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Thailand’s Growth Moderates as Global Risks Intensify

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Thailand’s economic growth began to moderate in early 2019 in the context of weaker global growth. The country’s growth rate is projected to fall from 4.1 percent in 2018 to 3.5 percent in 2019, according to the World Bank’s Thailand Economic Monitor, released today.

Exports contracted by 4 percent in the first quarter of 2019 —the first quarterly contraction in three years. Private investment and household consumption continued to grow close to their three-year high, helped by low inflation, increasing employment and rising recurrent fiscal spending. At the same time, public investment weakened as the implementation of “megaprojects” slowed due to election-related delays. As a result, the economy’s pace of expansion slowed to 2.8 percent in the first quarter of 2019, falling below 3 percent for the first time since mid-2015.

The World Bank projects growth to gradually increase from the expected 3.5 percent in 2019 to 3.6 and 3.7 percent in 2020 and 2021, assuming private consumption can be sustained, and public investment accelerates.  

“Policy continuity and the implementation of planned public infrastructure projects in the Eastern Economic Corridor will be of vital importance to sustain growth, said Birgit Hansl, World Bank Country Manager for Thailand, “Increased regional integration and making better use of Thailand’s strategic location could support trade in goods and services.”

Prolonged political uncertainty is a key risk for Thailand’s economic outlook going forward. Lingering doubts about the cohesiveness of the newly established 19-party coalition government could adversely impact investor and consumer confidence and contribute to a further delay in the timely implementation of large public infrastructure projects. Externally, ongoing trade tensions between the US and China could further weaken demand for Thailand’s exports and discourage private investment in export-oriented industries.

This edition of the Thailand Economic Monitor highlights the importance of harnessing financial technology (fintech) for financial inclusion. Thailand has made large strides in expanding access to financial services. Today, 82 percent of Thai adults have a formal bank account and the gender gap is small. However, the report finds that challenges remain in the quality of digital financial services, as well as in access to broadband services.

“Expansion of digital services to the underserved would bring about new economic opportunities and support a reduction of inequality as envisaged in Thailand’s national strategy,” said Kiatipong Ariyapruchya, World Bank Senior Economist for Thailand. “As fintech activities continue to grow in Thailand, inter-governmental collaboration and building a supportive environment for a sound fintech ecosystem would be important.”

Among the report’s policy recommendations to leverage the full potential of fintech are: lifting barriers to firms seeking to enter the financial sector; encouraging collaboration between traditional banks and fintech firms; improving coordination among regulators for example on regulatory sandboxes; encouraging public-private and private-private collaboration; and supporting initiatives such as incubators and early-stage seed funding vehicles, as well as providing matching grants to help a fintech firms to take off in Thailand.

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Study Finds Ways To Boost Intra-African Trade and Build Resilience

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On 1 January 2021, the African Union launched the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the world’s biggest free trade area and Africa’s most ambitious and recent effort to liberalize trade. The World Economic Forum’s Connecting Countries and Cities for Regional Value Chain Integration – Operationalizing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) released today analyses the impact that COVID-19 has had on Africa’s supply chains.

Developed by the World Economic Forum’s Regional Action Group for Africa in partnership with Deloitte, the report provides policy advice for accelerating the expansion of regional value chains in emerging manufacturing economies such as the automotive industry.

The paper is part of a series investigating five ways to drive economic recovery and build resilience in the context of the AfCFTA Agreement, namely:

  • New financing models for rapid recovery
  • Unlocking manufacturing to mitigate global supply chain risks
  • Leveraging integration and regional value chains
  • Revitalizing infrastructure and connectivity
  • Scaling up digital transformation and inclusive innovation

“The African Continental Free Trade Area holds immense potential for the social and economic development of Africa. Renewing the rules of trading will facilitate better cooperation to boost growth, reduce poverty and broaden economic inclusion,” said Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum. “This timely report of the Regional Action Group for Africa presents detailed insights and recommendations on how to advance public-private collaboration on regional integration, with a view of deepening and strengthening regional value chains.”

“It is perhaps the most ambitious free trade project since the creation of the World Trade Organization itself. Actively promoting trade liberalization to encourage new areas of growth is a pragmatic response to the reduction in global trade due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will position Africa as an enhanced destination for investment from multinationals”, said Martyn Davies, Managing Director of Emerging Markets at Deloitte Africa. “Although the continent can do little to counter the global forces inclining towards deglobalization, it can embrace a self-supportive regionalism through enhanced intra-African trade.”

Insufficient and inert inter-linkages between African economies have exacerbated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent’s supply chains. Yet, from local production of essential products to improving port and customs efficiencies – often flagged as a challenge in Africa – the response to the pandemic illustrated how meaningful impact is created through collaborative efforts. Successfully implemented, current efforts by the African Union will stimulate trade as well as deepen and create new regional value chains in Africa. Lessons learned should be applied to improving production capabilities in other industries so that economic and trade benefits can be realized.

The paper places emphasis on the automotive sector as a case study as advances in that industry have the potential to set the tone and pace for other sectors to mobilize and create stronger integrated regional value chains. The industry is on the cusp of an evolution, with advances in electric and autonomous vehicles and transformations in mobility, but as Africa builds its automotive industry, it should focus on development that promotes innovation and drives adoptions that will be sustainable for the growth and development of the sector.

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Health, Jobs and Environment Top Personal Risk List

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A new World Economic Forum/Ipsos survey found most adults are optimistic about accessing technology, digital tools and training in the next 12 months, but have serious concerns about the state of the climate, job market and global health. These findings ahead of the Davos Agenda week highlight the importance of leaders across the public and private sectors coming together to address the changes needed in a crucial year ahead.

According to the survey, the percentage of those expecting the availability of digital tools and technology to improve in 2021 exceeds the percentage of those who think it will get worse across geographies. This is most of all the case in Saudi Arabia (by 57 points), Peru (55 points), and India (48 points). Italy is the only country where, while the proportion of optimists is greater than that of pessimists by 3 points, the difference is not statistically significant.

Significantly larger proportions of people expect opportunities for training and education to improve in 2021 than to get worse in 12 countries — most of all in Saudi Arabia (by 45 points), Peru (44 points), Mexico (36 points), and China (36 points).

Image: IPSOS/World Economic Forum

However, there are global concerns with deteriorating health, loss of income or employment, and more frequent weather-related natural disasters – each perceived as a real threat by three out of five adults across the world.

Pessimists outnumber optimists on the other five issues measured: The pace of climate change (by 20 points); Employment opportunities (by 15 points); General health conditions (by 5 points); Inequality (by 4 points), and Relations between one’s country and other countries (by 2 points).

Expected Change in 2021 Image: IPSOS/World Economic Forum

The pandemic has accelerated systemic changes that were apparent before its inception. The fault lines that emerged in 2020 now appear as critical crossroads in 2021. The Davos Agenda will help leaders choose innovative and bold solutions to stem the pandemic and drive a robust recovery over the next year.

In regards to the Davos Agenda, Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum said: “In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to reset priorities and the urgency to reform systems have been growing stronger around the world. Rebuilding trust and increasing global cooperation are crucial to fostering innovative and bold solutions to stem the pandemic and drive a robust recovery. This unique meeting will be an opportunity for leaders to outline their vision and address the most important issues of our time, such as the need to accelerate job creation and to protect the environment.”

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Key Trends Shaping the Global Economy in 2021

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Accelerating inequality, remote work and greater tech market dominance are among the pandemic’s emerging trends that are likely here to stay for some years. Beyond managing the pandemic and vaccine rollout, these trends could shape a new era of fiscal, monetary and competition policy, as well as bigger government. Deglobalization is seen as the least likely of current trends to continue in the longer term; particularly as international coordination is key to resolving global challenges such as vaccine manufacturing and distribution. These are some of the findings of the World Economic Forum’s Chief Economists Outlook, published today.

The latest edition of the Forum’s Chief Economists Outlook is the outcome of consultations with leading chief economists from the public and private sectors. The report outlines the global economic outlook and lays out the priorities for policy-makers and business leaders to chart a post-pandemic recovery agenda that is fair, inclusive and sustainable.

Chief economists are impressed at the speed and scale of fiscal policy measures taken in the wake of the pandemic. However, as the global vaccination campaign picks up pace, they see the second half of 2021 as the optimal time to begin transitioning from general emergency spending to more targeted spending on future growth sectors. A majority suggest that taking action to pay down the significant national debts accumulated in the past year can wait until 2024 or beyond.

With central bank financing of public debt through quantitative easing now at the core of monetary policy in response to the crisis, chief economists believe this could lead to less central bank independence over time. Many also suggested that central banks should be pursuing environmental objectives directly through their asset purchases, which would represent a significant departure from past practice.

Most chief economists expect a brighter outlook as the vaccine helps accelerate the recovery, and as a new US administration contributes to tackling short-and long-term challenges, both domestically and globally, through revived multilateral institutions. However, most of those surveyed see virus mutations as the biggest risk for 2021, slowing efforts to contain the pandemic and leading to new lockdowns. Another concern relates to poorly calibrated policy responses that risk failing to differentiate between the deep structural impact of the pandemic on some sectors and the temporary halting of activity in other sectors.

“This report makes clear that precisely calibrated and coordinated fiscal, monetary and competition policy hold the key to global economic recovery and transformation. As the roll-out of vaccines picks up pace, there won’t be a better time for governments to work together and invest in a fair transition to a greener, more inclusive economy,” says Saadia Zahidi, Manging Director at the World Economic Forum.

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