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East Asia and Pacific: Countries Must Act Now to Mitigate Economic Shock of COVID-19

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The virus that triggered a supply shock in China has now caused a global shock. Developing economies in East Asia and the Pacific (EAP), recovering from trade tensions and struggling with COVID-19, now face the prospect of a global financial shock and recession.

Sound macroeconomic policies and prudent financial regulation have equipped most EAP countries to deal with normal tremors.  But we are witnessing an unusual combination of disruptive and mutually reinforcing events. Significant economic pain seems unavoidable in all countries. Countries must take action now – including urgent investments in healthcare capacity and targeted fiscal measures – to mitigate some of the immediate impacts, according to East Asia and Pacific in the Time of COVID-19, the World Bank’s April 2020 Economic Update for East Asia and the Pacific.

In a rapidly changing environment, making precise growth projections is unusually difficult. Therefore, the report presents both a baseline and a lower case scenario. Growth in the developing EAP region is projected to slow to 2.1 percent in the baseline and to negative 0.5 in the lower case scenario in 2020, from an estimated 5.8 percent in 2019. Growth in China is projected to decline to 2.3 percent in the baseline and 0.1 percent in the lower case scenario in 2020, from 6.1 percent in 2019. Containment of the pandemic would allow for a sustained recovery in the region, although risks to the outlook from financial market stress would remain high.

The COVID-19 shock will also have a serious impact on poverty. The report estimates that under the baseline growth scenario, nearly 24 million fewer people will escape poverty across the region in 2020 than would have in the absence of the pandemic (using a poverty line of US$5.50/day). If the economic situation were to deteriorate further, and the lower-case scenario prevails, then poverty is estimated to increase by about 11 million people. Prior projections estimated that nearly 35 million people would escape poverty in EAP in 2020, including over 25 million in China alone.

“Countries in East Asia and the Pacific that were already coping with international trade tensions and the repercussions of the spread of COVID-19 in China are now faced with a global shock,” said Victoria Kwakwa, Vice President for East Asia and the Pacific at the World Bank. “The good news is that the region has strengths it can tap, but countries will have to act fast and at a scale not previously imagined.”

Among the actions recommended by the report are urgent investments in national healthcare capacity and longer-term preparedness.  The report also suggests taking an integrated view of containment and macroeconomic policies. Targeted fiscal measures – such as subsidies for sick pay and healthcare – would help with containment and ensure that temporary deprivation does not translate into long-term losses of human capital.

“In addition to bold national actions, deeper international cooperation is the most effective vaccine against this virulent threat.  Countries in East Asia and the Pacific and elsewhere must fight this disease together, keep trade open and coordinate macroeconomic policy,” said Aaditya Mattoo, Chief Economist for East Asia and the Pacific at the World Bank.

The report calls for international cooperation and new cross-border public-private partnerships to ramp up the production and supply of key medical supplies and services in the face of the pandemic, and to ensure financial stability in the aftermath. Critically, trade policy should stay open so medical and other supplies are available to all countries, as well as to facilitate the region’s rapid economic recovery.

Another policy recommendation is easing credit to help households smooth their consumption and help firms survive the immediate shock.  However, given the potential of an extended crisis, the report emphasizes the need to couple such measures with regulatory oversight, particularly as many countries in EAP already carry a high burden of corporate and household debt. For poorer countries, debt relief will be essential, so that critical resources can be focused on managing the economic and health impacts of the pandemic.

The report also highlights the substantially higher risk of falling into poverty among households dependent on sectors that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 impacts, such as tourism in Thailand and the Pacific Islands, manufacturing in Cambodia and Vietnam, and among households dependent on informal labor in all countries.  In some countries, the impact of COVID-19 comes on top of country-specific factors, such as droughts (Thailand) or commodity shocks (Mongolia). In the Pacific Island countries, the outlook for 2020 is subject to substantial risks due to their economies’ reliance on grants, tourism, and imports.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic circumstances within countries and regions are fluid and change on a day-by-day basis. The analysis in the report is based on the latest country-level data available as of March 27.

The World Bank Group is rolling out a $14 billion fast-track package to strengthen the COVID-19 response in developing countries and shorten the time to recovery. The immediate response includes financing, policy advice and technical assistance to help countries cope with the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. The IFC is providing $8 billion in financing to help private companies affected by the pandemic and preserve jobs. IBRD and IDA are making an initial US$6 billion available for the health-response.  As countries need broader support, the World Bank Group will deploy up to $160 billion over 15 months to protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery.

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Russia Among Global Top Ten Improvers for Progress Made in Health and Education

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Russia is among the top ten countries globally for improvements to human capital development over the last decade, according to the latest update of the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI).

The 2020 Human Capital Index includes health and education data for 174 countries covering 98 percent of the world’s population up to March 2020.

Russia’s improvements were largely in health, reflected in better child and adult survival rates and reduced stunting. Across the Europe and Central Asia region, Russia, along with Azerbaijan, Albania, Montenegro, and Poland, also made the largest gains in increasing expected years of schooling – mainly due to improvements in secondary school and pre-primary enrollments. The report also shows that over the last 10 years Russia has seen a reduction in adult mortality rates. However, absolute values of this indicator remain high in the country with this progress now at risk due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Human capital contributes greatly to improving of economic growth in every country. Investments in knowledge and health that people accumulate during their lives are of paramount concern to governments around the world. Russia is among the top improvers globally in the Index. However, challenges persist and much needs to be done to improve the absolute values of Index indicators,” said Renaud Seligmann, the World Bank Country Director in Russia.

The HCI, first launched in 2018, looks at a child’s trajectory, from birth to age 18, on such critical metrics as child survival (birth to age 5); expected years of primary and secondary education adjusted for quality; child stunting; and adult survival rates. HCI 2020, based on data up to March of this year, provides a crucial pre-pandemic baseline that can help inform health and education policies and investments for the post-pandemic recovery.

Of the 48 countries in Europe and Central Asia included in the 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI), 33 are among the upper-third in the world, and almost all are in the top half. However, there are significant variations within the region.

In Russia, a child born today can expect to achieve 68 percent of the productivity of a fully educated adult in optimal health. It is at the average level for Europe and Central Asia countries and the third result globally among the countries of the same income group. There is a stark contrast between education and health subscales in Russia. While the education outcomes of the country are high and outperform many high-income peers, its health outcomes are below the global average.

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Accelerating Mongolia’s Development Requires a Shift “from Mines to Minds”

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A new report by the World Bank estimates that out of every dollar in mineral revenues Mongolia has generated over the past 20 years, only one cent has been saved for future generations. The report argues that to break this cycle, Mongolia should use its mineral wealth to invest in people and institutions, while gradually reducing its dependence on the sector.

This is particularly true as demand for key minerals is likely to tumble due to climate change concerns, a shift of investors’ preference toward sustainability, China’s ambitious goal to reduce coal consumption, and persistence of the COVID-19 shock, according to Mongolia’s Mines and Minds, the World Bank’s September 2020 Country Economic Memorandum for Mongolia.

Since the advent of large-scale mining in 2004, Mongolia’s economy has grown at an average rate of 7.2 percent per year, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Growth has translated to rapid decline – although at times partly reversed – in the incidence of poverty and improved quality of life. The report also notes that Mongolia enjoys relatively strong human capital, and its infrastructure capital has improved for the last few decades, though remains scarce given the size of the country and low population density. This performance has been made partly possible through a generous but inefficient social assistance system and a large public investment program supported by mineral revenues and external borrowing.

However, a number of enduring challenges have grown in the shadow of this success. Mongolia’s rapid growth has been obscured by its extreme macroeconomic volatility and frequent boom and bust cycles. Growth has almost entirely come through capital accumulation and the intensive use of natural capital rather than through sustained productivity growth. Meanwhile, the country has not only consumed almost all its mineral outputs, but has also borrowed heavily against them, bequeathing negative wealth to the next generation.

Instead of maximizing the benefits of its mineral wealth for diversified and inclusive growth, Mongolia has increasingly become more addicted to it. At the same time, human capital has been underutilized and institutional capital has eroded.” said Andrei Mikhnev, World Bank Country Manager for Mongolia. “Such inability to capitalize on the country’s endowments has resulted in limited diversification of outputs and exports and has further amplified its vulnerability to the swings of the global commodity markets. Breaking this gridlock calls for a fundamental shift in approach that puts investing in minds on an equal footing with mines.”

The report recommends key policy actions to build the foundation of a diversified and sustainably growing  economy. These include:

  • Implement countercyclical fiscal and monetary policies – supported through transparent fiscal rules, an independent fiscal council, a market-driven exchange rate, and a well-functioning stabilization fund – to smooth consumption over the business cycle rather than maximize current consumption.
  • Undertake bold investment climate reforms to enhance competition, secure investor rights, and create a more level playing field that enables productive firms to invest and grow.
  • Move away from the mindset of diversifying products to expanding endowments, especially in terms of better utilization of Mongolia’s young and educated, especially female, labor force.
  • Accelerate the implementation of fundamental governance reforms (especially on the government effectiveness and control of corruption) to reduce political interference, increase transparency, and improve regulatory quality throughout the economy.

“Fortunately, there are many encouraging signs of improved macroeconomic management in 2017-19, providing the new government an opportunity to advance its reform efforts,” said Jean-Pascal Nganou, World Bank Senior Country Economist and lead author of the report. “Some impressive fiscal outcomes were achieved not by introducing new reforms but by effectively implementing existing ones. They demonstrate that with the right political will and leadership, similar improvements are possible in other areas including monetary and exchange rate policy, the financial sector, the business environment, and the labor market. The new administration has, therefore, an opportunity to institutionalize these reforms and avoid policy regression in the future.”

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Nearly 9 in 10 People Globally Want a More Sustainable and Equitable World Post COVID-19

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In a new World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey of more than 21,000 adults from 28 countries nearly nine in ten say they are ready for their life and the world to change.

72% would like their own lives to change significantly and 86% want the world to become more sustainable and equitable, rather than going back to how it was before the COVID-19 crisis started. In all countries, those who share this view outnumber those who don’t by a very significant margin (more than 50 percentage points in every country except South Korea). Preference for the world to change in a more sustainable and equitable manner is most prevalent across the Latin America and Middle East-Africa regions as well as in Russia and Malaysia.

Next week’s World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit will address the achievement of the sustainable development goals and the appetite for transformation which will drive the “decade of delivery”.

Clear majority ready for a more sustainable and equitable world

Globally, 86% of all adults surveyed agree that, “I want the world to change significantly and become more sustainable and equitable rather than returning to how it was before the COVID-19”. Of those, 46% strongly agree and 41% somewhat agree, while 14% disagree (10% somewhat and 4% strongly).

Russia and Colombia top the list of countries that strongly or somewhat agree with that statement at 94%. They are followed by Peru (93%) Mexico (93%) Chile (93%) Malaysia (92%), South Africa (91%) Argentina (90%) and Saudi Arabia (89%). The countries that are most change averse – disagreeing somewhat or strongly disagreeing with the statement – are South Korea (27%), Germany (22%), Netherlands (21%), US (21%) and Japan (18%).

Dominic Waughray, Managing Director, at the World Economic Forum said, “The Great Reset is the task of overhauling our global systems to become more equitable and sustainable, and it is more urgent than ever as COVID-19 has exposed the world’s critical vulnerabilities. But the technology to transform things tends to outpace the human will to change. In six months, the pandemic has systematically broken down this cultural barrier and we are now at a pivot point where we can use the social momentum of this crisis to avert the next one.”

Ready for significant personal change

Across all 28 countries, 72% want their lives to change significantly rather than returning to what it was like before the COVID-19 crisis (30% strongly and 41% somewhat) while the other 29% disagree (21% strongly and 8% somewhat).

Latin America stands out for its optimism, with Mexico, Colombia and Peru in the top five countries strongly or somewhat agreeing. Agreement is also high South Africa (86%), Saudi Arabia (86%, Malaysia (86%) and India (85%). By contrast, at least two out of five adults in the Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Sweden, the US, UK and Canada long for their life to just return to how it was before the pandemic.

MethodologyThese are the results of a 28-country survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor online platform. Ipsos interviewed a total of 21,104 adults aged 18-74 in United States, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey, and 16-74 in 23 other countries between August 21 and September 4, 2020. Where results do not sum to 100 or the ‘difference’ appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don’t knows or not stated responses.

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