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Liberia: Prospects for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth

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The World Bank today launched the third edition of the annual Liberia Economic Update with the theme: “Investing in Human Capital for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth”. The Liberian economy experienced strong growth in 2021. After contracting by 3.0 percent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, growth recovered to 5.0 percent in 2021. 

The rebound was driven by improved external demand, higher prices for Liberia’s main exports, and the resumption of normal domestic activity. Meanwhile, growth slowed in the first half of 2022, even when mining and construction continued to perform well. In agriculture, rubber and cocoa production dropped by 13.5 percent and 27 percent, respectively. In the industrial sector, iron ore, gold, and cement production all increased, reflecting firmer international prices and an uptick in construction activity. However, services growth fell, as reflected in the decline in beverages and electricity production.  

“The positive economic growth of 5.0 percent in 2021 from the COVID-19-induced recession in 2020 is important for Liberia’s efforts to reduce poverty,” said Khwima Nthara, World Bank Country Manager for Liberia. “Going forward, the focus should be to sustain the recovery and ensure that growth is inclusive through investments in human capital, social protection, and labor-intensive productive sectors such as agriculture,” he added.  

Growth is projected to slow down to 3.7 percent in 2022, reflecting increased global uncertainties and commodity price shock, but reach an average of 5.2 percent over 2023-2024. Beyond 2022, growth is underpinned by significant tailwinds for mining, the government’s planned scale-up of public investment, and the implementation of structural reforms including in key enabling sectors (such as energy, trade, transportation, and financial services).  

Inflation is projected to remain low and stable, averaging 7.2 percent per year in 2022-2024. Sustaining low levels of inflation would help Liberian households to retain their purchasing power, and it is projected that by 2023 poverty rates will start to decrease. The fiscal deficit is projected to widen to 4.3 percent in 2022 but improve in the medium term with reforms aimed at improving domestic resource mobilization and consolidating expenditures. Notably, the lingering effects of the war in Ukraine could pose significant risks to the outlook. 

The economic update also reports that Liberia’s Human Capital Index is as low as 0.32, performing better than only three countries in the world—out of 174 countries assessed. By 2020, the human capital gap in Liberia was mainly driven by poor education (contributing 50 percent), poor health (12 percent), and survival (7 percent). The underlying factors contributing to the country’s low human capital outcomes are multiple and complex. They include weak institutions, ineffective service delivery, demographic pressures, and low and inefficient social spending. In addition, poor coordination among government agencies responsible for human capital development often results in unresponsive or suboptimal service delivery. 

“Liberia human capital outcomes are amongst the worst in the world largely due to slow progress in education and health,” said Gweh Gaye Tarwo, Liberia Country Economist and main author of the report. “Thus, improving the country’s human capital outcomes would require significant interventions in the health and education sectors. Investing in human capital will be crucial for Liberia to grow faster, reduce poverty, and deliver substantial social benefits in the long term. The Liberian Government has made some strides in these sectors, but more can be done,” he pointed out. 

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Finance

US Anti-Inflation Law threatens Europe

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Europe and the US are heading towards a serious trade and economic conflict, writes “Berliner Morgenpost”.

In the European Union hopes are fading that the US government will significantly amend the controversial subsidies law by providing billions in bailouts to US manufacturers. This forces the EU to protect domestic companies from threatening competitive advantages over US competition and to prevent investment from moving to America.

Fear of the “de-industrialization” of Europe is spreading. For example, buyers of a “Made in USA” electric vehicle with a battery also made in the USA receive a $7,500 subsidy. Subsidies also go to companies that make wind turbines or solar panels from American steel. Europeans are worried that not only will they have to contend with heavily subsidized US competition in future strategic sectors, but industrial cooperation with US companies could also be threatened.

The head of the trade committee in the European Parliament, Bernd Lange, told: “I assume that a few small changes to implement the IRA can still be agreed upon in the negotiations. But I do not think that anything will change significantly, because the Law has already been passed.”

The US IRA law goes into effect on January 1. By that time, the EU countries should have found a common line. France is already openly threatening a trade war and agitating for a tough counterattack: the EU should take a protectionist course and respond with the Buy European initiative. But there are also concerns in Berlin.

An EU trade expert argues that lower energy prices for industry should be considered, as they are currently ten times higher than in the US. European Commission economic policy spokesman Markus Ferber is also calling for a hard line: If the US side doesn’t give in now, the EU commission should “put all instruments of torture on the table” and consider boosting trade. Disappointment with the protectionist course of US President Joe Biden is great, Ferber says: “The American anti-inflationary law threatens Europe, and can make its economic situation much worse.”

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Macron vs U.S. Inflation Reduction Act

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Emmanuel Macron warned that the U.S. risked “fragmenting the West” with a flagship climate law that the French president said would distort competition by massively subsidizing American companies to the detriment of European industries, informs “The Financial Times”. The harsh words, which came on the first day of his state visit to Washington hosted by president Joe Biden.

In a speech at the French embassy in Washington, Macron said while he agreed with the objectives of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, it would have negative repercussions for Europe by making it less attractive for companies to invest there. “We need to co-ordinate and re-synchronize our policy agendas.”

Macron called the new U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) “super aggressive for our companies,” according to comments reported by Agence France-Presse and confirmed by a person present. “Perhaps this law will solve your problems but it will make mine worse,” he said, adding that many jobs would be destroyed.

Macron has also called on the EU to pass a so-called “Buy European Act” that would offer similar subsidies to local industries. Other countries such as Germany are less supportive of the idea.

U.S. President Joe Biden was forced to retract. He said that new laws that give incentives for domestic production of computer chips and renewable energy parts were never intended to exclude European allies and could be tweaked.

Speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron at a joint press conference at the White House, Biden said “There are tweaks that we can make that can fundamentally make it easier for European countries to participate and/or be on their own.”

The United States and France also announced the formation of ‘Joint task force’ between the Unites States and the European Union to deal with trade disputes around clean energy issues emerging from the IRA.

Europe’s industry fears that the bill, which gives tax credit for each eligible renewable energy component produced in a U.S. factory, would take away potential investment from the continent.

Biden said he makes no apologies for promoting American manufacturing of essential goods, but said large legislation often requires tweaks to deal with unintended consequences.

“We’re going to continue to create manufacturing jobs in America but not at the expense of Europe,” Biden said.

Macron told reporters that he was encouraged by his talks with Biden and is hopeful of a fair resolution.

…We’ll see whether Biden keeps his word or not.

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FOCUS: The German economy is in a dangerous pliers

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The politicization of trade relations is proceeding rapidly. German Economics Minister Robert Habeck said: “The phase where many thought markets should rule and politicians should stay out is definitely over. Previously, this idea was wrong,” –  quotes FOCUS.

The German economy is in a dangerous pliers. The craziness is that it is not the Russians or the Chinese who move with both hands in the tongs, but the Americans, who are clearly determined to organize their future prosperity at the expense of the Chinese and Europeans.

Pliers consist of two very different legs:

– On the one hand, the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is primarily aimed at reducing US inflation. In fact, this is a gigantic program to subsidize new technologies. The legislative package plans to spend $369 billion over the next decade on energy security and climate change programs, putting pressure on European industry. The US wants to reinforce its industrial base again.

In some cases, subsidies offered by the US government are four to ten times the maximum government support allowed by the European Commission, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Mer said.

– On the other hand, US government sanctions against China’s semiconductor industry are putting pressure on China, and German industry is also suffering from restrictions. Chinese manufacturers make up one-fifth of the global semiconductor industry, and their European customers and suppliers are required to follow US policy.

Dutch company ASML was under pressure from US officials to stop selling individual chip-making machines to China, Bloomberg reported.

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