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.
Fossil fuel support is rising again in a threat to climate change efforts
Fossil-fuel subsidies are environmentally harmful, costly, and distortive. After a 3 years downward trend between 2013 and 2016, government support for fossil fuel production and use has risen again, in a threat to efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and the transition to cleaner and cheaper energy. Support across 76 countries increased by 5% to USD 340 billion in 2017, according to a new OECD-IEA report prepared for the G20.
OECD-IEA Update on Recent Progress in Reform of Inefficient Fossil Fuel Subsidies that Encourage Wasteful Consumption also shows that even in the group of 44 OECD and G20 countries, where fossil fuel support is still declining, the reduction has slowed down. Support in these countries was down 9% in 2017, a slower decline than the 12% recorded in 2016 and 19% in 2015.
The reversal comes as some countries reinstated stronger price controls on fossil fuels, in response to volatility in international oil prices, which made it harder to continue energy pricing and taxation reforms.
Some progress has nonetheless been made: the report finds that many countries, including Argentina, India, Indonesia and several Middle Eastern and Northern African economies, have continued to take steps to reduce support for energy consumption. Western Europe has completed its phasing out of hard-coal subsidies and efforts continue to end state aid to coal-fired power generation in the European Union.
Oil and gas industries in several countries, however, continue to benefit from government incentives, mostly through tax provisions that provide preferential treatment for cost recovery. Such policies go against domestic efforts to reduce emissions.
The report was presented to G20 energy officials ahead of the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment in Karuizawa, Japan, where countries reiterated their commitment to phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and encouraged countries that have not done so to volunteer for a Peer Review.
“This new OECD-IEA report signals a worrying slowdown in our efforts to phase out fossil fuel subsidies,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “The critical nature of the climate change crisis has never been clearer than it is today. Countries should be accelerating their reforms, not taking their feet off the pedal. We cannot promote inclusive and sustainable growth if we continue subsidising fossil fuels!”
The report combines the IEA’s price-gap approach to capture the transfer to consumers of policies that keep fossil fuels below reference prices and the OECD’s 2019 Inventory of Support Measures for Fossil Fuels, which takes stock of spending programmes and tax breaks used in the 36 OECD countries and eight emerging countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa) to encourage fossil fuel production or use. These include measures that reduce prices for consumers or that lower exploration and exploitation costs for oil and gas companies.
Increasing transparency on the use of scarce public resources can help to keep up momentum for fossil fuel subsidy reform. Building on the evidence brought to the table by the OECD, G20 countries committed in Pittsburgh in 2009 to “rationalise and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.” Since then G20 countries – China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico and the United States – have completed voluntary G20 Peer Reviews of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and Argentina and Canada are just starting theirs. The OECD has been asked to play Secretariat role for all the country reviews, to chair and facilitate these processes, which have to date evaluated more than 100 government interventions relating to the production and use of fossil fuels.
“OECD evidence leaves no doubt” says Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa – “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies undermine global efforts to tackle climate change, aggravate local pollution, and are a strain on public budgets, draining scarce fiscal resources that could be invested in education, skills, and physical infrastructure. We urge all G20 countries to keep up the effort, and join the voluntary G20 Peer Reviews of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”
Fast-Paced Reforms Lead to Improvements in Ease of Doing Business Across Kazakhstan
Regions of Kazakhstan have made doing business easier by improving business regulation over the past two years, says the World Bank in a new report released today.
According to the subnational Doing Business in Kazakhstan 2019 report, the pace of reform has been fast across Kazakhstan. Lower performing regions cut the gap with Almaty city, the top performer, by half on getting electricity and dealing with construction permits. These reforms are reducing red tape for entrepreneurs and are moving the whole country toward global good practices in business regulation. Good practices found throughout the individual regions pave the way for reform-minded policy makers to improve further by replicating best practices in other locations.
The government of Kazakhstan is adopting unprecedented system-wide reforms aimed at improving the business climate, and reducing administrative barriers and business costs As a result, today Kazakhstan is among the top 30 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking. For further dynamic development of entrepreneurship in the country, the World Bank’s assessment of whether an economy has good rules and processes at the local level will help us significantly improve the local business climate,” said Arman Dzhumabekov, First Vice-Minister of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
This is the second Doing Business report on Kazakhstan, examining the performance of 16 locations – 13 regions, as well as the cities of Almaty, Nur-Sultan, and Shymkent. It expands the scope of coverage from the eight locations that were measured in the first report produced in 2017.
“As Kazakhstan strives to improve opportunities for all citizens and diversify its economy through increasing the contribution of small and medium-size enterprises, the right regulatory environment can help entrepreneurs overcome obstacles such as low productivity and corruption. Better managing the pace of reforms and addressing gaps in implementation will enable firms to realize their full potential and contribute to growth,” said Ato Brown, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan.
To determine the ease of doing business for small and medium-size enterprises, the report measures four regulatory areas – starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, and registering property.
Across the areas measured, Almaty city scores highest, leading on three indicators – getting electricity, registering property and dealing with construction permits. Nur-Sultan ranks first on starting a business, owing to the availability of electronic processes and uptake in the use of the E-Government system. East Kazakhstan and Pavlodar also share the top score with Almaty city on registering property. These regions keep land registry titles in digital format. No location does equally well across all areas measured, but each location ranks in the top half on at least one indicator. This leaves room for all regions to learn from each other.
Notably, all eight locations that were studied in both the 2017 and 2019 reports improved their business environment, with Nur-Sultan making the most significant progress. Of the 24 reforms implemented since 2017, eight reforms decreased the time to start a business by more than half, on average. Significant reforms were observed in getting electricity; all eight locations improved the quality and reliability of power supply. The cities of Nur-Sultan and Shymkent, as well as the Karagandy region made the largest improvements in this area, through the recording and reporting of data on the frequency and duration of power outages. All eight locations also eliminated the need for an expert opinion after external works and streamlined requests for technical conditions.
Globally, Kazakhstan is improving faster than many economies and is competitive in the time and cost of doing business; in three out of the four regulatory areas measured in this study, the time needed to complete all requirements has dropped at a faster rate, on average, than in the Europe and Central Asia region and high-income OECD economies. However, challenges remain in procedural complexity, especially in dealing with construction permits, and, at the regional level, there are gaps in the implementation of central government reforms.
Going forward, the key to success will be ensuring that national initiatives are properly implemented, so that entrepreneurs can benefit from efficient and good quality service delivery at the local level. Kazakhstan can improve further by increasing ownership at the local level. Local policy makers need to go beyond the national initiatives and address regional obstacles to doing business through practical solutions that make service delivery more efficient.
The annual Doing Business report measures 190 economies globally, with Almaty city representing Kazakhstan as its largest business city. The subnational Doing Business in Kazakhstan reports aim to gain a broader understanding of the regulatory environment for businesses across the country. Tools like Doing Business in Kazakhstan 2019 help identify the implementation gaps at the point of service in the regions, to inform the policy agenda.
Reforms Building Momentum for Growth in Myanmar
Myanmar’s economy is slowly regaining stability and picking up speed after a volatile 2018, according to a new World Bank report.
The Myanmar Economic Monitor projects Myanmar’s economy to grow at 6.5 percent in 2018/19. Growth continues to be broad-based, supported by the industrial and service sectors. Industrial activities revived, supported by strong performance in the garment sector and construction activities. Services remain the key driver of growth with momentum building in the wholesale and retail sector supported by reforms. However, large disparities in welfare persist across the country.
“Acceleration of the reform agenda as envisioned in the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan, along with targeted public investments and private sector participation, will lead to a consolidation of macroeconomic stability and help Myanmar maintain its momentum and meet its long-term growth targets,” said Gevorg Sargsyan, Head of Office, World Bank Myanmar.
The report includes an analysis drawing on the Multidimensional Welfare Indicator (MDI), prepared with the government, which indicates that most of the population in Myanmar faces overlapping disadvantages, with large disparities in welfare apparent at the state, region and township level. Eighty-four percent of people faced disadvantages in one or more of the 14 indicators under the MDI, including education, employment, health, water and sanitation, housing, and assets. The MDI is being used to help target public resources and aid flows toward those who need it the most.
With growth expected to rise to 6.7 percent in 2020/21, the World Bank report projects a positive outlook for Myanmar’s economy despite a deteriorating global environment, due to accelerated implementation of reforms, infrastructure spending and investment in sectors such as wholesale and retail, insurance and banking that are undergoing liberalization. The external risks to the economic outlook include slowing global and regional growth and escalation of trade tensions and possible revocation of preferential EU market access.
Inflation is expected to stabilize at 6.6 percent in the medium term. The report notes that inflationary pressures could increase due to volatile global energy prices and the possibility that the government may increases electricity tariffs to bring them in line with the cost of power production.
“There are signs that market sentiment is rising due to the new laws being passed and starting to be implemented,” said Hans Anand Beck, Lead Economist, World Bank Myanmar. “Keeping these reforms going will be critical to continued economic momentum, for example through insurance liberalization, tax reform, and transparent investments in the power sector.”
In the power sector, the report argues that Myanmar needs to invest twice as much and implement projects three times faster to meet growing demand.
The Myanmar Economic Monitor is a biannual analysis of economic developments, economic prospects and policy priorities in Myanmar. The publication draws on available data reported by the Government of Myanmar and additional information collected as part of the World Bank Group’s regular economic monitoring and policy dialogue.
The World Bank’s engagement on Myanmar focuses on social inclusion, particularly in conflict-affected areas, in support of the country’s historic political and economic transition. With an emphasis on the importance of achieving peace and security as a foundation for inclusive and sustainable development for all communities in Myanmar, the Bank continues to provide technical and financial support, especially through high-impact projects. These focus on education, health services, access to electricity and other essential services, response to natural disasters, and inclusion of all ethnic groups and religions.
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