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How the COVID-19 affected the International Trade

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The COVID-19 proved to alter the global economy in recession. It has affected all segments of economy mostly due to lockdown in majority countries of the world aimed to slowdown the spread of the virus. According UNCTAD data a sudden decline in international trade was seen after the outbreak of the pandemic. In 2020, the global trade fallen by about 20%as compare to 2019 statistics. Likewise, according to the statistics of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) the crisis caused by COVID-19 led to 13% drop in global Gross Domestic Product. The outbreak of COVID-19 had badly affected the international trade while it is very necessary to save both livelihoods and lives of human being in the current globalised world.

Global trade was one of the main victims of COVID-19 soon after its outbreak. It had both short-term and long-term impact on international trade. This epidemic had led to a huge interruption in international trade, affected badly both demands and supplies across the world. For smooth international trade flow, the international cooperation is always needed in order to keep the trade relations smooth running, but the coronavirus has limited the international cooperation which largely decreased inter-state trade relations. It had caused a sharp decline in the volume of exports of world’s largest exporting countries like China and United States. With the exception of a few critical products, most countries in the world have closed down production units or downsized production due to the interruption in their supply-chains.

Likewise, global financial transactions and services have been severely weakened and considerably declined by the pandemic, which in turn has affected global trade. While COCID-19 Pandemic has had a negative impact on most business activities, it has also created good opportunities for some businesses. According to the World Economic Forum data the pandemic was not bad news for some businesses, but rather proved to be good news. For instance, Brazil had seen an increase in its exports of frozen-beef and soybean. The frozen-beef export volume increased from 464 million dollars in April 2020 to 639 million dollars in the month of May 2020. Likewise, the soybean export increased 1 billion dollars in a year-on-year basis in April 2020.

The COCID-19 had affected the international trade through different ways and means. Especially, the lockdown had significantly affected the production and transportation processes of factories by limiting the availability of labour to do works in factories, load and unload ships at seaports, and increased the expenses due to enhanced protection methods for laborers and lack of transportation to reach the workplaces. It had affected productions as well as exports and imports. Important seaports of the world noted decrease in cargo upto 20%. Almost on all ports across the world some special protocol, anti-virus measures and many additional documents were required, which also slowdown the movements of goods and services. Cancellation of flights due to travel-bans and safety measures had also restricted the availability of air-cargos, while the demand of important shipments of many critical commodities had increased. This in turn resulted in raises in the price of air-cargos. Broadly speaking, the supply chains of exports and imports were affected by the requirements to safeguard health and contain the spread of coronavirus. An essential priority in this regard was to keep smooth the major supply and chains for important goods and services. It was failed at the beginning but later on restored.

All these things caused by the COVID-19 increased the costs and time of international trade therefore it was negatively affected by the outbreak of coronavirus in the world.

Ruqia Khan is Research Scholar at the School of Economics, Jilin University China. Her main areas of research interest are international trade and the economic affairs of Pakistan.

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Economy

Economic Restructuring Key to Coping with Risks in China’s Economy

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Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze, Yusha Li*

Just over two years after the COVID-19 pandemic caused the deepest global recession since World War II, the global economy continues to face a series of acute shocks. The war in Ukraine has not only led to a humanitarian crisis but is also having substantial effects on commodity markets, trade flows, inflation, and financial conditions which have deepened the slowdown in global growth.

As a result, the world economy is expected to experience its sharpest deceleration following an initial recovery from global recession in more than 80 years, as highlighted by the World Bank’s “Global Economic Prospects” report published on June 7. Global growth is projected to slow down from 5.7 percent in 2021 to 2.9 percent in 2022 with activity declining markedly in the eurozone, which has closer economic links with Russia, and US growth slowing to less than half of 2021, reflecting sharply higher energy prices, tighter financial conditions, and persistent supply disruptions.

The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by sharply reducing export growth and dampening confidence amid heightened geopolitical tensions. This is expected to exacerbate the slowdown caused by recurrent COVID-19 outbreaks in some places and related lockdowns in parts of China which have disrupted supply chains and significantly weakened household and business activity. Following a strong 8.1 percent rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects China’s growth to slow to 4.3 percent this year. This rate of growth is below the economy’s potential-the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.

Our forecast reflects the sharp deceleration in activity in the second quarter of 2022 that took place despite policy actions to cushion the economic slowdown. With the easing of pandemic controls in Shanghai and Beijing, and barring any major COVID-19 outbreaks, growth momentum is expected to rebound in the second half of 2022, helped also by additional policy stimulus announced by the State Council, China’s Cabinet, last month. The normalization of domestic demand conditions, however, is expected to be gradual and will only partly offset the economic damage caused by the pandemic in the earlier part of the year.

While China has the macroeconomic policy space to react to domestic and external headwinds, our latest “China Economic Update” argues that policy makers face a dilemma between keeping COVID-19 under control and supporting economic growth. Indeed, stimulus policies are less effective in places where pandemic restrictions remain in place. Yet letting COVID-19 spread would likely hurt growth even more.

Over the medium term, greater efforts are needed to shift away from the old playbook of investment-led stimulus to boost economic growth because high levels of indebtedness of corporations and local governments will limit the effectiveness of policy easing and increase financial stability risks.

To address these balance sheet constraints, policymakers could shift more of the stimulus onto the balance sheet of the central government. They could also direct public investment toward the greening of infrastructure. Recent announcements seem to go in this direction.

Also, fiscal support could shift beyond tax relief for enterprises to target measures to encourage consumption directly. For example, the wider use of consumption vouchers could lift consumer spending in the short term in places where COVID-related restrictions have been lifted. Reforms to strengthen automatic stabilizers such as unemployment insurance and other social safety nets could also help increase consumption, particularly among the poor and vulnerable that have a lower propensity to save.

China’s housing market downturn in the midst of the recent global deceleration exemplifies the limits to past stimulus efforts. For over two decades, China’s real estate sector has grown at a remarkable pace and become a principal engine of economic growth. As of end-2021, total real estate investment stood at 13 percent of GDP, compared with 5 percent in OECD member states. If one takes into account inputs along the supply chains, the real estate sector drives around 30 percent of China’s GDP. A disorderly adjustment in the real estate sector would thus have major economic consequences.

Our report provides specific recommendations for dealing with these risks. In the short term, ensuring adequate liquidity and carefully monitoring the health of the financial sector to avoid spillovers remain key. Over the medium term, several structural reforms would put the real estate sector on a sounder footing.

China’s inner cities could be made denser, more productive and more livable through changes to urban planning that move away from the past extensive model of urbanization. This would need to be implemented in conjunction with fiscal reforms to expand the revenue base of cities beyond land sales.

At the same time, financing options for real estate developers would need to be broadened through the expansion of project-based financing or the greater participation of institutional investors such as “Real Estate Investment Trusts”. In addition, a robust and predictable framework for debt resolution and corporate insolvencies would help reallocate capital from troubled developers.

Finally, further liberalization of the financial system would expand the range of investment options for households and reduce the propensity to buy and hold empty properties as investment vehicles.

Despite the current challenging environment, China’s economic policies to support a rapid recovery should remain geared toward tackling the country’s structural challenges. Rebalancing demand toward consumption, improving capital allocation and labor mobility, and greening China’s development model would help ensure that future growth is stable, inclusive and sustainable.

*Ibrahim Chowdhury is World Bank senior economist for China; Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze is World Bank senior country economist; and Yusha Li is a World Bank economist.

First publish on China Daily / World Bank

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The Rise of the Sovereign Wealth Funds And How They Are Affecting Global Politics

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A revolution is taking place in world finance, and it appears that the world is sound asleep.  Investment entities owned by nations are rapidly forming in the world.  These entities are called Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs).  While the SWFs started out by investing in purely corporate debt, the SWFs have begun investing in equities, bonds (both private and government) and commercial real estate.  With SWFs capital increasing, the economic power eventually will translate into political power in global politics.

The term sovereign wealth fund was first coined by Andrew Rozanov in his article “Who holds the wealth of nations?” Sovereign wealth funds are a state-owned investment fund or entity that are funded primarily by: balance of payments surpluses; official foreign currency operations; proceeds from selling state lands to private entities; rent of state land to private corporations or individuals; taxes on corporations extracting mineral resources from state-owned lands; and fiscal surpluses and receipts resulting from resource exports.

The first recognized sovereign wealth fund is the Kuwait Investment Authority. The fund was established in 1953 with profits from the sale of Kuwaiti oil. The objective of the fund is to preserve wealth and to allow Kuwait to transition from an oil-exporting economy to a newer and more stable source of income for Kuwait and its population.

From 1953 to the present day, there are now 91 sovereign wealth funds in the world, with assets of over $9.1 trillion

Top 10 Sovereign Wealth Funds                     Country           (in billions)   2021

Norway Government Pension Fund Global            Norway $1,364

China Investment Corp.                           China                     $1,222

Kuwait Investment Authority                                 Kuwait                   $693

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority                           UAE                       $649

Hong Kong Monetary Authority             Hong Kong              $580

GIC                                                                        Singapore      $545

Temasek Holdings                                                Singapore    $484

National Council for Social Security                    China                       $447

Public Investment Fund                        Saudi Arabia              $430

Investment Corp. of Dubai                                 UAE                          $422

There are informal rules of conduct for sovereign wealth funds under the Santiago Principles. While seeking to promote greater accountability of sovereign wealth funds, the Principles are voluntary and there is no enforcement mechanism. The Linaburg-Maduell Transparency Index which measures public transparency of sovereign wealth funds can be found here.

The Financial and Political Power of National SWFs

China’s recent military buildup and seizure of the Philippine’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea has been made easier by the success of China’s SWFs. The cost of the artificial island Fiery Cross Reef is estimated to have cost China $11.5 billion. The latest known increase in military spending for China was $13.3 billion, easily financed by CIC’s earnings from 2017.

The Investment Corporation of Dubai has been using DP World, which it purchased in 2006, to expand its political and military presence in the sensitive geopolitical area of the Gulf coast and Somaliland.  DP World has purchased a 30-year concession, with a 10-year automatic extension, in the Port of Berbera on the Red Sea in the Republic of Somaliland. Berbera is located just across from Yemen, with the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in between them. Some 4 million barrels of oil pass through these straights daily. The UAE military is training the Somaliland military and establishing a naval base in the port. DP World is also developing the port of Bosaso in Puntland, another breakaway region of Somalia, and is currently considering investing in a third port in Barawe.

The Russian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the National Wealth Fund, has a valuation of $174.9 billion.  Using its SWF, Russia has been following a policy of gaining influence in what they call the “Middle Eastern and North African” countries, aka MENA. The Russian goal is to increase its economic and political ties with the Persian Gulf states rich with oil.

With sanctions from the West cutting off Russia’s ability to borrow capital, Russia is dipping into the $174.9 billion pension fund to help fund Russian banks and to keep them afloat.  The Russian’s also have the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF)

The RDIF was created to assist foreign companies invest in Russia without the entanglements of going through the Russian bureaucracy.   The RDIF was responsible for the research into a Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V.

The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund

he Norwegian Government Pension Fund is in reality two different funds. There is the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) and the Government Pension Fund Norway (GPFN). The GPFG is that part of the fund that invests in equities worldwide, along with government and corporate bonds and real estate investments, again worldwide. The GPFN invests in Scandinavian countries and in equities that are listed in the Oslo stock exchange. Both of the funds are managed by the Norges Bank. The Government Pension Fund Global earned $180 billion in 2019.

Nicolai Tangen, the CEO of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, has signaled a dramatic change in its philosophy on investing in stocks, bonds, and land worldwide. Tangen is the founder of AKO Capital, a multi-billion-dollar investment company, and one of the largest investment banks in Europe. Tangen, in an interview with the Financial Times, said that “his role is to create a ‘safe area’ where people in the fund can take risks.” Given Tangen’s performance as an investment manager at AKO Capital, it can safely be assumed that the investment policies of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund will be more aggressive in the investment of its assets in the world market in the near future.

In 2021, the fund placed the private beer company Kirin on its watch list because of the governing military junta ties to this company.  The fund is closely watching Kirin’s plans to end its manufacturing of Kirin beer in Myanmar.  The fund has publicly stated that it would dissolve its stake in Kirin should Kirin continue to operate manufacturing facilities in Myanmar. 

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was first established in 1971 and is currently valued at $360 billion. At first, PIF invested in conservative causes, but this has changed.

In the first quarter of 2020, the PIF poured $7.7 billion into blue-chip stocks such as Citigroup, Facebook, and the oil firm Total, but sold these stocks in the second quarter to take advantage of the higher prices of these company’s stocks and bonds. PIF invested $4.7 billion into exchange-traded funds. In July of 2020, the PIF boosted its public markets team by hiring Maziar Alamouti, the former head of Quilter Investors, a wealth management firm. According to a senior Gulf banking manager, executives at PIF are engaging in more equity analyst calls and are using global brokers to execute trades at their direction. In 2020, PIF had a return on investment of 7% and expects to expand the value of the fund to nearly $1.9 trillion by 2030. In order for PIF to achieve this ambitious goal, the fund will have to take risks normally associated with a private investment bank.

Possible Economic Consequences of the Rise of Sovereign Wealth Funds

The rise, and now evolving nature of sovereign wealth funds, pose a new wrinkle in financial investments in business capital markets worldwide. 

One of the effects of the more pro-active investment activities of sovereign wealth funds is the economic concept of “crowding out.” While the term crowding out has typically been used to define government spending driving down private sector spending, the rising commercial investments by sovereign wealth funds globally will eventually crowd out the private investment banks by undercutting their ability to compete in the intermediation of capital worldwide.

With private investment capital unable to compete with a national sovereign wealth fund, various funds have the possibility of evolving into entities competing for power and influence on the world stage, thereby increasing the chances of open warfare among nation-states who wield power through their sovereign wealth fund.

The ability of a sovereign wealth fund to bring large amounts of capital to bear in private investment also brings with it an implicit ability to pressure foreign governments to support the parent company of any sovereign wealth fund in political matters.

While the United States has a protective measure against such pressure in the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which was recently reformed and strengthened by the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA), the question has to be asked do the other modern economies of the world have the same protections in place? While the EU has adopted regulations for some protection against outside investors, EU regulations only suggest that member states review foreign investment in their respective economies.

It is not inconceivable that a sovereign wealth fund, such as the Saudi or the Chinese sovereign wealth fund might be used to pressure governments currently friendly to the United States to oppose a political initiative that would bring about an unfavorable result to the standing of the United States on the world political stage. CFIUS would not be able to affect such a scenario.

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Trade, regional integration and collaboration: an agenda for Brazil and Latin America

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Authors: Pablo Acosta, Folha de S. Paulo*

Over the last two decades there has been steady progress towards more integrated regional economies in almost every part of the world. The levels of regional integration in Latin America, however, are pale in comparison to those of other regions. The disproportionately high costs of trading within the region arising from outdated trade policies, poor transportation and logistics infrastructure, as well as inefficient trade facilitation, are significant obstacles to closer integration. 

Latin American and Caribbean countries remain with the lowest international trade rates as a share of GDP in the world (43.3% in comparison to 55.3% for OECD Members, or 59.4% for Europe and Central Asia, according to the 2020 World Development Index), and Brazil weighs in the regional performance with a share of just 32% of trade to its GDP.

For business owners who operate on the principle that time is money, delays that hold up the delivery of goods represent an agonizing loss of potential earnings. When those delays result in empty factories and workers with nothing to do, the waste of resources is even more frustrating.

Complicated border procedures—neither business-friendly nor aligned with international standards—are often to blame. Changing this is key to unlocking the countries’ economic potential, increasing competitiveness and positioning the region as an effective trade destination. Trade facilitation and regional integration helps local companies create new jobs and contribute to the economic growth.

The Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) program, which was created by the World Customs Organization in 2005, is set to make a major change in this scenario. It is among the most effective measures to facilitate intraregional trade and is gaining momentum in Latin America. The requirements for obtaining AEO status are strict, and operators are usually assessed and accredited based on their trade compliance, financial records, operating systems, communication and information quality, and international supply chain security. 

AEO programs translate into several benefits for business, including more simplified border procedures for AEO-certified traders, expedited processing and release of shipments, and reduced clearance times. They also represent less paperwork, fewer inspections, reduced fees and costs, fewer challenges and delays, and increased trust between traders and border authorities, as well as between traders and clients.

Governmental agencies also benefit from AEO initiatives. For example, better use of human resources enables the agencies to allocate funds to more urgent needs. Improved business processes result in faster processing and clearance times. Enhanced compliance and better alignment with international standards also facilitate trade by simplifying procedures.

Since the Department of the Federal Revenue  introduced the AEO program in Brazil in 2014, it has grown to almost 500 accredited companies, representing over 27% of all import and export declarations currently representing 40% of all imports (in value). The AEO program has helped boost exports and streamline import processes. It has also promoted low-risk trade environment for importers and exporters and led to greater speed and predictability of cargo in international trade flows. 

In 2018, Brazil’s National Confederation of Industry (CNI) estimated that the AEO program can lead to cost savings of US$17.8 billion for exporters and importers in the country between 2018 and 2030 if it is fully implemented. CNI also predicted a potential to increase the flow of international trade by around US$30.7 billion in the same period. 

Some of these anticipated impacts have already been verified by the private sector. According to General Electric/CELMA – a company that exports maintenance services for aircraft engines – the AEO program coupled with other trade facilitation reforms have substantially reduced the time (by 68%) and costs (by 67%) related to international trade for the company.

The success of the Brazilian AEO program is crossing the border to other Latin American countries. In 2019, the Heads of Customs Administrations from 11 Latin American countries met to discuss matters related to border management in the region, resulting in the Sao Paulo Declaration on enhanced collaboration. On May 18th, 2022, the countries met again to sign a regional mutual recognition agreement of AEO programs. Participating countries included Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and Uruguay. 

The agreement is an important step in improving integration in the region. The harmonization of the AEO program across the 11 countries is expected to facilitate mutual market access by eliminating duplicative certification and requirements. This in turn would reduce cargo inspections based on risk management measures and speed up the clearance of goods. It also includes the prioritization of measures to respond to disruptions in the flow of trade due to increased security alert levels, border closures and/or natural disasters, dangerous emergencies, and other serious incidents. 

While the signing of the regional recognition agreement is an important step towards closer regional integration, a lot of work remains to further secure and facilitate trade. In order to achieve best performance, the countries still need to expand the accessibility of the AEO program to small and medium enterprises and develop a single-government AEO program, with a priority focus on the agriculture and health agencies’ border controls that most often are not fully integrated. The countries should also implement a monitoring framework to track the benefits under the framework of the agreement. Improving regional and trade integration is critical for the growth and development agenda for Brazil and the region. 

This article was coauthored by World Bank colleagues Ernani Checcucci, Heidi Stensland W., and Marisa Zawacki.

World Bank

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