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Brazil: Reforms to spur competitiveness would strengthen COVID-19 recovery

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Brazil was pulling out of a long recession when the COVID-19 outbreak hit, bringing the economy back into another, even deeper recession. However, swift government support has helped millions of vulnerable households, including those without formal employment and social protection. A strong and inclusive recovery from the crisis that benefits all Brazilians will require additional ambitious reforms to boost jobs, productivity and trade, as well as to strengthen public finances and improve social protection, according to a new OECD report.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of Brazil says that while the decisive response spared Brazil from a more severe economic impact, the pandemic will still significantly affect well-being and prosperity, taking a toll on people and businesses in the informal economy. The Survey estimates the COVID-19 crisis will cause GDP to shrink by 5% this year, followed by a return to growth of 2.6% in 2021 and 2.2% in 2022. Reforms to help firms to grow and compete internationally would enable Brazil to reap the benefits of integrating into global trade and to address rising poverty and inequality.

“Brazil was making good progress on structural reforms prior to the pandemic, including its successful 2019 pension reform. The shock to the economy and society from COVID-19 makes it paramount to keep momentum going and tackle outstanding barriers to competition, productivity growth and foreign trade, as well as address pressing environmental challenges,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, presenting the Survey. “The OECD is committed to work with Brazil to ensure a strong, inclusive and sustainable recovery and to build a better future for all Brazilians.” (Read the speech in full)

The Survey estimates that an ambitious package of reforms to improve domestic regulation and competition, reduce barriers to foreign trade and improve institutions and economic governance would boost per-capita GDP growth by 0.9 percentage points per year over 15 years. Lowering trade barriers could also bring down the prices of many goods, with a tangible impact on the lives of ordinary Brazilians.

The COVID-19 crisis has accentuated the need to further lighten the cumbersome regulations, including complex procedures for taxation, which hamper entrepreneurship and competition. An average medium-sized company in Brazil spends around 1,500 hours a year on procedures to pay taxes compared to 317 hours in Latin American countries or 159 hours in OECD countries. Investment in education, vocational training and adult skills would in turn help to build a more productive workforce ready for a more globally integrated economy. Evidence suggests that adult training programmes can make a real difference for workers seeking to move into better-paying jobs, provided that course content is well-aligned with local labour market needs.

Inequality and poverty have edged up in Brazil over the last few years, reversing progress since 2000 due to strong growth, social transfers and improved education outcomes. The richest 10% of the population earn over four times that of the bottom 40%. Almost half of social benefits go to the wealthiest 20% of households. The Survey recommends better targeting transfers to those most in need, accelerating benefit concession for people who lose their jobs and withdrawing them more gradually. This would help to support the 40% of workers employed in the informal economy and not covered by unemployment schemes, and ensure an inclusive recovery from the crisis.

The efficiency of public spending should be improved, as the pandemic is adding to Brazil’s already high public debt. There is scope to make significant savings with no impact on well-being. The Survey recommends reviewing tax exemptions and subsidies that account for almost 5% of GDP and trimming civil service costs.

Brazil should also use the recovery as an opportunity to strengthen protection of the Amazon rainforest including through stronger enforcement of its forest law to stop illegal deforestation, focusing instead on the sustainable use of the Amazon’s economic potential.

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New Financing to Help Indonesia Achieve a Deeper and More Resilient Financial Sector

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a loan of US$400 million to support reforms that will help the Government of Indonesia increase the depth, improve the efficiency, and strengthen the resilience of the financial sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused recession in Indonesia, with potentially long-lasting financial, fiscal, and social implications. While the banking system is well-capitalized and profitability is high, the lack of depth in the Indonesian financial markets increases the country’s vulnerability to external shocks. The new financing is designed to help the country address financial sector vulnerabilities heightened by the pandemic. It does so through support to measures such as extending financial services to previously underserved groups, reducing the costs of such services for individuals and businesses alike, and strengthening the capacity of the financial sector to withstand financial and non-financial shocks.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has made structural reforms to address financial sector vulnerabilities urgent. The Government of Indonesia is committed to strengthening the financial sector given its critical role in sustaining Indonesia’s growth and in reducing poverty, especially during the COVID-19 recovery phase. “ said Minister of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia, Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

The new development policy loan will support Indonesia’s financial sector reforms through three key approaches. First, it aims to increase the depth of the financial sector by expanding the  access to financial services – including by youth and women – broadening the range of financial products, and incentivizing long-term savings. These efforts would reduce Indonesia’s vulnerability to foreign portfolio outflows.

Second, it aims to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of the financial sector by strengthening the insolvency and creditor rights framework, protect consumers and personal data, and make payment systems more efficient and faster by utilizing digital technology. The latter will help large-scale social assistance payments to vulnerable people during the crisis.

Third, it aims to boost the capacity of the financial sector to withstand shocks by strengthening the resolution framework to avoid financial activities disruptions in the event of a bank failure, advancing the effectiveness of financial sector oversight and implementing sustainable finance practices.

“This financing complements the government’s efforts to cushion the financial sector and the overall economy from the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. By making financial services more transparent, reliable and technology-oriented, savings can be channeled into the most productive investments  in a less costly, faster and safer way, thus opening opportunities for people to invest in their future and to protect themselves from unexpected shocks,” said Satu Kahkonen, World Bank Country Director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

The World Bank’s support to financial sector reforms in Indonesia is an important component of the World Bank Group’s Country Partnership Framework for Indonesia, whose engagement area on strengthening economic resilience and competitiveness contains a specific objective focused on increasing the depth, improving the efficiency and strengthening the resilience of the financial sector. The new financing is also based on the World Bank Group’s GRID (green, resilient, inclusive development) principles.

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The BRICS Foreign Ministers Meet To Review Progress

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Due to the current global situation of coronavirus pandemic, a meeting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) Ministers of Foreign Affairs/International Relations via videoconference was held early June under the Chair of Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As stipulated by the guidelines, India took over in January 2021.

The five foreign ministers held a frank exchange of views on topical issues of the international agenda, including efforts to strengthen international institutions, regional conflicts, joint efforts to combat new challenges and threats, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and cooperation between the five states at multilateral fora.

They also discussed the current situation, and future prospects of cooperation between the five countries. In the context of the current epidemiological situation, all BRICS countries expressed their solidarity with India and its people. The burden has increased on the healthcare systems. Russia expresses willingness to continue helping India counter this dangerous virus.

Amid the coronavirus-caused crisis, the ministers give priority to invigorating business, trade, economic and investment ties inside BRICS. In this context, they consider it important to implement the BRICS economic partnership strategy endorsed by the leaders during the last summit in 2020.

During the discussions, they acknowledged that the number and complexity of the challenges to the international community and sustainable global development are growing. These are the threats of terrorism, transnational crime, including in the digital sphere, climate change and an expanding rift between the rich and the poor. These problems can be addressed collectively.

Following the meeting, the ministers approved a Joint Communiqué and a Joint Statement on Strengthening and Reforming the Multilateral System. At the 12th BRICS gathering last year, the Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa extended full support to India for its BRICS Chairmanship in 2021 and the holding of the 13th BRICS Summit. The five BRICS countries together represent over 3.1 billion people, or about 40 percent of the world population.

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World Bank Supports the Modernization of Tajikistan’s Tax Regime

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved today $50 million in grant financing from the International Development Association for the Tajikistan Tax Reform Operation. This project will support the implementation of the revised tax code and the modernization of the tax system to balance the objectives of domestic revenue mobilization and private sector development.

“When incentives are such that enterprises and investors actually benefit from being successful in their businesses and honest vis-à-vis the State, the private sector will start to play an increasingly larger role in fostering innovation, creating employment, and broadening the tax base,” said Jan-Peter Olters, World Bank Country Manager for Tajikistan. “A consistent tax code with predictable tax obligations, as currently prepared by the Government, is expected to promote a more dynamic, innovative, and export-oriented private sector—once decisions on tax audits will be based on risk assessments and consistency checks done within the Tax Committee.”

The Government of Tajikistan has made tax reform a priority, reflecting the increasing importance of improving the business and investment climate and enhancing the competitiveness of the national economy. With the new tax code, currently under review by the Government, Tajikistan seeks to modernize tax administration and base tax policy and revenue collection processes on international practice.

This reform represents a critical building block in efforts to meet the key objectives of the National Development Strategy to 2030, which is to increase people’s incomes by up to 3.5 times and halve poverty by 2030. To meet this goal, Tajikistan would need the contribution of a dynamic private sector, which can finance investments, foster innovation, create jobs, and increase exports.

Currently, the private sector in Tajikistan provides only about one-quarter of total investments and produces less than one-third of industrial output, while providing only limited formal employment opportunities in a young and growing economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted government revenues and tax collection efforts, while increasing the demand for social spending and levels of public debt. This context has made the tax reform even more urgent.

The Tajikistan Tax Reform Operation will contribute to the ongoing tax reform by: 1) simplifying the tax system; 2) enhancing the quality of taxpayer services, and 3) improving voluntary compliance.

The activities, which will support these three broad outcomes, include the development of secondary legislation necessary for implementation of the new Tax Code, the creation of a modern risk assessment methodology based on international experience to guide audits, the introduction of mechanisms for improved effectiveness and transparency of tax expenditures; the introduction of cost-benefit analyses for tax incentives; the simplification of tax reporting requirements and harmonization of tax and financial accounting reporting for selected taxes; the introduction of an automated VAT refund system; the automation of selected taxpayer services; the upgrade of taxpayer service standards based on taxpayer feedback; the implementation of digital signature and upgrade of ICT infrastructure in the Tax Committee; capacity development on modern approaches in tax policy and tax administration; and taxpayer outreach and education.

To maximize the impact of the project, the World Bank is using a financing instrument called Program-for-Results (PforR), which links disbursement of funds directly to the achievement of specific outcomes. The project will be implemented by the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Tax Committee under the Government of Tajikistan over the next six years.

The World Bank is financing 21 projects in Tajikistan totaling $1.1 billion. Since 1996, the World Bank has provided over $2 billion in IDA grants, highly concessional credits, and trust funds for Tajikistan. The World Bank Group is committed to continuing its support for Tajikistan as it strives to improve the lives and meet the aspirations of its young and growing population. 

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