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Estonia: Use robust growth to improve income equality and well-being

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Estonia’s economy is performing well, and public finances are in excellent shape, yet growth is softening and spending pressures from infrastructure needs and an ageing population are mounting. Efforts should now focus on improving income equality and well-being, greening growth and accelerating the country’s digital transformation, according to a new OECD report.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of Estonia notes Estonia’s expertise in information technology and its global head start in digitalising government services. Estonia now needs to accelerate and expand the digital transformation throughout the economy to lift productivity growth, which lags the OECD average. This will mean equipping adults with the necessary skills, putting in place high-quality infrastructure, and helping industry and small businesses to adopt the right digital tools.

With Estonia’s population ageing, like many other OECD countries, the Survey warns that a proposal to change pension legislation to enable the early withdrawal of savings from the second pillar of the pension fund should be reconsidered as it threatens economic stability and the adequacy of future retirement income. Taking measures to raise the low levels of return on pension funds by improving their governance and transparency, would be a better course of action to ensure the sustainability of the pension system and reduce the risks of old-age poverty.

“The Estonian economy is performing well, with impressive social and economic achievements since independence,” said OECD Deputy Secretary-General Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, launching the Survey in Tallinn alongside Finance Minister Martin Helme. “The time is now right to address population ageing, climate change and social disparities, and to use Estonia’s considerable digital strengths to boost productivity and incomes.”

Estonia has narrowed the income gap with advanced economies, and rising wages are prompting many emigrants to return. The country has achieved outstanding levels of education according to the recently released 2018 PISA study. Overall well-being remains relatively low however, with large disparities in income and health outcomes, and a high gender wage gap. The Survey projects GDP growth to dip to 2.2% in 2020 and 2021 from 3.2% in 2019 in line with slowing growth globally.

Firm-level analysis in the Survey shows that stepping up the digital transformation could considerably impact productivity. For example, increased adoption of digital tools like cloud computing and back-office software can lift a firm’s annual productivity growth by 1.5 percentage points, while increasing Internet speeds by 10% across the country could boost overall productivity by 2 ppt. Ensuring up-to-date skills will also be crucial in a country where almost half of jobs are at risk of automation or significant change. Better unemployment insurance could provide stronger incentives for those between jobs to undergo training.

The report also notes Estonia’s dependence on oil shale production, which makes it both carbon-intensive and vulnerable to international oil price fluctuations. Shifting to cleaner sources of energy, being careful to address social concerns at the same time, would benefit the economy as well as the environment.

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Asian Ports Dominate Global Container Port Performance Index

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Photo: Joedith Lego/Unsplash

Asian container ports are the most efficient in the world, dominating the Top 50 spots according to the new global Container Port Performance Index (CPPI) launched by the World Bank and IHS Markit. The report scored ports against different metrics, making the efficiency ranking comparable around the globe by assessing and standardizing for different ship sizes and container moves per call. The CPPI is intended to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement that will benefit stakeholders from shipping lines to national governments to consumers.

More than four-fifths of global merchandise trade by volume are carried by sea, and approximately 35 percent of total volumes and over 60 percent of commercial value is shipped in containers.

“The development of high-quality and efficient container port infrastructure is a key contributor to successful, export-led growth strategies both in developing and developed countries”, said Martin Humphreys, Lead Transport Economist and Global Lead for Transport Connectivity and Regional Integration in the World Bank. “Efficient ports also ensure business continuity and improve the resilience of the maritime gateways as crucial nodes in the global logistical system.”

“Inefficient port operations have a very direct impact on supplies across the country and their populations. During the COVID-19 pandemic we saw port delays causing shortages of essential goods and higher prices. Over the longer term such bottlenecks can mean slower economic growth, higher costs for importers and exporters and even resulting in less employment,” added Turloch Mooney, Associate Director, Maritime and Trade at IHS Markit.


Regional disparities

East Asian ports dominate the CPPI, led by Yokohama in Japan ahead of King Abdullah Port in Saudi Arabia and Qingdao in China.Algeciras in Spain is the highest ranked European port, in 10th place. Colombo in Sri Lanka is the top-ranked port in South Asia at 17th place and Mexico’s Lazaro Cardenas leads the Americas at 25th. Canada’s Halifax is the only other North American port in the Top 50. Djibouti, in 61st place, is the top-ranked African port.

Key port performance metrics such as minutes per container move show large discrepancies in global port efficiency, with top performers such as Yokohama taking just 1.1 minutes on average to load or unload a container in a standard port call while the average for equivalent workloads in African ports is more than three times that at 3.6 minutes.

The Container Port Performance Index is based on total port hours per ship call, defined as the elapsed time between when a ship reaches a port to its departure from the berth having completed its cargo exchange. Greater or lesser workloads are accounted for by examining the underlying data within ten different call size ranges. Five distinct ship size groups are accounted for in the methodology given the potential for greater fuel and emissions savings on larger vessels.

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Labour market disruption & COVID-19 support measures contribute to widespread falls in taxes

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The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in the largest decrease in taxes on wages since the global financial crisis of 2008-09, according to a new OECD report.

Taxing Wages 2021 shows that declining household incomes coupled with tax reforms linked to the pandemic are driving widespread declines in effective taxes on wages across the OECD.

The report highlights record falls across the OECD during 2020 in the tax wedge – the total taxes on labour paid by both employees and employers, minus family benefits, as a percentage of the labour cost to the employer. 

The tax wedge for a single worker at the average wage was 34.6% in 2020, a decrease of 0.39 percentage points from the previous year. This is a significant fall, but is smaller than the decreases seen in the global financial crisis – 0.48 percentage point in 2008, and 0.52 percentage points in 2009. The tax wedge increased in 7 of the 37 OECD countries over the 2019-20 period and fell in 29, mainly due to lower income taxes.

The drop in the tax wedge was even more significant for households with children, bringing tax rates on these family types to new lows. The average tax wedge for a one-earner couple at the average wage with children in 2020 was 24.4%, a decrease of 1.1 percentage points versus 2019. This is the largest fall and lowest level seen for this household type since the OECD started producing Taxing Wages in 2000.

Between 2019 and 2020, the tax wedge for this household type decreased in 31 countries, and rose in only 6. It decreased by more than 1 percentage point in 16 countries. The largest decreases were in Lithuania, the United States, Poland, Italy, Canada and Korea. The only increase over 1 percentage point was in New Zealand.

The gap between the OECD average tax wedge for the single average worker (34.6%) and the one-earner couple with children (24.4%) has widened by 0.7 percentage points since 2019, reflecting policy changes that provided additional support to families with children during the COVID-19 crisis.

The falls in country tax wedges for the single worker, the one-earner couple with two children, and the single parent resulted predominantly from changes in tax policy settings, although falling average wages also contributed in some countries. By contrast, increases in the tax wedge were almost all driven by rising average wages, offset only slightly by policy changes.

Of the ten countries where specific COVID-19 measures affected the indicators, support was primarily delivered through enhanced or one-off cash benefits, with a focus on supporting families with children.

The report shows that labour taxation continues to vary considerably across the OECD, with the tax wedge on the average single worker ranging from zero in Colombia to 51.5% in Belgium.

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Global electric car sales set for further strong growth after 40% rise in 2020

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The global auto industry suffered a punishing year in 2020 because of the major shock of Covid-19, but the electric car market bucked the wider trend with growth of over 40% and is on track for a decade of strong expansion, according to a new report published today by the International Energy Agency.

The IEA’s Global Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021 finds that despite the pandemic setting off a cascade of economic recessions, a record 3 million new electric cars were registered in 2020, a 41% increase from the previous year. By comparison, the global automobile market contracted 16% in 2020. Electric cars’ strong momentum has continued into this year, with sales in the first quarter of 2021 reaching nearly two and half times their level in the same period a year earlier.

Last year’s increase brought the number of electric cars on the world’s roads to more than 10 million, with another roughly 1 million electric vans, heavy trucks and buses. For the first time last year, Europe overtook China as the centre of the global electric car market. Electric car registrations in Europe more than doubled to 1.4 million, while in China they increased 9% to 1.2 million.

“While they can’t do the job alone, electric vehicles have an indispensable role to play in reaching net-zero emissions worldwide,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA. “Current sales trends are very encouraging, but our shared climate and energy goals call for even faster market uptake. Governments should now be doing the essential groundwork to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles by using economic recovery packages to invest in battery manufacturing and the development of widespread and reliable charging infrastructure.”

Electric vehicles are set for significant growth over the coming decade, the new IEA report finds. Based on current trends and policies, it projects the number of electric cars, vans, heavy trucks and buses on the road worldwide to reach 145 million by 2030. But the global fleet could reach 230 million if governments accelerate efforts to reach international climate and energy goals, as outlined in the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario.

And if governments around the world pull together to pursue the even more ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions globally by 2050, the global electric vehicle fleet would grow even bigger. More details on the implications of this pathway for electric vehicles and the broader transport sector will appear in the IEA’s special report, Net Zero in 2050: A roadmap for the global energy system, which will be released on 18 May.

Consumer spending on electric cars increased another 50% last year to reach USD 120 billion. At the same time, government support measures stood at USD 14 billion, the fifth year in a row in which they have fallen as a share of total spending. Even if government subsidies remain important for spurring the uptake of electric vehicles, this suggests sales are increasingly being driven more by consumer choice.

Automakers offered 370 electric car models in 2020, a 40% year-on-year increase. Eighteen of the 20 largest automakers have announced intentions to further increase the number of available models and boost production of electric light-duty vehicles. These automakers account for 90% of all global auto sales.

The Global Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021 notes that governments helped buffer electric cars from 2020’s downturn by extending existing policy and fiscal support, and augment them with stimulus measures in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Leading countries also promoted the competitive position of electric vehicles by strengthening fuel economy and emissions standards, and redoubled their support for developing battery technology and deploying charging station infrastructure.

The report emphasises that the shift of the road transport sector towards electric vehicles extends well beyond cars. The most electrified road transport mode today is two- and three-wheeled vehicles – such as motorcycles and mopeds – with more than 25 million units sold, the bulk of them in Asia. Urban buses have also electrified rapidly. And heavy trucks are a segment where electric models and sales have only recently begun to grow strongly, as battery performance have improved and driving ranges have lengthened.

Electric vehicles have a key role to play in tackling emissions. On a “well-to-wheel” basis, their net contribution to reducing emissions, already evident today, will grow in tandem with the pace at which electricity generation decarbonises. This highlights the need for policy makers to think about global clean energy transitions holistically across sectors to ensure that progress in one area is not being undermined by shortcomings in another.

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