The Government of Australia is providing $14 million in additional funding to the Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI), with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) also contributing $2 million, to help continue efforts to make it easier for people in the Pacific start and grow their businesses.
Australia and ADB’s new financing for PSDI, established in 2007, will help fund the initiative’s operations from 2020 to 2024. To date, PSDI has received $49.8 million from the Government of Australia, $6.1 million from ADB, and $4.9 million from the Government of New Zealand, which became a PSDI partner in 2014. Additional funding from Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union is expected to be announced early next year.
“A robust and vibrant private sector is pivotal to improved livelihoods and poverty reduction, yet business activity is often constrained in the Pacific,” said the Regional Director of ADB’s Pacific Liaison and Coordination Office Ms. Lotte Schou-Zibell. “So, Australia’s support here is crucial. It will enable PSDI to continue helping ADB’s Pacific developing member countries to improve their enabling environments for business and pursue inclusive, private sector-led economic growth.”
PSDI works with ADB member countries in the Pacific to remove constraints to doing business and encourage entrepreneurship and investment through reforms to business laws, the finance sector, state-owned enterprises, and competition frameworks. It also supports women’s economic empowerment.
The program has a flexible and responsive structure that allows Pacific countries to promptly draw support from its pool of experts when needed, and to slow down, or postpone, reforms when practical or political considerations require. This approach, coupled with its longevity, has enabled PSDI to support more than 300 reforms over the past 13 years, resulting in extensive improvements to the business environment in the Pacific.
New company laws and online business registries established by PSDI in countries such as Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu have increased company formation rates by dramatically reducing the time required to register a business—from around 20 days to less than 2 days—and the associated costs. Meanwhile, simplified business structures have made it easier, especially for women, to establish formal businesses, while foreign investment reforms have increased transparency and access to knowledge, labor, and capital.
Legal frameworks and online registries established by PSDI in nine countries, including the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga, have made it easier for individuals and businesses to borrow using assets other than land and buildings as collateral. This has facilitated the registration of more than 105,000 items of non-land collateral to underpin loans, while spurring the development of new loan products. PSDI is also helping government-owned banks and provident funds provide business finance, while working with governments and regulators to develop alternative capital-raising platforms, such as peer-to-peer financing and equity crowdfunding.
PSDI-supported reforms to state-owned enterprises have more than doubled their profitability in five countries, including Fiji, Samoa, and Solomon Islands, and facilitated public–private partnerships and, where appropriate, privatizations.
To ensure markets benefit consumers and traders at all levels of the economy, PSDI has also helped establish or improve competition and consumer protection agencies and prepared competition policies.
All reforms supported by PSDI give particular consideration to how they can remedy women’s economic marginalization by improving women’s access to finance, and to opportunities to develop and formally register their businesses. PSDI has also implemented projects demonstrating ways to help women develop business skills and access senior professional roles.
Commission sets out key actions for a united front to beat COVID-19
Two days ahead of the meeting of European leaders on a coordinated response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Commission set out a number of actions needed to step up the fight against the pandemic. In a Communication adopted today, it calls on Member States to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination across the EU: by March 2021, at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of health and social care professionals in every Member State should be vaccinated. And by summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated a minimum of 70% of the adult population.
The Commission also calls on Member States to continue to apply physical distancing, limit social contacts, fight disinformation, coordinate travel restrictions, ramp up testing, and increase contact tracing and genome sequencing to face up to the risk from new variants of the virus. As recent weeks have seen an upward trend in case numbers, more needs to be done to support healthcare systems and to address “COVID-fatigue” in the coming months, from accelerating vaccination across the board, helping our partners in the Western Balkans, the Southern and Eastern neighbourhood and in Africa.
Today’s Communication sets out key actions for Member States, the Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which will help reduce risks and keep the virus under control:
Speeding up the roll-out of vaccination across the EU
By March 2021, at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of health and social care professionals in every Member State, should be vaccinated.
By summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated 70% of the entire adult population.
The Commission, Member States and the EMA will work with companies to use the EU’s potential for increased vaccine manufacturing capacity to the fullest.
The Commission is working with Member States on vaccination certificates, in full compliance with EU data protection law, which can support the continuity of care. A common approach is to be agreed by the end of January 2021 to allow Member States’ certificates to be rapidly useable in health systems across the EU and beyond.
Testing and genome sequencing
Member States should update their testing strategies to account for new variants and expand the use of rapid antigen tests.
Member States should urgently increase genome sequencing to at least 5% and preferably 10% of positive test results. At present, many Member States are testing under 1% of samples, which is not enough to identify the progression of the variants or detect any new ones.
Preserving the Single Market and free movement while stepping up mitigation measures
Measures should be applied to further reduce the risk of transmission linked to the means of travel, such as hygiene and distancing measures in vehicles and terminuses.
All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged until the epidemiological situation has considerably improved.
Proportionate travel restrictions, including testing of travellers, should be maintained for those travelling from areas with a higher incidence of variants of concern.
Ensuring European leadership and international solidarity
To ensure early access to vaccines, the Commission is to set up a Team Europe mechanism to structure the provision of vaccines shared by Member States with partner countries. This should allow for sharing with partner countries access to some of the 2.3 billion doses secured through the EU’s Vaccines Strategy, paying special attention to the Western Balkans, our Eastern and Southern neighbourhood and Africa.
The European Commission and Member States should continue supporting COVAX, including through early access to vaccines. Team Europe has already mobilised €853 million in support of COVAX, making the EU one of COVAX’s biggest donors.
Members of the College said:
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Vaccination is essential to get out of this crisis. We have already secured enough vaccines for the entire population of the European Union. Now we need to accelerate the delivery and speed up vaccination. Our aim is to have 70% of our adult population vaccinated by summer. That could be a turning point in our fight against this virus. However, we will only end this pandemic when everyone in the world has access to vaccines. We will step up our efforts to help secure vaccines for our neighbours and partners worldwide.”
Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, responsible for Promoting our European Way of Life, said: “The emergence of new variants of the virus and substantial rises in cases leave us no room for complacency. Now more than ever must come a renewed determination for Europe to act together with unity, coordination and vigilance. Our proposals today aim to protect more lives and livelihoods later and relieve the burden on already stretched health care systems and workers. This is how the EU will come out of the crisis. The end of the pandemic is in sight though not yet in reach.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Working together with unity, solidary and determination, we can soon start to see the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Now in particular, we need swift and coordinated action against the new variants of the virus. Vaccinations will still take time until they reach all Europeans and until then we must take immediate, coordinated and proactive steps together. Vaccinations must accelerate across the EU and testing and sequencing must be increased – this is show we can ensure that we leave this crisis behind us as soon as possible.”
‘Complex’ emergency unfolding in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado
UN agencies voiced deep concern on Wednesday over the worsening humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, where attacks by armed groups have forced more than 565,000 to flee their homes.
According to the agencies, growing insecurity and poor infrastructure are making it increasingly difficulty to reach families “completely reliant” on humanitarian assistance, amid fears that imminent rains and threat of cyclones could further compound the challenges.
“The crisis is a complex security, human rights, humanitarian and development emergency, underscoring the imperative of continuing to provide life-saving assistance while collectively supporting Government-led long-term resilience building”, the statement added.
In December, the UN officials visited Mozambique to assess the needs of the displaced populations as well as of the host communities.
They heard extremely moving accounts from displaced men, women and children in the city of Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado, and in the districts of Ancuabe and Chiúre – people whose lives have been upended by conflict and insecurity.
While acknowledging that much has been done to help victims of the crisis, the UN officials stressed that with displacement increasing daily, the lack of adequate food, water, sanitation, shelter, health, protection and education, was exacerbating an already dire situation, which could be further complicated by on-going torrential rains.
Urgent support needed
The UN agencies also raised concerns over the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which is keeping most schools closed.
There is an urgent need to expand protection, healthcare, food and nutrition programmes, vaccination efforts and psychosocial counselling, and to aid displaced farming and fishing families to re-establish sustainable livelihoods, they added.
They also urged support for adequate resettlement of uprooted families straining the already limited resources of impoverished host communities, and Government efforts to effectively register and assist the displaced.
The senior officials are urging the Government of Mozambique and the international community “to step up efforts to end all forms of violence in the country, including gender-based violence and child marriage, and to invest more in women and girls as agents of progress and change,” the statement said.
Over 1.9 billion people in Asia-Pacific unable to afford a healthy diet
The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and surging food prices are keeping almost two billion people in Asia and the Pacific from healthy diets, United Nations agencies said on Wednesday.
According to the 2020 Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, the region’s poor have been worst affected, forced to choose cheaper and less nutritious foods. The report is jointly produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The outbreak of COVID-19 and a lack of decent work opportunities in many parts of the region, alongside significant uncertainty of food systems and markets, has led to a worsening of inequality, as poorer families with dwindling incomes further alter their diets to choose cheaper, less nutritious foods,” the agencies said.
“Due to higher prices for fruits, vegetables and dairy products, it has become nearly impossible for poor people in Asia and the Pacific to achieve healthy diets, the affordability of which is critical to ensure food security and nutrition for all – and for mothers and children in particular.”
As a result, progress is also slowing on improving nutrition, a key target for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As of 2019, over 350 million people in the region are estimated to have been undernourished, with an about 74.5 million children under five stunted (too short for their age) and 31.5 million suffering from wasting (too thin for height).
‘Impact most severe in first 1,000 days’
The UN agencies went on to note that while nutrition is vitally important throughout a person’s life, the impact of a poor diet is most severe in the first 1,000 days, from pregnancy to when a child reaches the age of two.
“Young children, especially when they start eating their ‘first foods’ at six months, have high nutritional requirements to grow well and every bite counts,” they said.
The agencies called for an integrated systems approach – bringing together food, water and sanitation, health, social protection and education systems – to address underlying factors and achieve healthy diets for all mothers and children.
‘Changing face of malnutrition’
They also highlighted the “changing face” of malnutrition, with highly processed and inexpensive foods, readily available throughout Asia and the Pacific. Often packed with sugar and unhealthy fats, such food items lack the vitamins and minerals required for growth and development and also increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The report urged governments to invest more in nutrition and food safety to promote healthy diets, as well as regulate sales and marketing of food for consumers, especially children. It also highlighted the need for action within the private sector, given the sector’s important role in the food system and its value chains for achieving healthy diets.
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