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Iceland’s slowdown underlines the need to fix structural issues

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Sound macroeconomic policies and favourable external conditions have enabled Iceland’s economy to emerge stronger from a decade of post-crisis management. Yet the impact on growth from a drop in tourist arrivals and seafood exports underlines the need for reforms to open up and diversify the economy and improve its resiliency to sectoral shocks, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Iceland.

The Survey, presented in Reykjavik by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría alongside Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson and Minister of Education, Science and Culture Lilja Dogg Alfredsdottir, takes stock of Iceland’s progress on improving fiscal and monetary policy, reducing debt and building up financial buffers. Today Iceland enjoys sustainable public finances, high employment and one of the lowest levels of income inequality of OECD countries.

A lack of structural reform has left Iceland heavily dependent on volatile sectors however. Tourism ballooned over the past decade, overtaking aluminium and fishing to account for 40% of export income and 10% of GDP, but has stalled since the insolvency of a low-cost Icelandic airline. Seafood exports are also down. After several years above 3%, the OECD projects Iceland’s GDP growth will drop to 0.2% in 2019 before rebounding to 2.2% in 2020.

“Iceland’s resurgence since the financial crisis to reach some of the highest living standards of OECD countries has been remarkable. It is a beautiful example of how a robust economy can co-exist with an egalitarian society,” said Mr Gurría. “However this slowdown shows that now is the time to go structural and to further open up the economy. Iceland should focus on reducing regulatory red tape and restrictions on foreign investment.”

Among Iceland’s structural challenges, competitiveness is declining as wages rise faster than productivity. The competitive edge gained after the 2008 crisis has vanished. Foreign direct investment is low, due in part to a high regulatory burden.

The Survey recommends reducing over-regulation, especially in services and for foreign investment, where restrictions are among the highest in the OECD, and lightening the administrative burden for start-ups. Iceland is already working with the OECD to improve its competition policy. Wage settlements across the economy should be in line with productivity growth, and fiscal prudence should be exercised through the current slowdown in order to further reduce the public debt.

In the tourism sector, the Survey suggests considering measures to improve sustainability given that – whether the downturn proves to be temporary or longer lasting – Iceland is already at six foreign tourists a year for each resident and may already have reached a point where the negative social and environmental impacts exceed the economic benefits.

On public finances, the Survey notes that the contribution of public spending to growth has declined since the 2008 crisis. It recommends extending spending reviews to core policy areas like education and health care, and applying more rigorous cost-benefit analysis to spending plans as two ways to improve the effectiveness of public investment.

The Survey also discusses the need to address a decline in high-school student performance and better match adult skills to the labour market. Iceland has a highly equitable education system and a large share of its workforce educated to tertiary level, but it could increase vocational training and make the education system more responsive to the labour market to avoid having people overqualified or possessing the wrong skills for jobs.

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Wide Variations in Post-COVID ‘Return to Normal’ Expectations

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London, UK, Covid-19 restrictions in place in Soho. IMF/Jeff Moore

A new IPSOS/World Economic Forum survey found that almost 60% expect a return to pre-COVID normal within the next 12 months. including 6% who think this is already the case, 9% who think it will take no more than three months, 13% four to six months, and 32% seven to 12 months (the median time). About one in five think it will take more than three years (10%) or that it will never happen (8%).

Views on when to expect a return to normal vary widely across countries: Over 70% of adults in Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, and mainland China are confident their life will return to pre-COVID normal within a year. In contrast, 80% in Japan and more than half in France, Italy, South Korea, and Spain expect it will take longer.

At a global level, expectations about how long it will take before one’s life can return to its pre-COVID normal and how long it will take for the pandemic to be contained are nearly identical. These findings suggest that people across the world consider that being able to return to “normal” life is entirely dependent on containing the pandemic.

An average of 45% of adults globally say their mental and emotional health has gotten worse since the beginning of the pandemic about a year ago. However, one in four say their mental health has improved since the beginning of the year (23%), about as many that say it has worsened (27%).

How long before coronavirus pandemic is contained?

Similar to life returning to pre-COVID normal, 58% on average across all countries and markets surveyed expect the pandemic to be contained within the next year, including 13% who think this is already the case or will happen within 3 months, 13% between four and six months and 32% between seven and 12 months (the median time in most markets).

Majorities in India, China, and Saudi Arabia think the pandemic is already contained or will be within the next 6 months. In contrast, four in five in Japan and more than half in Australia, France, Poland, Spain, and Sweden expect it will take more than a year.

Change in emotional and mental health since beginning of the pandemic about a year ago

On average across the 30 countries and markets surveyed, 45% of adults say their emotional and mental health has gotten worse since the beginning of the pandemic about a year ago, three times the proportion of adults who say it has improved (16%)

In 11 countries, at least half report a decline in their emotional and mental health with Turkey (61%), Chile (56%), and Hungary (56%) showing the largest proportions.

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African fisheries need reforms to boost resilience after Covid-19

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The African fisheries sector could benefit substantially from proper infrastructure and support services, which are generally lacking. The sector currently grapples with fragile value chains and marketing, weak management institutions and serious issues relating to the governance of fisheries resources.

These were the findings of a study that the African Natural Resources Centre conducted from March to May 2020. The centre is a non-lending department of the African Development Bank. The study focused on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in four countries – Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Seychelles. The countries’ economies depend heavily on marine fisheries. The fisheries sector is also a very large source of economic activity elsewhere in Africa. It provides millions of jobs all over the continent.

The study dwells on appropriate and timely measures that the four countries have taken to avoid severe supply disruptions, save thousands of jobs and maintain governance transparency amid the ongoing global uncertainty and crisis.

Infrastructure shortcomings include landing facilities, storage and processing capacity, social and sanitary equipment, water and power, ice production, and roads to access markets.

Based on the findings, researchers made recommendations to strengthen the resilience of Africa’s fisheries sector in the context of a prolonged crisis, and looking ahead to a post-Covid-19 recovery.

The report strongly advocates for:

– Increased acknowledgment of the essential role of marine fisheries stakeholders and the right of artisanal fishermen to access financial and material resources.

– Strengthening the collection of gender-disaggregated statistical data in a sector that employs a vast number of women and youth.

– Establishing infrastructure and support services at landing and processing sites of fishery products, with priority access to water.

– Investing in human capital to ensure high-level skills in the different areas of fisheries management.

– Improving governance frameworks by encouraging the private sector and civil society to participate in formulating sectoral policies and resource management measures.

The study recommends urgent reforms to make marine fisheries more resilient and enable the sector to contribute sustainably to the wealth of the continent’s coastal countries.

Marine fisheries are a crucial contributor to food security and quality of life in Africa. Good nutrition is a key factor to quality of life, and the marine fisheries sector supports the nutrition of more than 300 million people, the majority of whom are children, youth and women. It also provides more than 10 million direct and indirect jobs.

Dominated by artisanal fishing and traditional value chains, the fisheries sector in Africa is mainly informal and is rarely considered in public policies or in assessing the wealth of countries.

Like other sectors, the African fisheries sector has been severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid has affected supply markets and regional trade. This has resulted in substantial economic losses for most households that depend on fisheries.

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Top Trends Impacting Global Economy, Society and Technology

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The new technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the cloud and robotics, are changing the way we live, learn and do business at a rate unprecedented in human history. This seismic shift is playing out in a world characterized by unreliable political landscapes and increasing environmental instability.

Scenario planning in this environment can be very difficult for businesses, affecting their ability to plan for the future, and properly assess the risks and opportunities that may present themselves. The Technology Futures report, released in collaboration with Deloitte, provides leaders with data analysis tools to scenario plan and forecast future technology trends.

“The rapid pace of technological change, alongside the global crisis caused by COVID-19, means that leaders today need new tools to understand challenges and develop strategies in the face of an increasingly uncertain future. This report provides three new analytical tools for business leaders to think about the future in a dynamic environment,” said Ruth Hickin, Strategy and Impact Lead, Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum.

“We are delighted to collaborate with the World Economic Forum to take a disciplined look into the future, particularly as we emerge from a world-altering event, like COVID-19,” said Mike Bechtel, Managing Director and Chief Futurist, US Consulting, Deloitte, and lead author of the report. “We hope that by providing a clearer picture of how today’s nascent technologies will impact our future, we can play a meaningful part in driving innovation, collaboration and economic growth that improves life for all people.”

The report breaks down future trends into four categories for business leaders and provides some examples of what is likely to remain constant in the years ahead.

  • Information: With the volume of accessible data exploding and more of our personal lives lived online, the report projects the probable implications for remote learning, remote working and healthcare.
  • Locality: Since the onset of COVID-19, even more of our interpersonal interaction is virtual and physical experiences have dwindled. The report projects more niche, readily available virtual experiences available to consumers.
  • Economy: The report forecasts a growing likelihood that flexible and clean energy production will continue rising.
  • Education: Personalized education will likely grow, along with the availability of digitized and virtualized content.

In addition to strategic modelling, the report gives leaders a baseline history of how the Fourth Industrial Revolution has progressed. It highlights just how fast technology is evolving and outlines one way risk management could evolve to better address and adapt to it.

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