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India Needs to Maintain Reform Momentum to Reverse Current Economic Slowdown

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India needs to continue to implement critical reforms in key areas such as health, labor, land, skills and finance to come out stronger from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These reforms should aim at enhancing productivity of the Indian economy and spur private investments and exports, says a new World Bank report.

The India Development Update, released today, is a biannual flagship publication of the World Bank that takes stock of the Indian economy. The current issue describes the state of the Indian economy over the previous six months and places these in a longer-term and global context. It also provides a more in-depth analysis of selected economic and policy issues and highlights the economic reforms that India has been undertaking and needs to continue with in the medium to long-term. 

Outlook for the Indian economy

The World Bank projections in this report are from May 2020 when it projected the economy to contract by 3.2 percent in FY20/21, and rebound slowly in FY21/22. It further estimated that the COVID-19 outbreak is likely to have significant fiscal implications. The fiscal deficit of the central government is likely to increase to 6.6 percent of GDP in FY20/21 and is expected to remain elevated at 5.5 percent in the following year. Assuming that the states’ deficit is contained within 3.5-4.5 percent of GDP, the combined deficit could rise to around 11 percent in FY20/21. While there is a significant level of uncertainty around the projections, the general government debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to peak at around 89 percent in FY22/23 before gradually declining thereafter. 

The outlook comes predicated with several downside risks. Further challenges have emerged in recent weeks which are likely to weigh on the prospects in the near term. These risks include the virus continuing to spread; a further deterioration in the global outlook; and additional strains projected on the financial sector. Keeping these factors in mind, a steeper contraction may be projected in the revised outlook that will be available in October 2020.

“While the Government of India, with the support of the Reserve Bank, is continuing to take action to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a recognition of both the uncertainty of the nature of the economic revival globally and the emergence of opportunities opened by the current crisis,” said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India. “Countries that invest in sectoral reforms – infrastructure, labor and land, human capital — and ensure that their national systems are connected to the Global Value Chains, are more able to respond to uncertainties and are better placed to take advantage of any global shifts. Investing in these areas will give India the ability to navigate these uncertainties and be more competitive as the world emerges from the pandemic.”

Priority areas of reforms

COVID-19 has come at a time when the Indian economy had already been decelerating for nearly two years. The pandemic has exacerbated some of those challenges. Besides the immediate relief and recovery measures, the government has announced significant reform measures for agriculture, education, public sector, and micro, small and medium enterprises. The report says furthering such reforms will help put the economy back on a 7 percent growth path.

i) Strengthening fiscal reforms

In order to instill fiscal discipline in handling COVID-19 related implications, the report suggests India may:  

· Reassess subsidies to leverage any scope for efficiency gains;

· Evaluate how much can be borrowed domestically and externally;

· Generate nontax revenues more aggressively; and

· Link the repayment of new borrowings to disinvestment receipts.

ii) Financial sector reforms

To put the financial sector on a sounder footing, the report identifies specific areas of reform. These include:

Financial sector stability. The RBI’s continued focus on risk-based regulation and supervision will be important as the temporary forbearance measures are phased out. Further strengthening of financial sector safety nets; close monitoring of liquidity and capital buffers; and regulatory and institutional framework for debt restructuring and insolvency could help deal with any spike in non-performing loans.

Reforms in the Non-Banking Finance Company (NBFC) sector. Reforms in the NBFC sector are needed to support its role in channeling credit to the real sector. In order to diversify the funding base and to strengthen the NBFC sector, recently launched liquidity schemes for NBFCs could be institutionalized. It would also be important to continue strengthening risk-based regulation and oversight of NBFCs.

Deeper capital market reforms. Deeper capital markets are critical for increasing the availability of long-term finance. The report calls for the government to continue its focus on easing demand and supply side constraints, and to build on recent initiatives. The report also suggests revisiting investment guidelines for institutional investors to crowd in long-term finance and address asset liability mismatch issues.

Role of fintech. The fintech sector has the potential to close the gap in access to financial services and help firms, especially MSMEs, access much needed credit and liquidity. The report suggests mainstreaming fintech to reach firms faster and at a lower cost.

Moving to a more strategic public-sector footprint. Recent efforts including consolidation of public sector banks and strengthening of corporate governance are encouraging steps towards a more strategic public sector footprint. Moving forward, gradually scaling back the statutory requirement for state banks to provide liquidity, as well as the priority-sector lending policy, will help reduce market distortions.

“The recent liquidity and performance issues in the financial sector, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, present policymakers with a strong reason — and an opportunity — to accelerate efforts towards building a more efficient, stable, and market-oriented financial system,” said Poonam Gupta, Lead Economist, World Bank and Dhruv Sharma, Senior Economist, World Bank and co-authors of the report. “It is encouraging that the government is moving to a more selective and strategic public sector footprint in the financial sector. International experience shows this can boost the banking sector’s ability to support credit, facilitate effective financial intermediation, and reduce fiscal exposure.” 

The current crisis has also brought to the forefront new economic opportunities in the areas of digital technology, retail, health-technology and education-technology services; and global demand in areas such as pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and protective gear. These opportunities can provide new growth levers for India, the report adds.

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Amidst Strong Economic Rebound in Russia, Risks Stemming from COVID-19 and Inflation

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Following a strong economic rebound in 2021, with 4.3 percent growth, Russia’s growth is expected to slow in 2022 and 2023, with a forecast of 2.4 percent and 1.8 percent growth, respectively, according to the World Bank’s latest Regular Economic Report for Russia (#46 in the series).

The Russian economy has now recovered to above its pre-pandemic peak, with growth driven by a strong rebound in consumer demand. In 2022, growth will be supported by continued strength in commodity markets, but will likely also be hampered by COVID-19 control measures and tighter interest rates.

Household consumption in the second quarter increased to more than 9 percent on the previous quarter (seasonally adjusted), showing the fastest rate of growth in a decade. Labor markets also saw a substantial upswing, with unemployment falling to a four-year low and real wages growing.

Russia’s current account surplus has also been exceptionally strong, on the back of high commodity prices and low levels of outbound tourism. The federal budget has been consolidated, led by a strong growth in revenue, and is on track to meet the authorities’ target of meeting the fiscal rule next year.

“This surge in spending resulted from the release of pent-up demand created by pandemic restrictions,” said David Knight, Lead Economist and Program Leader, World Bank. “It was aided by increased credit, Russian tourists staying at home for the holidays this year, and resource inflows via the energy sector.”

The report assesses the short-term risks weighing on Russia’s growth and finds that  low vaccination rates are necessitating stricter COVID-19 control measures that may reduce economic activity, while more persistent inflation will likely call for tighter interest rates for a longer period, limiting the growth outlook.

The report also analyzes how Russia could be impacted by global economic growth under three different green transition scenarios, and suggests that domestic climate action can help mitigate some of the possible impacts of a global green transition and create new opportunities for Russia.

The country’s new low-carbon development strategy, which aims for a 70 percent reduction in net emissions by 2050 and net carbon neutrality by 2060, will become an important first step for Russia. A focus on enabling the transition to a more diversified and faster growing economy will call for strengthening of a broad range of assets including human capital, knowledge, and world-class market institutions.

“Environmental sustainability is becoming central to the global economic agenda. Increased commitments by countries and firms to carbon neutrality signal that wholesale changes to policy frameworks will be needed in the coming years,” said Renaud Seligmann, World Bank Country Director for Russia. “With Russia’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2060, the country now needs to take concrete actions of moving towards decarbonization.”

To accomplish these goals, the report recommends the implementation of carbon pricing and the consolidation of energy subsidies for consumers in Russia. At the same time, measures should be taken to ensure people are protected from the costs and any adverse impacts of the transition.

The report estimates that consumer energy subsidies on electricity, gas and petroleum in Russia amounted to 1.4 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019. By redeploying these resources, the authorities could increase GDP and ensure that no consumers are left worse off. At the same time, this would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move Russia closer to its goal of a green and sustainable economy.  

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World trade reaches all-time high, but 2022 outlook ‘uncertain’

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Global trade is expected to be worth about $28 trillion this year – an increase of 23 per cent compared with 2020 – but the outlook for 2022 remains very uncertain, UN economists said on Tuesday.

This strong growth in demand – for goods, as opposed to services – is largely the result of pandemic restrictions easing, but also from economic stimulus packages and sharp increases in the price of raw materials.

According to UN trade and development body UNCTAD, although worldwide commerce stabilized during the second half of 2021, trade in goods went on to reach record levels between July and September.

Services still sluggish

In line with this overall increase, the services sector picked up too, but it has remained below 2019 levels.

From a regional perspective, trade growth remained uneven for the first half of the year, but it had a “broader” reach in the three months that followed, UNCTAD’s Global Trade update said.

Trade flows continued to increase more strongly for developing countries in comparison to developed economies overall in the third quarter of the year, moreover.

The report valued the global goods trade at $5.6 trillion in the third quarter of this year, which is a new all-time record, while services stood at about $1.5 trillion.

For the remainder of this year, UNCTAD has forecast slower growth for the trade in goods but “a more positive trend for services”, albeit from a lower starting point.

Among the factors contributing to uncertainty about next year, UNCTAD cited China’s “below expectations” growth in the third quarter of 2021.

“Lower-than-expected economic growth rates are generally reflected in more downcast global trade trends,” UNCTAD noted, while also pointing to inflationary pressures” that may also negatively impact national economies and international trade flows.

The UN body’s global trade outlook also noted that “many economies, including those in the European Union”, continue to face COVID-19-related disruption which may affect consumer demand in 2022.

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In addition to the “large and unpredictable swings in demand” that have characterized 2021, high fuel prices have also caused shipping costs to spiral and contributed to supply shortages.

This has contributed to backlogs across major supply chains that could continue into next year and could even “reshape trade flows across the world”, UNCTAD cautioned.

Geopolitical factors may also play a role in this change, as regional trade within Africa and within the Asia-Pacific area increases on the one hand, “diverting trade away from other routes”.

Similarly, efforts towards a more socially and environmentally sustainable economy may also affect international trade, by disincentivizing high carbon products.

The need to protect countries’ own strategic interests and weaknesses in specific sectors could also influence trade in 2022, UNCTAD noted, amid a shortage of microprocessors called semiconductors that “has already disrupted many industries, notably the automotive sector”.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the semiconductor industry has been facing headwind due to unanticipated surges in demand and persisting supply constraints…If persistent, this shortage could continue to negatively affect production and trade in many manufacturing sectors.”

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Small Businesses Adapting to Rapidly Changing Economic Landscape

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The World Economic Forum has long been at the forefront of recognizing the strategic importance of sustainable value creation objectives for business. While interest has mostly focused on how large corporations contribute to the global economy and sustainable development objectives, small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often overlooked as major drivers of economic activity, as well as social and environmental progress around the world.

A new report released today finds factors that previously disadvantaged SMEs can lead them to new opportunities. Nine case studies from multiple industries and regions highlight what SMEs can do to increase their future readiness.

Developed in collaboration with the National University of Singapore Business School, the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the report also finds that SMEs are lagging behind in terms of societal impact. Although there is a clear need to operate in line with sustainability goals, many SMEs have yet to include explicit strategies and performance measurement centred on societal impact.

The top challenges cited by SME executives include talent acquisition and retention (for 52.5% respondents), survival and expansion (43.8%), funding and access to capital (35.7%), non-supportive policy environment (21%), the difficulty of maintaining a strong culture and clear company purpose and value (20%).

SMEs can leverage their size, networks, people and the strengths of technology to support their goals of sustainable growth, positive societal impact and robust adaptive capacity. While it is essential for SMEs and the wider economy to increase their future readiness, they can thrive only insofar as the necessary supporting infrastructure and regulatory frameworks exist.

“We hope this will inspire and encourage SMEs and mid-sized companies to harness their potential in becoming a major driver of sustainable and inclusive economic growth and innovation by focusing on several core dimensions of future readiness,” said Børge Brende, President, World Economic Forum.

“Through this report, the Forum aims to highlight the significant role SMEs can play not just locally but also globally. The New Champions Community is a step towards bringing these smaller companies into the forefront of global discourse around socioeconomic development and engaging them in a community of forward-thinking companies from across the world,” said Stephan Mergenthaler, Head of Strategic Intelligence and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.

The report aims to develop a deeper understanding of organizational capabilities and orientations needed for SMEs to successfully generate lasting financial growth, affect society and the environment positively, and develop high levels of resilience and agility.

It relies on robust research methods and combines rigorous primary and secondary research. The takeaways and conclusions presented in the research have been derived from an analysis of over 200 peer-reviewed articles and engagement of more than 300 CEOs and founders of SMEs through surveys and in-depth interviews.

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