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Long trends and disruption: the anatomy of the “post world” of the COVID-19 crisis

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What will be the economic architecture of the world after the COVID-19 crisis? This question involves understanding the major trends at work for twenty years now.

The world that will emerge from this crisis will be marked by these major trends, which, for some, will be reinforced by this crisis. However, this crisis has created too specific disruptions, in particular in the field of transport and energy. It has also provoked an awareness of the centrality of sovereignty, and in particular of economic sovereignty. Finally, the economic and monetary policies that have been put in place to combat the economic effects of the epidemic and of containment will have long-term consequences on international financial balances.

An acceleration of the change of the world?

Since 2000, we have witnessed the rise of an “Asian bloc” to the detriment of what we might call the “Western bloc”, that is to say the United States, the European Union and the United States. Japan. This Asian bloc is heterogeneous, as is the Western bloc. In each of these bloc politics is the main factor of homogeneity. But, these blocs also correspond to an economic reality: that of the countries of old industrialization against the countries, which it is better to call new industrialization than emerging ones.

In 2000, the China-India-Russia combined represented only 15% of world GDP, while the United States, the European Union and Japan combined weighed more than 47%, or three times as much. In 2020, the two blocks are tied at around 31.5%. If we take into account the immediate effects of the COVID-19 crisis, this movement is even expected to grow. The IMF has made forecasts which indicate that China and emerging countries should recover much faster from the shock of this crisis than the so-called “advanced” countries, ie countries of former industrialization. The world should see the shift to Asia amplify in the coming years.

The death of oil has been greatly exaggerated… (bcc, Mark Twain)

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound influence on the energy market and on oil production. The persistence of the pandemic means that air transport, among other things, will not return to its 2019 level before, no doubt, 2024. This implies a weak demand for kerosene as estimated by the International Energy Agency Forecasts of global oil demand and post-crisis economic growth are determined by different assumptions. In the optimistic scenario, there is a rapid economic recovery in a more or less flattened “V” shape in the first half of 2021, but the demand for oil does not fully return to the pre-pandemic trend. In the more pessimistic scenario, oil demand will not reach 2019 levels until 2023, and its growth will remain well below the pre-pandemic trend. The current evolution of the pandemic suggests that we are closer to this pessimistic scenario. These two scenarios also assume that zero-emission vehicles will represent 60% of new vehicle sales by 2040, because investments are high in these technologies. Therefore, they both forecast a slowdown in demand for oil to peak in the mid-2030s at around 105-108 Mb / d. What will be the consequence?

In the medium term, OPEC will have to manage the probable return of part of the 5.7 Mb / d of unused production in OPEC countries (Venezuela, Iran and Libya) and non-OPEC countries (Syria and Yemen). OPEC will also have to deal with the resumption of US hydrocarbon production (particularly shale oil), a recovery that may be slow due to falling investment, as demand and the price of oil rise. US production of hydrocarbons has fallen by more than 2 million barrels / days, due to the closure of existing wells, reduced storage capacity and reduced demand.

The impact of COVID-19 on oil demand will therefore be profound, particularly in the event of a deep and long recession associated with a protracted pandemic. Without aggressive intervention by OPEC, the average crude oil price could thus remain below $ 50 / barrel until mid-2022. During the second half of this decade, supply and demand are expected to move closely towards equilibrium as non-OPEC production, especially from Russia, begins to decline and US hydrocarbon production reaches a low. tray. The price of oil is expected to rise to around $ 80-90 / barrel (optimistic scenario) or $ 70-80 / barrel (pessimistic scenario), even without OPEC intervention.

As we can see, however, despite all voluntarist proclamations one can hear here and there, oil will remain a major source of energy for at least the next thirty years.

The return of economic sovereignty

A more direct change brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is the realization of the importance of economic sovereignty. Of course, a number of countries, China, Russia, but also the United States and India, were acutely aware of the importance of this sovereignty. The European Union, for its part, had adopted a very negligent attitude on this subject. The strong disruption of international trade caused by the pandemic caused a real shock on this point. Of course, there is no question of returning to more or less self-sufficient economies. But, the economic, social, and even strategic damage caused by free trade policies are globally more taken into account today.

This will accelerate the return of nations and the crisis of multilateralism that we could already observe. The economy is once again becoming a breeding ground for strategy. Through the policy of economic sanctions, which the United States has used and abused since well before the election of Donald Trump, we are witnessing an acceleration of the fragmentation of the world economic space. American pressure on Huawei, or on the Chinese social network “Tik-Tok” is an example. De-globalization had passed from the stage of possibility to that of concrete fact; with the effects of the pandemic it will pass from that of fact to that of major fact.

This return to economic sovereignty induces the great revenge of politics over “technology”, the triumph of decisions over the automaticity of standards. However, ” technology” is embodied today mainly in economics and finance. The pandemic heralds the return of sovereignty, and being sovereign is above all having the ability to decide. The countries will then be referred to logic of bilateral relations, or even to regional logic. It will then be necessary to seek allies.

The questioning of the “global” character of the companies linked to the INTERNET, the desire of several countries to build their “digital sovereignty” is an example of the struggle that is looming for economic sovereignty. This resurgence of politics does not mean that, in our societies, certain spaces are not governed by the technical order, and that there are spaces dominated by technical legitimacy. But, these dimensions will now become second in relation to the political, which will recover its rights. The economic and the financial will once again become instruments at the service of politics. What the political will do with it remains to be determined.

A Debt apotheosis or an end of debt?

A final point remains the explosion of both public and private debts due to the pandemic. In most countries, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in the collapse of various barriers to the expansion of public debt.

The latter has therefore increased to finance the fall in tax revenues during the confinement period but also the considerable additional public expenditure generated by the crisis. In addition, there are liquidity facilities, consisting of guaranteed loans, equity investments and the like. The result of all this is that the indebtedness of states (especially in the Western bloc) and that of companies will increase considerably by 2021. This debt will not be covered by an increase in taxes because it would imply a deep recession. Reducing public spending beyond 2022 will hardly be a possible solution, for the same reason.

These debts will therefore be absorbed by central banks, in one form or another. The same will be true of a large part of corporate debt. What will then be the consequences for the currencies (mainly the US Dollar and the Euro) of these policies? What will also be the medium-term consequences on the equity and bond markets?

One of the most striking consequences will be the influx of liquidity as a result of central bank action, while production will remain relatively depressed and the outlook for investment will be uncertain for several years. Currencies should therefore experience significant fluctuations. The current downward trend in the share in central bank reserves and the US dollar and the euro in favour of the group of “other currencies” (Sterling, Yen, Australian and Canadian dollars, Renminbi) should therefore accelerate.

Its to be noted that the Euro share went down significantly under the level of older currencies included in the Euro and that the group of “other currencies” significantly increased their share since 2010.

The economy of the “world after” the COVID-19 epidemic will therefore present both the characteristics, in a more accentuated form, of that of the world before but also a certain number of ruptures linked to this epidemic. This combination of strong trends and ruptures will result in a “de-globalized” world which will reorganize itself on the basis of bilateral alliances or regional groupings.

From our partner International Affairs

Expert of the Valdai Discussion Club, Director of studies at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, and head of the Centre d'Étude des Modes d'Industrialisation (CEMI-EHESS)

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Economy

Digital Futures: Driving Systemic Change for Women

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Authors: Erin Watson-Lynn and Tengfei Wang*

As digital technology continues to unlock new financial opportunities for people across Asia and the Pacific, it is critical that women are central to strategies aimed at harnessing the digital financial future. Women are generally poorer than men – their work is less formal, they receive lower pay, and their money is less likely to be banked. Even when controlling for class, rural residency, age, income, and education level, women are overrepresented among the world’s poorest people in developing countries. Successfully harnessing digital technology can play a key role in creating new opportunities for women to utilise formal financial products and services in ways that empower them. 

Accelerating women’s access to the formal economy through digital innovations in finance increases their opportunity to generate an income and builds resilience to economic shocks. The recently issued ESCAP guidebook titled, Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in the Asia Pacific, highlights the fact that mechanisms to bring women into the digital economy are different from those for other groups, and that tailored policy responses are important for women to fully realise their potential in the Asia-Pacific region.

Overwhelmingly, the evidence tells us that how women utilise their finances can have a beneficial impact on the broader community. When women have bank accounts, they are more likely to save money, buy healthier foods for their family, and invest in education. For women who receive Government-to-Person (G2P) payments, there is significant improvement in their lives across a range of social and economic outcomes. Access to safe, secure, and affordable digital financial services thus has the potential to significantly improve the lives of women.

Despite the enormous opportunity, there are numerous constraints which affect women’s access to financial services. This includes the gender gap in mobile phone ownership across Asia and the Pacific, lower levels of education (including lower levels of basic numeracy and literacy), and lower levels of financial literacy. This complex web of constraints means that country and provincial level diagnostics are required and demands agile and flexible policy responses that meet the unique needs of women across the region.

Already, across Asia and the Pacific, governments are implementing innovative policy solutions to capture the opportunities that come with digital finance, while trying to manage the constraints women often face. The policy guidebook provides a framework to examine the role of governments as market facilitators, market participants and market regulators. Through this framework, specific policy innovations drawn from examples across the region are identified which other governments can adapt and implement in their local markets.  

A good example of how strategies can be implemented at either the central government or local government levels can be found in Pakistan. While central government leadership is important, embedding tailored interventions into locally appropriate strategies plays a crucial role for implementation and effectiveness. The localisation of broader strategies needs to include women in their development and ongoing evaluation. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 50,000 beneficiary committees comprising local women at the district level regularly provide feedback into the government’s G2P payment system. The feedback from these committees led to a biometric system linked to the national ID card that has enabled the government to identify women who weren’t receiving their payments, or if payments were fraudulently obtained by others.

In Cambodia and the Philippines, governments have implemented new and innovative solutions to support remittance payments through public-private-partnerships and policies that enable access to non-traditional banks. In Cambodia, Wing Money has specialised programs for women, who are overwhelmingly the beneficiaries of remittance payments. Creating an enabling environment for a business such as Wing Money to develop and thrive with these low-cost solutions is an example of a positive market intervention. In the Philippines, adjusting banking policies to enable access to non-traditional banking enables women, especially those with micro-enterprises in rural areas, to access digital products.

While facilitating participation in the market can yield benefits for women, so can regulating in a way that drives systemic change. For example, in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and India, different mechanisms for targets are used to improve access to digital financial products. In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the central government through its national strategy, introduced a target of a 9 per cent increase in women’s access to financial services by 2025. In India, their targets are set within the bureaucracy to incentivise policy makers to implement the Digital India strategy and promotions and job security are rewarded based on performance.

These examples of innovative policy solutions are only foundational. The options for governments and policy makers at the nexus of market facilitation, participation and regulation demands creativity and agility. Underpinning this is the need for a baseline of country and regional level diagnostics to capture the diverse needs of women – those who are set to benefit the most of from harnessing the future of digital financial inclusion.

*Tengfei Wang, Economic Affairs Officer

This article is the second of a two-part series based on the findings of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Policy Guidebook: Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in Asia and the Pacific, and is jointly prepared by ESCAP and the Griffith Asia Institute.source: UNESCAP

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Empowering women-led small businesses in Nepal to go digital

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People walk down a street of shops in Kathmandu, Nepal. (file) photo World Bank/Peter Kapuscinski

Authors: Louise Anne Sophie Lavaud and Mitch Hsieh*
Throughout the years, Laxmi Shrestha and her husband saw the opportunities that opening an online shop could bring to her family business.

“Looking at the trend of TikTok and other sites, we thought selling online could help us but we weren’t technically sound,” said Laxmi, the owner ofLaxmi Hastakala Store, in Banepa, Nepal, and part of a family of artisans.

As she learned about selling online, she picked up on how to market her shop digitally and, according to Laxmi: “It has surely given our business a push we always wanted. Recently we started selling our products online and we also receive payments online.”

Laxmi Hastakala Store is among the 1,800 women-led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Nepal being trained on digital and financial literacy by Sparrow Pay – one of the winners of the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund launched in 2019 by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).

Sparrow Pay has created a local digital marketplace where women-led MSMEs can offer products and services to its existing 800,000+ digital payment service users. Additionally, Sparrow Pay is supporting these women entrepreneurs in adopting digital payments and creating a payment history to support access to additional financial services.

MSMEs are a vital source of employment and a significant contributor to a country’s GDP. However, more than 45 per cent of MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific are constrained from accessing finance and other support for their businesses. Socio-cultural norms mean women-led enterprises have to overcome gender-specific barriers to access institutional credit and other financial services.

ESCAP and UNCDF aim to encourage easy access to digital finance for MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific, break the financial barriers surrounding women-led enterprises and support entrepreneur-centric growth and inclusiveness throughout the region. Initiatives by the 10 winning fintech companies are currently supporting more than 9,000 women-led MSMEs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam.

Just like Laxmi, these women business owners plan on successfully growing their companies in the digital area.

The Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund is part of a regional programme “Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” which seeks to support the growth of women entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific by enabling a policy environment for such business owners, providing them with access to finance and expanding the use of ICT for entrepreneurship.

*Mitch Hsieh Chief, Communications and Knowledge Management Section

UNESCAP

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Is It Possible to Lift Sanctions Against Russia? — No

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Every conflict sooner or later ends in peace. Such is the conventional wisdom that can often be heard from those who, amid the current situation of the sanctions tsunami and confrontation with the West, are trying to find hope for a return to “normality”. The logic of such wisdom is simple. At some point, the parties will cease fire and sit down at the negotiating table. The end of hostilities will lead to a gradual reduction in sanctions pressure on Russia, and our businesses will be able to return to work with Western partners.

We have to disappoint those who believe in such a prospect. Sanctions against Russia, for the most part, will not be lifted even in the event of a ceasefire in Ukraine and a peace agreement. There will be no return to “pre-February normality”. Instead of remembering a lost past, we will have to focus on creating a new future in which Western sanctions remain a constant variable.

Why is the lifting of Western sanctions on Russia extremely unlikely? There are several reasons.

The first reason is the complexity of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It has every chance of being prolonged for a long time. There may be pauses in active hostilities. The parties may conclude temporary truces. However, such truces are unlikely to remove the political contradictions that gave rise to the conflict. Currently, there are no parameters for a political compromise that would suit all parties. Even if an agreement between Moscow and Kiev is reached, its sustainability and feasibility are not guaranteed. The experience of Minsk-2 shows that the mere appearance of agreements does not automatically resolve political problems and does not lead to the lifting or easing of sanctions. The Ukrainian problem can smoulder and flare up again for decades, partly because both sides are limited in the possibilities of a decisive military victory and complete surrender of the enemy. Relations between Russia and Ukraine are at risk of entering the ranks of long-term conflicts, similar to relations between India and Pakistan, or North and South Korea. The complexity and longevity of the conflict guarantee Western sanctions for the long term.

The second reason is the stable nature of the contradictions between Russia and the West. The conflict in Ukraine is part of a larger Euro-Atlantic security palette. An unstable system of asymmetric bipolarity has formed in Europe, in which the security of Russia and NATO can hardly be indivisible. Russia has no way to crush the West without doing unacceptable damage to itself. However, the West, despite its colossal superiority, cannot crush Russia without incurring unacceptable losses. Containing Russia is the best strategy for the West. Ukraine is doomed to remain one of the areas of containment. For Russia, the strategy of asymmetric balancing of Western superiority remains optimal. It is possible that part of such a strategy will be a course towards a radical territorial redistribution of Ukraine, tearing away from it the eastern and southern parts. But in itself, such a redistribution will not remove the problems of Western sanctions.

The third reason is the institutional features of the sanctions policy of the initiating countries. Experience shows that sanctions are relatively easy to impose but very difficult to lift. Thus, with regard to Iran, a whole “web of laws” has formed in the United States, which significantly limits the administration’s ability to lift sanctions. Even if the sanctions are not enshrined in law, their cancellation or mitigation still requires political capital, which not every politician is ready to spend. In the US, such steps will cause criticism or even opposition in Congress, and in the EU – disagreements among member states. Of course, individual restrictions are lifted or relaxed in the interests of the initiating countries themselves. The experience of sanctions pressure on the Republic of Belarus shows the existence of the “sanction remissions” when restrictions are eased. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions themselves remain and can be used at any time.

The fourth reason is the quick reversibility of the sanctions. Often, their abolition is accompanied by political demands, the implementation of which is a complicated process. For example, the Iranian nuclear deal required several years of complex negotiations and significant technological decisions. However, the return of sanctions can be carried out overnight. There is an asymmetry in the fulfilment of obligations. Fulfilling the requirements of the initiators requires significant changes, while the return of sanctions requires only a political decision. Rapid reversibility breeds distrust among target countries. It is easier for them to continue to live under sanctions than to make extensive concessions and risk receiving new sanctions. Historical experience shows that the initiators of sanctions tend to play the game of “finishing” the opponent. After the concessions come new, more radical political demands and the threat of new sanctions. The “Pompeo 13 Points” – a list of US demands on Iran beyond the limits of fulfilling the terms of the nuclear deal – have already become a textbook example. The Iranian lesson, apparently, was well learned in Moscow. Iran itself is actively working to achieve its goals in the field of nuclear arms. Ultimately, this shows the ineffectiveness of sanctions in terms of influencing the political course of the target country. But questionable effectiveness does not negate the fact that sanctions continue to be applied and enforced.

The fifth reason is the ability to adapt. Without a doubt, Russia will suffer enormous damage from the restrictive measures which have been introduced. However, the possibility of it adapting to the sanctions regime remains high. Russia has the chance, first, to partially make up for the shortfall in supplies from abroad with the help of its own industry, although this will require political will and the concentration of resources. Second, it has access to non-Western markets, as well as alternative sources of goods, services and technology. The key conditions for solving this problem will be the creation of reliable channels for financial transactions that are not related to the US dollar, the Euro, or Western financial institutions. Such a task is feasible both technically and politically, although it will also require time and political will. Iran’s experience shows that sanctions have seriously hit the country’s development opportunities. However, they did not interfere with the development of agriculture, industry and technology. The modernisation of the Soviet Union also proceeded under severe Western sanctions. The ability to adapt reduces the motivation for concessions to the demands of the initiating countries, especially given the risk of playing for “finishing”.

These reasons make the prospect of lifting or significantly reducing sanctions pressure on Russia extremely unlikely. The US, EU and other initiators have already introduced the most severe restrictions on Moscow. But the upward wave of sanctions escalation has not yet been exhausted. In addition, the achievement of the ceiling of the applied measures is unlikely to mean the abolition of those already introduced. However, the sanctions also do not mean the “end of history” of the Russian economy. It found itself in new conditions that will require adaptation and the search for new opportunities for development and growth.

From our partner RIAC

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