients with dollar loans have locked in their interest rates,” Hsu observed.

Sound and prudent government policies, including investments in infrastructure and education, are reducing current account deficits and have supported the region’s economic growth. In addition, ASEAN’s youthful demographics – most of its more than 600 million population are young – and rapid access to technology are also fuelling domestic consumption and intraregional investments.

On the impact of a US-China trade war on ASEAN, Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, Hong Kong SAR, China, said that while there will be winners and losers, the outcome is unlikely to be dire. “This generalization is an example of ‘don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good headline’. The headline is trade war but the reality is there are lots of markets out there, and one of [the] opportunities is within ASEAN; intra-ASEAN trade is relatively modest and these markets can replace those that are hurt.”

Rising interest rates should also be seen as an opportunity for policy-makers and businesses to make the necessary adjustments and to watch reckless spending. “This is a good market discipline in signalling to policy-makers as well as players that you are not going to enjoy cheap money and you have to be very prudent,” said Indrawati.

Veerathai Santiprabhob, Governor of the Bank of Thailand, added that the US could have better coordinated its monetary and fiscal policies as its tax cuts have unleashed a new source of money supply, which has delayed the Fed’s attempts to normalize interest rates.

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IEA: The Slovak Republic is improving its energy security

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From left to right: Mr Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President of the European Commission for the Energy Union; Mr Peter Žiga, Minister of Economy of the Slovak Republic; Ms Marta Nováková, Minister of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic; Mr Péter Kaderják, Minister of State, Energy and Climate Policy, Ministry of Innovation and Technology of Hungary; Dr Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director (Photograph: IEA)

The Slovak Republic has made significant progress on several fronts of energy policy, and together with its neighbours and with the support of the European Union, has strengthened cross-border connections for natural gas, oil and electricity. This has served to improve its energy security and increase competition on energy markets, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest review of the country’s energy policies.

The Slovak economy’s energy intensity has declined in recent years while the share of renewable energy in the primary energy supply has increased. And thanks to the country’s nuclear power fleet, its electricity supply is relatively secure and largely decarbonised. The country is also one of the few in Europe to build new nuclear capacity. The Slovak Republic’s significant cross-border capacity facilitates both trade and security of supply in the integrating regional market. Its national electricity network is also being reinforced. This should allow for connection of new power generation, including renewables.

“For many years, improving energy security has been a top priority for the Slovak Republic,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “This policy brought impressive results as interconnections for gas, oil and electricity have been expanded and the country is no longer dependent on just one supplier but has access to a wide variety of energy sources”.

On the energy consumption side, the review finds that the government should stop determining end-user prices for electricity and natural gas. Instead, markets should be opened and vulnerable customers should be protected through social policy. Abolishing price regulation would also encourage energy saving and be consistent with the idea of developing smart grids.

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have fallen, but further measures are needed to limit them. Refurbishments of residential buildings are a success story for energy efficiency and will rightly continue. As in most countries, transport is a challenge for climate policy, but many good policies are outlined in the country’s new transport development strategy. Another area where change is needed is the country’s financial support to domestic coal production. This policy does not align with national decarbonisation goals and should be gradually eliminated.

The report also offers special insights into the heating sector. Slovakia has an extensive district heating sector which has significant potential for further decarbonisation, but investments are also required to modernise the heat networks. This modernisation should be supported through a regulatory reform that enhances efficiency and market flexibility.

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World Bank Committed to Support Nepal’s Development Goals

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World Bank Vice President for South Asia Region, Hartwig Schafer today reiterated the World Bank’s commitment to support Nepal in its ambitious transition to federalism, as he concluded a five-day visit to the country.

During his meeting with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Schafer congratulated the government’s visionary goal of reaching middle-income country status by 2030, reaffirmed the World Bank’s commitment to support government priorities, and to seek additional resources through various available windows. In his meeting with Finance Minister Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada, Mr. Schafer also discussed further support to the federalism transition, as well as a potential International Investors’ Conference in 2019 in support of Nepal’s agenda to crowd in private finance for development.

With a stable government that has prioritized broad-based reforms and private sector-driven growth, I am positive that Nepal can achieve higher growth rates for the next several years. To sustain such growth, we want to help Nepal mobilize investments from sources that go beyond traditional development finance. We call this approach Maximizing Finance for Development. Private sector investment will only come if there is a transparent, conducive policy environment,” he said, “Nepal is one of the first countries where we are approaching this in a systematic way with the World Bank, IFC and MIGA coming in and helping to provide a platform for private investments in the energy, technology, and other sectors. This will also create jobs for more and more Nepalis, which is the need of the hour.”

The Vice President also had a joint field visit with Finance Minister Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada and Minister for Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Barsha Man Pun to discuss the potential of tourism, hydropower and private sector investment in the country. The team visited Solukhumbu District and Sankhuwasabha District before observing the houses being rebuilt after the earthquake in the Majhi settlement of Gaikhura in Manthali Municipality, Ramechhap.

Walking through the houses being rebuilt, Schafer met members of local communities, commending their resilience and efforts to build back better after the earthquake. He also met elected members of parliament and local level representatives. “It is heartening to see the collective effort of so many actors to ensure that people’s homes and lives are rebuilt,” Schafer said. “We must pick up the pace of reconstruction, and also ensure that disaster risk reduction measures are put in place to deal with future contingencies.” The World Bank has provided a credit of $500 million to the Government of Nepal through the Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project.

In Kathmandu, Schafer participated in the launch of a joint report of the World Bank Group entitled “Country Private Sector Diagnostic: Creating Markets in Nepal”. He was also part of the signing of two agreements between the Government of Nepal and World Bank. The agreements, totaling US$ 155.7 million, will be invested in the construction and maintenance of safe, resilient and cost-effective bridges in Nepal, and in improving food security of vulnerable households and communities. In his first visit to Nepal as the World Bank Vice President for South Asia, Schafer also met with opinion leaders, senior government officials and civil society representatives. In engaging with the private sector, he visited Saral Urja, the investee clients of Business Oxygen (BO2), an IFC SME-Venture Fund, and Incessant Rain Animation Studios, a state-of-the-art animation and visual effects facility.

After his interactions with the team at Incessant Rain, Schafer commented, “I really enjoyed this opportunity to visit an enterprise that is nurturing the artistic and creative talents of the Nepalese youth. With a world class facility that provides services to well- known international clients, organizations like this play an important role in putting Nepal on the map as an outsourcing destination. Apart from contributing to the economic growth through exports and job creation, it is a pleasure to see a home-grown company that promotes the country’s rich cultural heritage and diversity. This is the kind of future we want for the private sector in Nepal, and the World Bank is committed to support this vision.”

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UNWTO Partners with Niantic to Develop Innovative Tourism Experiences

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has partnered with one of its newest Affiliate Members, real-world games developer Niantic, to enhance global tourism through the use of mobile augmented reality game experiences.

UNWTO will collaborate with Niantic, creators of Pokémon GO and Ingress Prime, to curate unique campaigns around the world that will build awareness for the Organization’s Travel.Enjoy.Respect campaign, designed to enhance tourism’s contribution to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Each activity will also be designed to inspire and support exploration, and promote safe and responsible gaming practices for players of all ages.

Niantic and UNWTO will work together to combine tourism and Augmented Reality technology for players to engage with real-world locations using Niantic’s mobile games in a variety of ways. Niantic’s games and global initiatives have brought millions of players from around the world together at real-world events that promote civic engagement and cultural diversity while highlighting local heritage.

“With our ongoing commitment to promote sustainable and responsible tourism, and Niantic having recently become a UNWTO Affiliate Member, this partnership is a natural fit,” said Ion Vilcu, Director of UNWTO’s Affiliate Members Department. “Niantic are pioneers in creating real-world mobile game experiences that not only motivate their players to discover new places, but also to appreciate the culture and beauty of the world around them,” he added.

“Our goal at Niantic is to create interactive games that encourage exercise, social interaction and exploration, giving players the opportunity to play together in the real world and discover the incredible history hidden in their own neighbourhoods,” said Anne Beuttenmüller, Head of Marketing EMEA at Niantic. “We’re looking forward to creating brand new adventures in collaboration with UNWTO to increase awareness around their mission of responsible tourism,” she added.

Niantic was accepted as an Affiliate Member on 31 October 2018 at the 109th session of UNWTO’s Executive Council, held in Manama, Bahrain. This new partnership helps to bolster UNWTO’s ongoing efforts to bring together the actors of the ‘ecosystem’ of tourism technology under its priority of innovation and the digital transformation in tourism.

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