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How Iraq Can Turn Economic Diversification into Growth and Stability

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Nearly two decades after the 2003 war, Iraq finds itself at a crossroads: caught in a fragility trap and faced with increasing instability and multiple crises, Iraq is projected to have the worst annual GDP growth performance since the fall of the Saddam regime. Yet even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an oil price shock, and recent protests, Iraq can take the path toward sustainable growth, peace, and stability and improve living standards for its people. 

These are the findings of the World Bank’s new Iraq Country Economic Memorandum, titled Breaking Out of Fragility. The report examines why Iraq has not managed to escape the fragility trap. It details what the country can do to turn crises into opportunity, diversify its economy away from the oil sector, and sustain future growth. The report highlights nonetheless that the path will demand persistence, and Iraq will face much uncertainty as it tries to address its long-lasting challenges and change the status quo.

Economic diversification, through reforms and developing the private sector, is critical to reduce the continuous challenges Iraq is facing,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “This Country Economic Memorandum provides a roadmap to help Iraq and the Iraqi people re-think the existing economic model, build a more diversified economy that creates opportunities for all Iraqis, and rebuild the social contract. The World Bank will be a committed partner in helping Iraq move down the path of reform to ensure peace and stability and give all Iraqis a chance to fulfill their highest aspirations.” 

Breaking out of Fragility details how, for decades, Iraq’s oil wealth allowed the country to obtain upper income status, while in many ways the country’s institutions and social and economic outcomes resembled a low-income fragile country. Oil revenues eroded the country’s economic competitiveness, reduced the need for taxation, weakened the accountability link between citizens and the state, and fueled corruption. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the oil price shock have thrown into stark relief how much Iraqis have lost in the last two decades. The education system, which once ranked near the top of the MENA region, is now near the bottom. Iraq’s labor force participation is mired at 42%. Combined with one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world, Iraq faces low levels of human capital, deteriorating business conditions, and one of the highest poverty rates among upper middle-income countries. 

Breaking out of Fragility outlines key pathways for Iraq to achieve sustainable growth after closely considering the country’s complex political economy. The report highlights that Iraq’s priority should be to refocus the country’s political settlement on development, and improve transparency in the management and allocation of its oil wealth and public resources. The report also underlines the urgent need for Iraq to rebuild the confidence between citizens and the government by strengthening citizen engagement and government accountability in the delivery of priority services and infrastructure, responding to youth demand for jobs and tackling socioeconomic inequalities.

Despite Iraq’s current political and economic challenges, three areas of focus can help lead to economic diversification, growth, and stability:

First, maintaining peace can, by itself, be a strong driver of growth. Iraq’s per capita GDP was about one fifth lower in 2018 than it would have been if not for the conflict that began in 2014, while non-oil GDP was one-third lower. In countries that have undergone a vicious cycle of violence and fragility, coordinated policies from a broad coalition of actors are critical to maintaining “peaceful pathways” and kickstarting a virtuous cycle. The report finds that, in the short term, Iraq should focus on reforms that expand social safety nets for the poor and most vulnerable, improve delivery of basic services such as education and health, and ensure greater transparency in the functioning of the government institutions. 

Second, tapping into Iraq’s export potential to help diversify the economy away from oil production and toward trade and integration. Iraq’s geographical position has the potential to make the country a regional logistics hub; however, Iraq’s logistical performance lags behind its peers so much that it is instead a regional bottleneck. 

Third, reviving Iraq’s agriculture sector to serve as a key pillar of a more diversified, private sector-led economy. Agriculture production; food processing; and related services including logistics, finance, manufacturing, and technology have large potential to expand and create jobs. The agri-food sector has not been subject to the same level of government control as other sectors, so it is well positioned to develop new methods and adopt the latest technologies to maximize its competitive potential. 

The latest Country Economic Memorandum builds on two previous reports, from 2006 and 2012, which noted the need for Iraq to move from conflict to rehabilitation; from state dominance to market orientation; from oil dependence to diversification; and from isolation to regional and global integration. 

Breaking out of Fragility builds on those recommendations by 1) conducting a close analysis of Iraq’s underlying fragility and political economy challenges and their implications for a diversified growth model; 2) analyzing Iraq’s growth characteristics and the country’s potential for and benefits from economic diversification; 3) assessing Iraq’s potential for trade and regional integration to create growth; and 4) reviewing Iraq’s agriculture sector and its potential to support economic diversification. 

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Appliance standards and labelling is highly effective at reducing energy use

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Policies that introduce minimum efficiency performance standards and energy-consumption labelling on appliances and equipment have led to reduced power consumption, lower carbon emissions, and cost savings for consumers, according to analysis published today by the IEA and the 4E Technology Collaboration Programme (4E TCP).

The report’s findings are drawn from nearly 400 evaluation studies covering 100 countries, including those with the longest running and strongest appliance policies, such as China, European Union, Japan and the United States.

“The findings from the study are important as they provide evidence that standards and labelling are highly effective policy instruments that bring benefits to consumers as well as lower emissions and lower energy demand,” said Brian Motherway, the Head of Energy Efficiency at the IEA.

The study shows the policies have had significant positive impacts:

  • In countries with long-running policies, appliances are now typically consuming 30% less energy than they would have done otherwise.
  • In the nine countries/regions for which data were available, such programmes reduced annual electricity consumption by a total of around 1 580 terawatt-hours in 2018 – similar to the total electricity generation of wind and solar energy in those countries.
  • The programmes that have been operating the longest, such as those in the United States and the European Union, are estimated to deliver annual reductions of around 15% of their current total national electricity consumption. This percentage increases each year as more of the older, less-efficient stock is replaced with equipment that meets new higher efficiency standards.
  • These energy savings represent a significant financial boon for businesses and householders. In the United States alone, utility customers are now economising USD 60 billion each year, or USD 320 per customer.
  • Also, the United States, European Union and China together are avoiding annual CO2 emissions of more than 700 million tonnes, equivalent to the total energy-related emissions of Germany.
  • Well-designed policies encourage product innovation and lead to economies of scale, which reduces the cost of appliances even without accounting for the efficiency gains. For example, in Australia the sticker price of appliances has typically fallen 40% over the last 20 years, while average energy consumption has fallen by a third.

“The message is simple: expanding standards and energy efficiency labelling programmes makes the energy transition challenge easier, more affordable and become a reality,” said Jamie Hulan, the Chair of the 4E TCP.

The IEA will continue to collaborate with 4E TCP to enhance and promote the use of such policies. 4E TCP is an international platform for fourteen countries and the European Union to exchange technical and policy information focused on increasing the production and trade in efficient end-use equipment.

Ahead of this November’s COP26 Climate Change Conference, the IEA is working with the UK Government via the Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative to coordinate and improve international action on product energy efficiency. The United Kingdom is leading the COP26 Product Efficiency Call to Action, which aims to double the efficiency of key global products by 2030, initially focusing on four key energy-consuming products: air conditioners, refrigerators, lighting and industrial motors systems. The IEA is supporting the implementation of this work and helping expand the number of countries ready to make this commitment.

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Global economy projected to show fastest growth in 50 years

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The global economy is expected to bounce back this year with growth of 5.3 per cent, the fastest in nearly five decades, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

In its new report released on Wednesday, the agency said that the rebound was highly uneven along regional, sectoral and income lines, however.  

During 2022, UNCTAD expects global growth to slow to 3.6 per cent, leaving world income levels trailing some 3.7 per cent below the pre-pandemic trend line. 

The report also warns that growth deceleration could be bigger than expected, if policymakers lose their nerve or answer what it regards as misguided calls for a return to deregulation and austerity. 

Differences in growth 

The report says that, while the response saw an end to public spending constraints in many developed countries, international rules and practices have locked developing countries into pre-pandemic responses, and a semi-permanent state of economic stress. 

Many countries in the South have been hit much harder than during the global financial crisis. With a heavy debt burden, they also have less room for maneuvering their way out through public spending. 

Lack of monetary autonomy and access to vaccines are also holding many developing economies back, widening the gulf with advanced economies and threatening to usher in another “lost decade”. 

“These widening gaps, both domestic and international, are a reminder that underlying conditions, if left in place, will make resilience and growth luxuries enjoyed by fewer and fewer privileged people,” said Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of UNCTAD. 

“Without bolder policies that reflect reinvigorated multilateralism, the post-pandemic recovery will lack equity, and fail to meet the challenges of our time.” 

Lessons of the pandemic 

UNCTAD includes several proposals in the report that are drawn from the lessons of the pandemic. 

They include concerted debt relief and even cancellation in some cases, a reassessment of fiscal policy, greater policy coordination and strong support for developing countries in vaccine deployment. 

Even without significant setbacks, global output will only resume its 2016-19 trend by 2030. But even before COVID-19, the income growth trend was unsatisfactory, says UNCTAD. Average annual global growth in the decade after the global financial crisis was the slowest since 1945. 

Despite a decade of massive monetary injections from leading central banks, since the 2008-9 crash, inflation targets have been missed. Even with the current strong recovery in advanced economies, there is no sign of a sustained rise in prices. 

After decades of a declining wage share, real wages in advanced countries need to rise well above productivity for a long time before a better balance between wages and profits is achieved again, according to the trade and development body’s analysis. 

Food prices and global trade 

Despite current trends on inflation, UNCTAD believes the rise in food prices could pose a serious threat to vulnerable populations in the South, already financially weakened by the health crisis. 

Globally, international trade in goods and services has recovered, after a drop of 5.6 per cent in 2020. The downturn proved less severe than had been anticipated, as trade flows in the latter part of 2020 rebounded almost as strongly as they had fallen earlier. 

The report’s modelling projections point to real growth of global trade in goods and services of 9.5 per cent in 2021. Still, the consequences of the crisis will continue to weigh on the trade performance in the years ahead. 

For director of UNCTAD’s globalization and development strategies division, Richard Kozul-Wright, “the pandemic has created an opportunity to rethink the core principles of international economic governance, a chance that was missed after the global financial crisis.” 

“In less than a year, wide-ranging US policy initiatives in the United States have begun to effect concrete change in the case of infrastructure spending and expanded social protection, financed through more progressive taxation. The next logical step is to take this approach to the multilateral level.” 

The report highlights a “possibility of a renewal of multilateralism”, pointing to the United States support of a new special drawing rights (SDR) allocation, global minimum corporate taxation, and a waiver of vaccine-related intellectual property rights.  

UNCTAD warns, though, that these proposals “will need much stronger backing from other advanced economies and the inclusion of developing country voices if the world is to tackle the excesses of hyperglobalization and the deepening environmental crisis in a timely manner.” 

For the UN agency, the biggest risk for the global economy is that “a rebound in the North will divert attention from long-needed reforms without which developing countries will remain in a weak and vulnerable position.”

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Italy: Pro-growth reforms and government support key to a greener and jobs-rich recovery

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The post-COVID recovery offers an exceptional opportunity for Italy to tackle long-standing obstacles to job creation and the raising of living standards, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Italy says government support for Italian households and businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic should continue until the recovery is firmly underway, but should become increasingly targeted as the economy continues to strengthen. It says that generous fiscal support has been effective in mitigating job losses and preserving productive capacity. This will help boost the short-term recovery as vaccination rates accelerate and restrictions ease. Higher public spending, including from Next Generation EU funds, will support higher investment alongside improved confidence and demand.

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan offers a unique opportunity to create a greener, more digitised and productive economy, the report adds. The government, it says, has an ambitious agenda rightly prioritising reforms to competition, to boost the efficiency of civil justice processes and to reform the public sector in order to tackle uncertainty, delays and costs that currently hamper investment. Green infrastructure and broadband investments can improve the competitiveness of Italian firms.

The report suggests that the chances of implementing this reform plan successfully are greater than on previous occasions. Clear implementation milestones and targets linked to the disbursement of Next Generation EU funds have been publicised, while recently passed laws to simplify green investments and support decision-making  will help facilitate successful implementation of the plan.

The OECD projects Italy’s economic growth to be 5.9% this year and 4.1% in 2022, following an 8.9% fall in GDP in 2020. A stronger-than-expected second quarter explains the upward revision from the 4.5% expansion forecast for 2021 in the OECD’s May Economic Outlook. 

Presenting the report alongside Italy’s Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco today, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said: “Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan is activating stronger, greener, fairer and more digitised growth that will benefit all Italians with improved opportunities to get ahead. A more effective public sector is crucial for ensuring its success. The plan must be fully implemented and complemented with reforms to support further growth, including with more investment in green infrastructure and R&D and reforms to keep driving the effective digital transformation of the Italian economy.”

The report recommends that once the pandemic subsides, public spending and tax policy must be reformed to complement the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. Currently, pension-related expenses crowd out investment in infrastructure, education and training, penalising the young, many of whom are out of work and at risk of poverty.

Labour force participation remains particularly low for women, especially those with children. Access to quality childcare and adult skills training needs to be improved across all regions, the report says.

Compared with the OECD average, taxes on labour remain too high. The report recommends implementing comprehensive tax reform to reduce the complexity of the system and to lower labour taxes. This should be financed through improved compliance – driven by greater use of technology and card payments.

Raising the effectiveness of Italy’s public sector is more urgent than ever. The report says that fully implementing the National Recovery and Resilience Plan will help fill skills gaps in the public sector, further its digitisation and reduce regulatory barriers that inhibit civil servants’ ability to deliver.

The report welcomes the set up for the Plan’s implementation and says the administration would generally become stronger and more agile by reducing the number of existing rules, regulating the services sector and green economy with a stronger focus on outcomes, in line with the government’s priorities and that support sustained growth. The report also recommends encouraging better coordination across Italy’s multiple layers of government.

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