Building productive capacities can avert a lost decade in the poorest countries

By Dr. Perks Master Ligoya, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Malawi to the United Nations and Mr. Paul Akiwumi, Director, Division for Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes, UNCTAD

Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 4, 2020. Photo: Mamunur Rashid, Shatterstock

The COVID-19 crisis shook the very foundations of the international system, triggering an abrupt and severe global recession, which threatens to heighten economic contagion.While no country is spared, the coronavirus has hit the world’s poorest nations disproportionately.  

The 46 least developed countries (LDCs) were already  highly exposed due to weak healthcare services and their lower levels of socio-economic resilience. Despite relatively strong growth in LDCs prior to the outbreak, the effects of the crisis will reverse years of painstaking economic and social progress. The potential long-term impacts, including secondary and tertiary shocks, and spillover effects on production, job creation, household income, domestic finances and investment mean that LDCs will continue to rely on external financing to sustain their much-needed development.

However, the outlook for official development assistance (ODA) is bleak as donor countries focus on domestic economic stresses. High levels of informality, limited IT access and skills shortages, and fragile industrial sectors coupled with weak integration into global value chains also hamper the uptake of new technologies in LDCs.

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The sectoral and gendered impacts of COVID-19 in Africa

By Anzetse Were, Senior Economist FSD Kenya

Africa, like much of the world, is still in the throes of the COVID pandemic and related economic fallout. The pandemic has cost the continent about USD 69 billion per month and economic growth is projected to contract by 2.6% in 2020. This downturn is set to cost Africa at least $115 billion in output losses in 2020 with GDP per capita growth expected to contract by nearly 6.0 %. Additionally, the pandemic may push 40 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 across the continent, eroding at least five years of progress in fighting poverty.

Diverse sectoral impact

The sectoral impact of COVID-19 has been and will likely continue to be varied. Some sectors such as tourism, aviation and crude oil exports have been disproportionately hit in Africa, while COVID-19 is spurring certain types of digital technologies (such as mobile payments in Kenya and Rwanda), and food production in some countries has been resilient. This points to four main COVID impact-recovery sectoral performance paths (the chart is illustrative):

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Risk, resilience and recalibration in global value chains

By Adnan Seric, Michael Windisch, UNIDO, Holger Görg, Wan-Hsin Liu, Kiel Institute for the World Economy 1

Figure 1Number of new trade policy interventions implemented each year. Note: Reporting lag-adjusted statistics. Source: Global Trade Alert

COVID-19 supply chain disruptions provide an unprecedented opportunity to examine the resilience of global value chains. Data on trade flows and manufacturing output over the course of the pandemic suggest that the supply chain disruptions of early 2020 were of a temporary nature, and that extended global value chains currently interlinking many firms and economies seem to be resilient to trade and economic shocks at least to some extent.

Escalating geopolitical tensions and trade restrictions

Geopolitical tensions have risen, in a race to address the need for self-sufficiency—especially with regard to economic dependence on China—exemplified by the escalation in trade interventions in the lead-up to early December 2020. Close to 1,800 new restrictive interventions have been imposed in 2020 – over one and a half times the number in each of the two previous years, when the China-US trade dispute and a new wave of protectionism intensified (Figure 1)2. The adoption of discriminatory trade interventions outpaced liberalisations, despite the increase in new trade-liberalising measures during this period and the lifting of some emergency trade restrictions.

Amid rising US-China trade tensions in 2018-19, China already faced a particularly high increase in trade restrictions relative to other countries, which further intensified during the COVID-19 crisis. (Figure 2)

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Developing an Artificial Intelligence for Africa strategy

By François Candelon, Senior Partner & Managing Director at BCG, and Global Director of the BCG Henderson Institute; Hind El Bedraoui, Ambassador at the BCG Henderson Institute; Hamid Maher, Partner and Managing Director   

Africa has a unique opportunity to develop its competitiveness through artificial intelligence (AI). From agriculture and remote health to translating the 2,000-odd languages spoken across the continent, AI can help tackle the economic problems that Africa faces.

Africa faces several known challenges in developing AI such as a dearth of investment, a paucity of specialised talent, and a lack of access to the latest global research. These hurdles are being whittled down, albeit slowly, thanks to African ingenuity and to investments by multinational companies such as IBM Research, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, which have all opened AI labs in Africa. Innovative forms of trans-continental collaboration such as Deep Learning Indaba (a Zulu word for gathering), which is fostering a community of AI researchers in Africa, and Zindi, a platform that challenges African data scientists to solve the continent’s toughest challenges, are gaining ground, buoyed by the recent “homecoming“ of several globally-trained African experts in AI.

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Women in industry – why we need more gender-sensitive statistics

By Jenny Larsen, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation

Since COVID-19 emerged in late 2019, scientists have been poring over the data to understand better how the virus behaves and how to fight it. But studies show that many trials fail to take the sex of participants into account – meaning eagerly awaited vaccines or treatments could be less effective in the female population. Data from Global Health 50/50 show that as of December 2020 only 58 percent of COVID-19 cases reported by 186 countries had been disaggregated by sex, making it much harder to assess the impact of the virus across populations. 

From domestic violence to unpaid care work, these omissions reflect a much wider, longstanding data bias that underreports or even misreports the life experiences of women and girls, in an era when our lives are increasingly dominated by an ocean of data. In her recent book, Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez writes that we have unconsciously created the world as male: “Women are being left out of numbers, data, the way in which we allocate our resources, the way in which we design safety for cars, the way in which we design medicine.”

The consequences are far-reaching: without reliable sex and gender-disaggregated data and gender statistics, decisions taken by policymakers, scientists or researchers, be it about health, the economy or elsewhere, risk leaving women behind and widening inequalities. 

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The challenges and opportunities of implementing local climate action lessons from Quelimane, Mozambique

By Manuel A. Alculete Lopes de Araújo, PhD, Mayor of Quelimane City, Mozambique

Mozambique, one of the most vulnerable countries in Africa to natural disasters, has had to learn first-hand that the effects of climate change are determining factors in the country’s deteriorating poverty situation. As one of the hot spots for various types of natural disasters, mostly directly related to climate change, such as floods, droughts, and cyclones, the country’s development achieved over the years is periodically undermined. As a result, the country still ranks 180th out of 189 on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index. Mozambique’s coastal cities, which could potentially represent a vital driver for the country’s growth, are also particularly exposed to disasters. Tropical cyclones, for instance, occur regularly in the area. Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth hit Mozambique in 2019 at just a few weeks interval, causing enormous destruction and the loss of many lives. But in recent years, the port city of Quelimane decided to tackle climate change through local climate action, involving a broad constellation of public and private sector actors, with the goal of triggering long-term systemic transformation and paving the way for other cities.

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Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership: why should it involve the excluded LDCs?

By Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)

The world’s largest trading bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), was signed in November 2020, counting 15 Asian member countries. Should the excluded countries, more specifically the low income and least developed countries (LDCs) of Asia, be worried about this development?

In recent years, the number of regional trading arrangements of various types, dealing with trade in goods or services or both, has been on the rise. 305 regional trade arrangements are already in force and the World Trade Organisation has been notified of another 496 currently under negotiation. However, the RCEP stands out for several reasons. The ten original members of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Singapore, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) have now joined hands with five of the six countries with which ASEAN had bilateral free trade areas – China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. India opted out at the last moment, but the door has been kept open.

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Regional integration does not ensure production in value chains

By Renato Baumann, Co-ordinator, International Co-operation, IPEA, Brazil

Developing economies often face a common challenge: after a period of rapid growth they experience a slowdown in both growth and productivity, falling into what has come to be known as the ‘middle-income trap’. Signing preferential trade agreements and participating in global value chains are two common recommendations presented to countries facing the middle-income trap, and are often seen as intertwining processes. Moreover, regional integration is gaining momentum as an enabler of value chains. However, although regional movement of goods facilitated by regional integration might be necessary, it is not the only condition to ensure production in value chains.

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Growth and labour markets in middle-income countries

By Rolph van der Hoeven1 International Institute of Social Studies at Erasmus University, The Hague & Member of the Committee for Development Policy of the United Nations

“You can check out any time you like but you can never leave… “

It is almost as if the lyrics of the world’s best rated song ‘Hotel California’ were written for the large category of middle-income countries (MICs) as since the classification was introduced in 1992 only four2 MICs outside Eastern and Western Europe (The Republic of Korea, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina) have so far managed to ‘graduate’ to the high-income category. Are all other countries unable ‘to leave’?

To look into this, it is worth recalling that the middle-income country group is a vast one and spans countries with considerable differences in per capita income, growth rates and labour market experiences. MICs are therefore often subdivided into Lower and Higher Middle-Income country categories. To see how dynamics play out, it is therefore as important to look how countries develop within the large MIC grouping, as it is to look at the differences between those MICs that have graduated to the high-income category and those that have not.

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Reimagining a post-COVID world

By Richard Kozul-Wright, Director of the Globalisation and Development Strategies Division, UNCTAD


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.

The coronavirus has ruptured our world and, as with past global pandemics, raised fundamental questions about the way we organise society and the values that structure our lives. But it has also encouraged us to imagine a better world. However, if we are to act on that imagination, we will need to acknowledge the mistakes of the last decade, above all in the world’s richest economies.

Recovering better demands that we treat the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to identify and address underlying structural barriers, at both the national and global levels, in the way of a more prosperous, equitable and resilient future. This did not happen after the global financial crisis when returning to business as usual was the winning policy mindset. But higher share prices or fuller treasuries, or more sophisticated supply chains will not be the basis on which future generations judge our response to the current crisis.

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