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Colombia must boost digital transformation and take further steps to ensure benefits are shared by all

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Colombia has taken important actions in recent years to foster digital transformation, but more needs to be done to ensure that the opportunities and benefits of digitalisation are shared throughout the economy and across all parts of society, according to a new report from the OECD.

Going Digital in Colombia assesses the country’s current level of digital uptake and preparation, then lays out a roadmap for building an integrated digital policy framework. It suggests a range of policy proposals for enhancing connectivity, increasing adoption and use of digital technologies, fostering digital innovation, developing skills and labour market for digital economy and seizing new growth opportunities from digital transformation, as part of a National Digital Strategy for Colombia.

The report draws important links between development of a comprehensive national digital policy and key economic policy goals in Colombia, including boosting productivity, increasing skills, reducing informality in the labour market and stimulating innovation. It notes that clearer long-term priorities, a stronger focus on larger-scale programmes and better integration with other policies will be necessary to increase the effectiveness of digitalisation policies in Colombia.

“The Colombian economy has been expanding rapidly and converging to higher living standards since the early 2000s, with growth rates among the strongest in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said during a presentation of the report with Colombia’s Minister of Information and Communication Technologies Sylvia Constaín. “Getting digital policy right will be critical as Colombia tackles both today’s economic and social challenges and those of tomorrow. Embracing digitalisation will be the key to taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the 21st Century economy. Colombia should develop a National Digital Strategy across the government that will drive innovation and growth while sharing the benefits across society,” Mr Gurría said. (Read the speech)

Improving digital infrastructure and uptake tops the list of OECD recommendations. The report shows that growth rates of fixed and mobile broadband subscriptions in Colombia, at 9.4% and 24.9% respectively, over the 2012-18 period, are among the highest in the OECD. Nevertheless, it also shows that Colombia’s 13.4 fixed broadband subscriptions and 52.1 mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in December 2018 are the lowest in the OECD. Similarly, the 13% share of fibre connections and the average download speed (3.48 megabits per second) are lower than the OECD average, while the prices for fixed broadband baskets, while decreasing, can be up to 2.5 times those seen in the OECD.

The upcoming multiband auction in December has the potential to foster competition by levelling the playing field in the market, provided that companies that do not have spectrum in the lower frequency bands have a fair chance to obtain licenses. In addition, the auction may contribute to extending the much needed coverage in Colombia. The objective of boosting competition should be considered when the remaining parameters for the auction are set.

The government should also review import duties on handsets and lower the tax burden on telecommunication operators. Steps should be taken to preserve the independence of the new “converged regulator” for the telecommunication and broadcasting sectors, by preventing any undue pressure from the government, ensuring its financial autonomy and setting transparent and merit-based mechanisms for the appointment of its board.

Colombia is lagging behind in overall Internet usage, with 64% of individuals using the Internet in 2017, a level reached in most OECD countries in the mid-2000s, according to the report. The government should take further steps to increase adoption and use of digital technologies and reduce the digital divide between citizens, including better targeting of state funding for public Internet centres in poor and remote communities, new funding for computers and information technology in schools and small businesses and the use of tax incentives to promote e-banking. 

Progress has been made toward adapting the educational system and labour market for digital transformation, but greater investment in education, training, lifelong learning will be required to meet the challenges of the digitalised economy, according to the report.

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Archipelagic Economies: Spatial Economic Development in the Pacific

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A new World Bank report on the challenges facing the Pacific region’s outer island communities identifies investment in people and livelihoods as a key for inclusive economic growth.    

Archipelagic Economies: Spatial Economic Development in the Pacific looks at the challenges Pacific governments must address to provide services and infrastructure to populations spread across hundreds of islands spanning the vast Pacific Ocean. The report puts forward a series of practical steps that countries can take to overcome these challenges in a way that supports resilient and inclusive economic growth.

“Many Pacific countries are faced with significant challenges in delivering services and connecting remote, outer island communities; with difficult decisions around resources and how to best invest often limited resources into outer island communities,” said the report’s lead author, World Bank Lead Economist for Fiscal Policy and Sustainable Growth Robert Utz.

“This report aims to provide Pacific governments, development partners and decision-makers with evidence to assess options for fostering development for the people in those outer islands, so they can make stronger contributions to the larger economic development of the whole country.”   

The report identifies six guiding economic policy principles:

1)     Policy solutions that seek to achieve equitable increases in living standards need to be grounded in an understanding of the economic implications of the Pacific region’s unique economic geography.

2)     Outer islands’ development should be assessed from a spatial perspective; one that considers interactions with the country’s main island and the region beyond.

3)     A balanced approach that combines investments in urban areas to accommodate migration from outer islands to main islands with support for outer island populations is likely to achieve better welfare and equity outcomes than an approach that neglects one side or the other.

4)     Growth-enhancing investments should be guided by clearly-identified opportunities, rather than by a desire to try to equalize economic opportunities across islands.

5)     With limited scope to close the gap in economic opportunities between outer and main islands investments to promote livelihoods and human development should be given preference.

6)     Outer islands are subject to a complex political economy of intra-island and outer island-main island relationships that need to be considered in development interventions.

“This is an important and timely study,” said Denton Rarawa, Senior Economic Advisor at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. “The current COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to address the institutional, service delivery and capacity gaps of nations across the Pacific. As we strive for greater vaccination rates and begin to think about how we’d like to rebuild after the pandemic, I believe this report has a lot to offer the future of the Pacific, especially in our efforts to leave no one behind.”   

The Archipelagic Economies report is a companion publication to the World Bank’s Pacific Possible series, which in 2017 and 2018 looked at opportunities for economic growth in Pacific Islands Countries across key sectors including tourism, fisheries, and labour mobility. 

The World Bank works in partnership with 12 countries across the Pacific, supporting 87 projects totaling US$2.09 billion in commitments in sectors including agriculture, aviation and transport, climate resilience and adaptation, economic policy, education and employment, energy, fisheries, health, macroeconomic management, rural development, telecommunications and tourism.

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Global economic recovery continues but remains uneven

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The global economy is growing far more strongly than anticipated a year ago but the recovery remains uneven, exposing both advanced and emerging markets to a range of risks, according to the OECD’s latest Interim Economic Outlook.

The OECD says extraordinary support from governments and central banks helped avoid the worst once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With the vaccine roll-out continuing and a gradual resumption of economic activity underway, the OECD projects strong global growth of 5.7% this year and 4.5% in 2022, little changed from its May 2021 Outlook of 5.8% and 4.4% respectively.

Countries are emerging from the crisis with different challenges, often reflecting their pre-COVID 19 strengths and weaknesses, and their policy approaches during the pandemic. Even in the countries where output or employment have recovered to their pre-pandemic levels, the recovery is incomplete, with jobs and incomes still short of the levels expected before the pandemic.

Large differences in vaccination rates between countries are adding to the unevenness of the recovery. Renewed outbreaks of the virus are forcing some countries to restrict activities, resulting in bottlenecks and adding to supply shortages.  

There is a marked variation in the outlook for inflation, which has risen sharply in the US and some emerging market economies but remains relatively low in many other advanced economies, particularly in the euro area.

A rapid increase in demand as economies reopen has pushed up prices in key commodities such as oil and metals as well as  food, which has a stronger effect on inflation in emerging markets. The disruption to supply chains caused by the pandemic has added to cost pressures. At the same time, shipping costs have increased sharply.

But the Interim Outlook says that these inflationary pressures should eventually fade. Consumer price inflation in the G20 countries is projected to peak towards the end of 2021 and slow throughout 2022. Wage growth remains broadly moderate and medium-term inflation expectations remain contained.

The report warns that to keep the recovery on track stronger international efforts are needed to provide low-income countries with the resources to vaccinate their populations, both for their own and global benefits.

Macroeconomic policy support is still needed as long as the outlook is uncertain and employment has not yet recovered fully, but clear guidance is called upon from policymakers to minimise risks looking forward. Central banks should communicate clearly about the likely sequencing of moves towards eventual policy normalisation and the extent to which any overshooting of inflation targets will be tolerated. The report says fiscal policies should remain flexible and avoid a premature withdrawal of support, operating within credible and transparent medium-term fiscal frameworks that provide space for stronger public infrastructure investment.

Presenting the Interim Economic Outlook alongside Chief Economist Laurence Boone, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said: “The world is experiencing a strong recovery thanks to decisive action taken by governments and central banks at the height of the crisis. But as we have seen with vaccine distribution, progress is uneven. Ensuring the recovery is sustained and widespread requires action on a number of fronts – from effective vaccination programmes across all countries to concerted public investment strategies to build for the future.”

Ms Boone said: “Policies have been efficient in buffering the shock and ensuring a strong recovery; planning for more efficient public finances, shifted towards investment in physical and human capital is necessary and will help monetary policy to normalise smoothly once the recovery is firmly established.”

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Financing Options Key to Africa’s Transition to Sustainable Energy

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A new whitepaper outlining the key considerations in setting the course for Africa’s energy future was released today at the 2021 Sustainable Development Impact Summit. The report, “Financing the Future of Energy,” outlines Africa’s electricity landscape and financing options in context with the global drive to reduce carbon emissions.

Africa’s power sector will play a central role in the transition from fossil fuel-driven power generation to a renewable-strong energy mix. According to the whitepaper written in collaboration with Deloitte, the migration to a multi-stakeholder-oriented net-zero power grid is being driven by “the 3Ds:”

  • Decarbonization: moving from fossil fuel sources to renewables
  • Decentralization: Shifting from centrally managed generation, transmission, and distribution to decentralized systems
  • Digitalization: Leveraging digital technology to advance the transition

The report contends that new coalitions and investments with developed nations and NGOs including the World Economic Forum must coordinate and enable countries to leapfrog existing technologies and infrastructure.

“The need for digitally smarter utility platforms and sustainable development programs will guide global leaders in helping to shape equitable and inclusive recovery programs,” said Chido Munyati, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum. “The entire continent remains vulnerable, but this whitepaper offers a view on what are viable financing options that exist today for clean energy sustainability and equitable recovery for all of Africa.

Funding will be the biggest hurdle to ensuring Africa’s sustainable transition to Renewables at scale; there are many financing solutions available,” said Mario Fernandes, Director, Africa Power Utilities and Renewables, Deloitte. “Africa’s winners will be the ones that are able to leverage what exists while creating an enabling environment for the private sector through a Renewables Energy Investment facility.”

Case studies in China and India showed that financing solutions for a clean energy transition often involve long cycles. Economic booms in these countries resulted in a significant shift in carbon emissions. Since similar economic booms are expected across Africa, the report highlights how crucial it is to anchor growth in technologies that can enable lower emissions.

While Africa’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel significantly lags behind those of other continents, it still carries a huge potential to accelerate the transition to a net-zero future. Currently, half of the continent lives without adequate access to electricity. As energy demands increase, the energy gap could be bridged through clean energy alternatives, if the financing solutions are employed now.

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