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COVID-19: Remittance Flows to Shrink 14% by 2021

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As the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis continues to spread, the amount of money migrant workers send home is projected to decline 14 percent by 2021 compared to the pre COVID-19 levels in 2019, according to the latest estimates published in the World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief.  

Remittance flows to low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are projected to fall by 7 percent, to $508 billion in 2020, followed by a further decline of 7.5 percent, to $470 billion in 2021. The foremost factors driving the decline in remittances include weak economic growth and employment levels in migrant-hosting countries, weak oil prices; and depreciation of the currencies of remittance-source countries against the US dollar.

The impact of COVID-19 is pervasive when viewed through a migration lens as it affects migrants and their families who rely on remittances,” said Mamta Murthi, Vice President for Human Development and Chair of the Migration Steering Group of the World Bank. “The World Bank will continue working with partners and countries to keep the remittance lifeline flowing, and to help sustain human capital development.”

The declines in 2020 and 2021 will affect all regions, with the steepest drop expected in Europe and Central Asia (by 16 percent and 8 percent, respectively), followed by East Asia and the Pacific (11 percent and 4 percent), the Middle East and North Africa (8 percent and 8 percent), Sub-Saharan Africa (9 percent and 6 percent), South Asia (4 percent and 11 percent), and Latin America and the Caribbean (0.2 percent and 8 percent).

The importance of remittances as a source of external financing for LMICs is expected to amplify in 2020, even with the expected decline. Remittance flows to LMICs touched a record high of $548 billion in 2019, larger than foreign direct investment flows ($534 billion) and overseas development assistance (about $166 billion). The gap between remittance flows and FDI is expected to widen further as FDI is expected to decline more sharply.

Migrants are suffering greater health risks and unemployment during this crisis,” said Dilip Ratha, lead author of the Brief and head of KNOMAD. “The underlying fundamentals driving remittances are weak and this is not the time to take our eyes off the downside risks to the remittance lifelines.”

This year, for the first time in recent history, the stock of international migrants is likely to decline as new migration has slowed and return migration has increased. Return migration has been reported in all parts of the world following the lifting of national lockdowns which left many migrant workers stranded in host countries. Rising unemployment in the face of tighter visa restrictions on migrants and refugees is likely to result in a further increase in return migration.

“Beyond humanitarian considerations, there is a strong case to support migrants who work with host communities on the frontline in hospitals, labs, farms, and factories,” said Michal Rutkowski, Global Director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank. “Supportive policy responses by host countries should include migrants, while origin or transit countries should consider measures to support migrants returning home.

Origin countries must find ways of supporting returning migrants in resettling, finding jobs or opening businesses. The surge in return migration is likely to prove burdensome for the communities (to which migrants return) as they must provide quarantine facilities in the immediate term and support housing, jobs, and reintegration efforts in the medium term.

According to the World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide Database, the global average cost of sending $200 was 6.8 percent in the third quarter of 2020, largely unchanged since the first quarter of 2019. This is more than double the Sustainable Development Goal target of 3 percent by 2030. The cost was the lowest in South Asia (5 percent) and highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (8.5 percent). Banks are the costliest channel for sending remittances, averaging 10.9 percent, followed by post offices at 8.6 percent, money transfer operators at 5.8 percent, and mobile operators at 2.8 percent.

Despite being the cheapest, money transfer and mobile operators face increasing hurdles as banks close their accounts to reduce risk of non-compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) and combating terrorism financing (CFT) standards. To keep these channels open, especially for lower-income migrants, AML/CFT rules could be temporarily simplified for small remittances. Further, strengthening mobile money regulations and identity systems will improve transparency of transactions. Facilitating digital remittances would require improving access to bank accounts for mobile remittance service providers as well as senders and recipients of remittances.

The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response. It is supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of critical supplies and equipment, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. The WBG is making available up to $160 billion over a 15-month period ending June 2021 to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes $50 billion of new IDA resources through grants and highly concessional loans and $12 billion for developing countries to finance the purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Regional Remittance Trends

Remittance flows to the East Asia and Pacific region are projected to fall by 11 percent in 2020 to $131 billion due to the adverse impact of COVID-19. China and the Philippines are the region’s top recipients, while as a share of GDP, the top recipients are Tonga and Samoa. Remittance costs: The average cost of sending $200 to the region increased slightly to 7.1 percent in the third quarter of 2020. The five lowest-cost corridors in the region averaged 2.5 percent, while the five highest-cost corridors, excluding South Africa to China, which is an outlier, averaged 13.3 percent.

Remittances to countries in Europe and Central Asia are estimated to fall by 16 percent to $48 billion as the pandemic and fall in oil prices are likely to have wide-ranging impacts on economies, with nearly all countries in the region posting double-digit declines of remittances in 2020. The depreciation of the Russian ruble is also likely to weaken outward remittances from Russia. Remittance costs: The average cost of sending $200 to the region fell slightly to 6.5 percent in the third quarter of 2020 from 6.6 percent a year ago.

Remittance flows into Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to be about $96 billion in 2020, a decline of 0.2 percent over the previous year. Remittances to Colombia, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic registered positive year-on-year growth between the months of June and September after falling sharply in April and May. Flows to the region’s top recipient, Mexico, held up in part because migrants were employed in essential services in the United States and eligible migrants also benefitted from U.S. stimulus programs. Remittance costs:The average cost of sending $200 to the region rose slightly to 5.8 percent in the third quarter. In many smaller remittance corridors, costs continue to be high. For example, the cost of sending money to Haiti and the Dominican Republic exceeds 8 percent.

Remittances to the Middle East and North Africa region are projected to fall by 8 percent in 2020 to $55 billion due to the projected persistence of the global slowdown. Remittances inflows to Egypt, the region’s largest recipient, have so far been countercyclical to the crisis, as Egyptian workers abroad increase one-off transfers to their families back home. Flows are likely to eventually decline due to lower oil prices and slower economic growth in the Gulf countries, with major remittance-receiving countries likely to register falls in remittances. Remittance costs: The cost of sending $200 to the region rose in the third quarter of 2020 to 7.5 percent, compared with 6.8 percent a year ago. Costs vary greatly across corridors: the cost of sending money from high-income OECD countries to Lebanon continues to be in the double digits.

Remittances to South Asia are projected to decline by around 4 percent in 2020 to $135 billion. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the impact of the global economic slowdown has been somewhat countered by the diversion of remittances from informal to formal channels due to the difficulty of carrying money by hand under travel restrictions. Pakistan also introduced a tax incentive whereby withholding tax was exempted from July 1, 2020, on cash withdrawals or on the issuance of banking instruments/transfers from a domestic bank account. Bangladesh registered a large increase in remittance inflows in July after the floods that inundated a quarter of its landmass. Remittance costs: At just under 5 percent in the third quarter of 2020, South Asia was the least costly region to send $200 to. But costs are well over 10 percent in some corridors (from Japan, South Africa and Thailand, and from Pakistan to Afghanistan).

Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to decline by around 9 percent in 2020 to $44 billion. Within the region, remittances to Kenya have so far stayed positive, though flows are likely to eventually decline in 2021. All major remittance-receiving countries will likely see a decline of remittances. As the COVID-19 pandemic affects both destination and origin countries of Sub-Saharan migrants, the fall in remittances is expected to further lead to an increase in food insecurity and poverty. Remittance costs: Sending $200 remittances to the region cost on average 8.5 percent in the third quarter of 2020, representing a modest decrease compared with 9 percent a year ago. Sub-Saharan Africa is the costliest region to send remittances to. The promotion of digital technology, combined with a regulatory environment promoting competition in the remittances market and review of AML/CFT regulations, are essential to lowering remittances fees for the region.

Detailed regional and global analysis is available in the Migration and Development Brief 33 available on www.knomad.org and blogs.worldbank.org/peoplemove. Brief 33 highlights developments related to migration-related Sustainable Development Goal indicators for which the World Bank is a custodian: increasing the volume of remittances as a percentage of gross domestic product (17.3.2), reducing remittance costs (10.c.1), and reducing recruitment costs for migrant workers (10.7.1).

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Sarah Frier wins the Financial Times and McKinsey & Company Business Book of the Year Award 2020

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Stephen Boyle wins the Bracken Bower Prize 2020

The Financial Times and McKinsey & Company today announce that Sarah Frier is the winner of the 2020 Business Book of the Year Award for No Filter: The Inside Story of How Instagram Transformed Business, Celebrity and Our Culture, published by UK Random House Business in the UK, and Simon & Schuster in the US.

The Award recognises a work which provides the ‘most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues’. It was awarded today to Sarah Frier at a virtual event, co-hosted by Roula Khalaf, Editor of the Financial Times and chair of the panel of judges, and Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company. The keynote speaker at the event was Laxman Narasimhan, Chief Executive of Reckitt Benckiser.

No Filter saw off strong competition from a shortlist of titles with a focus on subjects ranging from the future of work, corporate culture, technology and the US economy, to win the £30,000 prize. Each of the five runners-up will receive £10,000.

Roula Khalaf, Editor, Financial Times said, “No Filter is a topical and well-reported account of the rise of Instagram and its takeover by Facebook. But it also tackles two vital issues of our age: how Big Tech treats smaller rivals and how social media companies are shaping the lives of a new generation.” 

Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, said: “Sarah Frier has written a compelling saga about how this start-up phenomenon deeply embedded itself into the global cultural Zeitgeist of this digital era, in just one decade after its creation.”

The distinguished judging panel for the 2020 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, chaired by Roula Khalaf, comprised:

  • Mitchell Baker, Chief Executive Officer, Mozilla Corporation; Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation
     
  • Mohamed El-Erian, President of Queens’ College, Cambridge, and Chief Economic Advisor, Allianz (BBYA Winner, 2008, When Markets Collide)
     
  • Herminia Ibarra,  Charles Handy Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School
     
  • Randall Kroszner, Professor of Economics and Deputy Dean for Executive Programs, University of Chicago Booth School of Business
     
  • Dambisa Moyo, Global Economist and Author, Non-Executive Director, 3M Company,  Chevron & Conde Nast
     
  • Raju Narisetti, Global Publishing Director, McKinsey & Company
     
  • Shriti Vadera, Chair-elect of Prudential


The Financial Times and McKinsey & Company also announced Stephen Boyle as the winner of the 2020 Bracken Bower Prize. The Prize is designed to encourage young authors to tackle emerging business themes in a proposal for a book that is not yet published. Its aim is to unearth new talent and encourage writers to research ideas that could fill future business books of the year.

Stephen Boyle was awarded £15,000 for his book proposal, New Money, about how central bank digital currencies could transform the economy – and why you might not want them to.
 

The distinguished judging panel for the Bracken Bower Prize comprised:

  • Lorella Belli, Founder and Director, Lorella Belli Literary Agency Limited
     
  • Isabel Fernandez-Mateo, Adecco Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, London Business School
     
  • Jorma Ollila, former Chairman, Royal Dutch Shell and Nokia
     
  • Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society, World Economic Forum. (BBP Winner, 2014, Fifty Million Rising)

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Sri Lanka Can Build Back Better from COVID-19 and Realize Inclusive Growth

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The World Bank’s new Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Faris Hadad-Zervos, completed his first visit to Sri Lanka today. The purpose of this visit was to meet key policymakers and understand the country’s development priorities. Based in Kathmandu, Nepal, this was the Country Director’s first visit to Sri Lanka in his new role. Hadad-Zervos was joined by Chiyo Kanda, the new Country Manager for Maldives and Sri Lanka, based in Colombo.

“We appreciate the frank and productive conversations we had with government officials, members of the private sector and civil society and all those whom we met during our visits in Colombo and the Provinces. These gave us a growing understanding of the Sri Lankan sustainable development storyline and aspirations,” said Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. “The World Bank is a long-term partner for the people of Sri Lanka and is committed to help the country reach its full potential for the benefit of all its people.”

The new World Bank management team paid courtesy calls to His Excellency the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Hon. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Cabinet and State Ministers, Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, and Secretaries and senior officials associated with the current World Bank program in Sri Lanka.

They also met with members of civil society from across the spectrum, private sector representatives, development partners as well as thought leaders to better understand Sri Lanka’s vast potential for sustainable growth.

The visits included the port and other facilities in the Hambantota district to observe infrastructure development in the south. At the government hospital-Halthota in Kalutara district, they learned about the government effort to improve primary health care, integrating screening and management of non-communicable diseases, and strengthen promotive and outreach services.    

 “The World Bank is mindful of the challenges the country is facing in this COVID19 era but will also keep our eye on the opportunities for sustainable recovery. We will leverage our knowledge, technical and financial resources to support Sri Lanka to build back better in the post-COVID era for inclusive and resilient growth,” said Chiyo Kanda, World Bank Country Manager for Maldives and Sri Lanka “We are in the process of updating our Systematic Country Diagnostic to deepen our understanding and inform our next Country Partnership Framework that will define the World Bank Group’s engagements with Sri Lanka for the next 4-5 years.”  

The Systematic Country Diagnostic is a thorough analysis, informed by consultations with a broad range of stakeholders, of the key challenges and opportunities in reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity in a sustainable manner.

In response to the COVID pandemic, the World Bank leveraged the existing portfolio and repurposed a significant portion to support the Government’s effort to reduce the impact of the pandemic. Providing urgently needed personal protective equipment (PPE), supporting vulnerable groups with temporary cash support, improving COVID-19 protection measures on public transport, facilitating tele-education for school children, and providing digital solutions to improve delivery of public services are among the emergency response activities already completed or ongoing. Discussions are under way to further adjust the program to adapt to government’s priorities and emerging development needs.

The current World Bank portfolio in Sri Lanka consists of 19 ongoing projects, with a total commitment value of US$3.65 billion in a variety of sectors including transport, urban, agriculture, water, education and health.

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ADB $300 Million Loan to Promote Macroeconomic Stability in Pakistan

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $300 million policy-based loan to help promote macroeconomic stability in Pakistan by facilitating improved trade competitiveness and export diversification.

“While COVID-19 hit Pakistan at a critical point in its macroeconomic recovery, the government’s ongoing efforts to ensure stability have started showing encouraging results this fiscal year,” said ADB Principal Public Management Specialist Hiranya Mukhopadhyay. “ADB’s program will support these efforts and help Pakistan to improve its export competitiveness—now more important than ever given the impacts of the pandemic.”

ADB’s program will help Pakistan recover its current account deficit in a sustained manner and continue to facilitate export diversification. It will introduce important tariff- and tax-related policy reforms to help improve Pakistan’s international competitiveness and further strengthen key institutions, including accreditation bodies, the Export–Import Bank of Pakistan, and the Pakistan Single Window.

The new financing falls under Subprogram 2 of the Trade and Competitiveness Program. Under the first phase, ADB helped the government usher in key reforms, including reducing or abolishing tariffs and ad hoc duties on a large number of raw materials and intermediate goods. Several steps were also taken to introduce e-commerce, strengthen key institutions involved in facilitating trade, and enhance the export certification process.

Since fiscal year 2004, Pakistan has registered a rise-and-fall pattern of export growth reflecting underperformance in its export industry and long-term decline in export competitiveness. This is compounded by lost export growth momentum from COVID-19, which has reduced high-income countries’ demand for manufacturing goods and disrupted the supply of raw materials.   

ADB is coordinating its efforts with other development partners and donors while the program complements International Monetary Fund-led reform initiatives by helping to improve competitiveness, which will help build robust foreign exchange reserves.

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