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Mechanism of consumer redressal in India

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Consumer protection in India has a rich history with its desirability being felt through ages. Consumer movements in India have evolved over many centuries and were finally institutionalised in 1986 with the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The first and foremost responsibility of the government is to ensure smooth and easy redressal of consumer grievance. If the government is futile in rectifying the atrocities of the consumers it results in consumers moving to courts and forums for their demands. To study the consumer movements in India it is important to look at the mechanism of consumer redressal present in the country which is briefly discussed in the first section of this article.

Consumers are the backbone of the economy of every country and it is the government’s job to keep the producers in check so that the consumers don’t suffer. The consumer protection laws in India are still a little vague and complex that makes them ineffective. To make the laws more effective the consumers should be made aware of their rights and obligations because the major hindrance in effectiveness of consumer protection is consumers’ obliviousness towards their rights.

Consumption has always been an integral part of any society. With the advent of hyper industrialization, there are bound to be some shortcomings that the producers have to address. To effectively make their damage good, people have to mobilize together and speak as a community.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted a benevolent legislation that states the rights of consumers and address the consumer redressal mechanism. It has enabled ordinary consumers to opt for speedy and less expensive redressal of their complaints.[1] Although there has been many legislations protecting consumers before independence like the Sale of Goods Act, 1930, Contract Act, 1872, this is the first time that specific attention has been given to general consumers.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) was set up under Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It’s a quasi-judicial body with a President and eleven members. It has 3 types of jurisdiction i.e. Original, Appellate and revisional.[2] Under the Consumer Protection Act, NCDRC is entitled to entertain cases from Central and State governments because they qualify as “complainant” under section 2(b)(iii) of the Act. The complaints are processed under the supervision of Registrar by officers of NCDRC before placing them before the Hon’ble benches for hearing. The president is the head of the body and can distribute judges at each bench according to his discretion. Under section 23 of the Consumer Protection Act the complainant can file a review petition before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The discharge of functions is governed under Consumer Protection Rules, 2017. Dept. Of Consumer Affairs allocates budget to NCDRC and the same is reflected in the Demand for Grants of Dept. Of Consumer Affairs. All the information regarding the cases, commission, statutes and workings of the Courts is available on NCDRC’s website in accordance with the Right to Information Act. All the information regarding National Commission is supplied within 30 days.

The NCDRC has the authority to entertain cases where the claimed compensation is above one crore and any appeal against state commission. It can also pass orders against the cases judged by any state commission where it feels that the proper procedure is not followed or where it feels that the court has exercised a power ultra vires.

Role Of NGOs Towards Consumer Protection

Consumer protection is of superlative importance in India as the population if India is ever increasing. They demand variety of goods and services every day, and there is an ever-increasing demand. Here we can see the number of cases filled by the consumers in the year 2017-18. This drastic improvement in the filing of the cases is because the awareness which is being spread through various forums, like advertisements, booklets, rallies, social media, and various other platforms. Here we take a brief look at what consumer protection entails in India.

NGOs have always been an integral part of the consumer movements in India and all over the world. They have paved the path for generating the awareness towards consumer rights violations as well as instilled the sense of justice in the people for claiming compensation for the same. The role of NGOs or consumer organizations is of paramount importance because, a general consumer is not always aware of his rights and even if they are, they don’t have enough means or understanding of the working of the various procedures laid by the law. The Consumer Protection Act 1986 has made it very opportune for the consumers to file cases and claim damages but this is mostly unknown to the actual consumer population, hence keeping them in the dark. NGOs come into play here. There are various NGO throughout India who work toward consumer protection. Some of the famous NGOs are VOICE, Common Cause, Consumer Awareness, Protection and Education Council of Karnataka, Consumer Guidance Society India.The need for NGO and self-regulatory authorities in the implementation of consumer rights is of supreme standing. They are needed because:

Awareness

One of the main reasons for the lack of awareness regarding consumer protection is the lack of education and vigilance. Education facilitates awareness. Due to the lack of education the consumers suffer silently without claiming for the implementation of their rights. The graph of the survey undertaken by CUTS International, depicts the lack of awareness among the consumer population.[3]

A survey was done by CUTS International to test the awareness of the Indian consumer, followings were the findings:[4]

  • Awareness regarding the various government schemes.
  • 20% were aware about the consumer protection act.
  • More than 50% were not even aware of the “Jago Grahak Jago” campaign.
  • 40% were aware about the food safety act.
  • TARI was recognized by 27% of the people, Electricity Regulatory Commission was recognized by 26%.

Urban dwellers are more aware about their rights, hence NGOs should work at the ground level with the villagers to spread awareness regarding their rights.

Research:

For representation of their grievances efficiently in the consumer court, consumers need to have the sufficient knowledge and skill for conducting the research. Many if the consumer grievances can be resolved with various surveys and studies. Now certain organization is researching the lead content in the children toys. These types of studies can only be conducted with proper research and skill. This is a skill which needs practice to be developed. Hence with the help of NGOs consumers can file and contest cases resourcefully. a consumer cannot always conduct various lab tests or advanced research which needs capital as well as the knowledge, here the NGOs can do this and help pace the implementation the consumer rights. In the graph below, it represents the awareness of the consumers regarding various laws in place. Given that the consumers are not well acquainted with any of them comprehensively, the need for NGOs to help them regarding research is imperative. 

Counselling:

The consumers are not always aware of the laws designed for them; with NGOs the legal aid becomes more accessible to the general public. NGOs can find and appoint people who are well conversant with the laws of the land and can represent and help them file cases. Additional to this, they observe the implementation of laws by the local authorities which were passed by the legislators. They can file public interest litigation cases and work towards representing the common sentiment of the people in the court.

Publication and media:

The consumer movement gained traction due to the various awareness drives organized by the NGOs. They pressurize the government on spreading awareness. We see advertisements like “Jago Grahak Jago” on television and we see numerous booklets, reports etcetera. Through these the consumers can communicate their grievances and raise their voice against the mal practices. In today’s digital and tech savvy world they operate blogs and online portals to keep in touch of the ground level reports and encourage the consumers to use this means to contact them for help. They also conduct various public meeting to advocate for consumerism and conduct open negotiations where the consumer community can meet and discuss their concerns. Some sources state that the consumers are more likely to be educated about their consumer rights through the televisions.[5]

Unanimous representation of the NGOs

There are many NGOs in across India. If all the NGOs will unanimously come under a same banner and take the consumer movement forward, then the movement will be more effective than it is today due to the region-specific approach of the NGOs. Along with addressing the problems of the people at the ground level, they should come together and file PILs which will gain traction and impose pressure on the government to take swift action.

PILs filled by the NGOs’:

The most efficient way to make the voice of the consumer heard is through the means of law. There are many cases filled daily, here we will discuss some of the landmark judgments of the PILs filled by the NGOs.

Afcons Infrastructure Ans Ors.v. Cherian Verkay Construction And Ors.– In this case, the court held that arbitration agreement is mandatory for dispute adjudication. At any point in the suit, the court cannot force the parties to go for necessary adjudication. The consent of both the parties is important for arbitration under section 89 of CPC.

Indian Medical Association vs V.P. Shantha & Ors.– In this case, it was held that doctors will come under the purview of Consumer Protection Act even though they are regulated by Indian Medical Association. So, medical negligence was made inexcusable.

Lucknow development authority v. MK Gupta – In this case, the Supreme Court held that all the functions rendered to consumers come under the definition of Consumer Protection Act. Even if the service is provided by statutory authorities the consumers are entitled to compensation.

Role of the government

The beginning of the consumer movement in India dates back to 1960s and the 1970s when there were rampant practices of unprincipled and unfair trade practices like food shortages, black marketing, hoarding, adulteration of food materials and edible oil. All of it led to a consumer movement being propagated, till then the limited consumer organizations were just involved in writing articles and booklets. There was no legal system in place to hold the seller accountable and the maxim “caveat venditor” has no legal standing. It was always the responsibility of the consumer to be aware of the product or service they are subscribing to. The consumer movement around the world took acceleration and India was behind. Due to the pressure and active pursuing of the NGOs and self-regulating authorities a monumental step was taken by the Indian government and it passed the Consumer Protection Act 1986 in the 1986 Session of the Parliament. This legislation became a milestone in the societal and commercial legislations in the country. In addition to this many laws were legislated to cater to the interests of implementing the consumer rights, some include Standards of Weights and Measures Act, MRTP Act, Essential Commodities Act and Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. But these laws were neither penal nor preemptive in approach and did not make availableprompt trials and disposalof the grievances of the pained consumers.

National consumer chair:

For the first time in history the Ministry of Consumer Affairs of India, Food and Public Distribution, Department of Consumer Affairs Government of India has set up a Consumer chair which is being headed by Prof. Ashok Patil.[6] He will be heading the chair for 3 years. This step, taken by the central government, will be monumental for the prolongation of the Consumer Movement in India. This chair has been set up to provide the consumer an efficient mode to access justice which they are entitled to.

Jago Grahak Jago:

This was an initiative started by the government of India in the year 1983.[7]This was an initiative to spread awareness among the consumers regarding various goods and services they use in their day to day life. Through this portal consumers can register complains. They also showcase numerous advertisements on the television to make the consumers aware of the unfair trade practices. The Jago Grahak Jago campaign was known to 51% of the population, due to its use of media to communicate the various remedies under the Consumer Protection Act.

National consumer helpline

13 years back, on March 2005, as a part of the “JagoGrahakJago” campaign the Department of Consumer Affairs started a consumer helpline to provide assistance to the consumers. This is to make the implementation of COPRA more efficient. The consumers can seek help regarding their grievances by just making a call to the National Consumer Helpline.

Even after much efforts by the self-regulatory authorities and the government intervention the responses received is just 21%. Hence, in India we need more efforts to spread vigilance regarding the consumer rights and their violation and the mode which need to be taken to address the concerns of the consumers. 

This is the breakdown of the areas of various consumer grievances.[8] Most complains registered by the NCH was for the E-commerce sector, 19%. Let’s look at it in detail.

Working Towards Reducing Delays And Improving Consumer Satisfaction:

Among the many items on the agenda of the government, it should also give substantial importance in reducing delays in the Consumer Court. Due to the delays the willingness of the consumers to file complains is deteriorating.

Working towards improving consumer satisfaction

The below graphs depicts the level of consumer satisfaction with the griveance redressal mechanisms, and reflects on their experience in the Consumer forum.[9] A huge proportionate of people are not completely satisfied with the mechanism at place, which gives the government sufficient reason to improve it.

E-commerce grievances

Now a days the grievances regarding the online consumer market is on a high. This is because the 21st century is pacing towards the digital age. The below graph specifies the increase in the consumer complains in the year 2015-16 and 2016-17.[10] The government can set up another helpline which will deal with these cases unambiguously.

We have a case which was filled by the Telecom Watchdog against the online giants Amazon and Flipkart. The approved that these e-commerce giants were violating the Foreign Direct Investment norms. They circumvented the FDI norms by steering popular goods at much discounted rates through proxy ‘controlled sellers’ and this cause the pushing out of the small businesses off the market. The New Delhi High Court has recently issued a notice to the two companies.

Cross National Comparison Of Consumer Attitudes

Different countries have different mechanisms in place to deal with consumer movements. While the more developed economies have an established institution regarding consumer protection, developing countries like India are still in the nascent stages to develop their consumer forums. In this section, we’ll study this same distinction and how it came into being.

The paramount step in ensuring that the rights of the consumers are protected is for the consumers to know what their rights are and how they can be enforced. In this regard, the dept. Of Education, Pennsylvania, U.S. had published a handbook titled ‘Consumer Education Organisation and Implementation’. In the context of the said Consumer Awareness, a very little literature is provided in India.[11] This difference is awareness is of prime importance in regards to improving the consumer culture in India.

Another aspect of difference between U.S. and India is the enforcement of the statutes regarding Consumer Protection. Where in the U.S. the Federal Trade Commission’s sub-unit, Bureau of Consumer Protection, is using latest technology to easily facilitate consumer protection India is still left behind in addressing the complaints. The West has developed a highly developed Artificial Intelligence systems like Robocalls and automated answering protocols that help the consumer file a complaint easily and effectively. This again ties back to the issue of the awareness of citizens about consumer rights.

Disposition of cases is another factor that plays an important role in consumer protection. Speedy disposal of cases is a must in cases of consumer protection so that the consumer doesn’t suffer. While in the United States a lot of stress is placed upon the speedy disposal of cases, in India unfortunately the process is delayed by numerous complexities such as lab tests, unavailability of dates, etc. While the specified period of disposal is three to five months in the statutes, the dates of two subsequent hearings is this much apart in India.

Consumer protection in US focuses on economics of information.  Under right information, competition would force sellers to produce high quality products which meet the safety standards in all the aspects. In India, because the right information about the safety standards is still vague and complex, most of the times there is a conflict between different laws.[12] An instance of dissemination of information is regarding an automobile’s mileage. The manufactures have to disclose the actual mileage that an automobile can give and not the mileage that the automobile would grant in the ideal condition.

Right to choice is another matter of concern for Indian consumer market. Right of choice means the availability of products at the competitive and fair price at all the places. The competitive culture of the west has developed over the centuries while in India it is still in its nascent stages. By 1969 comparative analysis of magazines had become the norm in the west. Consumer reports held a lot of stake in right to choice with led the way in the sales of magazines. In India this revolution is being brought by online platforms where the prices are constantly scrutinized and kept in check.

To maintain the pressure on the government it is important to have some consumer organisations. While there are more than 100000 registered consumer organisations in the US[13], there are about 8000 consumer organisations in India. This shows that India is far behind U.S. in terms of consumer redressal. Because of the gap between the consumer and the redressal system, most of the consumer protection doesn’t get filed. While the consumer organisations in US are making sure that all the aggrieved get justice, for the limited number of organisations in India it is difficult to get all the consumers under the spectrum of consumer protection.

Consumer forums have not been successful in tackling the increasing consumer disputes. More than 4.5 lakh cases are pending in courts that suggests the miserable condition of consumer redressal in India. To tackle this issue, the govt. have to take immediate steps such as keeping vigil on availability of judges, contribute to R&D so that lab tests doesn’t waste time of the courts, establishing more benches in each part of state throughout the country. There have been many landmark cases under the Consumer Protection Act some of which are:

  • Chief Administrator, H.U.D.A. & Anr. v. Shakuntla Devi : In this case the Supreme Court held that for entitlement to compensation it’s necessary to prove damage.
  • Charan Singh v. Healing Touch Hospital and Others: The supreme court held that damages depend on facts of each case. No rigid rule can be set for universal application.
  • Om Prakash v. Reliance General Insurance : The supreme court held that insurance company cannot reject liability on technical grounds.
  • Manjeet Singh v. National Insurance Company Ltd. & Anr.: It was held that insurance company is liable to accept liability for hijacked vehicle.
  • Shri Rajendra Agarwal v. Shoppers Stop Limited: The CCI held that individual consumer grievances cannot be treated as competition concern.
  • New India Assurance Co. Ltd. v. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd.: It was held that the respondent party have to reply within 15 days.
  • Dr. M. Kochar vs Ispita Seal: NCDRC said that No cure is not medical negligence.
  • M/S Emaar MGF Land Limited & Anr. v. Aftab Singh: Supreme court held that arbitration clause does not restrict consumer from filing a complaint with consumer forum.
  • Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation v. Ashok Iron Works Private Limited: Supreme Court held that supply of electricity is not considered ‘sale’ under the Act.
  • State of U.P. and Ors. v. All U.P. Consumer Protection Bar Association: Supreme court directed all the states to draft rules and regulations for better implementation of the Consumer Protection Act.

Consumer Movements in different areas

Telecom

Usually, consumer protection in Telecom sector is imposed by licensing arrangements or telecom act. The main provisions of the act aim at improving choices for consumers, to reduce prices, achieve better quality and avoid exploitation. In JK Mittal v Union of India the Delhi high court held that the respondent is not a telegraph authority under the telegraph act, 1885. The Supreme Court had given a broad interpretation in which it said that the consumer protection act is in addition and not in derogation to any law for the time being in force. The high court of Delhi held the suit maintainable in consumer forums. Through this case it was established that the suits against private telecom companies are maintainable in consumer forums.[14]

Health Care

Health care is one of the most controversial sectors where consumer rights have to be protected. In the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 the government of India has removed the word ‘healthcare’ which was added in the draft bill. There was a huge consumer movement about the removal of word healthcare because medical negligence is an integral part of consumerism in India and by removing the word it was being interpreted that the liability of doctors is diminished, but as was expounded in the Indian Medical Association vs V.P. Shantha & Ors case, the word includes medical negligence in the new definition of services as well.[15]

Food Industry

Food industry is the 5th largest industry in India. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has started the Food Smart campaign to raise awareness among consumers about food safety. The landmark case of Nestle Noodles, Maggie, was a testament to right to knowledge and the right to healthy food. In the case it was reported that the noodles were not harmful to health and the lead content was well within limits.[16] This case serves as an instance where consumer movements are most effective and provide the society a perspective of the justice for consumers.

Conclusion

Through the course of this article we have seen how Consumer Movements have evolved from being just conceptualized to being institutionalized. Consumer Protection is a necessity in a consumer dominated country like India. Consumer Movements go a long way in tacking the problem of consumer protection. When the people of a country stand up against a lazy government only then can the voice of consumers be strengthened.

This article focused on the mechanism of consumer redressal in our country. Different agencies have different roles to play and the government has the duty to duly resolve all the disputes. Studying the consumer redressal mechanism in other countries we saw where we lag behind. Although our government has taken various measures to resolve Consumer Disputes, there is still a long way to go in case of consumer protection.

The role of NGOs in eradicating a social evil is of eminent importance and this is the case with consumer protection also. A lot of NGOs are striving towards providing justice to consumers. To make the work of NGOs more impactful the government has the duty to provide them with necessary funds to do so.

While the government is doing its bit, it is equally necessary for the consumers to be aware of their rights and act on them. The government can’t do anything if the consumers do not take active steps to control the problem of Consumer exploitation. Hence, it is the moral duty of both the government and the consumer to act towards Consumer Protection.


[1] National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, ‘History’ (NCDRC) <http://ncdrc.nic.in/history.html> accessed 29 November 2019.

[2] National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, ‘Details Under Right To Information Act-2005’ (NCDRC) <http://ncdrc.nic.in/rti.html> accessed 29 November 2019.

[3]CUTS International, ‘Report: State of Consumer Affairs India’(CUTS International, 2012) <http://lms.nls.ac.in/pluginfile.php/1146/mod_page/content/8/Report_State_of_the_Indian_Consumer-2012.pdf>accessed 28 November 2019.

[4]CUTS International, ‘Report: State of Consumer Affairs India’(CUTS International, 2012) <http://lms.nls.ac.in/pluginfile.php/1146/mod_page/content/8/Report_State_of_the_Indian_Consumer-2012.pdf>accessed 28 November 2019.

[5] CUTS International, ‘Report: State of Consumer Affairs India’(CUTS International, 2012) <http://lms.nls.ac.in/pluginfile.php/1146/mod_page/content/8/Report_State_of_the_Indian_Consumer-2012.pdf>accessed 28 November 2019.

[6]Apurva Singh,‘Prof. Ashok R Patil, Professor of Law, NLSIU nominated as a member of the Central Consumer Protection Council’ (SSC Online, 19 November 2018)

<https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2018/11/19/prof-ashok-r-patil-professor-of-law-nlsiu-nominated-as-a-member-of-the-central-consumer-protection-council/>accessed 27 November 2019

[7]Government of India, ‘Jago Grahak Jago complains portal’

<http://www.jagograhakjago.com/register-complaint/>accessed 27 November 2019

[8]Government of India, ‘Consumer helpline’<https://consumerhelpline.gov.in/nch.php>accessed 29 November 2019

[9]CUTS International, ‘Report: State of Consumer Affairs India’(CUTS International, 2012) <http://lms.nls.ac.in/pluginfile.php/1146/mod_page/content/8/Report_State_of_the_Indian_Consumer-2012.pdf>accessed 28 November 2019.

[10]Government of India, ‘Consumer helpline’<https://consumerhelpline.gov.in/nch.php>accessed 29 November 2019

[11] Sanjay Kaptan, ‘Consumer Movement in India: Issues and Problems’ (Sarup & Sons, 1st edn, 2013) accessed 30 November 2019.

[12]Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, ‘Regulation: Analysis and Experience in West Germany and the U.S.A.: A Symposium’ (October 1983), pp. 527-544 accessed 26 November 2019.

[13] Yakoob C., ‘A study on the impact of the consumer protection act 1986 on consumer movement, with special reference to northern districts of Kerala’ (Department of Commerce and Management Studies , University of Calicut, 1998) accessed 25 November 2019.

[14] Ashok R. Patil, ‘Consumer Protection Law’ (Annual Survey of Indian Law, The Indian Law Institute, 2016) pp. 319-346 accessed 24 November 2019.

[15]Dipak Dash, ‘Consumer bill draft removes healthcare from Services’ (Times of India, 2 June 2019) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/consumer-bill-draft-removes-healthcare-from-services/articleshow/69935129.cms> accessed 29 November 2019.

[16] Samanwaya Rautray, ‘Maggi Controversy: SC revives govt’s case against Nestle India in NCDRC’ (Economic Times, 4 January 2019) <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/food/supreme-court-revives-governments-case-in-ncdrc-against-nestle-india/articleshow/67363564.cms> accessed 24 November 2019.

Economy

A post-COVID recovery presents significant challenges for the French economy

Kareem Salem

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As France tentatively eases its lockdown measures, the French government is faced with dealing with an unprecedented economic crisis.

The curb in economic activity during the coronavirus pandemic has considerably strained the second biggest economy of the eurozone. During the first economic quarter, the French economy plunged by 5.8% – which factored only one month of confinement where 67 million people were ordered to stay at home.

The resultant health security measures required the French government to act swiftly to prevent redundancies, by launching a partial unemployment scheme ‘chômage partiel’, under which fixed-term workers received partial unemployment benefits from the French government. Public aid was also granted to small businesses to prevent them from going bankrupt during this uncertain period.

Whilst these measures have prevented significant job losses during the confinement, the easing of restrictions now requires the French government to stimulate the economy. Economic activity figures are expected to continue to decline in the second quarter and real GDP is expected to drop by 8% overall this year.

Since the relaxation of the lockdown measures, only non-essential enterprises that can guarantee social distancing practices have been allowed to resume their business activities. The tourism sector, which accounts for8% of national wealth and 2 million jobs, has received 18 billion euros in rescue funds in response to the remaining closure of hotels, restaurants and cafes.

Yet, there are also other strategic sectors that urgently require government support. These sectors include entities operating in the automotive, aerospace and retail sectors. Well-Known French car manufacturers such as the Peugeot group and Renault, have seen their business operations severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic since the lockdown of Wuhan, where their assembly plants are located. Subsequent health restriction measures taken by the French government have also led to a significant 84% decline in their operating sales results due to the closure of car dealerships during this period. 

The standstill of the airline industry has inevitably affected the financial stability of aircraft manufacturers and their supply chains in France. Falling sales have led Airbus to reduce the production capacity of its Toulouse manufacturing plant by and is expected to increase further by June, which will inexorably affect the financial stability of their suppliers. The halt in air traffic is expected to result in the loss of 26000 jobs for Airbus and 85000 for its subcontractors in the Occitanie region.

In the retail sector, entities that were in difficulty before the health restriction measures, also saw their financial situation considerably impeded. Between March and May, the retailer La Halle incurred a loss of 106 million euros in sales. Other prominent retailers, notably NAF NAF, which employs 1170 people and owns 160 stores, has been placed under judicial rehabilitation proceedings – redressement judiciaire.

The precarious predicament of certain sectors requires the French government to intervene to prevent greater financial strain mounting in key strategic sectors. The Minister of Economy and Finance has specified his intention to establish a recovery support package for the automotive and aerospace sector in the coming weeks.

The challenge for Bercy is straightforward – ensure that the recovery package meets the needs of both sectors. This is important considering that the automotive sector accounts for 36%of government revenue while the aerospace sector accounts for 12% of French exports of goods. This inevitably requires Bercy to ensure that stimulus packages for both sectors cover employee job security and the freezing of production taxes for aircraft and car manufacturers in order to alleviate their financial strain. This is particularly important for manufacturers in the aerospace sector, which will continue to be affected by the slow and progressive return of air travel.

The post-pandemic period also requires automobile manufacturers and retail sector entities to restructure their business strategy to regain the competitiveness lost during the confinement. The loss in business activity from the lockdown necessitates entities in these sectors most in difficulty, to extend their working hours and limit the number of vacation days in order to produce new wealth, which will enable them to mitigate the economic losses incurred during the confinement. The production of greater wealth will enable the French State to increase its tax base and thus revenues and repay more rapidly the debt accumulated during the pandemic.

As France tentatively moves out of confinement, it is also important for Bercy to encourage consumers to support French manufacturing entities. It is apparent during the eight weeks of confinement, households saved tens of billions of euros. In this perspective, positive deconfinement results coupled with the ease in lockdown measures will gradually rehabilitate consumer confidence. Providing economic incentives for low-income earners is also necessary to encourage them to purchase a new car, which will help boost the sales growth of car manufacturers.

Recovery also requires the collective support of EU member states. Paris and Berlin are seeking to push forward a 500 billion eurosrecovery fund, in which the European Commission will borrow on the financial markets in order to disperse the recovery funds through grants to European economies hit hardest by the pandemic.Its repayment would be the financial responsibility of the entire block.

Yet the naysayer countries Austria, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, have instantly rejected the idea of greater fiscal integration. The four’s main concernis the plan of Paris and Berlin to propose grants instead of loans. The challenge for Macron and Merkel is to convey to their European partners that this mechanism is important for Europe to recover less painfully from the pandemic and to shield off anti-European and populist sentiment, especially in the block’s southern countries.

For Bercy, the European solidarity fund will provide much-needed respite for French public finances, which have been significantly strained by the chômage partiel provision, which amountsto26 billion euros.

All in all, while the COVID-19 pandemic poses major challenges for the French economy, support of the French government and European collective action, combined with an overhaul of corporate strategy, will enable Europe’s second largest economy to recover from the crisis more rapidly.

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Economy

Stimulating the economy sustainably after coronavirus

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Authors: Yao Zhe and Wu Yixiu*

As the Covid-19 outbreak stabilises in China, the central government is starting to talk about protecting the economy as well as mitigating the virus.

On 3 February, the politburo standing committee called for China to “tackle the epidemic with one hand, and develop the economy with the other”, and continue working “to realise the year’s economic and social goals”. It reiterated this approach on 12 February.

This year marks the end of the 13th Five Year Plan, which includes the goal of creating a “moderately prosperous society”. Over the plan period (2016-20), national GDP and average incomes were meant to double compared to 2010. For that to happen, GDP would need to grow around 6% this year. There is no doubt the government will produce a stimulus package to help. But a programme focused on infrastructure such as railways and roads will hamper the country’s transition to a sustainable economy.

Heavy industry on the mend

Covid-19 led to the extension of the Chinese New Year holidays to almost a month, which affected all parts of the economy. For heavy industry, the biggest uncertainty was demand. Downstream manufacturers and property developers have been slow to get back to work and the economy in general is sluggish. With demand not yet recovered, output of the raw materials produced by heavy industry, such as steel and aluminium, has fallen, though not precipitously. Steel mill utilisation rates remain at a normal level of about 70%, with no major reduction in output. First quarter steel output is expected to be down about 3%.

The return to work has picked up since 10 February. Coal consumption at six major power plants has increased slowly but steadily, indicating industry is getting back on track. Work on key infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges resumed on 15 February, with considerable fanfare. Experts answering questions online for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said that despite widespread stoppages in construction, services and labour-intensive manufacturing, the heavy industries that supply these sectors continued to operate through the Chinese New Year and beyond. It’s not economical, for example, to stop furnaces in a steel factory for a week or two, so these continued to burn while producing less steel.

The analyst Lauri Myllyvirta pointed out that China has excess heavy industrial capacity and the sector will be able to ramp up to meet any increased demand, with industrial output and power consumption soon recovering. Experts have said the epidemic will mean a significant but short-term drop in energy consumption by heavy industry in the first quarter of the year, until the epidemic is brought under control.

Signs of an infrastructure-focused stimulus

Covid-19 is a new challenge for a Chinese economy already facing a slowdown. The government’s usual response to economic pressure is to use public spending to promote investment, particularly in infrastructure, and there are signs this will again be the case.

Tens of trillions of yuan of investment is planned in major projects across China this year, according to figures in the Economic Information Daily. The latest figures indicate that among the batch of special-purpose bonds (SPBs) issued by local governments earlier in the year, about 67% are to the infrastructure sector. SPBs are designed to help local governments inject funds into specific projects, such as irrigation and toll roads, to help boost their economies. Since January, local governments have issued about 950 billion yuan (US$136 billion) of SPBs, accounting for about 73.6% of the front-loaded SPB quota for this year.

Transport and energy infrastructure – including gas pipelines, oil refineries and nuclear power plants – are well represented in the project lists that some provinces have published. For example, Jiangsu province plans to invest 220 billion yuan (US$30 billion) in infrastructure out of the 540 billion yuan that is going into 240 major projects. Of the 233 major projects listed by Shandong province, 25 are road or rail construction and 16 are building projects. Meanwhile, Yunnan province announced an infrastructure construction plan at a recent press conference on Covid-19, including 100 billion yuan for high-speed rail.

Economic analysts expect to see infrastructure investment in China climb by as much as 8% to 9% this year.

Lauri Myllyvirta has calculated that the extended holiday cut China’s carbon emissions in the first two weeks of the lunar new year by a quarter year-on-year. These climate savings may be offset by a government stimulus package favouring infrastructure projects. According to Zhang Shuwei, director of the Draworld Environment Research Center: “If the government eases monetary policy and boosts infrastructure construction, we may see a nationwide increase in the energy intensity of the economy. It’s likely that energy consumption will not be affected, or will even jump quite a bit.”

If an economic stimulus is unavoidable, it should at least be targeted and not run contrary to China’s efforts to improve the structure of the economy. The service sector, which has been rocked by Covid-19, accounts for 54% of China’s GDP and provides huge numbers of jobs. Support tailored to it will be crucial for rebuilding resilience and confidence, and is in line with China’s economic transition.

Sustainable stimulus?

Chinese economists often debate how best to direct public finances in order to stimulate the economy. The coronavirus has brought something new to that discussion, by highlighting that public services like hospitals and schools suffer from a lack of resources and capacity to respond to emergencies.

Former mayor of Chongqing, Huang Qifan, wrote that government spending has long favoured transportation and construction, while overlooking public facilities and services. Huang believes spending on the latter would be a more effective way to boost GDP while also meeting public needs. He thinks government spending should incentivise consumption of public goods and services “to promote sustainable and high-quality economic growth.”

Heilongjiang and Jiangsu provinces are adding public health and other “catch-up” projects to their list of major projects, with funding support for those chosen. Nationally, the decision on whether to make improving the public health and emergency response systems a key target for government investment will be a test for policymakers.

Covid-19 is believed to have spread to humans via wild animal consumption. The public is now more aware of the importance to health of living in better harmony with the natural world. What is less recognised is that as well as bringing us disease, the overexploitation of nature also brings systemic risks that could cause disastrous “black swan” events. Four of the five major risks listed in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report are environmental: climate change, biodiversity loss, extreme weather and the water crisis. As these risks interact rather than stand alone, they could cause a chain reaction.

If we are to increase our resilience, we need to fully understand these risks and ensure the facilities and mechanisms to respond are in place to prevent incidents escalating catastrophically. Environmental risks, like public health risks, need major investment to guard against. There are two aspects to this investment: one is spending on restoring our damaged environment and minimising further damage; the second is investment in environmentally-friendly technologies and industries that can change our mode of economic growth – to increase the “compatibility” of our society and economy with the environment.

How will we restore the economy once the epidemic has passed? If we direct government spending to high-carbon infrastructure construction and heavy industry, as usual, we will place ourselves at huge climate risk. This kind of investment is clearly not sustainable.

According to Zhang Shuwei: “The key is what we see when we look back at the lessons of the epidemic. Will we focus solely on the joy of victory, or acquire an awe at how nature, society and ourselves rely on each other? Our answer will lead us down different paths.”

From our partner chinadialogue

*Wu Yixiu is team leader of chinadialogue’s Strategic Climate Communication Initiatives. Before joining the team she was campaign manager with Greenpeace East Asia responsible for international policies. She also worked as a reporter at the English Service of China Radio International. Yixiu holds a B.A. in History in Fudan University and a master’s degree in Journalism from University of Westminster, London.

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Economy

Pandemic Recovery Shape: WWW

Naseem Javed

Published

on

Evelyn Dunbar painting 1947

Like a World-Wide-War, the pandemic recovery appears WWW shaped amidst fog of misinformation. It’s a global war of sorts showcased on global stage; nation by nation, multi-layered battlefields, tackling healthcare, economy, upskilling, and social justice with complex or comical dialogues, shielded with expert narratives or proclamations of stupidity avoiding bullets of facts and sciences.  

Casualty counts on battlefields rise with bodies littered across the world, sufferers gasping for the last oxygen and masked combat warriors on frontlines in out of control interactions but all yelling for truth. The highs and lows of competency levels publicly acrobated each day, hastily sensationalized by media, super-glazed by political punditry has created new lower standards of deployments. Equally, it has successfully fertilized the global mindshare to ask serious questions while novelty dances of national leaderships and political behavior picks up new rhythms to fix the old broken systems.  The masses of the new world now want large scale change. American elections ready for battle.

There never ever was a call for all G7 or G100 meeting on Day One of the pandemic, the greatest opportunities to step up on global platform missed. The narcissism prevented such humanistic dialogue; exceptionalism is only worthy when measured to serve humanity, otherwise just self-destructionist.

This unforgiving mistake for not having frank, globally open, scientifically intelligent dialogue, streamed live 24×7 global-access on digital-stage to acquaint global masses is a historic failure. Nation by nation, the politics and science mixture shakedown did not create some fine Angostura cocktails rather it turned into a Molotov. The restless citizenry of the world is hoping for truthful solutions. The irony of this pandemic will not be forgotten but immortalized in heavily casted monumental war memorial remembering  the crisis, the fighters and the lost ones; the wise and not so wise of the battle.

Nevertheless, few leadership teams are handling superbly while majority in visible chaos.

The only reward left amongst the casualty of war, if the global populace of billions can claim of at least acquiring some new wisdom while quarantined, earned as a weapon against tyranny, social justice and fairness to enable some balance on the economical charades and some truth to achieve some equality. In this case, cost of human sufferings may become bearable, otherwise, just a cruel reality wrapped in fakery.

The world must open global all-nation dialogue to tackle complex borderless mankind suffering issues; deep silence only becoming living proofs of incompetency and lack of precise knowledge to articulate on such issues.

The world must set new leadership standards on global crisis management as new challenges;

The omnipresence of the pandemic; whensocial front strikes like a hidden kiss of death; the response demands strict quarantines, the impact resulting in bankrupt economies. The damaged economies stretched, stronger ones counting days, any national shut down over 30 day is like creating a year of depression for that nation. A year-long closing, opening, closing and reopening is unimaginable wave to break down civil and economic structure. It’s a world-wide-war but not yet open for a “global stage daily briefing by global experts” the mankind suffers.

The omnipotence of the fear; when risk of exposure lingers for months and years, creating recovery shaped like WWW demands new thinking and open debates. The economic policies, business protocols, and global trade all in YOYO Economy will go up and down with every major shift and shock reactions unbalancing the progress. The fear if filled with new high quality open debates and discussions designed as constructive upskilling platforms shifts into hope and options and eliminating seek and destroy mentality.

The omnicompetent entrepreneurialism; historically, across the world, entrepreneurs created the origin of economic landscapes; they will do it again, as natural risk takers on earth shattering, mind-bending and life-altering creations for the advancements of mankind.  A quick study of the last 1000 entrepreneurs on global stage will provide the proof and blueprints. How do you uplift national citizenry and upskilling hidden talents, the dead silence from national gatekeepers will eventually turn into higher notes. The national trade groups like Chambers, Associations and government departments with vested interest in local economic development must rise all together with digital platform mobilization.

The post pandemic world will positively overflow with billion new entrepreneurs on march from Asia and all the other global entrepreneurialism suddenly bounce on advanced digital platforms, in an office-less, work-less, retail-less, remote-working, remote-learning, remote-shopping and remote living world; creating brand new solutions.

The omnidirectional thinking; the old-business-world is dying for mostly failing to create local grassroots prosperity; they may finally reemerge with new bloodstreams based on global interconnectivity of global trade and consumption with maximum technology and free platforms. The damage caused over decades already visible for ignoring entrepreneurialism as national hidden assets in local SME and ignoring women entrepreneurs as top quality untapped resource, now the day of lip service are almost over. The workers of the world, the thinkers and alpha dreamers, will go remote and carve out global access and digital paths to thousands of cities for their goods and services and create a far more fluid and rewarding culture of trade and commerce. Futurism is workless but NOT trade-less, study deeply

The critical need for new agents of change; covidism mastery is a new art and science, living the new normal as abnormal new learning, the entrepreneurial business world desperately needs ‘agents of change’ the masters of covidism, the new critical thinkers, the dreamers, complex problem solvers and fighter of better quality work models and economical survival strategies. Something mostly unavailable in universities degrees and critically lacking in the corner-offices of the world, but hidden as unknown talent in the working citizenry of any nation. National mobilization to harness such powers of young and old men and women entrepreneurs, nation by nation will rebuild and foster progress.

Study very deeply; plan next 1000 days very meticulously, as you too may have to answer about your own future, very soon 

Rest is easy

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