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Guterres: We must do everything possible to avoid global ‘fracture’ caused by US-China tensions

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Tensions around global trade and technology continue to rise and the international community needs to “do everything possible” to prevent the world being split into two competing spheres, led by the United States and China. 

That was the message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Saturday, speaking during the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Annual Meetings in Washington DC. 

In remarks to the International Monetary and Financial Committee, the UN chief said that “during tense and testing times” he continued to “fear the possiblity of a Great Fracture – with the two largest economies splitting the globe in two – each with its own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, its own internet and artificial intelligence capacities and its own zero-sum geopolitical and military strategies.” 

A trade war between the two economic giants is threatening to wipe out gains across the global economy, which could shrink global GDP next year “equivalent to the whole economy of Switzerland” said the new head of the IMF, Kristina Georgieva, just a few days ago.  

Mr. Guterres told world financiers that “it is not too late to avoid” the division, but “we must do everything possible to avert this…and maintain a universal economy with universal respect for international law; a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF.” 

He noted three main areas where fiscal policy and investment in the future would be pivotal. First, make tax systems “smarter, greener, and more aligned behind the sustainable development and climate action agendas”, he urged. 

Secondly align the whole financial system behind the 17 SDGs, or Sustainable Development Goals, incentivizing longterm public and private finance, and “revisiting financial regulations that may inadvertently encourage short-termism in financial markets.” 

Third, “it is time to break the cycle of excessive debt build-up followed by painful debt crises”, meaning taking a systemic approach to lend and borrow more responsibly. 

And we must keep a focus on countries particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, namely Small Island Developing States.  I fully support proposals to convert debt to investment in resilience such as through the Debt for Climate Adaptation Swap initiative”, noted the UN chief. “We should move this from idea to reality. 

Together, let us raise ambition for development finance, climate finance, and finance that is inclusive and enables markets to grow, businesses to thrive and people to live in dignity.” 

‘Great opportunities’ ahead, for climate action 

Speaking at a meeting of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, Mr. Guterres said that the 44-member group launched just six months ago, was “a vital part of our response to the climate emergency”. 

The Climate Action Summit last month in New York had shown “the world is waking up to the crisis”, with “great opportunities” ahead to reduce air pollution, save billions of dollars on disasters fueled by global warming, and unlock the true benefits of the green economy. 

Despite a “glaring gap in ambition and finance” finance ministers can turn the tide: “You come to the table with a mix of tools, including tax policy, controlled spending and climate budgeting…And you can end counter-productive subsidies for fossil fuels and pave the way for what I would like to see as a major trend: shifting taxation from income, to carbon.” 

Sweden and Colombia are already using carbon taxes; Uganda is implementing a Climate Change Budget Tagging System; and the island of Dominica has used fiscal policy to improve preparedness for climate shocks, following a devastating hurricane. 

“Your Coalition is taking the ‘whole of government’ approach we need for systemic change. We need to have in place by COP26, country-level road maps and fiscal policies for economic, technological and energy transitions”. 

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Defining the Decade of Delivery: 50th Annual Meeting Calls for Stakeholder Responsibility

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The 50th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting closed today, a historic meeting bringing all stakeholders together to shape a cohesive and sustainable world.

World Economic Forum President Børge Brende said “Our 50th Annual Meeting has been truly remarkable, due to the real progress that we created on a spectrum of issues where public-private collaboration is crucial. We laid the basis for a decade of delivery.”

Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), told participants that we are in a better place in January 2020 than we were in October 2019. There are several drivers for this positive momentum: trade tensions are receding; central banks have loosened monetary policy; and global industrial production is bottoming out.

The IMF’s economic forecast is for 3.3% growth this year and 3.4% next year. This level of growth was characterised as “sluggish”, and governments were called on to enact structural reforms and boost spending.

In 2019, 29 central banks globally reduced rates 71 times and it is now time to pass the baton on to fiscal policy. “We need to go beyond monetary stimulus – fiscal policy needs to become more aggressive,” Georgieva added.

Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, shared this relatively sanguine outlook. Uncertainties have abated on issues like trade and Brexit, she said, and it is likely that income growth and low unemployment will eventually be reflected in prices.

“The European Central Bank has launched a broad strategic review, the first since 2003, to revisit the bank’s processes and policies and to recommend structural changes,” she said, committing to delivering the outcomes of this review at the next Annual Meeting.

Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, said: “The US economy continues to be the bright spot in the world.” The economic outlook for 2020 is very robust, he added. Inflation remains muted, incomes are rising and unemployment is near historic lows.

“Trade negotiations have started with both the EU and the UK and we look forward to completing both of those deals this year,” he said.

Haruhiko Kuroda, Governor of the Bank of Japan, said: “We expect Japan’s economy to grow by 1% to 1.5% this year.” Nevertheless, inflation in Japan is stubbornly low. Continued accommodative monetary policy will be required for some time to achieve the 2% inflation objective, he added.

Climate risk is quite real for Japan, he said. In the fourth quarter of last year, the Japanese economy experienced negative growth largely because of two large typhoons. These types of natural disasters are intensifying and Japan stands ready to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat global climate change.

Germany has embarked on an expansionary fiscal policy programme, said Olaf Scholz, Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister of Finance of Germany. Taxes have been reduced by about $25 billion a year, investment in infrastructure is at record levels and R&D spending is targeted to reach 3.5% of GDP.

“Germany’s economy remains strong and we expect these investment measures to have a material impact on demand,” he added.

However, we must act urgently on sustainability issues, he said. Europe will continue to lead on climate change, with a target to be carbon neutral by 2050 backed by investments in the green economy and renewable energy.

Outcomes of the Annual Meeting 2020

In a letter sent to participants in advance of the Annual Meeting, Klaus Schwab, the Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman, and the heads of Bank of America and Royal DSM, asked all members and partners to commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier. In part inspired by this, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 saw a number of outcomes that made progress towards a more cohesive and sustainable world:

Cohesive World

Skills and Work

· The Reskilling Revolution was launched to provide better education, skills and jobs to 1 billion people by 2030, with the initial backing of the governments of Bahrain, Brazil, Denmark, France, India, Oman, Pakistan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and the United States as well as business partners, including PwC, Salesforce, ManpowerGroup, Infosys, LinkedIn, Coursera Inc. and The Adecco Group. Commitments to provide better education, skills and work for 250 million people have already been made. The Forum’s Global Shaper community further pledged to provide skills to 100,000 people in vulnerable communities.

· Six leading platform companies – Cabify, Deliveroo, Grab, MBO Partners, Postmates and Uber – became founding signatories of the Forum’s Charter of Principles for Good Platform Work.

· The Valuable 500 initiative of companies committed to placing disability inclusion on their leadership agendas that was launched last year in Davos, announced that 241 companies from 24 countries have pledged their support.

· Ingka Group (IKEA) and Royal DSM became founding members of the Forum’s Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work initiative. McKinsey joined as knowledge partner.

· The Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, which was launched in Davos last year to accelerate inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, announced that it has grown its membership to 17 international businesses.

Inclusive Growth

· The International Business Council, incorporating 140 of the world’s largest companies, agreed to support efforts to develop a core set of common metrics and disclosures that could be used to measure private sector progress against key environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.

· The Forum also became a founding partner this week, alongside Refinitiv, United Nations and others in the Future of Sustainable Data Alliance. The alliance focuses on improving the quality of ESG data available to governments and investors to inform decision-making.

· The Davos Friends of Africa Growth Platform launched with the support of the Presidents of Botswana and Ghana to promote entrepreneurism in Africa. The platform’s initial target is to reach 1 million entrepreneurs by the end of 2020.

· A strategic partnership was signed between the World Economic Forum and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to accelerate progress towards inclusive and sustainable growth globally.

· Some 42 organizations, including businesses from mining, automotive, chemical and energy that have a combined revenue of $1 trillion dollars agreed on 10 guiding principles for a sustainable battery value chain, enabled by a traceability platform called Battery Passport.

· The Australian state of Queensland announced it will join the Forum’s Global Lighthouse Network in a bid to help small and medium-sized enterprises adopt advanced manufacturing technologies.

Saving Lives

· CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations that was launched in Davos in 2017, today announced the initiation of three programmes to develop vaccines against the novel coronavirus, nCoV-2019, in partnership with Moderna and the Wellcome Trust. The swift action was made possible by the fact that the leaders of the partner organizations were all in Davos.

· GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, celebrated its 20th anniversary. GAVI was launched at the Annual Meeting 2000 with the backing of the Gates Foundation, World Health Organization, pharmaceutical companies and governments to bring vaccines to children who lacked access. Since then, GAVI has reached 760 million children.

· The World Economic Forum announced a partnership with the Global CEO Initiative (CEOi) to form a coalition to accelerate diagnostics and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

· The Forum initiated Ending Workplace Tuberculosis, a multi-sector initiative aimed at tapping into the business community to help stop TB in countries affected disproportionately by the disease.

Trade

· Ministers at Davos announced negotiations between 99 economies on a new international agreement on investment facilitation at the WTO. The agreement is aimed at making it easier for investment to flow between economies while increasing its development impact.

· As theUS and France agreed a detente on digital tax during the Annual Meeting, the Forum received a mandate from multistakeholder partners to further build multistakeholder understanding of and input to international tax reforms and assist the search for broadly supported solutions.

· The Forum partnered with the Japanese government on a multistakeholder effort to find practical mechanisms to enable free “Data Free Flow with Trust” in support of the Osaka Track process that was initiated at the G20 in 2019.

Civil Society

· The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship announced that its community has improved the lives and livelihoods of more than 622 million people in 190 countries since 2000. Impacts include distributing $6.7 billion in loans or value of products and services; mitigating more than 192 million tonnes of CO2; improving education for more than 226 million children and youth; improving energy access for more than 100 million people and driving social inclusion for over 25 million people.

· 11 NGO executives united to stop sale of .org domain to a private equity firm. Executive directors of Greenpeace International, Access Now, Human Rights Watch, ACLU, International Trade Union Confederation, Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Consumer Reports, 350.org, Color of Change and Transparency International released an open letter on 21 January 2020 “calling on the leaders of Internet Society (ISOC) and Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to stop the sale of the .org top-level domain to private equity firm Ethos Capital”.

Sustainable World

Combating climate change

· 1t.org, a new multistakeholder initiative aimed at supporting efforts to grow, conserve and restore 1 trillion trees by the end of the decade was announced. Within the first days of its launch, the US and China announced support. Salesforce announced a new commitment to plant 100 million trees; Colombia confirmed its existing commitment to plant 180 million trees by 2022; Pakistan reaffirmed its 10 billion trees campaign; and the Global Shapers also committed to planting 1 million trees by 2021 across its 400 hubs worldwide.

· New members signed up to the Forum’s community of CEO Climate Leaders. The community are committed to helping their respective companies meet the Paris Climate Goals. New members include: AstraZeneca; Bayer AG; BBVA, Dalmia Cement; Jacobs Engineering Group; JLL; Newmont Corporation; OVG Real Estate, and Zurich Insurance Group.

· The Sustainable Markets Initiative, backed by a Sustainable Markets Council, was launched by HRH The Prince of Wales in collaboration with the World Economic Forum with the goal of bringing about a transition to sustainable markets and rapid industry-wide decarbonization.

· The Forum’s Advanced Manufacturing and Production community launched the Carbon Reduction in Manufacturing Initiative with Johnson & Johnson, Schneider Electric and Unilever, with support from Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management to achieve a goal of cutting carbon emissions in manufacturing by 50% by 2030.

· The Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance of 16 pension funds and insurers committed to helping achieve the Paris Climate Goals added the Church of England and Generali as new members. The alliance’s portfolio now stands at $4.3 trillion.

· The Champions for Nature, a high-level group calling for raised ambition on nature, was launched. It is chaired by the Executive Director of UN Environment Programme, the CEO of Unilever, and the President of Costa Rica. The launch followed a new report Nature Risk Rising which found that over half the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature.

Sustainable Development Goals

· Frontier 2030 was launched as a platform to leverage the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals. The platform is chaired by UNDP in partnership with the governments of Botswana, South Korea and Norway, as well as private sector commitment from Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Arm, Planet Labs, X, Amazon Web Services and Chipsafer. It is hosted by the World Economic Forum.

· The Food Action Alliance was launched by over 25 partners of the World Economic Forum, UN agencies, companies, farmer organizations, civil society, and finance institutions to scale collective action and transform foods systems to be sustainable, nutritious and healthy, efficient and inclusive.

· A new multistakeholder partnership, SDG500, was launched to mobilize $500 million towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in emerging markets through a series of six blended finance funds. SDG500 is a partnership between the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the United Nations Capital Development Fund, Smart Africa, Stop TB Partnership, the IDB Lab of the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Trade Centre, CARE USA, and Bamboo Capital Partners.

A Cohesive and Sustainable Fourth Industrial Revolution

Emerging Technologies

· The Forum partnered with a community of 40 central banks, international organizations, academic researchers and financial institutions to create a framework to help central banks evaluate, design and potentially deploy Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC).

· The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with 100 stakeholders, produced theEmpowering AI Toolkit to help board members better understand the positive and negative implications of deploying artificial intelligence.

· The Government of Brazil, together with the World Economic Forum and key business stakeholders, rolled out a set of new scalable policy interventions to increase successful adoption of industrial internet of things technologies by small and medium-sized enterprises in manufacturing.

· Partners of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Global Network, including Brazil, Colombia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, expanded their commitment to ensuring responsible and ethical governance of smart city technologies through the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance on Technology Governance, led by the World Economic Forum.

· The World Economic Forum’s Global AI Council, launched in 2019, collaborated with UNICEF to create guidelines for AI-supported toys for under seven-year-olds, as well as identifying young people under the age of 18 to sit on a Global AI Youth Council.

Cybersecurity

· A group of private-sector leaders from cybersecurity companies, services providers and global corporations along with law enforcement agencies, Interpol and Europol, agreed to work together with the World Economic Forum through 2020 to foster a global public-private alliance against cybercrime.

· A group of telecommunications stakeholders, including BT, Deutsche Telekom, Du Telecom, Europol, Global Cyber Alliance, Internet Society, Korea Telecom, Proximus, Saudi Telcom, Singtel, Telstra and ITU, endorsed new principles combating high-volume cyberattacks that could protect up to 1 billion consumers in 180 countries.

· A community of key stakeholders from international organizations, government and business was formed to reinforce cyber resilience in global aviation.

· Navdeep Bains, Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard, announced a $510 million investment by Mastercard to establish a new global Intelligence and Cyber Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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CAR Economic Update: A Call for Domestic Revenue Mobilization to Sustain Growth

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The second edition of the Central African Republic (CAR) Economic Update, which was published today by the World Bank, examines evolving economic trends in the country and proposes options to boost domestic revenue by improving tax and customs policy and administration.

Titled “Strengthening Domestic Revenue Mobilization to Sustain Growth in a Fragile State,” the report notes that the improved security situation is leading to brighter economic prospects, with the real GDP growth rate estimated at 4.8% for 2019. The authors indicate that although the country’s growth rate has outpaced that of countries in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) and Sub-Saharan Africa, it continues to lag behind peer countries such as Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Uganda.

CAR has not experienced sustained growth since gaining independence in 1960. With the signing of the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in February 2019, the economic outlook is, however, positive,” states Wilfried A. Kouamé, World Bank economist and lead author of the report. “The successful implementation of the peace agreement is critical for jumpstarting growth. By implementing this agreement in the run-up to the elections, we are expecting growth of around 5% in the medium term.”

The report also reveals that while CAR is still at high risk for debt distress, its efforts to streamline public expenditure and clear domestic arrears are driving down the public debt level to below CEMAC and Sub-Saharan Africa averages and bringing it closer to the debt levels of its peers.

Han Fraeters, World Bank Country Manager for the Central African Republic, explains that “this report aims to help the government and its development partners identify opportunities and address challenges in order to move forward on combating extreme poverty. Domestic resources will therefore have to be mobilized to boost public revenue and enhance delivery of basic public services, which are pivotal to guiding the country into a virtuous cycle of peace and security. The upcoming elections will require sound fiscal discipline and provide a unique opportunity to place the country on a path of sustained growth.” 

The report presents a number of options to address the growing needs of Central Africans:

Strengthen the social contract: The social contract between the State and its citizens, which is vital to mobilizing tax revenue, was undermined by the recent crisis. To strengthen the social contract, the State must undertake to improve the efficiency and quality of goods and social services, while restoring the trust of taxpayers to encourage them to move out of the informal sector and pay their taxes.

Broaden the tax base: CAR’s tax revenue currently accounts for approximately 8% of GDP, which is below its potential and among the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa. CAR could consider increasing the tax rates on alcohol and tobacco products in the short term, and reducing the number of tax brackets that hinder business creation and development in the long term. 

Improve property tax collection:  Legislation on property taxation has not been updated to reflect recent economic developments. Current revenue collection is inefficient and is based on a declarative system that narrows the tax base. New legislation could generate close to CFAF 12 billion (roughly $22 million).

Limit tax exemptions: In 2016, tax exemptions were a major source of lost tax revenue for the country (almost CFAF 2.4 billion or roughly $4 million). A significant share of these exemptions were granted to the private sector and related primarily to VAT. The adoption of the new investment charter in 2017 and the implementation of reforms aimed at curbing tax exemptions and improving the business environment to attract private investment require the firm commitment of the authorities and a formal legal system to institute legal proceedings in the event of abuse.

Modernize the tax system: Strengthening tax administration capacity is critical to improving the tax system. This requires heavy investment in the computerization of public administrations and the purchase of the equipment and software needed to improve revenue collection.  Computerization will help curb abuse and corruption, trace transactions related to taxes and duties, facilitate the sharing of information between tax and customs authorities, and enhance the efficiency of financial boards.

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Afghanistan Improves its Growth Despite Uncertainty

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Afghanistan’s economy grew by an estimated 2.9 percent in 2019, driven mainly by strong agricultural growth following recovery from drought, but lingering political uncertainty dampens private confidence and investment, says the World Bank.

Released today, “Navigating a Sea of Uncertainty”, the latest edition of the twice-a-year Afghanistan Development Update examines recent key economic developments and focuses on the impacts of current uncertainties around the outcome of the September 2019 presidential election, levels of future international civilian and security support, and the prospect of a peace agreement with the Taliban. The Update also includes special topic reflecting on achievement of development outcomes since 2001 .

“Growth picked up in Afghanistan in 2019. This is good news, but insecurity and political uncertainty are holding back the Afghan economy,” said World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan Henry Kerali. “Afghanistan needs to ramp up the pace of reforms to generate faster growth necessary to improve the living standards of its people and reduce poverty.”

The report notes that as drought impacts further recede and private sector confidence improves following conclusion of the presidential election, growth is expected to accelerate to 3.3 percent in 2020. Over the medium-term, growth is projected to hover around 4 percent provided that the security situation does not further deteriorate and that international aid support continues. Growth prospects are subject to other significant downside risks, including further political instability, unexpected cuts in foreign aid, and adverse regional developments.

Domestic revenue collection reached a new high of 14.5 percent of GDP in 2019, up from 13.3 percent in 2018. Strong revenue performance reflected both progress in establishing a robust tax system and substantial one-off revenues, including transfers from the Da Afghanistan Bank.

The potential for much-faster growth exists but remains dependent on continued support from the international community and the Afghan government’s commitment to pushing business environment and anti-corruption reforms, the report says.

“The international community needs to maintain its support to Afghanistan over the medium-term to sustain the country’s recent development progress and help realize its long-term growth and self-reliance prospects. In this effort, the Afghan government needs to assure its international partners that progress is being made on governance and that aid resources are used efficiently,” saidKerali.

To improve confidence in the short-term, the Development Update notes the need for Government to accelerate improvements in business environment and anti-corruption reforms.

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