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Global growth is slowing amid rising trade and financial risks

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Global economic growth remains strong but has passed its recent peak and faces escalating risks including rising trade tensions and tightening financial conditions, according to the OECD’s latest Economic Outlook.

Growth forecasts for next year have been revised down for most of the world’s major economies. Global GDP is now expected to expand by 3.5% in 2019, compared with the 3.7% forecast in last May’s Outlook, and by 3.5% in 2020.

In many countries, unemployment is at record lows and labour shortages are beginning to emerge. But rising risks could undermine the projected soft landing from the slowdown. Trade growth and investment have been slackening on the back of tariff hikes. Higher interest rates and an appreciating US dollar have resulted in an outflow of capital from emerging economies and are weakening their currencies. Monetary and fiscal stimulus is being withdrawn progressively in the OECD area.

The shakier outlook in 2019 reflects deteriorating prospects, principally in emerging markets such as Turkey, Argentina and Brazil, while the further slowdown in 2020 is more a reflection of developments in advanced economies as slower trade and lower fiscal and monetary support take their toll.

Presenting the Outlook, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “Trade conflicts and political uncertainty are adding to the difficulties governments face in ensuring that economic growth remains strong, sustainable and inclusive.”

“We urge policy-makers to help restore confidence in the international rules-based trading system and to implement reforms that boost growth and raise living standards – particularly for the most vulnerable.”

The Outlook says trade tensions are already harming global GDP and trade, and estimates that if the US hikes tariffs on all Chinese goods to 25%, with retaliatory action being taken by China, world economic activity could be much weaker. By 2021, world GDP would be hit by 0.5%, by an estimated 0.8% in the US and by 1% in China. Greater uncertainty would add to these negative effects and result in weaker investment around the world. The Outlook also shows that annual shipping traffic growth at container ports, which represents around 80% of international merchandise trade, has fallen to below 3% from close to 6% in 2017.

Growth in China has eased over the course of 2018 amid tighter rules on “shadow bank” financial intermediaries outside the formal banking sector, a more rigorous approval process for local government investment and new US tariffs on Chinese imports. Stimulus measures and easier financial conditions by the central bank may help to bolster slowing growth and help engineer a soft landing, but could also aggravate risks to financial stability, says the Outlook. A much sharper slowdown in Chinese growth would damage global growth significantly, particularly if it were to hit financial market confidence.

With very low interest rates in many countries – particularly in the euro area – and historically high  debt-to-GDP levels (both public and private), policy-makers’ room for manoeuvre in case of a more marked global downturn is limited. The Outlook says it is important to maintain the capacity for tax and spending policies to stimulate demand if growth weakens sharply. Although such fiscal space is limited, co-ordinated action will be far more effective than countries going it alone. Such action should be focussed on  growth-friendly measures, such as investment in physical and digital infrastructure and targeting consumption spending more towards the less well-off.

Laurence Boone, OECD Chief Economist, said: “There are few indications at present that the slowdown will be more severe than projected. But the risks are high enough to raise the alarm and prepare for any storms ahead. Cooperation on fiscal policy at the global and euro level will be needed.”

She added: “Shoring up the global economy also involves responding to people’s concerns about the lack of improvements in wages, living standards and opportunities. Promoting competition to improve business dynamics can help by increasing workers’ bargaining position and lowering prices for consumers. Investing in skills is also crucial. It raises productivity and income and reduces inequality between workers.”

A special chapter in the Outlook shows how, as digitalisation spreads, the divide between high-skill, low-routine jobs and low-skill, high-routine work continues to grow, posing the risk of further widening inequalities. It says strengthening product market competition would not only prompt wider diffusion of new technologies, thereby raising productivity growth, but also help transfer output and efficiency gains to wages.

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Making Globalization Work: Climate, Inclusiveness and International Governance Top Agenda of the WEF 2019

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The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 will take place on 22-25 January in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The meeting brings together more than 3,000 leaders from business, government, civil society, academia, arts and culture, and media, as well as the foremost experts and young leaders from all over the world.

Convening under the theme, Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the purpose of the meeting is to identify new models for peace, inclusiveness and sustainability to suit a world where further global integration is inevitable and where existing models of global governance struggle to foster concerted action among the world’s powers.

“This fourth wave of globalization needs to be human-centred, inclusive and sustainable. We are entering a period of profound global instability brought on by the technological disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the realignment of geo-economics and geopolitical forces. We need principals from all stakeholder groups in Davos to summon the imagination and commitment necessary to tackle it,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

The programme of this year’s Annual Meeting expands on the theme in depth and breadth across more than 350 sessions, nearly half of them webcast. Sessions are organized in a series of global dialogues:

A global dialogue on geopolitics in a multiconceptual world to enable candid and constructive discussion on how to drive future cooperation along with a global dialogue on peace and

A global dialogue on the future of the economy to better reflect the structural changes inherent in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and achieve sustainable growth and long-term societal well-being

A global dialogue on industry systems and technology policy to define the principles for new and emerging technologies to ensure that they are underpinned by a values-based framework

A global dialogue on risk resilience to promote systems thinking to radically improve our collective management of the key environmental systems and to ensure adequate digital cybersecurity

A global dialogue on human capital and society to revisit the notion of work and well-being and to move away from consumption and materialism to a more humanistic focus.

A global dialogue on institutional reform to rethink the global institutional frameworks that emerged in the 20th century and adapt them to ensure relevancy for the new political, economic and social context

Top political leaders taking part are: Ueli Maurer, President of the Swiss Confederation 2019 and Federal Councillor of Finance of Switzerland; Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan; Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil; Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany; Wang Qishan, Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China; Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister of Italy; Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain; Barham Salih, President of Iraq; Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; Sebastian Kurz, Federal Chancellor of Austria; Ivan Duque, President of Colombia; Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minster of Ethiopia; Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland; Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel; Faiez Al Serrag, Prime Minister of Libya; Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Jacinda Ardem, Prime Minister of New Zealand; Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway; Rami Hamdallah, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority; Martin Alberto Vizcarra Cornejo, President of Peru; Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Cyril M. Ramaphosa, Prime Minister of South Africa; Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of Uganda; Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister of Viet Nam; and Emmerson Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe.

Leaders from International Organizations include: Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations; Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Kristalina Georgieva, Chief Executive Officer, World Bank; Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Roberto Azevedo, Director-General, World Trade Organization (WTO); Angel Gurría, Secretary-General, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF); and Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Leaders from civil society are: Yasunobu Aihara, General Secretary, Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Jtuc-Rengo); Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC); Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International; Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director, Greenpeace International; Denis Mukwege, Founder, Panzi Foundation, 2018 Nobel Peace Laureate; Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch; Marco Lambertini, Director-General, WWF International; Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair, Transparency International; Maria Ressa, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Editor, Rappler.com; Elizabeth H. Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); Peter Sands, Executive Director, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GF); Debbie Stothard, Secretary-General International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH); and Luca Visentini, General Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

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Is Haiti better prepared for disasters, nine years on from the 2010 earthquake?

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Half a capital city destroyed, 220,000 reported dead and 1 million residents displaced. This was the toll of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which struck on 12 January, nine years ago.

Staff at the UN Mission in Haiti were also affected, and there were 102 UN casualties, including the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Hédi Annabi and his deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa. It was the “biggest single loss of life in the history of UN Peacekeeping,” the then-President of the UN Staff Union, Stephen Kisambira, said at the time.

One of the survivors was Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, today the head of communications for the UN Mission for Justice in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), who was seven months pregnant at the time and just a few days away from home leave. She had been in the headquarters of MINUJUSTH’s predecessor, the UN Stabilisitation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), when the quake hit.

The building completely collapsed, but Ms. Boutaud de la Combe managed to escape through a collapsed wall. For many hours, she and her surviving colleagues searched through the rubble, looking for anyone still trapped under the building. Two days later, she reluctantly left Haiti, a situation she describes as “a trauma,” her instinct being to help the UN and the people of Haiti. She eventually returned to the country in 2013, happy to be able to play a part in the rebuilding of the country, and honour her lost colleagues with her work.

Some nine years after the earthquake, the situation in Haiti is very different. The government, says Ms. Boutaud de la Combe, is now much better prepared for similar natural disasters. “A few months ago there was an earthquake in the north of the country. The state was prepared and they sent their people to support those affected, without MINUJUSTH involvement. It was not a major earthquake, but now the population knows how to react. And most importantly, we hear regularly how important it is to build better, to build strongly in case an earthquake would hit, not to endanger the people.”

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UN welcomes progress in former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia naming dispute

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The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the naming dispute between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Matthew Nimetz, has welcomed the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia parliament’s decision to ratify an agreement on a new name for the latter country, following a dispute that has lasted some 28 years.

In a statement released on Friday, Mr. Nimetz congratulated the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia parliament and the country’s citizens – who approved the name change in a referendum held in September 2018 – for the move, and the democratic manner in which the process was undertaken: “this historic Agreement between two neighbours opens the door to a new relationship between them and to a firmer basis for peace and security in the Balkans. I look forward to completion of the process as outlined in the Agreement,” said Mr. Nimetz, adding that the United Nations remains “committed to working with the two Parties in finally resolving the difference between them.”

However, in order for the country to be renamed the Republic of North Macedonia, the Greek parliament must also vote to ratify the deal. On Sunday, it was reported that the issue has led to a Greek government crisis, with the governing coalition split over the name change: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is reportedly planning to call a confidence vote, which is expected to be held on Wednesday.

The dispute stretches back to 1991, when the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia declared its independence from Yugoslavia, and announced its intention to be named “Macedonia.” Neighbouring Greece refused to recognise the name, insisting that only the northern Greek region of the same name should be called Macedonia, and arguing that the former Yugoslav Republic’s use of the name was a challenge to Greek sovereignty.

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