The changing nature of economic competitiveness in a world that is becoming increasingly transformed by new, digital technologies is creating a new set of challenges for governments and businesses, which collectively run the risk of having a negative impact on future growth and productivity. This is the key finding of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, which is published today.
According to the report, which in 2018 uses a brand new methodology to fully capture the dynamics of the global economy in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, many of the factors that will have the greatest impact in driving competitiveness in the future have never been the focus of major policy decisions in the past. These include idea generation, entrepreneurial culture, openness, and agility.
The new tool maps the competitiveness landscape of 140 economies through 98 indicators organised into 12 pillars. For each indicator, using a scale from 0 to 100, it indicates how close an economy is to the ideal state or “frontier” of competitiveness. When combining these factors, the United States achieves the best overall performance with a score of 85.6, ahead of Singapore and Germany. The average score for the world is 60, 40 points away from the frontier.
One unifying theme among the world’s most competitive economies is that they all possess considerable room for improvement. For example, while the report’s Global Competitiveness Index finds that Singapore is the most ‘future-ready’ economy, it trails Sweden when it comes to having a digitally skilled workforce. Switzerland, meanwhile, has the most effective labour for reskilling and retraining policies and US companies are the fastest when it comes to embracing change.
One of the report’s most concerning findings is the relative weakness across the board when it comes to mastering the innovation process, from idea generation to product commercialization. Here, 103 countries score lower than 50 in this area of the index which is topped by Germany, followed by the United States and Switzerland. The report notably finds that attitude towards entrepreneurial risk is the most positive in Israel and tends to be negative in several East Asian economies. Canada has the most diverse workforce and Denmark’s corporate culture is the least hierarchical, both critical factors for driving innovation.
“Embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution has become a defining factor for competitiveness. With this Report, the World Economic Forum proposes an approach to assess how well countries are performing against this new criterion. I foresee a new global divide between countries who understand innovative transformations and those that don’t. Only those economies that recognize the importance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be able to expand opportunities for their people,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum.
Openness must be complemented by inclusion
At a time of escalating trade tensions and a backlash against globalization, the report also reveals the importance of openness for competitiveness. For example, those economies performing in indicators that denote openness such as low tariff and non-tariff barriers, ease of hiring foreign labour and collaboration in patent application among others also tend to perform well in terms of innovation and market efficiency. This data suggests that global economic health would be positively impacted by a return to greater openness and integration. However, it is critical that policies be put in place to improve conditions of those adversely affected by globalization within countries.
The report also presents a strong argument that redistributive policies, safety nets, investments in human capital, as well as more progressive taxation aimed at addressing inequality do not need to compromise an economy’s levels of competitiveness. With no inherent trade-off between competitiveness and inclusion, it is possible to be pro-growth and inclusive at the same time. For example, workers in the Index’s ten most competitive economies work on average five hours less per week than workers in the three BRICS economies – Brazil, India and Russia – for which working time data is available.
A key message from the report is the need for a broad-based approach to raising competitiveness – a strong performance in one area cannot make up for a weak performance in another. This is especially true when it comes to innovation: while it is true that a strong focus on technology can provide leapfrogging opportunities for low and middle income countries, governments must not lose sight of ‘old’ developmental issues, such as governance, infrastructure and skills. In this light one worrying factor thrown up by this year’s Index is the fact that, for 117 of the 140 economies surveyed, quality of institutions remains a drag on overall competitiveness.
“Competitiveness is neither a competition nor a zero-sum game—all countries can become more prosperous. With opportunities for economic leapfrogging, diffusion of innovative ideas across borders and new forms of value creation, the Fourth Industrial Revolution can level the playing field for all economies. But technology is not a silver bullet on its own. Countries must invest in people and institutions to deliver on the promise of technology.” said Saadia Zahidi, Member of the Managing Board and Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society.
Regional and country highlights
With a score of 85.6 out of 100, the United States is the country closest to the frontier of competitiveness. It notably leads the Business dynamism pillar, thanks to its vibrant entrepreneurial culture, the Labour market pillar (score of 81.9 out of 100) and the Financial system (92.1) pillar. These are among the several factors that contribute to making the US’ innovation ecosystem one of the best in the world (86.5, 2nd behind Germany). The country’s institutional framework also remains relatively sound (74.6, 13th). However, there are indications of a weakening social fabric (63.3, down from 65.5) and worsening security situation (79.1, 56th)—the United States has a homicide rate five times the advanced economies’ average. It is far from the frontier in areas such as checks and balances (76.3, 40th), judicial independence (79.0, 15th), and corruption (75.0, 16th). The country also lags behind most advanced economies in the Health pillar, with healthy life expectancy at 67.7 years (46th), three years below the average of advanced economies, and six years less than Singapore and Japan. Finally, ICT adoption is relatively low compared to other advanced economies, including aspects such as mobile-broadband subscriptions and internet users. With a score of 71.2, the United States trails Korea by a full 20 points.
In addition to the United States, other G20 economies in the top 10 include Germany (3rd, 82.8), Japan (5th, 82.4) and the United Kingdom (8th, 82.0). G20 results are highly diverse. Almost 30 points, and 80 ranks separate the United States from Argentina (81st, 57.5), the worst performing G20 economy.
Singapore ranks second in the overall rankings (score of 83.5), with openness as the defining feature of this global trading hub and one of the main drivers of its economic success. The country also leads the infrastructure pillar, with a nearly perfect score of 95.7, thanks to its world-class transport infrastructure and connectivity.
Besides Singapore and Japan, Hong Kong SAR (7th, 82.3) is the third economy from East Asia and the Pacific region in the top ten, confirming the widely held view that overall growth momentum in the region is set to last. These three economies boast world-class physical and digital infrastructure and connectivity, macroeconomic stability, strong human capital, and well-developed financial systems. Australia (14th, 78.9) and Korea (15th, 78.8) are among the top 20. The biggest gap in this region lies in the development of an innovation ecosystem—New Zealand ranks 20th on the Innovation Capability pillar, while the Republic of Korea ranks 8th. Emerging markets such as Mongolia (99th , 52.7), Cambodia (110th, 50.2) and Lao PDR (112th, 49.3) are only half way to the frontier, making them vulnerable to a sudden shock, such as a faster-than-expected rise in interest rates in advanced economies and escalating trade tensions.
Of the BRICS grouping of large merging markets, China is the most competitive, ranking 28 in the Global Competitiveness Index with a score of 72.6. It is followed by Russia which is ranked 43. These are the only two in the top 50. Next is India, which ranks 58, up five places on 2017: with a score of 62, it registers the largest gain of any country in the G20. India is followed by South Africa, which falls 5 places this year to 67. Last is Brazil, which slips 3 places to 72.
Europe is made up of a very competitive north-west, a relatively competitive south-west, a rising north-east region and a lagging south-east. Despite continuing fragility from recent political shifts, the continent’s basic competitiveness factors, such as health, education, infrastructure and skills, are firmly in place. Sweden (9th, 81.7) is the highest ranked of the Nordic economies, while France (17th, 78.0) is among the top 20. The greatest disparities in the region lie in national innovation ecosystems, with countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans lacking basic innovation infrastructure, while countries such as Germany and Switzerland set the global standards for innovation.
Chile (33rd, 70.3) leads the Latin America and the Caribbean region by a wide margin, ahead of Mexico (46th, 64.6) and Uruguay (53rd, 62.7). Venezuela (127th, 43.2) and Haiti (138th, 36.5) close the march. The region’s competitiveness remains fragile and could be further jeopardized by a number of factors including increased risk from trade protectionism in the United States; spillover of Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis; policy uncertainty from elections in the region’s largest economies, and disruptions from natural disasters threatening the Caribbean. Insecurity and weak institutions are two of the biggest challenges for most countries.
Competitiveness performance in the Middle East and North Africa remains diverse, with Israel (20th, 76.6) and the United Arab Emirates (27th, 73.4), leading the way in the region. Saudi Arabia is in 39th position with a score of 67.5 out of 100. A focus on intra-region connectivity, in combination with improvements in ICT readiness and investment in human capital would improve the region’s capacity to innovate, foster business dynamism and increase its competitiveness performance.
Seventeen of the 34 sub-Saharan African economies studied are among the bottom 20, and the region’s average (45.2) placed it less than halfway to the frontier. Mauritius (49th, 63.7) leads the region, ahead of South Africa and nearly 30 points and 91 places ahead of Chad (140th, 35.5). Kenya is in 93rd position with a score of 53.7 while Nigeria is in 115th position with a score of 47.5 out of 100.
Zimbabwe’s Economy is Set for Recovery, but Key Risks Remain
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in Zimbabwe is projected to reach 3.9 percent in 2021, a significant improvement after a two-year recession, according to the World Bank Zimbabwe Economic Update (ZEU) launched today.
Economic growth this year will be led by recovery of agriculture as rains normalize, businesses adjust to limitations caused by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, and inflation slows down. However, disruptions caused by the pandemic will continue to weigh on economic activity in Zimbabwe, limiting employment growth and improvements in living standards.
The ZEU, Overcoming Economic challenges, Natural Disasters, and the Pandemic: Social and Economic Impacts, provides the World Bank perspective on macroeconomic and poverty developments and discusses ways to strengthen public service delivery in key sectors. This is the third economic update for Zimbabwe produced by the World Bank. Economic Updates are a standard World Bank tool for macroeconomic and fiscal monitoring.
The ZEU notes that economic recovery is expected to strengthen further in 2022 with GDP growing at 5.1 percent as the deployment of vaccines intensifies and implementation of National Development Strategy 1 (2021-2025) bears fruits. Overall, the COVID-19 global contagion continues to pose significant downside risks, and thus the global and local outlook remains uncertain. A prolonged pandemic, weaker global demand, and heightened macroeconomic instability could choke economic growth, increase poverty, and worsen human capital development outcomes.
Mitigating these risks requires domestic policies to strengthen and sustain macroeconomic stability – which is critical for consolidating economic recovery. Recent efforts to stabilize prices through rule-based monetary and exchange rate policies have been effective and must be continued and expanded. Fiscal policies supportive of these efforts have thus focused on avoiding monetary financing and quasi-fiscal activities, reducing distortive subsidies, and improving fiscal and debt transparency.
“Improving the country’s growth prospects will require further attention to policies that strengthen the quality of service delivery in the social sectors. Preserving lives during an unprecedented that protects livelihoods, strengthens social protection, improves food security, and ensures better education outcomes,” said Mukami Kariuki, World Bank Country Manager.
Facing tight public finances and limited recourse to external financing, Zimbabwe will need to rely mostly on reallocating domestic resources to optimal public uses and leveraging private financing and humanitarian support where possible. Addressing underlying challenges in health, education, social protection, and food security will require sustained financing, strengthened accountability frameworks and investments in appropriate management information systems.
The ZEU reviews developments in 2019 and 2020; and emerging trends in 2021. Part One of the ZEU provides an overview of the macroeconomic and poverty context. Part Two assesses the impact of COVID-19 and other exogenous shocks on delivery of basic services to the poor and proposes mitigating actions for discussion. It also summarizes key policy options needed to stabilize Zimbabwe’s economy, minimize the social costs of the transition, and prepare for an economic recovery.
Slow jobs recovery and increased inequality risk long-term COVID-19 scarring
The labour market crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and employment growth will be insufficient to make up for the losses suffered until at least 2023, according to a new assessment by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2021 (WESO Trends) projects the global crisis-induced ‘jobs gap’ will reach 75 million in 2021, before falling to 23 million in 2022. The related gap in working-hours, which includes the jobs gap and those on reduced hours, amounts to the equivalent of 100 million full-time jobs in 2021 and 26 million full-time jobs in 2022. This shortfall in employment and working hours comes on top of persistently high pre-crisis levels of unemployment, labour underutilization and poor working conditions.
In consequence, global unemployment is expected to stand at 205 million people in 2022, greatly surpassing the level of 187 million in 2019. This corresponds to an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent. Excluding the COVID-19 crisis period, such a rate was last seen in 2013.
The worst affected regions in the first half of 2021 have been Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and Central Asia. In both, estimated working-hour losses exceeded eight per cent in the first quarter and six per cent in the second quarter, compared to global working-hour losses of 4.8 and 4.4 per cent in the first and second quarter, respectively.
Global employment recovery is projected to accelerate in the second half of 2021, provided that there is no worsening in the overall pandemic situation. However this will be uneven, due to unequal vaccine access and the limited capacity of most developing and emerging economies to support strong fiscal stimulus measures. Furthermore, the quality of newly created jobs is likely to deteriorate in those countries.
The fall in employment and hours worked has translated into a sharp drop in labour income and a corresponding rise in poverty. Compared to 2019, an additional 108 million workers worldwide are now categorized as poor or extremely poor (meaning they and their families live on the equivalent of less than US$3.20 per person per day). “Five years of progress towards the eradication of working poverty have been undone,” the report says, adding that this renders the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 even more elusive.
The COVID-19 crisis has also made pre-existing inequalities worse by hitting vulnerable workers harder, the report finds. The widespread lack of social protection – for example among the world’s two billion informal sector workers – means that pandemic-related work disruptions have had catastrophic consequences for family incomes and livelihoods.
The crisis has also hit women disproportionately. Their employment declined by 5 per cent in 2020 compared to 3.9 per cent for men. A greater proportion of women also fell out of the labour market, becoming inactive. Additional domestic responsibilities resulting from crisis lockdowns have also created the risk of a “re-traditionalization” of gender roles.
Globally, youth employment fell 8.7 per cent in 2020, compared with 3.7 per cent for adults, with the most pronounced fall seen in middle-income countries. The consequences of this delay and disruption to the early labour market experience of young people could last for years.
The pandemic’s impact on young people’s labour market prospects is laid out in greater detail in an ILO brief published alongside the WESO Trends. The Update on the youth labour market impact of the COVID-19 crisis also finds that gender gaps in youth labour markets became more pronounced.
“Recovery from COVID-19 is not just a health issue. The serious damage to economies and societies needs to be overcome too. Without a deliberate effort to accelerate the creation of decent jobs, and support the most vulnerable members of society and the recovery of the hardest-hit economic sectors, the lingering effects of the pandemic could be with us for years in the form of lost human and economic potential and higher poverty and inequality,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder. “We need a comprehensive and co-ordinated strategy, based on human-centred policies, and backed by action and funding. There can be no real recovery without a recovery of decent jobs.”
As well as looking at working hour and direct employment losses, and foregone job growth, the WESO outlines a recovery strategy structured around four principles: promoting broad-based economic growth and the creation of productive employment; supporting household incomes and labour market transitions; strengthening the institutional foundations needed for inclusive, sustainable and resilient economic growth and development; and using social dialogue to develop human-centred recovery strategies.
Universal Access to Sustainable Energy Will Remain Elusive Without Addressing Inequalities
During the last decade, a greater share of the global population gained access to electricity than ever before, but the number of people without electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa actually increased. Unless efforts are scaled up significantly in countries with the largest deficits the world will still fall short of ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy by 2030, according to Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA) the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the report, significant progress has been made since 2010 on various aspects of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, but progress has been unequal across regions. While more than one billion people gained access to electricity globally over the last decade, COVID’s financial impact has made basic electricity services unaffordable for 30 million more people, the majority located in Africa. Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia had the biggest electricity access deficits, with Ethiopia replacing India in the Top 3.
Globally, the number of people without access to electricity declined from 1.2 billion in 2010 to 759 million in 2019. Electrification through decentralized renewable-based solutions in particular gained momentum. The number of people connected to mini grids has more than doubled between 2010 and 2019, growing from 5 to 11 million people. However, under current and planned policies and further affected by the COVID-19 crisis, an estimated 660 million people would still lack access in 2030, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.
At the same time, some 2.6 billion people remained without access to clean cooking in 2019, one third of the global population. Largely stagnant progress since 2010 leads to millions of deaths each year from breathing cooking smoke, and without rapid action to scale up clean cooking the world will fall short of its target by 30 percent come 2030. The state of access in the Sub-Saharan African region is characterized by population growth outpacing gains in the number of people with access, so that 910 million in the region lack access to clean cooking. The top 20 access-deficit countries account for 81 percent of the global population without access to clean fuels and technologies. Of these, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Uganda and Tanzania had less or equal to 5 percent of their populations with access to clean cooking. On a positive note, Indonesia, Cambodia and Myanmar have made gains each year over the report period.
The report examines various ways to bridge the gaps to reach SDG7, chief among them the goal of significantly scaling up renewables – which have proven more resilient than other parts of the energy sector during the COVID-19 crisis. While renewable energy has seen unprecedented growth over the last decade, its share of total final energy consumption remained steady as global energy consumption grew at a similar rate. Renewables are most dynamic in the electricity sector, reaching around 25 percent in 2018, while progress in the heat and transport sectors have been much slower.
More than one third of the increase in renewable energy generation in 2018 can be attributed to East Asia – driven by large uptakes of solar and wind energy in China. The largest country-level advances in renewable energy in 2018 were observed in Spain, owing to higher hydropower generation, followed by Indonesia where a rapid uptake of bioenergy for power generation played a substantial role. To significantly increase the share of renewable energy in line with the SDG 7 target, current efforts need to accelerate in all end-use sectors to scale uptake of renewables while containing total energy demand.
Energy intensity improvements (a proxy for energy efficiency) are moving further away from the target set under SDG7 for 2030. The rate of global primary energy intensity improvement in 2018 was 1.1 percent compared to 2017, the lowest average annual rate of improvement since 2010. The annual improvement until 2030 will now need to average 3 percent if we are to meet the goal.
Accelerating the pace of progress across all regions and indicators will require stronger political commitment, long-term energy planning, and adequate policy and scale incentives to spur faster uptake of sustainable energy solutions. Although clean energy investments continue to be sourced primarily from the private sector, the public sector remains a major source of financing and is central in leveraging private capital, particularly in developing countries and in a post-COVID context. One of the newest indicators in the report, international public financial flows to developing countries, shows that international financial support continue to be concentrated in a few countries and failing to reach many of those most in need. Flows to developing countries in support of clean and renewable energy reached $14 billion in 2018, with a mere 20 percent going to the least-developed countries, which are the furthest from achieving the various SDG7 targets. An increased emphasis on “leaving no one behind” is required in the years ahead.
This is the seventh edition of this report, formerly known as the Global Tracking Framework (GTF). This year’s edition was chaired by the United Nations Statistics Division.
The report this year comes at a crucial time as Governments and stakeholders are gearing up for the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy, a summit-level meeting in September 2021 that will examine steps needed to achieve SDG7 by 2030 and mobilize voluntary commitments and actions in the form of Energy Compacts.
Funding for the report was provided by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP).
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