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Changing Nature of Competitiveness Poses Challenges for Future of the Global Economy

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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.

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Call for Closer Policy Collaboration on Artificial Intelligence

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A recent APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) report revealed that artificial intelligence (AI) has a role to play in mitigating both the short and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on APEC economies.

From automated health diagnostics in hospitals to smart recruitment processes in organizations, the report, titled Artificial Intelligence in APEC, finds that this technology is creating new, previously unforeseen jobs, products and services that will contribute to the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

“As we release this report, APEC economies are facing the twin threats of a global pandemic and an economic crisis that will leave its mark on our communities for years to come,” said Dato’ Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood, Chair of the 2020 APEC Business Advisory Council.

“How APEC economies address the accelerated rise of the digital economy and leverage new technologies like AI is one of the most pressing issues of our time,” she added.

The report also examines how AI is being adopted and applied across the region and makes key recommendations calling for closer policy collaboration between business and governments.

Of the surveyed APEC economies, the report found that most already have plans, policies or programs devoted to driving or supporting AI ecosystems. In fact, the report highlights some of the AI-related innovation already underway across the region, including finding ways to help patients suffering from locked-in syndrome to communicate with the world by a team of engineers at a university in the Philippines.

Another notable innovation will benefit the farming industry. A Japanese corporation is trying to improve the efficiency of farming by automatically aggregating and analyzing sensor data and satellite images to provide farmers with farm management recommendations. In addition, a group from New Zealand developed AI-powered crocodile-spotting drones to keep swimmers safe in Australian rivers, among others.

“AI technologies have the potential to significantly impact businesses and communities across our economies,” Dato’ Rohana explained. “We believe that APEC can serve as an effective forum for member economies to collaborate on ways to maximize the benefits of AI and promote inclusive growth while ensuring its use in a responsible and ethical manner,” she added.

According to the report, recognizing this technology and all its capabilities is a central component of an economy’s forward-looking policy for growth, productivity and job creation, highlighting that the potential of AI extends beyond economic benefits and includes tools to address complex issues such as poverty, inequality, climate change, healthcare and ways to cope with effects of the pandemic.

As AI becomes more widely accepted, adopted and used for innovation, the report suggests that APEC policymakers will need to draft new policies, revise existing ones, confront new questions, address new needs and reassess its impact.

“With the cooperation of the public and private sector, a coordinated future of AI will increase the Asia-Pacific region’s competitiveness and further facilitate regional integration,” the report notes.

Artificial intelligence, already well on its way to transforming the Asia-Pacific, drives social and economic growth across all key sectors. However, the pandemic, and the ensuing focus on economic recovery, brings a renewed sense of urgency to discussions around AI usage. 

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Global Economic Outlook 2021: Rebound will drive growth at record speed

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The global economy is projected to grow in 2021 by around 5% in market exchange rates – the fastest rate recorded in the 21st century – returning the global economy in aggregate to pre- pandemic levels of output by the end of 2021 or early 2022.

The predictions published today in PwC’s Global Economy Watch for 2021 – From the Great Lockdown to the Great Rebound – highlight key themes for 2021 linked to a wider reset for economies, skills and society. 

Growth will return, but be uneven and be contingent on a successful and speedy deployment of vaccines and continued accommodative fiscal, monetary and financial conditions in the larger economies of the world.  Another key theme will be how the push for recovery and growth could synchronize green infrastructure investment, creating a turning point in the fight against climate change. 

Growth will return but be uneven 

Despite projected expansion of 5% in market exchange rates this year, the predictions caution that the next three-to-six months will continue to be challenging, particularly for the Northern Hemisphere countries going through the winter months as they could be forced to further localised or full economy-wide lockdowns (as recently displayed in the UK). 

Output in some advanced economies, for example, could contract in Q1 and growth overall is more likely to pick up in the second half of the year, when it is expected that large advanced economies will  have vaccinated at least two thirds of their population.

Barret Kupelian, senior economist at PwC, said:“While it’s good news that the global economy in aggregate is likely to be back to its pre-crisis levels of output by the end of 2021 or early 2022, a distinguishing feature of the Great Rebound is that it will be uneven across different countries, sectors and income levels. For example, the Chinese economy is already bigger than its pre-pandemic size, but other advanced economies ‒‒ particularly heavily service based economies like the UK, France and Spain or those focused on exporting capital goods, such as Germany and Japan ‒‒ are unlikely to recover to their pre-crisis levels by the end of 2021.”

In economies such as the UK, France, Spain and Germany, growing but lower levels of output are projected to push up unemployment rates, with most of the jobs affected likely to be those at the bottom end of the earnings distribution, thus exacerbating income inequalities. 

Barret Kupelian, senior economist at PwC, added: “Once the virus is under control, policymakers’ attention will need to focus on laying the foundations for sustainable and inclusive growth with particular focus on creating jobs and pushing the green economy agenda. Business leaders need to plan now both in terms of growth and investment, including upskilling of their existing workforce as a key aspect.”

A synchronised push for green infrastructure 

The environment will be an important focus for 2021 and is already being positioned as an opportunity for accelerating the business and policy transition to net zero. Significant investment and policy shifts related to the Paris Climate Agreement are expected in 2021 in the major trading blocks including the US, China and the EU. 

Green bonds, which are used to directly finance environmental projects, currently make up less than 5% of the global fixed income market. In 2021, total green bond issuance will increase by over 40% to top half a trillion US dollars for the first time. In addition, investor appetite for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) funds will continue to increase and could account for up to 57% of total European mutual funds by 2025. 

Globally, the analysis points to electricity production from renewables continuing to gather momentum, with solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity likely to grow at rapid rates on the back of growing capacity in the EU, India and China. If current trends continue, solar PV capacity is on course to surpass natural gas in 2023 and coal in 2024 in the global electricity sector.

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Global Economy to Expand by 4% in 2021

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The global economy is expected to expand 4% in 2021, assuming an initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout becomes widespread throughout the year. A recovery, however, will likely be subdued, unless policy makers move decisively to tame the pandemic and implement investment-enhancing reforms, the World Bank says in its January 2021 Global Economic Prospects.

Although the global economy is growing again after a 4.3% contraction in 2020, the pandemic has caused a heavy toll of deaths and illness, plunged millions into poverty, and may depress economic activity and incomes for a prolonged period. Top near-term policy priorities are controlling the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring rapid and widespread vaccine deployment. To support economic recovery, authorities also need to facilitate a re-investment cycle aimed at sustainable growth that is less dependent on government debt.

“While the global economy appears to have entered a subdued recovery, policymakers face formidable challenges—in public health, debt management, budget policies, central banking and structural reforms—as they try to ensure that this still fragile global recovery gains traction and sets a foundation for robust growth,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “To overcome the impacts of the pandemic and counter the investment headwind, there needs to be a major push to improve business environments, increase labor and product market flexibility, and strengthen transparency and governance.”

The collapse in global economic activity in 2020 is estimated to have been slightly less severe than previously projected, mainly due to shallower contractions in advanced economies and a more robust recovery in China. In contrast, disruptions to activity in the majority of other emerging market and developing economies were more acute than expected.

“Financial fragilities in many of these countries, as the growth shock impacts vulnerable household and business balance sheets, will also need to be addressed,” Vice President and World Bank Group Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart said.

The near-term outlook remains highly uncertain, and different growth outcomes are still possible, as a section of the report details. A downside scenario in which infections continue to rise and the rollout of a vaccine is delayed could limit the global expansion to 1.6% in 2021. Meanwhile, in an upside scenario with successful pandemic control and a faster vaccination process, global growth could accelerate to nearly 5 percent.

In advanced economies, a nascent rebound stalled in the third quarter following a resurgence of infections, pointing to a slow and challenging recovery. U.S. GDP is forecast to expand 3.5% in 2021, after an estimated 3.6% contraction in 2020. In the euro area, output is anticipated to grow 3.6% this year, following a 7.4% decline in 2020. Activity in Japan, which shrank by 5.3% in the year just ended, is forecast to grow by 2.5% in 2021.

Aggregate GDP in emerging market and developing economies, including China, is expected to grow 5% in 2021, after a contraction of 2.6% in 2020. China’s economy is expected to expand by 7.9% this year following 2% growth last year. Excluding China, emerging market and developing economies are forecast to expand 3.4% in 2021 after a contraction of 5% in 2020. Among low-income economies, activity is projected to increase 3.3% in 2021, after a contraction of 0.9% in 2020.

Analytical sections of the latest Global Economic Prospects report examine how the pandemic has amplified risks around debt accumulation; how it could hold back growth over the long term absent concerted reform efforts; and what risks are associated with the use of asset purchase programs as a monetary policy tool in emerging market and developing economies.

“The pandemic has greatly exacerbated debt risks in emerging market and developing economies; weak growth prospects will likely further increase debt burdens and erode borrowers’ ability to service debt,” World Bank Acting Vice President for Equitable Growth and Financial Institutions Ayhan Kose said. “The global community needs to act rapidly and forcefully to make sure the recent debt accumulation does not end with a string of debt crises. The developing world cannot afford another lost decade.”

As severe crises did in the past, the pandemic is expected to leave long lasting adverse effects on global activity. It is likely to worsen the slowdown in global growth projected over the next decade due to underinvestment, underemployment, and labor force declines in many advanced economies. If history is any guide, the global economy is heading for a decade of growth disappointments unless policy makers put in place comprehensive reforms to improve the fundamental drivers of equitable and sustainable economic growth.  

Policymakers need to continue to sustain the recovery, gradually shifting from income support to growth-enhancing policies. In the longer run, in emerging market and developing economies, policies to improve health and education services, digital infrastructure, climate resilience, and business and governance practices will help mitigate the economic damage caused by the pandemic, reduce poverty and advance shared prosperity. In the context of weak fiscal positions and elevated debt, institutional reforms to spur organic growth are particularly important. In the past, the growth dividends from reform efforts were recognized by investors in upgrades to their long-term growth expectations and increased investment flows.

Central banks in some emerging market and developing economies have employed asset purchase programs in response to pandemic-induced financial market pressures, in many cases for the first time. When targeted to market failures, these programs appear to have helped stabilize financial markets during the initial stages of the crisis. However, in economies where asset purchases continue to expand and are perceived to finance fiscal deficits, these programs may erode central bank operational independence, risk currency weakness that de-anchors inflation expectations, and increase worries about debt sustainability.

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