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Serbian Economy Shrinks as Country Responds to COVID-19

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Serbia is expected to face 2.5 percent contraction of its economy in 2020 providing containment measures introduced to fight COVID 19 are lifted by end-June, according to the World Bank’s latest Regular Economic Report (RER).

The report uses two scenarios in the face of high uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.

The baseline scenario assumes that the COVID-19 pandemic begins to slow soon enough, so that containment measures can be lifted by the end of June and a gradual recovery can begin in the second half of 2020. The downside scenario assumes the outbreak lingers and containment measures can only be lifted at end of August, with a recovery of economic activity only in final quarter of 2020. In this case Serbian economy will shrink by 5.3 percent. Both projections are calculated based on the data available on April 15, 2020.

“Serbian government reacted swiftly to economic challenges induced by COVID 19 crisis with the 5.2 billon Euros program”, says Stephen Ndegwa, World Bank Country Manager in Serbia. “The program addresses employment, small and medium businesses, and liquidity concerns. Country’s economy will bounce back in 2020 if this ambitious program is fully implemented and coupled with addressing long-pending structural reforms. “

Regional growth in the Western Balkans is forecast to be between -3 and -5.6 percent, according to RER. 

 “The magnitude of the recession depends on the duration of the pandemic in Europe. While the economic impact of the ongoing pandemic in the region is difficult to forecast, there is little doubt that this pandemic is wreaking havoc on lives around the region – taxing health care systems, paralyzing economic activity, and undermining the wellbeing of people,” says Linda Van Gelder, World Bank Country Director for the Western Balkans. 

“Over the medium-term, growth is expected to rebound strongly in the region, as economic activity gradually returns to normal, but this also depends on the length and intensity of the current crisis, as well as what steps policymakers take to address this pandemic.”

The recession in all Western Balkan countries will be driven by a significant drop in both domestic and foreign demand during the pandemic. Travel restrictions and social distancing measures have a particularly protracted impact on tourism and services, the latter accounting for around 50 percent of total employment in five countries in the region and 75 percent in Montenegro. Supply-side disruptions and lower demand further affect many manufacturing sectors, while liquidity constraints and acute uncertainty stifle investment.

The main risk for the Western Balkans is that a prolonged pandemic, as well as a deeper recession in the European Union, could make the unfolding economic crisis difficult to handle.

According to the report, quick, bold, and carefully designed mitigation measures can limit the social and economic impact of this crisis. Governments in all six countries have announced fiscal and social measures to support households and businesses during the emergency—ranging from 1 percent to 6.7 percent of GDP. Countries that entered the crisis with larger fiscal and external buffers have more space to finance larger support programs.

The announced short-term measures are necessary and aligned with the policy responses of EU countries. However, more people in the Western Balkans rely on self-employment, part-time work, and incomes from informal activities. These groups are vulnerable to the crisis but difficult to support through conventional measures.

According to the report, additional support – fine-tuned to the local context – may be necessary to support all vulnerable groups in the region. Several Western Balkan countries, for example, announced an expansion of the coverage of existing social transfer programs to support self-employed families and more vulnerable people. Given the uncertain length of this crisis, policymakers everywhere face the same policy dilemma: using all available fiscal space to mitigate the immediate impact can backfire if the crisis endures. Policy responses should therefore be calibrated to mitigate the immediate effects, adjust to new realities that may emerge, and to leave space to prepare the economy for a recovery.

The report focuses on the macroeconomic impact of COVID-19 in the Western Balkan countries, setting the stage for additional analysis. A series of Regular Economic Report notes, looking at the impact on specific economic areas, social sectors, and on poverty and income distribution in the region, will be be published in a follow-up e-launch in May.

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Finance

Socially Responsible, Low-Carbon Capitalism Can Ensure ‘Job-Full’ Recovery From COVID-19

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COVID-19 has caused a jobs crisis but, if we are to recover from the pandemic, two more fundamental crises need tackling: climate change and the nature of capitalism itself. This was the view of leaders taking part in the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit, which opened today.

“The low-carbon revolution will be a booming space for jobs,” said Alan Jope, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever, United Kingdom. Jope said he hopes the recovery from the pandemic will prove a turning point in the battle with climate change, because a greener business can drive both revenues and job creation.

According to the European Union, investments in renewable energy could create three times as many jobs as investing in fossil fuels. “One of the most dangerous mindsets in the world,” said Jope, “is to set up a false dichotomy between sustainability and economic growth.” Unilever has saved 800 million euros in sustainable sourcing, while attracting more customers through low-carbon products. A business that is trying to be responsible is a magnet for talent, he said, adding: “We see purpose as a pathway to better profits.”

Environmental and social pressures have exposed fault lines in the structure of global capitalism, which tends to perpetuate inequalities, said Ray Dalio, Founder, Co-Chairman and Co-Chief Investment Officer, Bridgewater Associates – one of the US’s leading hedge funds. “The profit-pursuing system won’t change educational disparity, for example, because profit is a self-reinforcing system,” he said, adding: “Capitalism by its nature tends to create greater wealth gaps.” Dalio pointed out that the wealthiest 40% of US citizens spend five times more money educating their children than the bottom 60%, accelerating inequalities in wealth and job opportunities. “There needs to be a coordinated effort to restructure how the machine works,” he said. Jope agreed the world needs to shift to a more “evolved model of capitalism” to create a job-full recovery. “We must change the measures of success,” he said, criticizing the preoccupation with measuring only GDP and profit.

Over half the global workforce will need to reskill in the future of work, according to the World Economic Forum. Businesses, civil society and governments all have to cooperate in reskilling their people, said Rania A. Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation of Egypt. This is easier in countries such as Egypt, as its largely young population is tech-savvy. However, as well as reskilling people, governments must invest in the digital infrastructure needed to enable the new generation of technology entrepreneurs to thrive. The minister emphasized the need for building inclusive societies, pointing out that Egypt was the first country in Africa and the Middle East to launch the Forum’s Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator project, launched a year ago.

Governments have an increasingly prominent role in directing financial flows, as the world emerges from the pandemic. The rate at which governments are borrowing and central banks are printing money means that decisions on where money and credit flow are becoming increasingly political, said Dalio. Decisions on state stimulus packages, for example, will have a major impact on job creation. Dalio also hailed ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing as a “very powerful force now.” He does not have high confidence in shareholders putting social good above financial gain, he said, “but with ESG investing and with governments redirecting funds in a totally different way, it’ll happen.”

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Human Rights

ILO and IOM sign agreement to strengthen collaboration on migration governance

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image source: ILO

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have signed an Agreement to create a framework for cooperation and collaboration to enhance the benefits of migration for all.

The framework includes joint support for improved migration governance, capacity building and policy coherence at national, regional and global levels. Other areas of work may also be developed.

The Agreement was signed by Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, and António Vitorino, the IOM Director-General, on Friday 23 October, at the ILO Headquarters in Geneva.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, Ryder said: “This Agreement seals an important alliance between our two organizations. Together, we will be stronger and more effective in both fulfilling our individual mandates and in collaborating on areas that are crucial for reshaping the world of work so that it is more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a brutal impact on economies and societies. Vulnerable groups, particularly migrant workers and their families, are being disproportionately hit. There could be no better time to reinforce our partnership and combine our strengths, so that we can help countries and our constituents build back for a better future.”

Vitorino said: “The agreement that we are signing today will help us further solidify our collaboration at the time when joint solutions are so much needed, with a pandemic that is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. As we move towards post-pandemic recovery, we fully embrace the call to build a better world together, tapping into the added value of each partner. With ILO, we have much to co-create and we look forward to future cooperation within the broader UN family, with our partner governments, private sector and civil society.”

The new ILO-IOM Agreement builds on the agencies’ comparative advantages, expertise, and respective constituencies. By encouraging joint initiatives, the Agreement aims to strengthen international migration governance and boost cooperation, capacity building and joint advocacy to promote migrants’ rights and decent work opportunities.

By encouraging social dialogue, it will allow workers’ and employers’ organizations – who sit equally with governments in the ILO’s tripartite membership structure – to contribute to policy discussions.

A workplan will be developed in the next six months to push forward the collaboration at global, regional and country levels and, more importantly, facilitate the implementation of the Agreement in the field, where both agencies are working directly with affected populations.

It will seek to enhance the agencies joint contribution to their member states, UN country teams, and societies to achieve the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda .

The Agreement will also allow the ILO and IOM to strengthen support for their respective constituencies in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), and contribute to other global and regional migration policy fora and debates.

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Development

World Bank, BRAC Join Hands to Improve Road Safety in Bangladesh

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The World Bank and BRAC signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate to improve road safety in Bangladesh, and at an online event today, the Honorable Minister of Road Transport and Bridges, Mr. Obaidul Quader inaugurated the program under this partnership.

The event titled ‘Road Safety Collaboration: Reducing road fatalities 50% by 2030’ also launched a Road Safety Awareness Campaign along the 48 KM Jessore-Jhenaidah corridor as part of the partnership. The campaign will complement the World Bank supported WeCARE project, which was approved in June 2020 and aims to upgrade the existing two-lane highway, Bhomra-Satkhira-Navaron, and Jahore-Jhenaidah to a safer four-lane highway. 

BRAC and the World Bank will partner together to promote safety for women in public transport systems and conduct training and skills building for drivers, including women drivers. BRAC’s driving school’s initiative ‘women behind the wheels’ trained so far about 214 women as professional drivers.

Globally, about 1.35 million people die every year in road accidents. In Bangladesh, road crashes are the fourth leading cause of death of children aged between 5 and 14, and 67 percent of victims are within the 15-49 age group.

In the event, the Honorable Minister of Road Transport and Bridges, Mr. Obaidul Quader praised the joined initiative by the World Bank and BRAC and said, “Under the leadership of Honorable Prime Minister H. E. Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has taken actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of cutting the number of road traffic fatalities by half within the next decade. With more awareness and safer behaviors by road users, training of drivers, and better roads, Bangladesh is taking a comprehensive approach for ensuring road safety.”

He also assured that his ministry will provide full support regarding the training and employment of female drivers.

“Road safety has become an economic and development priority for any country,” said Dandan Chen, Acting Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “We are proud to be part of the government’s commitment to better road safety through a National Road Safety Program. Our partnership with BRAC will reinforce the support to the program   for improving road safety in both rural and urban areas in Bangladesh.” 

The collaboration will support exchange of knowledge and raise awareness among stakeholders to reduce fatalities and injuries from road accidents. This will help the country adopt interventions based on the Safe-System Approach, including safe roads and safe behaviors, as recommended globally.

Since 2011, under BRAC’s community road safety awareness program, over 1.2 million people have received training on the safe use of roads. In addition, 5,451 schoolteachers and 498,000 school children have received special awareness training on road safety.

“I believe this joint initiative between BRAC and the World Bank will be a big step forward to take the road safety system in the project area to a new level. With the support of the government of Bangladesh and the World Bank, we aspire to take BRAC’s community led road safety model across Bangladesh,” saidAsif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC. “The government, development partners, non-government organizations and most importantly the citizens need to work together like this in finding more comprehensive long term systemic solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of reducing traffic fatalities by 50 per cent.”

Ahmed Najmul Hussain, Director, BRAC Road Safety Programme, said, “I believe that undertaking more such community-driven awareness initiatives for the other highways of the country such as the one to be implemented under this MoU along the Jessore-Jhenaidah highway will substantially help reduce the number of road crashes.”

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