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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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Financial Bubbles in the Coronavirus Era

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There is reason to believe that the coronavirus will not be going anywhere soon. What is more, IMF experts warn that problems that existed before the pandemic will only worsen in the coming decades. One of these problems is the state of the global financial market, which is more susceptible to all kinds of financial bubbles than ever before.

When we talk about financial bubbles, we usually mean a sharp increase in the value of assets in an economic climate that has either stagnated or started to deteriorate. A similar situation is currently unfolding on the American stock market, which is experiencing an extraordinary rise in the value of hi-tech companies against the background of a record drop in GDP (by over 30 per cent in the second quarter of 2020) and a projected budget deficit (−15.5 per cent). This rise has been caused by three factors: 1) a soft monetary policy as a result of the need to service the rapidly growing public and corporate debt; 2) the huge liquid resources at the disposal of legal entities and individuals that are frantically looking for ways to make a profitable investment in anticipation of the increased risks and systemic uncertainties brought about by COVID-19; and 3) the speculative excitement caused by the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution. In order for us to judge how likely the optimistic sentiments of the global financial markets are to change, let us consider the impact of these factors separately.

The Debt as it Stands

A key element of the “new abnormality” that has characterized both the development of the global economy as a whole and the U.S. economy, in particular, is the debt model of economic growth. Investment and business activity has stagnated as interest rates around the world are hovering around zero, while the U.S. dollar (a key reserve currency) stubbornly refuses to depreciate and has even strengthened its value on the forex markets on a number of occasions, despite the fact that the situation at home is worsening. For example, U.S. national debt increased by $4 trillion in the first nine months of 2020, from $22.7 to $26.7 trillion. This is the largest increase in U.S. national debt ever. A considerable amount of this debt is financed through the extraordinary growth of the U.S. stock market, which currently accounts for over half of the combined capitalization of the world’s stock markets. A correction on the stock market (caused by an increase in interest rates, for example) could trigger numerous defaults on debt obligations. According to Fitch Ratings, more defaults were announced in the first five months of 2020 than in the whole of 2019 and may reach record numbers by the end of the year (the current record holder is 2009). And more than half of all corporate defaults around the world have occurred in North America.

Let us recall that the value of financial assets dropped by $50 trillion during the 2008–2009 crisis. However, central banks and the fiscal authorities compensated for these losses by injecting roughly the same amount of liquidity into the market. But the newly created financial resources did not jolt consumer demand, as had been hoped. Rather, they were largely swallowed up by various segments of the global financial market. International portfolio investments alone more than doubled in 2008–2019 – by $35 trillion.

The history of capitalism is not short on examples where the state tried to solve debt problems at the expense of the market, leading to the creation of financial pyramids. In 1720, for example, two giant financial bubbles burst at almost the same time in Europe. In an effort to clear themselves of the massive debts they had accumulated during the War of the Spanish Succession, the governments of France and England encouraged the growth of cash in circulation. This money was pumped into equity securities of Mississippi Company in France and the South Sea Company in England, which were joint-stock companies created with backing from their respective governments. The companies promised their investors huge profits that would come from overseas territories. The proceeds from the sale of shares were used to buy back government debt instruments. The stock market bubbles that appeared in France and Great Britain were the result of the governments trying to rid themselves of their excessive debt burdens and to stimulate their respective economies through inflation and debt-equity swaps. In a way, the current excitement on the U.S. stock market is reminiscent of the situation three hundred years ago.

A New Digital Bubble?

As of late September 2020, the four largest companies in the world by market capitalization were American digital brands: the computer giants Apple and Microsoft and the internet companies Amazon and Alphabet (Google). The total market capitalization of these companies has more than doubled this year to over $6 trillion. “Pessimists” believe that the U.S. over-the-counter (OTC) market is currently experiencing another boom similar to the dot-com bubble that burst in 2000. Meanwhile, “optimists” point to the huge success of FAANG stocks, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google, as justification for the current market explosion. Shares in these companies outperformed the market throughout the 2010s, and prices have soared against the background of the pandemic. They currently make up 23 per cent of the total capitalization of the U.S. S&P 500 Index.

The growth in the market value of these companies is directly related to the activities of private and institutional investors around the world, who invest their savings in banks and various investment funds with their highly developed infrastructure in order to receive guaranteed profits. A number of retail investors have given an additional impulse to the dynamics of the OTC market by purchasing shares in newly created companies in the digital economy that have connected to free trading platforms such as Robinhood.

At the same time, the “optimists” believe that the comparisons with the dot-com bubble of 2000 are not entirely appropriate. A number of arguments support this claim: 1) the ratio between the market value of shares and the total annual profit is lower – 26.9 in September 2020 versus 45.8 in March 2000; 2) companies in the digital economy turn in real profits, as opposed to expected future returns; and 3) Nasdaq OTC hi-tech growth rates are more moderate – 23 per cent per year on average, compared to 43 per cent per year in the seven years before the tech bubble burst in 2000.

The dynamics of the market on the eve of the financial crisis in 2008–2009 were also characterized by an “irrational euphoria” similar to what we are seeing today. Back then, in the depths of the crisis, the G20 introduced a supranational financial monitoring system that was designed to prevent destabilizing spikes and falls in asset prices. However, experience has taught us that regulation cannot keep up with market innovation and is perennially unprepared for new challenges, primarily the digitalization of the global economy.

Technology and Politics

Historically, financial bubbles have tended to form whenever new revolutionary technologies have appeared, be it the invention of railways, electricity, automobiles, etc. Many new technologies have appeared during the Fourth Industrial Revolution (from smartphones and 3D printers to blockchain technologies and artificial intelligence) that have led to the mass automation of business processes and, consequently, the loss of jobs for a large part of the workforce, thus reducing production and operating costs significantly.

At the same time, we have not seen galloping inflation as a natural market reaction during this global crisis (all other things being equal) to the cheap money policy that has dominated the past decade. On the one hand, prices have been kept in check by the pandemic, which has pushed households and companies to hold onto their savings and made consumption more difficult due to the partial blocking of the economy. On the other hand, in the present context, a sizeable portion of the newly created liquidity is immediately swallowed up by the stock market, the U.S. stock market in particular, which continues to grow thanks to the advance funding of new technologies that are being developed at a fantastic pace. Exactly how long such a model can survive depends on at least three factors: 1) whether or not the soft monetary policy of near-zero or negative interest rates pursued by central banks will continue; 2) the ability of the market to adapt to new technological transformations; and 3) the smooth running of the international monetary system based on the U.S. dollar.

As for the latter, its functioning largely depends on the political system in the United States, and on the results of the November presidential elections in particular. One of three things will likely happen after that: 1) the current configuration of the global financial system will remain in place, with a few minor alterations here and there; 2) the existing system will undergo a major upheaval; and 3) the global financial system as we know it will collapse and a new model will take its place.

If the first scenario plays out, then the world economy will most likely continue to function in the same institutional format that we know today. If the second scenario prevails, then the radical reform of the existing system of global institutions could give the RIC countries (Russia, India and China) the bargaining power to insist on more favourable conditions for their integration into the world economy (for example, by moving away from reliance on the U.S. dollar in international transactions, promoting the use of their national currencies more actively, re-evaluating their positions within the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank alongside their partners in BRICS in order to effectively obtain a collective veto power, etc.). The third scenario would make it possible to create regional monetary and financial systems (as full-fledged independent financial structures of the emerging multipolar world) on the basis of various regional financial institutions that already exist, increasing the role of national currencies in mutual settlements and international financial instruments (or through the creation of new international liquidity in the form of national collective settlement monetary units).

Where Does Russia Stand amid the Global Turbulence?

The Russian economy demonstrated greater resilience during the first wave of the coronavirus crisis than the economies of both developed countries and the economies of its partners in BRICS. Despite the sharp decline in world prices for carbon fuel (Russia’s main export), in terms of key macroeconomic indicators, Russia has managed to maintain more stable positions than the G7 countries. As a result, the IMF predicts that Russia will have the lowest budget deficit among the world’s major economies by the end of 2020 (−4.8 per cent), with relatively low unemployment (4.9 per cent).

The Russian Federation is, in a sense, protected from financial bubbles as (unlike the United States) as it is more focused on developing the real sector of the economy rather than the financial sector. At the same time, the main problem of Russia’s integration into the global economy is the lack of stabilizing mechanisms to counter the volatile and hard-to-predict elements of the global financial market. We are talking here about the lack of a reserve currency, something that many countries use to protect themselves against external shocks, especially during periods of global crisis, when the demand for reserve assets rises sharply. Let us consider the following example. Russia has been a net creditor in the global financial system for years. As of year-end 2019, Russia’s external financial assets exceeded its external financial liabilities by $358 billion. Meanwhile, its investment income balance amounted to −$50 billion. This lop-sidedness is down to the fact that Russia places its international reserves in low-yield foreign assets and serves its foreign financial liabilities at higher interest rates. What this means is that the Russian Federation has been subsidizing those countries that issue reserve currencies for years while not always receiving adequate compensation and now living in economic isolation in the form of economic sanctions. In this context, Russia urgently needs to create its own reserve currency similar to the transferable rouble that the Soviet Union used in its trade with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance in 1964–1990 and which existed long before other collective currencies (such as the special drawing rights, the European Currency Unit and the euro) were developed. This mechanism removed a number of inconsistencies at the regional level (the problem of imbalances in particular) that we are now seeing in connection with the use of the U.S. dollar as a means of carrying out international settlements, loans and investments around the world.

An oft-cited report by Goldman Sachs predicts that Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC countries) will all be among the world’s top five economies by 2050 and, tellingly, the stock market is not the main source of financial resources for any of them. A common problem for the BRIC countries is the need to develop the enormous potential of their domestic markets by implementing large-scale infrastructure projects. A kind of dual system of monetary circulation whereby foreign trade is carried out using monetary units of account could help make this happen. Such a model would make it possible to separate the intrinsic value of money (its purchasing power) from its extrinsic value (its exchange rate). This is necessary to prevent newly created value (through the financial market) flowing from regions with low productivity to regions with high productivity. This is precisely what is happening in the Eurozone, and it is deepening the structural imbalances in the single European market. In addition, such a system would help resolve the issue of creating international liquidity without the need to move the national currency out of circulation to form unproductive national reserves or carry out speculative transactions.

Conclusion

The global economy has fallen into the trap of “new abnormality,” where incessantly creating money does not solve pressing socioeconomic problems. Other countries are following in the footsteps of the United States, repeating its domestic policy. This has resulted in the further deepening of social inequalities and imbalances at the national and global levels. Bearing in mind the fact that the United States’ share of global gross domestic product has been falling over the past 20 years, it is entirely possible that the U.S. dollar may be used less frequently in international transactions, even though the exchange rate proves favourable from time to time. To make matters worse, the unusual reaction of the markets to the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System, along with the growing political tension in the United States, increases the risk of the destabilization of the current financial system. It should be stressed here that global economic leadership has always been tied to the leading countries consolidating their positions in both the economic and financial spheres. Clearly, we have reached the point where the only thing that will help stabilize the world economy in the long term is the more active involvement of the BRICS countries in the functioning of the global financial system.

From our partner RIAC

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Innovative ideas and investment opportunities needed to ensure a strong post-COVID recovery

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After the huge success of its opening day, AIM Digital, the first digital edition of the Annual Investment Meeting, continued to gain momentum as it reached Day 2. The three-day mega digital event, an initiative of the Ministry fo Economy, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, concluded its second day with interactive activities that catalysed investment-generation, knowledge-enhancement, and local, regional and international collaborations.

Joined by more than 15K participants from over 170 countries, including 70+ high-level dignitaries from across the globe, the second day of AIM Dıgital witnessed a wide range of major events, from the Conference, Exhibition, Investment Roundtables, and Regional Focus sessions to Conglomerate Presentations and Startups competitions; all geared towards providing opportunities to achieve a digital, sustainable & resilient future.

In his keynote speech in the FDI session, Ministers Roundtable: Adapting to the New Flow of Trade and Investment, His Excellency Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, said: “It is my distinct honor to welcome you to the UAE’s first-ever digital edition of the Annual Investment Meeting. Thank you to everyone participating, including our panelists from the Governments of Costa Rica, Canada, Nigeria and Russia. Today’s discussion on how countries are ensuring the free flow of trade and investment could not be more timely, especially as the world grapples with the economic recovery and moves toward building a more resilient, post-COVID economy. The pandemic has significantly impacted global markets that created new challenges for trade and investment. While the challenges ahead are enormous, the UAE sees tremendous opportunity for governments and business leaders to work together through trade and investment to reshape policies, create new partnerships, leverage new technologies, and build a future global economy that is more diverse, inclusive, and sustainable. We know that FDI can bring new technology and know-how, lead to new jobs and growth, and is often the largest source of finance for economies – making today’s discussion even more imperative.”

He further stated that FDI has played a critical role in the UAE’s economic growth, with policies and measures in place, such as the Foreign Direct Investment Law enacted in 2018 to further open the UAE market to investors in certain sectors, and the issuance of Positive List, which allows for greater foreign investment across 122 activities, and increasingthe UAE’s FDI value by 32% in 2019.  He also mentioned that the UAE came in 16th of 190 countries in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business 2020 Ranking due to the country’s digitization strategies and promising business regulatory environment.

His Excellency Al Zeyoudi furthered: “The UAE is continuing to refine and implement policies that will maximize competitiveness, increase collaboration, and provide opportunities to facilitate trade and investment. Our aim is to become the #1 country for foreign investment, target zero contribution from oil to our GDP in the next 50 years, and support research, development, and innovation. The UAE’s trade and investment strategy is centered on economic diversification and focuses on enhanced investment in industries such as communications, Blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotics, and genetics. We are also initiating measures to strengthen our position as a regional leader in supplying financial and logistical services, infrastructure, energy supplies, and other services.”

He added: “The UAE believes that increased partnership and cooperation with governments and the private sector will be key to achieving our objectives. We view platforms such as the Annual Investment Meeting as instrumental in bridging the gap between nations and supporting global efforts to strengthen international trade and investment. Through this platform, we hope that participants will uncover new, innovative ideas and investment opportunities needed to build back better and ensure a strong post-COVID recovery.”

Furthermore, world-class speakers shared their viewpoints in Day 2 of the Conference highlighting Foreign Direct Investment, Foreign Portfolio Investment, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, Startups, Future Cities, and One Belt, One Road, including H.E. Amb. Mariam Yalwaji Katagum, Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Industry Trade and Investment of The Federal Republic of Nigeria; Victoria Hernández Mora, Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce of Republic of Costa Rica; Hon. Victor Fedeli,  Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade of Ontario, Canada; and Sergey Cheremin, Minister of Moscow City Government Head of Department for External Economic and International Relations, among others.

Two Investment Roundtables were also held successfully at the second day of AIM Digital, concluding  with strategies to facilitate sustainable, smart and scalable investments. The Energy Roundtable was led by Laszlo Varro, the Chief Economist of International Energy Agency, which works with countries around the globe to structure energy policies towards a secure and sustainable future. Among the notable participants include H.E. Arifin Tasrif,  Minister for Energy & Mineral Resources of the Republic of Indonesia; and H.E. Gabriel Obiang, the Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons of Equatorial Guinea. The Agriculture Roundtable was led by Islamic Development Bank Group, the multilateral development bank working to promote social and economic development in Member countries and Muslim communities worldwide, delivering impact at scale.

In addition, the second set of National Winners competed on Day 2 of the AIM Global National Champions League. Overall,  a total of 65 countries competed at this international startups competition. The top five global champions that will win a total prize of USD50,000 will be announced on the last day of AIM Digital.The competition was launched in a bid to help startups in maximizing their potential to attract funding and promote their business ideas to a global audience, getting utmost exposure and expanding their network.

Participating in the Conglomerate Presentation feature of AIM Digital is Elsewedy Electric led by Eng. Ahmed Elsewedy, its President and CEO. Elsewedy Electric began as a manufacturer of electrical components in Egypt 80 years ago, and Electric has evolved into a global provider of energy, digital and infrastructure solutions with a turnover of EGP 46.6 billion in 2019, operating in five key business sectors, namely Wire & Cable, Electrical Products, Engineering & Construction, Smart Infrastructure and Infrastructure Investments. As part of its commitment to sustainability, it has established green energy and smart metering projects across Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

The Regional Focus Sessions featured the regions of Asia and Latin America and explored the risks, challenges and opportunities for growth and regional cooperation.  Regional Focus Session on Asia brought together government officials and investment authorities from the ASEAN Member States and discussed their strategies to create a borderless and sustainable bloc that will push organic growth, as well as their approaches to gain resilience in the economy. Regional Focus Session on Latin America highlighted the significance of regional and international partnerships to combat the current pandemic and boost trade, investments and employment within the region.

Moreover, Country Presentations on Day 2 presented the outstanding features and investment opportunities in Colombia, Egypt and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia which highlighted the countries’ status as attractive investment destinations.

Another highly anticipated event in the largest virtual gathering of the global investment community is the announcement of winners for the Investment Awards and Future Cities Awards which will take place on Day 3 of AIM Digital.AIM Investment Awards will grant recognition to the world’s best Investment Promotion Agencies and the best FDI projects in each region of the globe that have contributed to the economic growth and development of their markets.   Likewise, AIM Future Cities Awards will give tribute to the best smart city solutions providers and for outstanding projects that have resulted to enhanced operational efficiency and productivity, sustainability, and economic growth.

Day 1 of AIM Dıgital welcomed the presence of globally renowned personalities such as the UAE Minister of Economy, His Excellency Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri who emphasised the vision of UAE’s wise leadership for the post-COVID era, reflecting great significance to enhancing the readiness of the country’s government sector, raising efficiencies and performance at the federal and local levels. Keynote remarks were delivered by H.E. Juri Ratas, the Prime Minister of Republic of Estonia; H.E. Rustam Minnikhanov, the President of the Republic of Tatarstan; H.E. Dr. Bandar M. H. Hajjar, the President of Islamic Development Bank Group (IsDB Group); H.E. Mohammed Ali Al Shorafa Al Hammadi, the Chairman of Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED); and Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The UAE Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, His Excellency Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, underlined in his Keynote Address for the SME Pillar, that it is crucial for Startups and SMEs to be given opportunities to bounce back from the impact of pandemic and provide a conducive environment that will empower them to have the capability of supporting growth and success.

The Global Leaders Debate featured prominent keynote debaters such as Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP); Mohamed Alabbar, the Founder of Emaar Properties, Alabbar Enterprises and Noon.com; Mohammad Abdullah Abunayyan, the Chairman of ACWA Power; and Arkady Dvorkovich, the Chairman of Skolkovo Foundation, who discussed the strategies to restructure the economies in overcoming the consequences of the pandemic.

The first digital edition of the Annual Investment Meeting with the theme “Reimagining Economies: The Move Towards a Digital, Sustainable and Resilient Future, will be held until the 22nd of October 2020.

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H.E. Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi: Our aim is to become the #1 country for foreign investment

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It is my distinct honor to welcome you to the UAE’s first-ever digital edition of the Annual Investment Meeting. Thank you to everyone participating, including our panelists from the Governments of Costa Rica, Canada, Nigeria and Russia. Today’s discussion on how countries are ensuring the free flow of trade and investment could not be more timely, especially as the world grapples with the economic recovery and moves toward building a more resilient, post-COVID economy.

As you know, the pandemic has significantly impacted global markets, creating new challenges for trade and investment. According to the United Nations’2020World Investment Report, global FDI flows are estimated to decrease by up to 40% this year, dropping well below their value of $1.54 trillion in 2019. This would bring global FDI below $1 trillion for the first time since 2005. Global FDI flows are expected to decline even further in 2021, by 5% to 10%, and only in 2022 do we expect to start seeing markets recover.

While the challenges ahead are enormous, the UAE sees tremendous opportunity for governments and business leaders to work together through trade and investment to reshape policies, create new partnerships, leverage new technologies, and build a future global economy that is more diverse, inclusive, and sustainable. We know that FDI can bring new technology and know-how, lead to new jobs and growth, and is often the largest source of finance for economies – making today’s discussion even more imperative.

For the UAE, FDI has played a critical role in our economic growth. In 2019, the UAE was the largest recipient of FDI in the region, largely due to our increased focus over the years on enhancing local conditions to attract FDI. With policies and measures in place, such as our Foreign Direct Investment Law enacted in 2018 to further open the UAE market to investors in certain sectors, and the issuance of our Positive List, which allows for greater foreign investment across 122 activities, the UAE was able to increase our FDI value by 32% in 2019. The UAE also came in 16th of 190 countries in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business 2020 Ranking due to our digitization strategies and promising business regulatory environment.

The UAE is continuing to refine and implement policies that will maximize competitiveness, increase collaboration, and provide opportunities to facilitate trade and investment. Our aim is to become the #1 country for foreign investment, target zero contribution from oil to our GDP in the next 50 years, and support research, development, and innovation. The UAE’s trade and investment strategy is centered on economic diversification and focuses on enhanced investment in industries such as communications, Blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotics, and genetics. We are also initiating measures to strengthen our position as a regional leader in supplying financial and logistical services, infrastructure, energy supplies, and other services.

The UAE believes that increased partnership and cooperation with governments and the private sector will be key to achieving our objectives. We view platforms such as the Annual Investment Meeting as instrumental in bridging the gap between nations and supporting global efforts to strengthen international trade and investment. Through this platform, we hope that participants will uncover new, innovative ideas and investment opportunities needed to build back better and ensure a strong post-COVID recovery.

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