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Global economy faces a tightrope walk to recovery

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The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered the most severe recession in nearly a century and is causing enormous damage to people’s health, jobs and well-being, according to the OECD’s latest Economic Outlook.

As restrictions begin to ease, the path to economic recovery remains highly uncertain and vulnerable to a second wave of infections. Strengthening healthcare systems and supporting people and businesses to help adapt to a post-Covid world will be crucial, it says.

The containment measures brought in by most governments were necessary to slow the spread of the virus and limit the death toll, but they have also closed down business activity in many sectors and caused widespread economic hardship.

Policymakers have used a vast array of exceptional measures to support healthcare systems and people’s incomes, as well as to help businesses and stabilise financial markets.

With little prospect of a vaccine becoming widely available this year, and faced with unprecedented uncertainty,  the OECD has taken the unusual step of presenting two equally likely scenarios – one in which the virus is brought under control, and one in which a second global outbreak hits before the end of 2020.

If a second outbreak occurs triggering a return to lockdowns, world economic output is forecast to plummet 7.6% this year, before climbing back 2.8% in 2021. At its peak, unemployment in the OECD economies would be more than double the rate prior to the outbreaks, with little recovery in jobs next year.

If a second wave of infections is avoided, global economic activity is expected to fall by 6% in 2020 and OECD unemployment to climb to 9.2% from 5.4% in 2019.

The economic impact of strict and relatively lengthy lockdowns in Europe will be particularly harsh. Euro area GDP is expected to plunge by 11½% this year if a second wave breaks out, and by over 9% even if a second hit is avoided, while GDP in the United States will take a hit of 8.5% and 7.3% respectively, and Japan 7.3% and 6%. Emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia and South Africa, meanwhile, face particular challenges of strained health systems, adding to the difficulties caused by a collapse in commodity prices, and their economies plunging by 9.1%, 10%, and 8.2% respectively in case of a double hit scenario, and 7.4%, 8% and 7.5% in case of a single hit. China’s and India’s GDPs will be relatively less affected, with a decrease of 3.7% and 7.3% respectively in case of a double hit and 2.6% and 3.7% in case of a single hit.

In both scenarios, the recovery, after an initial, rapid resumption of activity, will take a long time to bring output back to pre-pandemic levels, and the crisis will leave long-lasting scars – a fall in living standards, high unemployment and weak investment. Job losses in the most affected sectors, such as tourism, hospitality and entertainment, will particularly hit low-skilled, young, and informal workers.

The Outlook says government support to help people and business in the hard-hit sectors will need to evolve but to remain substantial.

Speaking ahead of a special OECD Roundtable Ministerial Meeting chaired by Spain’s Vice-President of the Government and Minister for Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation Nadia Calviño, to discuss policy responses to the pandemic, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “Uncertainty is clearly extreme in the current context, but the implications of that for macroeconomic policies are not symmetric. Policy-makers were right not to be too slow to introduce emergency measures, and they should now guard against being too quick to withdraw them”.

“How governments act today will shape the post-Covid world for years to come,” he added. “This is true not only domestically, where the right policies can foster a resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery, but also in terms of how countries co-operate to tackle global challenges together. International co-operation, a weak point so far in the policy response, can create confidence and have important positive spillover effects.”

Presenting the Outlook, OECD Chief Economist Laurence Boone said: “Extraordinary policies will be needed to walk the tightrope towards recovery. Restarting economic activity while avoiding a second outbreak requires flexible and agile policymaking.” She said the safety nets and support currently provided for badly hit sectors would need to be adapted to help businesses and workers move to new activities.

“Higher public debt cannot be avoided, but debt-financed spending should be well-targeted to support the most vulnerable and provide the investment needed for a transition to a more resilient and sustainable economy,” she said.

“Governments must seize this opportunity to build a fairer economy, making competition and regulation smarter, modernising taxes, government spending and social protection,” she added. “Prosperity comes from dialogue and co-operation. This holds true at the national and global level.”

The Outlook calls for stronger international co-operation to help end the pandemic more quickly, speed up the economic recovery, and avoid harming the catch-up process of emerging-market economies and developing countries. It also argues for encouraging more resilient supply chains, including larger holdings of stocks and more diversification of sources locally and internationally.

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Economic Recovery in East Asia and Pacific Faces Setback

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The East Asia and Pacific region’s recovery has been undermined by the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, prolonging the distress for firms and households, likely slowing economic growth and increasing inequality, the World Bank said on Monday.

Economic activity began to slow down in the second quarter of 2021, and growth forecasts have been downgraded for most countries in the region, according to the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific Fall 2021 Economic Update.  While China’s economy is projected to expand by 8.5%, the rest of the region is forecast to grow at 2.5%, nearly 2 percentage points less than forecast in April 2021.  Employment rates and labor force participation have dropped, and as many as 24 million people will not be able to escape poverty in 2021.

“The economic recovery of developing East Asia and Pacific faces a reversal of fortune,” said World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific Manuela Ferro. “Whereas in 2020 the region contained COVID-19 while other regions of the world struggled, the rise in COVID-19 cases in 2021 has decreased growth prospects for 2021. However, the region has emerged stronger from crises before and with the right policies could do so again.”

The damage done by the resurgence and persistence of COVID-19 is likely to hurt growth and increase inequality over the longer-term, the Update finds. The failure of otherwise viable firms is leading to the loss of valuable intangible assets, while surviving companies are deferring productive investments. Smaller companies have been hit the hardest. While most firms have faced difficulty, larger firms are likely to see a smaller decline in sales and more likely to adopt sophisticated technologies and receive government support.

Households have suffered, especially poorer ones, which have been more likely to lose income, suffer greater food insecurity, have children not engaged in learning, and make distress sales of scarce assets. The resulting increase in stunting, erosion of human capital, and loss of productive assets will hurt the future earnings of these households. Increased inequality between firms could also increase inequality between workers.

“Accelerated vaccination and testing to control COVID-19 infections could revive economic activity in struggling countries as early as the first half of 2022, and double their growth rate next year,” said East Asia and Pacific Chief Economist Aaditya Mattoo. “But in the longer term, only deeper reforms can prevent slower growth and increasing inequality, an impoverishing combination the region has not seen this century.”

The report estimates that most countries in the region, including Indonesia and the Philippines, can vaccinate more than 60 percent of their populations by the first half of 2022. While that would not eliminate infections, it would significantly reduce mortality, allowing a resumption of economic activity.

However, the region will need to make a serious effort on four fronts to deal with long COVID: addressing vaccine hesitancy and limitations in distribution capacity to prevent plateauing coverage; enhancing testing, tracing, and isolation to control infections; increasing regional production of vaccines to reduce dependence on imported supplies; and strengthening health systems to deal with the prolonged presence of the disease.  International assistance is needed to support national efforts in all these areas, especially in countries with limited capacity.

Beyond containing COVID-19, a comprehensive strategy will be needed to boost growth and ensure it is inclusive.  The report identifies accelerated technology diffusion as a possible silver lining of the crisis that could boost productivity, democratize education, and transform state institutions. However, complementary reforms are necessary. Equipping firms with the skills to embed technology in their business must be accompanied by openness to trade and investment and by competition policies that strengthen incentives for firms to adopt new technology. Implementing long-delayed reforms in education to improve teaching quality and curriculum relevance could ensure wider access to the benefits of new learning technologies.

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Study of Diversity Shows Scale of Opportunity in Media and Entertainment Industries

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The World Economic Forum’s Power of Media Initiative has compiled a first-of-its-kind compilation of the state of diversity and representation in the media, entertainment and sports industries. The Power of Media initiative is a collaboration between the Platform on Shaping the Future of Media, Entertainment and Sport and the Centre for the New Economy and Society, which are committed to building prosperous, inclusive and equitable economies and societies that create opportunities for all and help to advance voices of underrepresented groups in media content.
 
Produced in collaboration with Accenture, the Reflecting Society: The State of Diverse Representation in Media and Entertainment report assesses the state of diversity across content and creative production in five key sectors: gaming, TV and film, news and publishing, advertising, and sport and sport media. It draws on research, interviews and insights from heads of content, diversity, equity and inclusion leaders, institutes and organizations.
 
Among the key insights, the report notes that:

Progress varies widely between sectors. Gaming, news and publishing lag, while advertising, TV and video have seen progress. According to one study, for example, only 3% of video games had a primary character of colour and only 23% of games allowed players to choose their character’s ethnicity.

Corporations that prioritize diversity and inclusive representation can reap financial benefits. In the film industry, for example, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have shown that movies without authentic representation underperform at the box office and large-budget movies that rank below average in inclusive representation underperform by around 20% of their budget at opening box office weekend.

Attitudes among consumers towards diversity can be shaped at an early age. Despite this, a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that fewer than 4% of books contained significant LGBTQ+ content, while only 11% had significant African or African American content or characters.

Meaningful progress requires policies that remove structural barriers and behaviours. For example, in 2020, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences added 819 new voting members, of which 45% were women and 35% were from historically under-represented groups. This resulted in the 2021 Oscars shortlist being the most diverse ever.


While each media sector may face different contexts and challenges, the report highlights a path forward for the media, entertainment and sports industry. The Forum’s Power of Media Initiative has created a Taskforce on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to accelerate the three priority areas that the report identifies:

Measurement – The report highlights major gaps and inconsistencies in measurement that hold back progress and data-led action. The taskforce will work to create data-driven benchmarks and metrics to formalize the measuring of progress and goal setting.

Accountability – The taskforce will strive to create greater transparency and accountability in initiatives and results.

Community and collaboration – The taskforce will enable community-building among peers across the industry and provide a safe space to explore sensitive and new topics in diversity, equity and inclusion and share best practices. “The Power of Media Taskforce on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion [DE&I] brings together leaders from across the industry, including those in creative leadership roles, independent non-profits focused on DE&I, corporate executives, and DE&I professionals, to answer this call and drive change as a community,” said Cathy Li, Head of Media, Entertainment and Sport Industries at the Forum.

“It became clear in our work with the Forum that the relationship between audience diversity and business performance is strong, that the people who work in the industry shape the stories that get told – and that more diverse stories attract more diverse creators,” said Kristen Hines, Managing Director at Accenture. “That change, however, will require transparency and honest reflection, real commitment to results and accountability of leaders to improve diversity and inclusion from top to bottom, and particularly in senior roles. We’re excited to publish this report and to actively support the Forum taskforce in driving long-term and lasting change.”

In the months ahead, the Power of Media Initiative will continue to tackle the challenge of diversity and representation in media, entertainment and sports, with the aim of leveraging the Forum’s global network of leaders to mobilize progress.

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Archipelagic Economies: Spatial Economic Development in the Pacific

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A new World Bank report on the challenges facing the Pacific region’s outer island communities identifies investment in people and livelihoods as a key for inclusive economic growth.    

Archipelagic Economies: Spatial Economic Development in the Pacific looks at the challenges Pacific governments must address to provide services and infrastructure to populations spread across hundreds of islands spanning the vast Pacific Ocean. The report puts forward a series of practical steps that countries can take to overcome these challenges in a way that supports resilient and inclusive economic growth.

“Many Pacific countries are faced with significant challenges in delivering services and connecting remote, outer island communities; with difficult decisions around resources and how to best invest often limited resources into outer island communities,” said the report’s lead author, World Bank Lead Economist for Fiscal Policy and Sustainable Growth Robert Utz.

“This report aims to provide Pacific governments, development partners and decision-makers with evidence to assess options for fostering development for the people in those outer islands, so they can make stronger contributions to the larger economic development of the whole country.”   

The report identifies six guiding economic policy principles:

1)     Policy solutions that seek to achieve equitable increases in living standards need to be grounded in an understanding of the economic implications of the Pacific region’s unique economic geography.

2)     Outer islands’ development should be assessed from a spatial perspective; one that considers interactions with the country’s main island and the region beyond.

3)     A balanced approach that combines investments in urban areas to accommodate migration from outer islands to main islands with support for outer island populations is likely to achieve better welfare and equity outcomes than an approach that neglects one side or the other.

4)     Growth-enhancing investments should be guided by clearly-identified opportunities, rather than by a desire to try to equalize economic opportunities across islands.

5)     With limited scope to close the gap in economic opportunities between outer and main islands investments to promote livelihoods and human development should be given preference.

6)     Outer islands are subject to a complex political economy of intra-island and outer island-main island relationships that need to be considered in development interventions.

“This is an important and timely study,” said Denton Rarawa, Senior Economic Advisor at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. “The current COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to address the institutional, service delivery and capacity gaps of nations across the Pacific. As we strive for greater vaccination rates and begin to think about how we’d like to rebuild after the pandemic, I believe this report has a lot to offer the future of the Pacific, especially in our efforts to leave no one behind.”   

The Archipelagic Economies report is a companion publication to the World Bank’s Pacific Possible series, which in 2017 and 2018 looked at opportunities for economic growth in Pacific Islands Countries across key sectors including tourism, fisheries, and labour mobility. 

The World Bank works in partnership with 12 countries across the Pacific, supporting 87 projects totaling US$2.09 billion in commitments in sectors including agriculture, aviation and transport, climate resilience and adaptation, economic policy, education and employment, energy, fisheries, health, macroeconomic management, rural development, telecommunications and tourism.

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