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WEF initiative pledges to equip 20 million ASEAN workers with digital skills by 2020

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A coalition of major tech companies pledged today to develop digital skills for the ASEAN workforce. The pledge, part of the World Economic Forum’s Digital ASEAN initiative, aims to train by 2020 some 20 million people in South-East Asia, especially those working in small- and medium-size enterprises.

Other goals include raising $2 million in contributions to provide scholarships for ASEAN technology students, ensuring an additional 200,000 digital workers are hired across the region, and engaging at least 20,000 citizens through “Digital Inspiration Days”, whereby companies invite students and the public to visit their offices and learn more about the character of the jobs of the future. There will also be internship opportunities for ASEAN university students, as well as initiatives to train digital regulators and shape the curricula of technology and computing courses at 20 ASEAN universities.

The aim of the pledge is to establish a regional movement among businesses committed to empowering individuals through skilling, reskilling and upskilling. It will not only increase the number of workers hired for digital jobs and trained in digital skills, but also help support business leaders with insight and analysis of what other companies in the region are doing to build a future-focused workforce.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is unfolding at accelerating speed and changing the skills that workers will need for the jobs of the future,” said Justin Wood, Head of Asia Pacific and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum. “These changes are happening just as the working-age population in ASEAN is expanding by 11,000 people every day – a rate that will continue for the next 15 years. Given these trends, it’s critical that businesses help to build digital skills in ASEAN.”

Called “ASEAN Digital Skills Vision 2020”, the public pledge is open for all companies to join, but a number of early champions have already made strong commitments. Google has pledged to train 3 million SME employees throughout the ASEAN region by the end of 2020, while Cisco, Lazada, Microsoft, and the Sea Group have pledged to train another 5,634,000 SME workers.

The pledge also calls for companies to offer ASEAN citizens the opportunity to participate in Digital Inspiration Days, and Cisco, Microsoft, Grab and Sea Group have collectively committed to offer the opportunity to 1,035,000 ASEAN citizens by 2020. Similarly, the pledge calls for internships for ASEAN university students, and Microsoft, Sea Group and Tokopedia together have committed to hire 18,000 interns. Microsoft has also pledged to hire 8,500 ASEAN digital workers by 2020.

Supported by the Forum’s Digital ASEAN initiative, success stories and innovative approaches will be shared through an online platform to magnify their impact, and a series of workshops involving the private sector and government will be staged over the next two years to ensure the efforts of businesses both align with, and help to shape, public policy on training and education.

Pichet Durongkaveroj, Minister of Digital Economy and Society of Thailand, and one of the advisers of the Digital ASEAN initiative, said: “The rise of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics is creating concern about the future of work. But I am more optimistic. I believe that if workers have the right skills, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be highly empowering and will lift wages and living standards in Thailand and across the region. But we need to make sure that workers receive the right training and education today.”

Rajan Anandan, Vice-President for India and South-East Asia at Google, said: “ASEAN could see an uplift of $1 trillion in GDP by 2025 by using its digital economy to accelerate intra-regional trade and growth. SMEs will be the key to this growth and their digital workforce will be the change agents in their communities. We’re committed to supporting South-East Asia’s promising digital economy.”

Forrest Li, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Sea Group, said: “The ASEAN region is brimming with entrepreneurial potential. But for SMEs to start businesses and grow them successfully, they’ll need to learn the right skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Building on our existing efforts to enable SMEs around the region to benefit from the opportunity of e-commerce, we are committed to making a major contribution to providing these skills.”

Naveen Menon, President of Cisco Systems in ASEAN, said: “ASEAN’s economy is poised to grow further as digital innovation and adoption gather pace. However, the increased adoption of technology will result in a change in the nature of jobs and workforce requirements across the region, which demands rapidly reskilling. We are committed to work with all stakeholders to build a sustainable pool of homegrown talent in ASEAN.”

Lucy Peng, Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of the Lazada Group, said taking part in the World Economic Forum pledge is one of the key levers to create an inclusive and sustainable e-commerce ecosystem to support South-East Asia’s economic growth. “Sellers want to go beyond trading on a platform. They want to create their own universe in the digital world to reach out and connect with Internet-savvy and increasingly mobile consumers,” she said. “We are championing our seller communities by using our technology and logistics infrastructure to help them ride the e-commerce boom and flourish into sustainable businesses.”

Sunny Park, Corporate and Legal Affairs Regional Director for Microsoft in Asia Pacific, said: “ASEAN is the future of borderless economies, investments, e-commerce and education and we believe in a future where every young person has the skills, knowledge and opportunity to succeed. Digital skills are essential for the jobs of today and tomorrow, and can open the door to greater economic opportunity. Right now, over half the people on the planet lack basic access to the knowledge and skills that would enable them to participate in the new digital economy. Together with our partners, we are going to change that. We are going to empower every person and SME in ASEAN to achieve more.”

The Digital ASEAN initiative was launched by the World Economic Forum in Singapore in April 2018 in response to demand from the Forum’s regional partners in ASEAN, both public and private. The aim is to work on the issues that will underpin a regional digital economy in ASEAN so that the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be fully unlocked and become a force for regional economic inclusion. The initiative has launched five task forces, each focussed on a specific digital issue:

  1. Pan-ASEAN Data Policy – Shaping a common regional data policy
  2. ASEAN Digital Access – Optimizing high-quality broadband access for ASEAN
  3. ASEAN Digital Skills – Building a shared commitment to train digital skills for the ASEAN workforce
  4. ASEAN e-Payments – Building a common ASEAN e-payment framework
  5. ASEAN Cybersecurity – Nurturing cooperation and capacity building in ASEAN cybersecurity

By the end of 2020, the aim is for the coalition of companies involved in the pledge to:

  • 20,000,000 Train 20 million people working at ASEAN small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in digital skills;
  • 2,000,000 Raise US$2 million for scholarships for ASEAN technology students;
  • 200,000 Hire directly an additional 200,000 ASEAN digital workers;
  • 20,000 Engage 20,000 ASEAN citizens in “Digital Inspiration Days”, where companies invite students and the public to their offices to learn more about jobs of the future;
  • 2,000 Offer 2,000 internship opportunities for ASEAN university students;
  • 200 Contribute to the training of 200 ASEAN digital regulators; and
  • 20 Contribute to shaping the curricula of technology and computing courses at 20 ASEAN universities.

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Bangladesh Economy Continues Robust Growth with Rising Exports and Remittances

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The Bangladesh economy sustains strong growth in FY19 led by rising exports and record remittances, says a new World Bank report, “Bangladesh Development Update October 2019: Tertiary Education and Job Skills,” launched today.

Remittances grew by 9.8 percent, reaching a record $16.4 billion in FY19. The contribution of net export growth was positive, supported by a diversion of garment export orders from China and a decline in imports. Agricultural and pharmaceutical exports led non-RMG export growth. However, leather and leather product exports declined by 6 percent.

Net foreign direct investment (FDI) increased by 42.9 percent from a low baseline with investments in the power, food, and textile sectors. Private consumption grew by 5.4 percent. Private sector credit growth was weak and bank liquidity remains constrained. Non-performing loans continued to rise in the banking sector.

The report warns about an uncertain global outlook and domestic risks in the financial sector. Exchange rate appreciation is also a challenge for Bangladesh’s trade competitiveness. Reforms in the financial sector, including revenue mobilization and doing business, will be essential for progress. The report also urges closing the infrastructure gap and timely implementation of the Annual Development Plan.

Bangladesh’s economy is projected to maintain strong growth backed by sound macroeconomic fundamentals and progress in structural reforms,” said Mercy Miyang Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “To achieve its growth vision, Bangladesh will need a high-productivity economy. Human capital development that is responsive to labor market demand for higher-level skills and to rapid technological advancements will be crucial.”

Bangladesh needs to create quality jobs for about two million young people entering the labor force every year. To harness the benefits of this growing labor supply, investments in human capital are required. The country needs to invest significantly in teaching, learning and ICT facilities, among other areas, to create a competitive workforce.

Higher labor productivity will be essential to diversify the economy beyond garment exports and remittances. Growing sectors—such as export-oriented manufacturing, light engineering, shipbuilding, agribusiness, information and communication technology (ICT), and pharmaceuticals—will require skilled professionals in managerial, technical, and leadership positions.

Tertiary graduates struggle to find jobs, indicating a major skills gap. Only 19 percent of college graduates are employed full-time or part-time. At the tertiary level, more than a third of graduates remain unemployed one or two years after graduation, while unemployment rates of female graduates are even higher.

“Labor market surveys repeatedly show that employers struggle to fill high-skill positions such as technicians and managers,” said Bernard Haven, World Bank Senior Economist, and co-author of the report. “To bridge the demand and supply gap, investments in skills training, equitable access for female and poor students, public funding mechanisms to develop market-relevant skills and an effective regulatory and accountability framework are needed.”

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Tackling obesity would boost economic and social well-being

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Obesity-related diseases will claim more than 90 million lives in OECD countries in the next 30 years, with life expectancy reduced by nearly 3 years. Obesity and its related conditions also reduce GDP by 3.3% in OECD countries and exact a heavy toll on personal budgets, amounting to USD 360 per capita per year, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD’s The Heavy Burden of Obesity – The Economics of Prevention says that more than half the population is now overweight in 34 out of 36 OECD countries and almost one in four people is obese. Average rates of adult obesity in OECD countries have increased from 21% in 2010 to 24% in 2016, meaning an additional 50 million people are now obese.


Children in particular are paying a high price for obesity. Children who are overweight do less well at school, are more likely to miss school, and, when they grow up, are less likely to complete higher education. They also show lower life satisfaction and are up to three times more likely to be bullied, which in turn may contribute to lower school performance.

Obese adults are at greater risk of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and reduced life expectancy. In the EU28, women and men in the lowest income group are, respectively, 90% and 50% more likely to be obese, compared to those on the highest incomes, entrenching inequality. Individuals with at least one chronic disease associated with being overweight are 8% less likely to be employed the following year. When they have a job, they are up to 3.4% more likely to be absent or less productive.

“There is an urgent economic and social case to scale up investments to tackle obesity and promote healthy lifestyles,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “These findings clearly illustrate the need for better social, health and education policies that lead to better lives. By investing in prevention, policymakers can halt the rise in obesity for future generations, and benefit economies. There is no more excuse for inaction.”

OECD countries already spend 8.4% of their total health budget on treating obesity-related diseases. This is equivalent to about USD 311 billion or USD 209 per capita per year. Obesity is responsible for 70% of all treatment costs for diabetes, 23% for cardiovascular diseases and 9% for cancers.

New OECD analysis in the report finds that investing in initiatives like better labelling of food in shops or regulating the advertising of unhealthy foods to children can generate major savings. Every dollar invested in preventing obesity would generate an economic return of up to six dollars, according to the report.

Reducing by 20% the calorie content in energy-dense food, such as crisps and confectionery, could avoid more than 1 million cases of chronic disease per year, particularly heart disease. Initiatives targeting the whole population, such as food and menus displaying nutritional information and mass media campaigns, could lead to gains of  between 51,000 to 115,000 life years per year up to 2050 in the 36 countries included in the analysis. This would be equivalent to preventing all road deaths in EU28 and OECD countries respectively. Economic savings would also be significant, with menu labelling alone saving up to USD 13 billion between 2020 and 2050. The report, together with country notes for Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom, are available at http://www.oecd.org/health/the-heavy-burden-of-obesity-67450d67-en.htm.

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OECD leading multilateral efforts to address tax challenges from digitalisation of the economy

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Today the OECD Secretariat published a proposal to advance international negotiations to ensure large and highly profitable Multinational Enterprises, including digital companies, pay tax wherever they have significant consumer-facing activities and generate their profits.

The new OECD proposal brings together common elements of three competing proposals from member countries, and is based on the work of the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on BEPS, which groups 134 countries and jurisdictions on an equal footing, for multilateral negotiation of international tax rules, making them fit for purpose for the global economy of the 21st Century.

The proposal, which is now open to a public consultation process, would re-allocate some profits and corresponding taxing rights to countries and jurisdictions where MNEs have their markets. It would ensure that MNEs conducting significant business in places where they do not have a physical presence, be taxed in such jurisdictions, through the creation of new rules stating (1) where tax should be paid (“nexus” rules) and (2) on what portion of profits they should be taxed (“profit allocation” rules). 

“We’re making real progress to address the tax challenges arising from digitalisation of the economy, and to continue advancing toward a consensus-based solution to overhaul the rules-based international tax system by 2020,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “This plan brings together common elements of existing competing proposals, involving over 130 countries, with input from governments, business, civil society, academia and the general public. It brings us closer to our ultimate goal: ensuring all MNEs pay their fair share.”

”Failure to reach agreement by 2020 would greatly increase the risk that countries will act unilaterally, with negative consequences on an already fragile global economy. We must not allow that to happen,” Mr Gurría said.

The Inclusive Framework’s tax work on the digitalisation of the economy is part of wider efforts to restore stability and certainty in the international tax system, address possible overlaps with existing rules and mitigate the risks of double taxation. Beyond the specific elements on reallocating taxing rights, a second pillar of the work aims to resolve remaining BEPS issues, ensuring a minimum corporate income tax on MNE profits. This will be discussed in a public consultation foreseen to take place in December 2019.

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