It’s time to move beyond a debt moratorium and finance productive capacities in least developed countries

By Paul Akiwumi, Director, Division for Africa, LDCs and Special Programmes, UNCTAD

According to recent UNCTAD analysis, most LDCs will likely take several years to recover the level of GDP per capita they had in 2019, and compared to developed countries, which may experience a short V-shaped recovery, the median LDC would take roughly three years to climb back to pre-COVID-19 levels of output per capita. Moreover, extreme poverty in LDCs is projected to rise to 35%, equivalent to 32 million people, due to the pandemic.

Confronted with looming fiscal distress, LDCs will need further long-term support to recover and address the structural economic challenges they face. Beyond the recovery, for LDCs to achieve inclusive development, global action should be geared towards supporting LDCs build their underdeveloped production systems.

Looming fiscal distress

For many LDCs, COVID-19 has precipitated a fiscal crisis. Rising health-care expenditures, slowing trade and support programmes to smooth consumption have increased already high debt levels in these countries.

Before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, five LDCs were already in debt distress and 13 more were at high risk of debt distress.  Most of these LDCs had received debt relief only 10 to 15 years earlier, under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative or the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.

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Least Developed Countries have 13 years to meet global trade rules, but still lack critical flexibility at the WTO

By Rachel Thrasher, Researcher, Boston University Global Development Policy Centre

By only granting a 13-year extension in a critical time for economic recovery from COVID-19, Members of the World Trade Organization may be creating more severe challenges for Least Developed Countries and the global economy down the road.

Without much fanfare, on June 29, 2021, the member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) quietly agreed to extend the transition period for least-developed countries (LDCs) to implement the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) for another 13 years.

The recently granted extension falls substantially short of what was requested, though it is slightly longer than the previous two nine-year extensions. The news has received relatively little attention in the midst of negotiations for vaccine access and pandemic fears about new vaccine-resistant variants, but to be sure, the failure to acknowledge the need for a longer-term transition period has substantial impacts for LDCs’ development trajectories.

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The European Union as a development superpower

By Ambassador Dr Mohan Kumar, Chairman, RIS, Dean/Professor, Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India, Former Indian Ambassador to France1

It is a truism that the European Union (EU) welcomes, prefers and supports a multipolar world; a strategic world view that is fully shared by its partners like India. More fundamentally, it is in the interest of the EU and its like-minded partners to ensure that the international order is not underpinned by a G2 system of government where the rules are essentially shaped by the US and China. This, however, entails the EU being strong enough to occupy an independent pole in the multipolar system. The EU is not quite there yet, but its friends and partners will certainly wish this to occur, sooner rather than later.

The other strategic dictum that is worth noting is this: a multipolar world is scarcely possible without a multipolar Asia. And a multipolar Asia is not necessarily a given; it needs to be ensured with collective action based on an agreed set of rules. It is my view that the EU has an important role in ensuring that Asia remains multipolar.

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An excellent but incomplete IMF decision

By José Antonio Ocampo, Professor at Columbia University and former UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Finance Minister of Colombia

The decision of the IMF Board last Friday to approve the allocation of $650 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) is excellent news for the world economy. This proposal had been on the table since the early phase of the COVID-19 crisis. It was vetoed by the United States under the Trump administration, but endorsed by the Biden administration, who proposed the magnitude of the agreed allocation.

The decision follows that adopted during the Global Financial crisis in 2009 to allocate $250 billion, the advantage of which was that it was timelier. There were several proposals made early during the current crisis, including the one we made with Kevin Gallagher and Ulrich Volz in March of last year, and that by Christopher G. Collins and Edwin M. Truman in April, who emphasised the importance it had for increasing the foreign-exchange reserves of low-income countries.

There were later proposals, several of a political character, to issue as much as one or two trillion dollars. They went much beyond the total IMF capital (quotas), which implied that they would have required approval by the US Congress, which would have delayed the decision. The $650 billion meets the criteria of being less than IMF quotas.

The SDRs are the global monetary asset that the IMF issues. They are part of the foreign exchange reserves of countries. Their basic limitation is that they can only be used by central banks or by specific international institutions that are allowed to hold them. Nonetheless, they can be sold to other central banks, which makes them liquid. The country that uses them has to pay an interest to the IMF SDR accounts.

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Intermediate cities: a green and transformative post-COVID-19 recovery?

By Dražen Kučan, Sector Lead / Senior Urban and Energy Efficiency Specialist, Green Climate Fund

Guilty as charged: cities and urban populations are among the core drivers of anthropogenic climate change. Cities produce between 71% and 75% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions1. There needs to be a ‘paradigm shift towards low emission and climate-resilient development pathways’. A shift that can happen in developing countries by supporting and investing in high impact climate mitigation as well as resilience and adaptation initiatives.

While the paradigm shift is defined by the ‘degree to which the proposed activity can catalyse impact beyond one-off project or programme investment’, the reality is not so straightforward in the context of the urban sector. Urban areas are complex, multi-stakeholder environments that require holistic, structurally sound, sustainable solutions. They need transformative investments in energy efficient buildings; decarbonising urban energy systems; compact and resilient urban development (including investment in mass transit and non-motorised transit systems and vehicle electrification); grey to green urban infrastructure upgrading; the circular economy; and methane and emissions-free integrated waste management.     

Demand pressure on developing new urban infrastructure is high: new homes and infrastructure will have to be built at great speed for the approximately 2.5 billion new city dwellers expected by 2050. About 85% of new housing demand is projected to be in fast emerging economies (such as China) and in the majority of developing countries. Furthermore, of the 70 million new residents expected to move to pre-existing urban areas each year, the vast majority will live in intermediary cities, mostly in Africa and Asia. This adds to climate pressures, both in terms of accelerated emissions and enhanced vulnerabilities. 

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COVID-19 pandemic: threats to SMEs in poorest nations require swift policy action

By Frank Hartwich and Jenny Larsen, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

Factories around the world roared into action again in the second half of 2020, following the COVID-19-related slump that brought large parts of industrial production to a standstill in early 2020. The bounce back, led by Europe, China and other parts of Asia, has been faster than expected, with most of the losses felt in the first half of 2020 recovered by early 2021, although there are big differences between regions and sectors.

Using the limited data available, it appears that manufacturing in selected LDCs has also staged a recovery. UNIDO’s Index of Industrial Production (IIP) – only available for four of the 46 LDCs – showed a dramatic drop in the early part of 2020, followed by a sharp rise in early 2021, although a closer look at the data reveals a nuanced picture. Mozambique and Senegal saw little impact from the pandemic whereas in Bangladesh and Rwanda the effects were much stronger. In general, within low-tech industries which predominate in LDCs, the food industry benefitted from the pandemic while other sectors such as textiles, clothing and leather were hit particularly hard.

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Enjeux et défis du financement du développement dans la zone de l’Union économique et monétaire ouest-africaine post-COVID-19

Par Alain Tchibozo, Chef Economiste, Banque Ouest Africaine de Développement – BOAD

Endettement accru par les dépenses liées à la Covid-19

Le recours à l’endettement pour financer les plans de riposte et de relance économique explique principalement le fait que le déficit budgétaire des pays de l’Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA) se soit accru. Au plan des finances publiques, même en tenant compte d’un redémarrage de l’activité autour de 5.5% cette année (contre 1,5% en 2020), le déficit budgétaire global représenterait en 2021 près de 5,0% du PIB, après 5,4% en 2020. L’accumulation de déficits publics liés au financement de dépenses de fonctionnement des États apparaît de fait comme le principal facteur d’endettement public. Or la détérioration des finances publiques restreint l’accès futur des États à de nouveaux financements. En 2021, le service de la dette intérieure (paiement des intérêts et amortissement du principal) représentera plus de 50% du service total de la dette dans sept des huit États membres de l’UEMOA. En outre, la part des recettes publiques consacrée au service de la dette représente depuis 2020 plus d’1/3 des recettes totales dans sept États. Aussi, la question de la soutenabilité de la dette sera un enjeu crucial pour les États de la zone ces prochaines années.

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COVID-19 is a developing country pandemic

By Indermit Gill, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings and Philip Schellekens, Senior Economic Advisor at International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group)

“Has global health been subverted?” This question was asked exactly a year ago in The Lancet. At the time, the pandemic had already spread across the globe, but mortality remained concentrated in richer economies. Richard Cash and Vikram Patel declared that “for the first time in the post-war history of epidemics, there is a reversal of which countries are most heavily affected by a disease pandemic.”

What a difference a year makes. We know now that this is actually a developing-country pandemic—and has been that for a long time. In this blog, we review the officially published data and contrast them with brand new estimates on excess mortality (kindly provided by the folks at the Economist). We will argue that global health has not been subverted. In fact, compared to rich countries, the developing world appears to be facing very similar—if not higher—mortality rates. Its demographic advantage of a younger population may have been entirely offset by higher infection prevalence and age-specific infection fatality.

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The morning after

By Pablo Ferreri, Public Accountant and former Vice Minister of Economy and Finance of Uruguay

Today, more than a year into the pandemic, we are still witnessing a humanitarian drama on a global scale. Mass vaccination offers a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel; however, that light is much further away for developing countries. While we see developed countries moving closer to herd immunity, we also see huge lags in the rest of the world. Moreover, beyond the health drama, the ensuing social and economic crisis will persist for a long time to come. We must focus on “the morning after”, as the health crisis recedes and as vaccination progresses. The morning after the pandemic ends, we will be left with an impoverished and, above all, much more unequal global economy.

Recovery to pre-pandemic levels of global gross domestic product can probably be achieved relatively quickly, but the effects on inequality will be much more long lasting. There will be clear losers in each society, with the poorest being hardest hit. Developing countries will suffer the most severe consequences, as their ability to return to pre-COVID levels of activity and wealth will be severely limited. To get an idea of the magnitude of this crisis, it is enough to recall a recent UN report calling it the worst recession in 90 years, resulting in the loss of 114 million jobs and pushing some 120 million people into extreme poverty. Moreover, by the time the market is in a position to reabsorb many of those who have lost their jobs, their skills will be outdated.

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Divergent recoveries from COVID-19 in Africa require intentional action

By Anzetse Were, Senior Economist FSD Kenya

Accra, Ghana, during regional lockdown, March 2020. Photo: Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic has had divergent impacts within and between economies. 2021 is already being defined by multispeed and divergent recoveries. Rich economies with USA in the lead, and China, are set for a strong recovery, mainly linked to their willingness to support incomes and deploy unprecedented fiscal and monetary support and quick COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Low-income countries however face grimmer economic prospects due to limited access to COVID-19 vaccines and weak public finances; they will suffer more significant medium-term losses, especially affecting countries that rely on tourism and commodity exports, and those with limited policy space to respond.

In Africa, the AfDB estimates that real GDP contracted by 2.1% in 2020 with projected growth at 3.4% in 2021. Although all African economies have been affected by the pandemic, tourism-dependent economies, oil-exporting economies and other-resource intensive economies have been hit especially hard. Within countries, the sectoral impacts of COVID-19 have been varied, and women continue to be disproportionately affected by the socio-economic effects of the pandemic. This has led to divergent impacts at sector, firm and household levels. Many African households have had to resort to coping mechanisms such as reducing food consumption, dipping into savings, selling assets, looking for new forms of work, and accruing debt, with millions falling into poverty.

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