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Eastern Economic Forum Could Boost Regional Development

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With a focus to gather corporate business directors and investors from the Asian-Pacific region, Russia’s Far East federal district administration is speedily preparing to host the 6th edition of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) on September 2-4 in Vladivostok, located in far end of Russia.

The main theme of the forum is “New Opportunities for the Far East in a Changed World” and considered as vital for strengthening ties among Asia-Pacific countries. It offers a great opportunity to discuss economic, trade, research, technological, and investment partnership, as well as ways to strengthen cooperation and find new common grounds.

“This forum is among the key instruments for developing the Far East. Its key objective is to attract investors and get a feedback from the business community. Are the support measures we come up with effective? What other measures are needed to create new industrial operations, new jobs and to ensure the development of Far Eastern regions?” said Yury Trutnev, Deputy Prime Minister – Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District.

The Kremlin has given it support especially for the development of the Far East. The strategic priority here includes mobilizing resources to upgrade infrastructure, designing pathways to form industrial clusters and creating favorable investment conditions for potential business and industry giants particularly from Asian Pacific region – Korea, China and Japan.

In order to achieve those targets mentioned above, the forum has inter-state focus such as Russia-Korea, Russia-China, Russia-India, and Russia-Europe. Other international events include a discussion of the Greater Eurasian Partnership as an effective integration mechanism.

The business programme of the forum offers four main tracks:

In the track entitled “The New Economy: What Changes and Stays the Same”, participants will share their experience and views on the future in the following areas: international relations, medicine, business cooperation, science, innovations, Big Data, et cetera. This track will also address the government’s client-centeredness, as well as the outlook for gold and precious metals.

The track entitled “The Far East: New Challenges and Opportunities” will cover the technological, digital, investment and social development of this region. In particular, participants will address a whole range of questions. How does one win the competition for investments? What is the best recipe for an infrastructural breakthrough? Will the green energy ever become a reality in the Far East? What is the best way to reduce transport costs? This track will offer discussions on the development of key industries, such as agriculture, tourism, and forestry.

The track entitled “Our Shared Responsibility in a Changing World” will focus on ecology and environmental protection. Participants will discuss climate change, protection of rare species, new waves of volunteering, and automation technologies.

Youth EEF holds a special place in the Forum programme. It includes a presentation of the programme called “Special Forces in the Far East: Presentation of the Muravyov-Amursky 2030” as well as discussions on social media, youth entrepreneurship, the future of the financial market, business training, and career. 

Russian Tourism plans to present its cruise tourism development concept at the forum. The concept outlines the development of cruise tourism in Russia until 2024 in line with the Tourism Development Strategy in Russia until 2035.

“The concept is being approved and will soon be presented. We would like to present it at the Eastern Economic Forum. By that time, we hope to develop support measures that will facilitate the development of cruise tourism in Russia,” shared Tatiana Menshikova, Deputy Head of the Directorate of State Tourist Projects and Safety in Tourism (Rostourism) at the meeting on developing Volga cruises at the Federation Council.

Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) and the Russky Innovation Science and Technology Centre (ISTC), together with the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, the Russian Far East and Arctic Development Corporation, the Roscongress Foundation, and experts from the Asia-Pacific region, held a regional online session titled “Innovation Centres, Tech Entrepreneurs, and Modern Cities in the Pandemic Era” early July as part of preparations for the Eastern Economic Forum 2021.

There is also the cultural aspect of the forthcoming forum. At the instruction of Yury Trutnev, Deputy Prime Minister – Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District, a meeting was held in Moscow to discuss the preparation for the “Far East Street” exhibition at the EEF. The Far East Street exhibition will open at the Ajax Bay Promenade of the FEFU campus on 2–7 September. It will represent the unique features of the eleven regions of the Russian Far East: their economic potential, opportunities for tourism and cultural traditions.

According to Igor Pavlov, Deputy CEO of the Roscongress Foundation and Director of the Eastern Economic Forum, the concepts for the pavilions of the Far East regions and federal executive authorities are currently undergoing approval, and the sports and cultural programmes of the exhibition are being designed. This year, special attention focuses on compliance with anti-epidemic measures at the exhibition.

“There is simply no other opportunity to present a Far Eastern region to such large number of the foreign countries’ top officials, representatives of international business, scientific and public circles. Representatives of 65 countries visited the 5th Eastern Economic Forum. The Far East Street exhibition is an opportunity for the regions to present their work on the socio-economic development of their territories, when governors and residents have a chance to show why they love their land, what they plan to do, and what prospects they see,” Yuri Trutnev noted earlier at a meeting with the heads of the regions.

The Eastern Economic Forum was established by decree of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in 2015 to support the economic development of Russia’s Far East and to expand international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. During the 2019 forum, the “Welcome to the Far East” exhibition particularly showcased the results of the work of government agencies over the previous five years and the prospects for the development of the Far East under the National Programme 2025.

President Vladimir Putin has been making efforts to transform the Far East into a vibrant industrial and commercial region by attracting both local and foreign investors. The Russian government has allocated huge budget for its development. Putin has stated, several times, that the government implements additional initiatives to drive economy, rebuild infrastructure and intensify efforts to improve investment climate, and create employment opportunities as part of its priority development programme.

Given the vast territory of the Far East, 6.3 million people translates to slightly less than one person per square kilometer, making the Far East one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world. The Russian government continues discussing a wide range of re-population programmes, hoping to attract in particular Russians there, but eventually agreeing on populating the region through a system of immigration similar to Canada.

Until 2000, the Russian Far East lacked officially defined boundaries, according to historical archival documents. A single term “Siberia and the Far East” often referred to Russia’s regions east of the Urals without drawing a clear distinction between “Siberia” and “the Far East”. That however, the Far East is generally considered as the easternmost territory of Russia, between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Economy

The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage

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coronavirus people

The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.

In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.

In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.

From our partner RIAC

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Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery

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Lunzu market in southern Malawi. WFP/Greg Barrow

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal support and fragile health systems. The pandemic has plunged the continent into its first recession in over 25 years, and vulnerable groups such as the poor, informal sector workers, women, and youth, suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunities and unequal access to social safety nets.

Fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine acquisition—alongside widespread testing, improved treatment, and strong health systems—are critical to protecting lives and stimulating economic recovery. In support of the African Union’s (AU) target to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, the World Bank and the AU announced a partnership to assist the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources, allowing countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million Africans. This extraordinary effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising cases in the region.

I am convinced that unless every country in the world has fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we will not stem the spread of the pandemic and set the global economy on track for a steady and inclusive recovery. The World Bank has taken unprecedented steps to ramp up financing for Malawi, and every country in Africa, to empower them with the resources to implement successful vaccination campaigns and compensate for income losses, food price increases, and service delivery disruptions.

In line with Malawi’s COVID-19 National Response and Preparedness Plan which aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, the World Bank approved $30 million in additional financing for the acquisition and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This financing comes as a boost to Malawi’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project, bringing World Bank contributions in this sector up to $37 million.

Malawi’s decision to purchase 1.8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines through the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) with World Bank financing is a welcome development and will enable Malawi to secure additional vaccines to meet its vaccination target.

However, Malawi’s vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs. These concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fueling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic’s impact on the health and welfare of billions of people.  The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60 percent by the end of 2023 from the current 2.2 percent.

Government leadership remains fundamental as the country continues to address vaccine hesitancy by consistently communicating the benefits of the vaccine, releasing COVID data, and engaging communities to help them understand how this impacts them.

As we deploy targeted resources to address COVID-19, we are also working to ensure that these investments support a robust, sustainable and resilient recovery. Our support emphasizes transparency, social protection, poverty alleviation, and policy-based financing to make sure that COVID assistance gets to the people who have been hit the hardest.

For example, the Financial Inclusion and Entrepreneurship Scaling Project (FInES) in Malawi is supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises by providing them with $47 million in affordable credit through commercial banks and microfinance institutions. Eight months into implementation, approximately $8.4 million (MK6.9 billion) has been made available through three commercial banks on better terms and interest rates. Additionally, nearly 200,000 urban households have received cash transfers and urban poor now have more affordable access to water to promote COVID-19 prevention.

Furthermore, domestic mobilization of resources for the COVID-19 response are vital to ensuring the security of supply of health sector commodities needed to administer vaccinations and sustain ongoing measures. Likewise, regional approaches fostering cross-border collaboration are just as imperative as in-country efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. United Nations (UN) partners in Malawi have been instrumental in convening regional stakeholders and supporting vaccine deployment.

Taking broad, fast action to help countries like Malawi during this unprecedented crisis will save lives and prevent more people falling into poverty. We thank Malawi for their decisive action and will continue to support the country and its people to build a resilient and inclusive recovery.

This op-ed first appeared in The Nation, via World Bank

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An Airplane Dilemma: Convenience Versus Environment

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Mr. President:  There are many consequences of COVID-19 that have changed the existing landscape due to the cumulative effects of personal behavior.  For example, the decline in the use of automobiles has been to the benefit of the environment.  A landmark study published by Nature in May 2020 confirmed a 17 percent drop in daily CO2 emissions but with the expectation that the number will bounce back as human activity returns to normal.

Yet there is hope.  We are all creatures of habit and having tried teleconferences, we are less likely to take the trouble to hop on a plane for a personal meeting, wasting time and effort.  Such is also the belief of aircraft operators.  Add to this the convenience of shopping from home and having the stuff delivered to your door and one can guess what is happening.

In short, the need for passenger planes has diminished while cargo operators face increased demand.  Fewer passenger planes also means a reduction in belly cargo capacity worsening the situation.  All of which has led to a new business with new jobs — converting passenger aircraft for cargo use.  It is not as simple as it might seem, and not just a matter of removing seats, for all unnecessary items must be removed for cargo use. They take up cargo weight and if not removed waste fuel.

After the seats and interior fittings have been removed, the cabin floor has to be strengthened.  The side windows are plugged and smoothed out.  A cargo door is cut out and the existing emergency doors are deactivated and sealed.  Also a new crew entry door has to be cut-out and installed. 

A new in-cabin cargo barrier with a sliding access door is put in, allowing best use of cargo and cockpit space and a merged carrier and crew space.  A new crew lavatory together with replacement water and waste systems replace the old, which supplied the original passenger area and are no longer needed.

The cockpit gets upgrades which include a simplified air distribution system and revised hydraulics.  At the end of it all, we have a cargo jet.  If the airlines are converting their planes, then they must believe not all the travelers will be returning after the covid crisis recedes.

Airline losses have been extraordinary.  Figures sourced from the World Bank and the International Civil Aviation Organization reveal air carriers lost $370 billion in revenues.  This includes $120 billion in the Asia-Pacific region, $100 billion in Europe and $88 billion in North America.

For many of the airlines, it is now a new business model transforming its fleet for cargo demand and launching new cargo routes.  The latter also requires obtaining regulatory approvals.

A promising development for the future is sustainable aviation fuel (SAP).  Developed by the Air France KLM Martinair consortium it reduces CO2 emissions, and cleaner air transport contributes to lessening global warming.

It is a good start since airplanes are major transportation culprits increasing air pollution and radiative forcing.  The latter being the heat reflected back to earth when it is greater than the heat radiated from the earth.  All of which should incline the environmentally conscious to avoid airplane travel — buses and trains pollute less and might be a preferred alternative for domestic travel.

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