Threat of financial crisis has not gone away, WEF warns

Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, Head of Economic Growth and Social Inclusion System Initiative, World Economic Forum speaks during a press conference for the launch of the World Economic Forum, WEF, flagship annual Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018, in Cologny near Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Threat of financial crisis has not gone away, WEF warns

DUBAI: Global economies remain at risk of further financial shocks and are ill-prepared for the coming wave of innovation and automation, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The WEF’s global competitiveness report — its annual ranking of the strength of 137 economies around the world — warns that 10 years on from the global financial crisis, “the prospects for a sustained economic recovery remain at risk due to a widespread failure on the part of leaders and policy-makers to put in place reforms necessary to underpin competitiveness and bring about much-needed increases in productivity.
“Levels of ‘soundness’ have yet to recover from the shock of 2007 and in some parts of the world are declining further. This is especially of concern given the important role the financial system will need to play in facilitating investment in innovation,” the WEF added.
The economies of the Middle East and North Africa improved their average performance in the first half of 2017, despite challenges mainly from the decline in energy prices. The most improved country in the region was Egypt, up 14 slots to 101 in the world.
“Low oil and gas prices are forcing the region to implement reforms to boost diversification, and heavy investments in digital and technological infrastructure have allowed major improvements in technological readiness. However, these have not yet led to an equally large turnaround in the region’s level of innovation,” the WEF said.
The UAE was again ranked top of the regional rankings, at 17th, down one slot from last year. Saudi Arabia was ranked 30th, also down one position.
Qatar fell by seven positions to 25th, though the WEF noted that the report was compiled before the economic effects of the economic sanctions introduced by some of its Gulf neighbors because of allegations of terrorism funding.
“The country will have to ensure better access to digital technologies for individuals and businesses, and further strengthen educational institutions,” the WEF said.
On Saudi Arabia, the report said: “The macroeconomic environment has improved slightly after the 2015 oil price shock, but financial market efficiency has deteriorated as interest rates increased in 2016 and credit growth slowed.
“The country has stable institutions, good-quality infrastructure, and the largest market in the Arab world. Saudi executives see restrictive labor regulations as their most problematic factor for doing business: The labor market is segmented among different population groups, and women remain largely excluded,” the WEF added.
Another concern is the lack of adequately educated workers. Although tertiary enrolment is strong at 63 percent, more efforts are needed to advance the quality of education and align it with economic needs, the report said.
The UAE “continues to lead the Arab World in terms of competitiveness, but it loses one place as other countries post even larger gains,” the WEF said.
“This improvement shows the resilience of the UAE economy, in part due to increased diversification, which is reflected in its stable macroeconomic environment and its ability to weather the double shock of lower oil and gas prices and reduced global trade,” the report added.
Although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts gross domestic product (GDP) growth to drop to 1.3 percent this year, non-oil growth is expected to pick up, suggesting that the country’s diversification strategy is bearing fruit. To further increase its competitiveness, the UAE will have to speed up progress in terms of spreading the latest digital technologies and upgrading education.
For the ninth consecutive year, Switzerland — home of the WEF — was judged the most competitive economy in the world, narrowly ahead of the US and Singapore, which switched positions in second and third.
Another key finding of the report is that competitiveness is enhanced, not weakened, by combining degrees of flexibility within the labor force with adequate protection of workers’ rights.
“With vast numbers of jobs set to be disrupted as a result of automation and robotization, creating conditions that can withstand economic shock and support workers through transition periods will be vital,” the WEF said.
The data also suggests that the reason innovation often fails to ignite productivity is due to an imbalance between investments in technology and efforts to promote its adoption throughout the wider economy.
Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman, said: “Global competitiveness will be more and more defined by the innovative capacity of a country. Talents will become increasingly more important than capital and therefore the world is moving from the age of capitalism into the age of talentism.”


Mnuchin expresses optimism trade standoffs can be resolved

Updated 22 April 2018
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Mnuchin expresses optimism trade standoffs can be resolved

  • “We are cautiously optimistic,” US treasury secretary says of trade talks with Chinese counterparts
  • China's commerce ministry welcomes prospect of US visit to discuss trade issues

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank repeatedly warned at their meetings this week that intensifying trade tensions could jeopardize a healthy global economic expansion.
But US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin expressed cautious optimism Saturday that countries could settle their differences without a trade war.
Mnuchin met during the past three days with financial officials from China, Japan and Europe over a series of punitive tariffs unveiled by the Trump administration against China and other trading partners.
In a session with reporters, Mnuchin refused to say how close the United States was to resolving the various trade disputes, but he did say progress had been made.
The United States and China are on the brink of what would be the biggest trade dispute since World War II. Each has proposed imposing tariffs of $50 billion on each other’s products; President Donald Trump is looking to impose tariffs up to $100 billion more on Chinese goods.
In a speech earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to open China’s market wider to foreign companies, raising hopes the dispute with Washington could be resolved. Mnuchin said he discussed Xi’s proposals with Chinese officials. “We are cautiously optimistic,” Mnuchin told reporters, saying that he may soon travel to Beijing for further talks.
The Commerce Ministry in Beijing said Sunday that China welcomes a visit from the US to Beijing to discuss trade issues and confirms it has “received information” regarding Washington’s interest in such a trip.
Trade tensions dominated the three days of talks among top finance officials attending meetings of the Group of 20 major economies, the 189-nation International Monetary Fund and its sister lending agency, the World Bank.
The officials roundly criticized Trump’s get-tough approach to trade, a reversal of seven decades of US support for increasing freedom in global commerce. In his speech to the IMF’s policy committee Saturday, Yi Gang, the head of China’s central bank, said that global growth could be hurt by “an escalation of trade frictions caused by unilateral actions,” an obvious reference to America’s threatened tariffs against China.
Mnuchin insisted that the United States was not trying to provoke a global trade war but seeking to protect American jobs from unfair competition. “The president has been very clear on what our objectives are,” Mnuchin said. “We are looking for reciprocal treatment. This is not about protectionism.”
There were signs of conciliation. The US dropped its objection to the first increase in the World Bank’s capital resources since 2010, clearing the way for the bank’s board to OK a $13 billion increase in its capacity to make loans to poor countries. The move was tied to a package of reforms the US had sought.
Both the World Bank and IMF held meetings of their policy committees on Saturday. In a closing communique, the IMF expressed concern that the rising trade tensions could dim what at the moment are bright prospects for the global economy, which is expected to grow this year at the fastest pace since 2011.
“Trade tensions are not to the benefit of anyone,” said Lesetja Kganyago, who leads the policymaking committee and is governor of the South African Reserve Bank. “If there is a trade conflict, there could never be winners. We could all only be losers.”
On Friday, Mnuchin had called on the IMF to do more to police countries running large trade surpluses, a role that has traditionally been left to the Geneva-based World Trade Organization. The final IMF communique did state: “We will work together to reduce excessive global imbalances in a way that supports global growth.” The communique did not spell out how this would be accomplished.