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Promoting Innovation and Market Competition are key to China’s Future Growth

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China needs to foster new drivers of growth to address productivity challenges, intensify reforms and promote greater innovation in the economy, according to a new report jointly released by China’s Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC), China’s Ministry of Finance and the World Bank Group (WBG).

China has experienced a remarkable period of high rates of growth over the past four decades. But the traditional drivers of growth are running out of steam. China is now at a crossroads, with declining returns to public investment and rapid aging. Developing new drivers of growth will require more efficient allocation of resources while reducing environmental impacts and continuously boosting productivity. Unlocking the new drivers will also require governance reforms to let market forces play a decisive role in allocating resources and a reorientation of China’s innovation system.

A joint research team of DRC, MOF, and the WBG analyzed China’s new development opportunities and challenges, resulting in the report, Innovative China: New Drivers of Growth.

It is necessary for China to promote new drivers of growth to boost the country’s productivity. We need to carry out reforms to make the economy more efficient, competitive and productive. The report provides valuable insights and recommendations that will help us develop a reform agenda for a more innovative and productive economic system,” said Kun Liu, China’s Minister of Finance.

“China’s economy is shifting from high-speed growth to high-quality development. It needs to rely on deeper reform, higher level opening up and more integrated and efficient innovation to boost productivity and build a modern economic system. The joint research has yielded a series of important results, which are valuable for China to cultivate new growth drivers and promote a new round of reform and opening up,” said Jiantang Ma, Party Secretary and Vice President (Minister in charge), Development Research Center of the State Council, China.

“The report makes clear that investing in people, removing remaining distortions in the economy and reducing market barriers to competition will be critical as China works to boost its innovation capabilities”, said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and the Pacific.

The new report proposes that China address its productivity challenges by promoting the “three Ds” – removing distortions in the allocation of resources in the economy, accelerating diffusion of existing advanced technologies and innovations, and fostering discovery of new technologies, products, and processes so as to expand China’s productivity frontier. The report develops recommendations in seven areas to promote the “three Ds”: strengthening competition and creating a level playing field for all investors, recalibrating China’s innovation system, building human capital, allocating financial and human resources more efficiently, leveraging regional development and integration, promoting economic globalization and international competitiveness and adapting the model of regulation and governance to adjusting the balance between the state and the market.

To allocate resources more efficiently and remove distortions in the economy, the report recommends further improvements in the business climate – building on advances in recent years – faster progress in the reform of state-owned enterprises, and greater discipline on government support to specific industries. The report also suggests that the allocation of capital could be improved, mitigating the build-up of risks in the financial sector, enhancing oversight of the fintech industry, promoting the development of small and medium enterprises, and ensuring that venture capital and government guidance funds are commercially operated and professionally managed. Fair competition for the country’s huge pool of investable funds would make the economy both more competitive and adaptable. Further, the report suggests the need for more market-based mechanisms to leverage the potential of coordinated regional development and urbanization, including further relaxation of the hukou household registration system and the introduction of tradeable land quotas across regional jurisdictions to enhance the efficiency of public investments and increase the returns on existing public assets.

The promotion of market competition is also central to the diffusion of technologies. The report argues that China still has considerable scope to benefit from further opening of its economy to foreign investment and competition, including by speeding up development of the regulations and administrative review and licensing procedures needed to implement the country’s new Foreign Investment Law. In addition, the report points to the critical role of human capital, including managerial skills, in facilitating the diffusion of technologies. In this regard, a major priority is to address the remaining regional disparities in educational attainment. Curriculum reforms, pedagogical advancement to promote creativity and the cognitive skills of students and the establishment of a lifelong learning system would ensure that China’s workforce can adapt to the changing skill needs of its economy.

China has rapidly improved its innovation capabilities in recent years. Nonetheless, to foster further discovery of new products and processes, the report proposes a recalibration of China’s national innovation system. The objective of such recalibration should be to make it bottom-up, market-oriented and inclusive and to develop innovation support programs that are more demand-based. It also suggests reorienting a greater share of public R&D support to basic research, strengthening of intellectual property rights and improving the quality of patents. Robust market competition would incentivize enterprises to continuously innovate and upgrade.

The report argues that unlocking the new drivers of growth will require continuous reforms. To help boost innovation and productivity, the role of the state needs to evolve and focus on providing stable market expectations, a clear and fair business environment, strengthening the regulatory system and the rule of law, and reforming the management of civil service performance to further support the market system.

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Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments

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The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.

Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”

 Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.

 Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:

 Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.

 It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.

 Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.

 Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.

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Sweden: Invest in skills and the digital economy to bolster the recovery from COVID-19

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Sweden’s economy is on the road to recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, yet risks remain. Moving ahead with a labour reform to facilitate adaptation in a fast-changing economic environment, and investing in digital skills and infrastructure, will be crucial to revive employment and build a sustainable recovery, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Sweden.

The pandemic triggered a severe recession in Sweden, despite mild distancing measures and swift government action to protect people and businesses. GDP fell by less than in many other European economies in 2020, thanks to reinforced short-time work, compensation to firms for lost revenue and measures to prop up the financial system, but unemployment still rose sharply. Solid public finances provided room for further stimulus in 2021 to buttress the recovery.

 The Survey recommends maintaining targeted support to people and firms until the pandemic subsides, then focusing on strengthening vocational training and skills and increasing investment in areas like high-speed internet and low-carbon transport. Addressing regional inequality, which is low but rising, should also be a priority as the recovery takes hold.

 The Survey shows that Sweden has been among the most resilient OECD countries in the face of a historic shock. Yet, like other economies, it faces challenges from demographic changes and the shift to green, digital economies. Investments in education and training, and labour reforms along the lines negotiated by the social partners, will support job creation and strengthen economic resilience. Building on Sweden’s leadership in digital innovation and diffusion will also be key for driving productivity.

 After a 3% contraction in 2020, interrupting several years of growth, the Survey projects a rebound in activity with 3.9% growth in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022 as industrial production resumes and exports recover. The recovery in world trade is bolstering the Swedish economy, however the country remains vulnerable to potential disruptions in global value chains.  

The pandemic has aggravated a mismatch in Sweden’s job market, with unfilled vacancies for highly qualified workers coinciding with high unemployment for low-skilled workers and immigrants. The public employment service needs strengthening to provide better support to jobseekers, including immigrants and women, and labour policies should strike the right balance between supporting businesses and workers and supporting transitions away from declining businesses towards growing sectors.

A rising share of youths and older people in the population, especially in remote areas, is affecting the finances of local governments, which provide the bulk of welfare services. Strengthening local government budgets and ensuring equal welfare provision across the country will require providing tax income to poorer regions more efficiently and raising the economic growth potential across regions through investments in innovation. Improving coordination between government entities and reinforcing the role of universities in local economic networks would help achieve that aim.

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Fewer women than men will regain work during COVID-19 recovery

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Generations of progress stands to be lost on women and girls' empowerment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: ILO

Fewer women will regain jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recovery period, than men, according to a new study released on Monday by the UN’s labour agency.  

In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs. 

This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago. 

This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts. 

The ILO paper suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing. 

Regional differences 

Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the study revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.  

This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent. 

In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent. 

Mitigation efforts 

Throughout the pandemic, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible. 

In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women.  

And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs.  

Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes. 

Building forward 

To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency. 

It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO. 

Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men. 

The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection. 

Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step. 

Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately. 

Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO. 

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