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Russia’s Economic Recovery Gathers Pace

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Russia’s GDP growth is forecast at 3.2% in 2021, followed by 3.2% and 2.3% in 2022 and 2023, respectively, according to the World Bank’s latest Russia Economic Report (#45 in the series). Global economic recovery, higher oil prices, and soft domestic monetary conditions in 2021 are expected to support a recovery led by household consumption and public investment. This baseline scenario assumes a gradual decline in new COVID-19 infections.

“In 2020, Russia’s GDP contracted by 3.0%compared to contractions of 3.8% in the world economy and 5.4% in advanced economies,” said Apurva Sanghi, the Lead Economist for the World Bank in Russia. “Several factors helped Russia perform relatively better: in recent years, the country has undertaken significant macro-fiscal stabilization efforts, resulting in an improved fiscal position. Among other contributing factors were enhanced regulation and supervision in the banking sector, fortified capital and liquidity buffers, relatively soft restrictions for industrial and construction sectors, closer ties to a relatively fast-growing China, a relatively small services sector and a large public sector that buffered against unemployment.”

Russia’s fiscal outcomes worsened in 2020, but improved in the first quarter of 2021. In 2020, the federal budget was hit by  pandemic-induced shocks and registered a deficit of Rub4.1 trillion (3.8 percent of GDP), compared to a surplus of Rub1.9 billion (1.8 percent of GDP) in 2019.

The Russian banking sector has been resilient so far, but medium-term impacts remain to be seen. Credit growth has been supported by an economic recovery and public credit support programs. Non-performing loans remained largely unchanged, at about 9% of total loans, in 2021.

Although employment is still below pre-pandemic levels, the labor market began showing some signs of improvement by the end of 2020. The national unemployment rate has been declining since last August, when it peaked at 6.4%, to 5.4% in March 2021. However, this rate is still 0.7 percentage points higher than in the same month of the previous year, which means that labor markets are not yet where they were before the pandemic.

Average real wages increased by 1.7% between 2019 and 2020, but masked important differences across economic activities: sectors that suffered the largest employment losses also had the largest real wage losses. Real wages increased in agriculture, telecommunications, and health services, but fell in many other sectors, with large declines in hospitality services, construction, culture/sports/leisure activities, and commerce.

The study also finds, however, that increases in real wages do not compensate for the decline in per-capita disposable income, which in the last three quarters of 2020 was lower by 7.9%, 5.3% and 1.7%, respectively, than in the same periods of the previous year.

The report contains a special topic section on halving poverty in Russia through cost-effective social safety nets. As a national goal, Russia aims to halve poverty to 6.6 percent by 2030. While Russia’s social safety-nets system plays an important role in reducing poverty, it does so at a high cost: the country spends over 3% of GDP, or $30 billion per year, on social-assistance programs.This level of spending is more than three times greater than the combined income deficit of all poor families in the country, before transfers.

“Traditionally, Russia has built quite an impressive social safety net system. However, the country’s expenditure on social safety nets is larger than the spending in the Europe and Central Asia region, which is 2.2% of GDP,” said Renaud Seligmann, the World Bank Country Director in Russia. “Introducing a national, targeted program that provides financial assistance to people falling below a poverty threshold could be key to cost-effective poverty reduction. In our view, implementing such a program could reduce poverty faster and at a lower fiscal cost.”

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India’s Opportunity to Become a Global Manufacturing Hub

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Beyond the unprecedented health impact, the COVID‑19 pandemic has been catastrophic for the global economy and businesses and is disrupting manufacturing and Global Value Chains (GVCs), disturbing different stages of the production in different locations around the world. Furthermore, the pandemic has accelerated the already ongoing fundamental shifts in GVCs, driven by the aggregation of three megatrends: emerging technologies; the environmental sustainability imperative; and the reconfiguration of globalization.

In this fast-evolving context, as global companies adapt their manufacturing and supply chain strategies to build resilience, India has a unique opportunity to become a global manufacturing hub. It has three primary assets to capitalize on this unique opportunity: the potential for significant domestic demand, the Indian Government’s drive to encourage manufacturing, and with a distinct demographic edge, including considerable proportion of young workforce.

These factors will position India well for a larger role in GVCs. A thriving manufacturing sector will also generate additional benefits and help India deliver on the imperatives to create economic opportunities for nearly 100 million people likely to enter its workforce in the coming decade, to distribute wealth more equitably and to contain its burgeoning trade deficit.

The World Economic Forum’s new White Paper entitled Shifting Global Value Chains: The India Opportunity, produced in collaboration with Kearney, found India’s role in reshaping GVCs and its potential to contribute more than $500 billion in annual economic impact to the global economy by 2030. The White Paper presents five possible paths forward for India to realize its manufacturing potential.

The insights presented in the White Paper reflect the perspectives of leaders from multiple industries in the region. The five possible solutions include:

· Coordinated action between the government and the private sector to help create globally competitive manufacturing companies

· Shifting focus from cost advantage to building capabilities through workforce skilling, innovation, quality, and sustainability

· Accelerating integration in global value chains by reducing trade barriers and enabling competitive global market access for Indian manufacturers

· Focusing on reducing the cost of compliance and establishing manufacturing capacities faster

· Focusing infrastructure development on cost savings, speed, and flexibility

“For India to become a global manufacturing hub, business and government leaders need to work together to understand ongoing disruptions and opportunities, and develop new strategies and approaches aimed at generating greater economic and social value”, said Francisco Betti, Head of Shaping the Future of Advanced Manufacturing and Production, World Economic Forum.

“A thriving manufacturing sector could potentially be the most critical building block for India’s economic growth and prosperity in the coming decade. The ongoing post-COVID rebalancing of Global Value Chains offers India’s government and business leaders a unique opportunity to transform and accelerate the trajectory of manufacturing sector”, said Viswanathan Rajendran, Partner, Kearney.

This White Paper aims to serve as an initial framework for deliberation and action in the manufacturing ecosystem. The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Kearney, will continue to develop this agenda by working closely with the manufacturing community in India to generate new insights, help inform discussions and strategy decisions, facilitate new partnerships, and provide a platform for exchanges with the global community.

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New Skills Development Key to Further Improving Students’ Learning Outcomes

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Learning outcomes in Russia would benefit significantly from a focus on teaching new skills that are tailored to the modern labor market, says a new World Bank report, New Skills for a New Century: Informing Regional Policy.

Russia’s education system has traditionally been well-performing and efficient, with Russian students appearing among the top performers globally. However, today’s labor market requires “21st century skills” – a combination of skills, knowledge, and expertise that students need to succeed in the modern world.

“Russia’s education system could achieve better teaching and learning outcomes if it focused more on developing 21st-century skills,” says Tigran Shmis, World Bank Senior Education Specialist. “There is a strong relationship between the quality of the school environment, innovative teaching practices, students’ perception of school, and students’ learning outcomes.”

According to the report, 38 percent of Russian schools today are not equipped with workshops and 46 percent do not have scientific laboratories. And, 77 percent of educational institutions do not have dedicated places for integrated lessons that stimulate the development of new skills and team interaction.

The way teaching is delivered, the physical characteristics of the learning environment, and the school’s psychological climate all affect students’ learning results. The study provides an insight into how these factors impact the development of students’ skills, including 21st century and digital skills. Along with data analytics, the study includes a qualitative perspective of modern teaching and learning in Russia, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching and learning.

“Developing the ability of students to master 21st century skills is critical to ensuring their future employment and career success,” says Renaud Seligmann, World Bank Country Director for Russia. “Studies in Russia have shown that businesses having access to workers with these skills will also be critical for growth and productivity. In turn, high-quality human capital is a cornerstone of the resilience and sustainability of the national economy.”

The report provides recommendations for how schools in Russia can better help students excel. For example, teachers who practice innovative teaching are more likely to drive higher achievement. Modern teaching practices can be supported by expanding the use of technology and enhancing the learning environment in classrooms. Technology should be made available in schools on an equitable basis to improve student learning and enhance teachers’ professional development. Education policymakers should prioritize the prevention of bullying and the development of supporting measures to ensure a positive school climate.

Despite the physical return of students to schools, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing continued learning losses. Therefore, new equipment, ICT, and innovative teaching methods are needed to enable teachers to improve their practices and compensate such learning losses.

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Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments

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The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.

Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”

 Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.

 Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:

 Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.

 It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.

 Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.

 Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.

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