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Four Arab Countries Among World’s Top 10 Business Climate Improvers

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Economies in the Middle East and North Africa region implemented the most reforms on record to ease doing business for domestic small and medium-sized enterprises and hosted four of the countries that improved the most world-wide, according to the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2020 study.

Economies of the region put in place 57 business regulatory reforms in the 12 months to May1, up from 43 during the previous 12-month period covered by the study. Thirteen of the region’s 20 economies carried out reforms and the region’s average ease of doing business score improved by 1.8.          

Economies of the Gulf region have been particularly active, implementing 35 business-climate-improving measures in the past year.

This year, the region hosts four of the world’s top 10 improvers: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and Kuwait. These countries account for almost half of the region’s reforms. The United Arab Emirates remained the strongest performer overall in the region, placing 16th (out of 190) on the ease of doing business rankings.

“It is a year of records for economies in the Middle East and North Africa, and we are committed to continuing our support to all countries in the region ” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Regional Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa.The next generation of reforms should focus on transparency, fair competition and good governance to make MENA open for business and attract investments needed to create jobs for youth and women.”

Jordan joins the top reformers for the first time – with three reforms. The economy strengthened access to credit by introducing a new secured transactions law, amending the insolvency law and launching a unified, modern and notice-based collateral registry, among other measures.

Bahrain, with nine reforms, led both the region and the world in number of reforms implemented. The country recently introduced a new bankruptcy law, strengthened the rights of minority shareholders and revamped the process of obtaining building permits through a new online platform. Enforcing contracts was also made easier by creating a specialized commercial court, establishing time standards for key court events and allowing electronic service of the summons.

Saudi Arabia, this year’s top improver (based on the increase in its overall ease of doing business score), carried out a record of eight reforms in the past year. It established a one-stop shop for company incorporation and eliminated the requirement for married women to provide additional documentation when applying for a national identity card. It also made importing and exporting faster by enhancing the electronic trade single window, enabling risk-based inspections, launching an online platform for certification of imported goods, and upgrading infrastructure at Jeddah Port. Other reforms led to improving access to credit, strengthening minority investor protections and facilitating the resolution of insolvency.

Kuwait also earned a spot in the top 10 improvers for the first time with seven reforms. Building permitting was streamlined by integrating additional authorities into the electronic permitting platform and enhancing inter-agency communication. The country also made trading across borders easier by enhancing the customs risk management system and implementing a new electronic clearance system.

Morocco carried out six reforms: strengthening minority investor protections; reducing the corporate income tax rate; and introducing e-payment of port fees. The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Oman implemented four reforms each. All three strengthened the rights of minority investors, streamlined business registration processes and made it easier for businesses to import and export goods.

Collectively, the region’s economies focused their reforms on getting electricity and protecting minority investors, with 40% of the countries in the region reforming in these areas (eight reforms in each).

Overall, the region performs the best in the areas of paying taxes, getting electricity, and dealing with construction permits. Obtaining a building permit takes on average 124 days, 28 days less than among OECD high-income economies. Similarly, entrepreneurs in the region need to complete 16.5 payments on average to comply with their fiscal requirement compared to 23 globally. Bahrain is the best performer globally in tax compliance time, requiring just 22.5 hours per year to file and pay taxes.

However, some economies in the region still fall short. Libya has not implemented any reforms since the inception of Doing Business, while Iraq has improved on only four indicators. Lebanon has made one reform to improve its business climate in the last five years and seven reforms since the first launch of the Doing Business study in 2003. It ranks 143rd globally, and especially underperforms in the areas of starting a business and dealing with construction permits.

Getting credit in the Middle East and North Africa remains harder than anywhere else in the world, partly due to insufficient protections for lenders and borrowers in collateral and bankruptcy laws. The region also underperforms in the areas of trading across borders and resolving insolvency. The cost of complying with border requirements for exporting averages $442 and takes 53 hours, three and four times more than the averages among OECD high-income economies. In bankruptcy, the average recovery rate in the region is 27 cents on the dollar, compared with 70 cents in OECD high-income ones.

Doing Business finds that barriers against women are still widespread in the Middle East and North Africa, with 13 of the region’s economies imposing additional procedures for female entrepreneurs to start a business.

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Environment

Can financial institutions invest in ocean health?

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New, pivotal guidance published today by the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) provides a market-first, practical toolkit for financial institutions to take immediate action on their lending, investment and underwriting activities which negatively impact ocean health.

The ocean covers 70% of the earth’s surface, holding 97% of all water and 80% of all life forms. Major ocean sectors such as tourism, shipping, fishing, aquaculture and marine renewable energy collectively contribute to a ‘blue’ economy, estimated at a global gross value added of USD 1.5trn in 2010. This is projected to double in size to USD 3trn by 2030, with some ocean industries set to grow faster than the global economy (OECD, 2016).

However, ocean health is under existential threat. Faced with the triple crises of pollution, nature loss and climate change, two-thirds of our oceans have been negatively altered by human activity; leaving industries, businesses and livelihoods exposed. With existing financing still largely directed towards unsustainable sectors and activities, it is critical that all sectors of the blue economy are rapidly transitioned towards sustainable pathways.

Banks, insurers and investors have a major role to play in financing this transition to a sustainable blue economy, helping to rebuild ocean prosperity and restore biodiversity to the ocean. Through their activities, and client relationships, financial institutions have a major impact on ocean health and hold the power to accelerate and mainstream the sustainable transformation of ocean-linked industries. They thereby play essential roles in wider ocean governance, engaging in public-private partnerships, and propelling local-to-global actions for sustainability.  

“Momentum is building as more banks, insurers and investors wake up to the realisation that their financial activities can have a sizeable impact on ocean health, creating a negative feedback loop for key ocean industries such as shipping, fishing, tourism and marine renewables” said Eric Usher, Head of UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI).

“A new sustainable pathway for the blue economy is thus both an environmental and economic necessity. This critical new guidance provides a practical toolkit for financial institutions to understand their impact and discover how a new sustainable finance approach can help them identify key risks and opportunities in ocean-linked sectors” he added.

Leveraging best practice based on input from more than 50 pioneering institutions and experts, this guidance sets out pathways to sustainable growth across five key ocean sectors, chosen for their established connection to private finance. It presents a detailed breakdown of which activities to seek out as best practice, which activities to challenge, and which activities to avoid financing completely due to their damaging nature.

“Decades of unsustainable consumption and production is leading to environmental risks and losses in natural capital, eroding the ocean’s resource base. Without engagement by financial institutions, we will not be able to change the course to sustain a healthy ocean and unlock its enormous potential. 1$ of sustainable ocean investments can yield 5x higher global benefits” said Leticia Carvalho, Head of the Marine and Freshwater Branch, UN Environment Programme.

“This new guidance can help financial institutions invest in good ocean governance at local, regional and global levels. In a nutshell, making sustainable blue economy opportunities too hard to resist” she added.

This guidance provides decision-makers across banking, insurance and investment with a science-based and actionable toolkit, giving easy-to-follow recommendations on how to approach financial activity related to:

  • Seafood, including both fisheries and aquaculture as well as their supply chains;
  • Ports;
  • Maritime transportation;
  • Marine renewable energy, notably offshore wind; and
  • Coastal and marine tourism, including cruising.

It builds on the foundation of the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles – a keystone for financing activities in the blue economy, supported by a community of over 50 institutions worldwide with a collective total asset size of over USD 6trn.

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Environment

Duck conservation takes flight in Jamaica

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On January 20, 2021, the day of the inauguration of American president Joe Biden, two ducks named “Joe” and “Kamala” took flight from a remote wetland near Negril, Jamaica. And, like their namesakes, the fowl will be the focus of international attention.

That’s because Joe and Kamala are West Indian whistling ducks, the rarest duck species in the Americas, with fewer than 20,000 remaining, found only in the northern Caribbean. Conservationists released the pair, which were outfitted with GPS trackers, into the wild on 20 January, kicking off a study to learn more about their species and, researchers hope, ensure their survival.

BirdsCaribbean is a partner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The whistling duck study is supported by UNEP’s Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (IWEco) project.

With one million species are at risk of extinction, biodiversity is a key priority of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  Ecosystems are fundamental to human health and prosperity, availing food and water, regulating temperature, stimulating economic growth, putting roofs over heads and clothing on backs. As ecosystems degrade, so do human lives.

As the world faces the stark reality that none of the Aichi targets were met and prepares for a new, ambitious post-2020 framework, the issue is more urgent than ever.  In fact, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are ranked among the top five threats to humanity in the coming decade.

Whistling ducks’ long-term survival has been threatened by the destruction of their wetland habitats, as well as climate change, pollution, poaching and predators. Little is known about the large waterbird that is between the size of a large duck and a goose, has a long neck, and is mostly brown in colour, but may have black-and-white patches on its neck and flanks. The duck’s characteristic features is its distinctive whistling call.

“We are thrilled with the launch of this exciting project,” said Lisa Sorenson, the Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean. “I expect it will lead to major improvements in our knowledge of the ducks’ movements and habitat use.”

The trackers attached to Joe and Kamala  are expected to plot their positions every hour to within a few metres and will help the scientists to know about the species, their migration patterns, nesting sites, feeding zones and roosting locales. Researchers are aiming to use the information gathered through the initiative to plan for the species’ recovery.

Led by UNEP with the backing of the Global Environment Facility, IWEco is helping 10 Caribbean countries manage their water and land resources while safeguarding biodiversity. A key part of the project has been the protection and monitoring of endemic species, like West Indian whistling ducks.

As one of the three founding Global Environment Facility partners, UNEP has been working on conservation projects supported by the facility for almost 30 years.

“Together, UNEP and the Global Environment Facility have successfully worked to address global transboundary issues since 1992, and we look forward to further strengthening and implementing actions for nature,” said Sinikinesh Beyene Jimma head of UNEP’s GEF International Waters Unit.

And while biodiversity targets have not been met, evidence indicates that efforts have produced results. Where action was taken, habitat loss was controlled and decades of degradation were reversed.

UN Environment

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Finance

Estonia provides good support to jobseekers, but does not reach everybody

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The Estonian labour market has outperformed most EU countries after the global financial crisis. The employment rate of people in working age stood at 73% in the third quarter of 2020, up from 61.3% in 2010 and above the OECD average of 66.7%. Estonia provides comprehensive and targeted support to jobseekers, workers and employers. The Public Employment Service provides effective policies addressing the individual needs of the clients and cooperates pro-actively with a wide range of stakeholders. However, many people still lack stable jobs and incomes and are not in touch with the Public Employment Service to get the support they need, according to a new OECD report.

Connecting people with jobs: Improving the provision of active labour market policies in Estonia says that despite good labour market outcomes, about one quarter (26%) of the working age population could achieve better labour market outcomes through targeted support. Many of them face challenges related to their skills (68%) and family-related challenges (64%), such as care obligations. In many cases, they face several obstacles simultaneously and require an integrated approach.

Estonia’s active labour market policies (ALMPs) are responsive to labour market needs. However, ALMPs reach only 39% of people who are weakly attached to the labour market, and only 33% of people who are out of employment for more than one year.

“Reinforcing outreach to vulnerable groups far from the labour market is crucial to ensure that more people in Estonia get the support they need,” said Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs.

Improved cooperation between the Public Employment Service and other relevant institutions providing social, health and education services would help reduce gaps in support to vulnerable groups. Notably, municipalities should be the “first respondents”, supporting vulnerable groups with social welfare services, and cooperating with other institutions when needed. 

Further improvements in the provision of ALMPs could be supported by a leaner regulatory framework. The current legal regulations support flexible and effective policy responses but are complex, which leads to administrative inefficiencies. A leaner regulatory framework would enable Estonia to support flexibility in policy design while maintaining the capacity to respond to labour market changes.

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