Category Archives: Business

What the debate on the Panama Papers forgets

Alicia Nicholls

No two words have evoked as much emotion and debate internationally in recent weeks as have the so-called “Panama Papers”. The moniker refers to the cache of over 11 million emails, invoices and other documents leaked by a whistle-blower and originating from the Panamanian international law firm Mossack Fonseca.The files reveal the firm’s use of offshore vehicles registered in several offshore financial centres (OFCs) around the world to help thousands of international celebrity, public official and otherwise wealthy clients worldwide in their tax and asset management. The potential fall-out of the Panama Papers for Barbados was one of the topics of discussion by a panel at the Barbados International Business Association’s very informative Update Seminar last week Thursday.

Read my full article in the Broad Street Journal here.

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Caribbean Region Most Affected by Loss in Correspondent Banking Relationships, according to World Bank Survey

Alicia Nicholls

The withdrawal by international banks of correspondent banking relationships with Caribbean-based banks and money transfer businesses has once again been making headlines in the Caribbean. This week Antigua & Barbuda’s Prime Minister raised the issue at the Fourth Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), terming it a “clear and present danger”. Last year mere weeks after Prime Minister Barrow of Belize raised the issue in his address at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, the Bank of America severed ties with Belize Bank, the largest bank in Belize.

Correspondent banking relationships are Caribbean countries’ umbilical cord to the international financial system. They allow for the conduct of international trade and investment by facilitating crossborder payments, as well as the receipt and sending of remittances through international wire transfers. At the microlevel these relationships help local exporters to receive payments for their goods and services, local businesses to pay for imports, and poor families to receive remittances for their day to day survival. As I mentioned in an earlier article, the loss of correspondent banking relationships could spell disaster for the small, open economies of the region which are highly dependent on trade and investment flows, with implications for poverty reduction and eradication.

World Bank Survey

The Caribbean’s fears are not unfounded. According to the findings of a survey published by the World Bank in its report “Withdrawal from Correspondent Baking: Where, Why, and What to do About it” in November last year, the World Bank found that “small jurisdictions with significant offshore banking activities are particularly affected by the decline of CBRs”. More ominously, according to the Report, the Caribbean Region seems to be the most affected by a decline in correspondent banking relationships.

It also noted that United States banks have been most frequently identified as withdrawing their correspondent banking services. According to the Report, the services which respondents mentioned as being the most affected by the loss of correspondent banking are “cheque clearing and settlement, cash management services, international wire transfers”, while banking authorities and local/regional banks identified trade finance.

While the report noted that the majority of respondent banks have been able to find alternative banking relationships, in some cases the time and cost of finding new relationships are significant and not always on comparable terms and conditions as with the previous correspondent bank.

The survey highlighted several reasons identified by international banks for withdrawing their correspondent banking services and noted that for large international banks, the main reasons were AML/CFT (anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing) and CDD/KYC (customer due diligence and know your customer) related concerns.

In concluding, the Report provided a number of recommendations for both respondent banks and correspondent banks. One of the recommendations was for correspondent banks to consider the respondent bank’s business when making their decision to end a relationship, including by outlining the reasons for withdrawal, considering giving longer notice periods and considering the use of restrictions as opposed to outright termination.

Caribbean seen as “Risky business”

For the Caribbean, the loss of correspondent banking relationships, mainly as a result of banks’ de-risking practices, is intertwined with the fight against the arbitrary blacklists the region’s offshore financial jurisdictions are constantly called on to defend themselves against. Last year, both the EU and the District of Columbia (US) published blacklists which included Caribbean countries, causing regional governments to spend consider time advocating for their removal. Either way, the net result of these arbitrary actions would appear to do little to mitigate international banks’ perception of the Caribbean as literally a “risky” place to do business. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has reiterated the risk-based approach to AMT/CTF on a case-by-case basis as opposed to the wholesale de-risking which many banks are doing.

The way forward

The World Bank’s report is welcomed as it has provided some empirical evidence to support the concerns of Caribbean countries and in so doing helps to place a global spotlight on this issue. The Financial Stability Board (FSB) Report to the G-20 on actions taken to assess and address the decline in correspondent banking referenced the World Bank Report. The FSB has partnered with several organisations, including the World Bank, IMF among others, to address this issue through a four-point action plan which it has articulated in its report to the G-20.

The E15 Initiative Report entitled “Strengthening the Global Trade and Investment System in the 21st Century” which was launched at World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting at Davos this year noted that while data was scarce it would appear that developing countries are most affected by limited correspondent banking relationships and has offered some very timely proposals.

Given the potential threat this issue poses to the region’s economies, it is incumbent on Caribbean banks to continue to observe the highest regulatory standards, including on AML/CTF and CDD/KYC. The Caribbean Association of Banks (CAB) has commendably been at the forefront of advocacy in regards to the issue of correspondent banking and their continued advocacy will be important.

Former Prime Minister of Barbados and economist, Owen Arthur, at a Roundtable discussion on Correspondent Banking held in Kingston, Jamaica earlier this month has called on regional leaders to adopt coordinated regional measures to address the issue. Caribbean leaders must continue to raise the issue at the diplomatic and multilateral levels at every opportunity, and join forces with other similarly affected countries in advocating for an immediate global solution to the problem, including action on some of the proposals highlighted in the World Bank’s and E15 Initiative’s reports.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. The Author is not affiliated with the World Bank, the Caribbean Association of Banks or any bank. You can read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Barbados Trade Mission to visit 3 CARICOM countries

Alicia Nicholls

According to Nation News, Barbados will be undertaking a five-day trade mission to three countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) with the aim to “uncover more opportunities for Barbadian exporters, and further enhance the development of trade relations, joint ventures and other investments which could yield economic gains for Barbados”.

Nation News reports that the delegation will be led by Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, the Hon. Donville Inniss, with representatives from the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC), the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association (BMA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, as well as representatives from seventeen local companies. The three countries to be visited are St. Lucia, Grenada and Guyana.

Read more on this story at Nation News here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and Caribbean Small Island Developing States: Challenges and Opportunities

Alicia Nicholls

Getting raw sugar from a sugar factory in Guyana or Suriname to supermarkets and kitchens half-way across the world involves many different customs processes and paperwork. The World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement seeks to cut the red tape and reduce the transaction costs and delays in the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders through the harmonisation, simplification and acceleration of customs procedures.

Trade facilitation, along with investment, competition policy and government procurement, was one of the four “Singapore Issues” which developing countries were opposed to including in the multilateral negotiation agenda at the 5th WTO Ministerial in Cancun in 2003. However, negotiations on trade facilitation were eventually launched in 2004 (pursuant to Annex D of the July Package) with the “aim to clarify and improve” relevant aspects of trade facilitation articles under the GATT 1994″ in order to speed up the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit.

After nearly ten years of negotiations, the TFA was concluded at the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia in 2013. It is the only multilateral trade agreement to be concluded so far out of the deadlocked Doha Development Round and the first since the WTO was established twenty years ago.  A separate Protocol of Amendment was adopted by WTO members on November 27, 2014 to insert the TFA into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement.

The TFA will enter into force once two-thirds of the WTO’s 161 states (as at April 2015) ratifies the agreement. So far of the only 52 countries which have already ratified the agreement, Trinidad & Tobago and Belize are the only countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to have done so, while Mauritius is the only other SIDS worldwide to have done so. A report published by UNCTAD in September 2014 on the status of implementation revealed that though a priority, trade facilitation is a major challenge for developing countries and least-developed countries (LDCs) and that some of the major barriers to implementation are lack of resources and of legal frameworks.

Caribbean Economies are trade dependent

Trade facilitation is important for Caribbean economies which have a high dependence on trade. Limited natural resources and lack of scale make most Caribbean SIDS (with the exception of Trinidad & Tobago) highly dependent on imported food, fuel and medicines, while their export profiles are characterised by a narrow range of exports and export markets. They have limited participation in global value chains and face declining terms of trade.

Smaller Caribbean SIDS have largely diversified from economic dependence on mono-crop agriculture to services trade, mostly tourism and/or financial services. However, the major commodities exporters in the region (Trinidad & Tobago and the mainland countries of Guyana, Suriname and Belize) rely on exports ranging from oil and natural gas in Trinidad & Tobago and Belize, to aluminium, rice and raw sugar in Guyana and Suriname.

Importance of Trade Facilitation

Despite market access opportunities created by trade agreements, a major complaint for Caribbean SIDS exporters, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), have been the cumbersome hurdles they face when seeking to export to foreign markets. These hurdles include not just complex customs procedures but also stringent sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBTs), these latter two are covered in other WTO agreements (i.e. the SPS and TBT Agreements).

Customs procedures vary by country. By standardising and simplifying customs procedures, reforms pursuant to the TFA can enhance access and predictability for Caribbean SIDS exporters in foreign markets and promote export diversification.

As the industrial action by customs officials in Barbados earlier this year showed, customs delays can negatively impact businesses and consumers. These delays can stem from the time taken to process applications for obtaining import or export licenses to the length of time for barrels and containers to clear ports.The quicker goods clear customs the quicker they can reach businesses and consumers for use as inputs or as final goods. Efficient customs release and clearance is particularly important for time-sensitive perishable products such as fruit and meats. Loss of perishable goods equals lost revenue to businesses.

Transparent customs procedures and rules can also limit the opportunity for corruption by officials at checkpoints. Moreover, as import duties are still important revenue sources for Caribbean SIDS, modernisation of customs collection procedures can facilitate increased tariff revenue collection.

The Agreement

The TFA is divided into 3 sections: general provisions, special and differential treatment provisions for developing country members and least-developed country members (LDCs) and institutional arrangements and final provisions.

It provides binding obligations in relation to procedures for pre-arrival processing, electronic payment, procedures allowing the release of goods prior to the final determination of customs duties, taxes, fees and charge, a risk management system for customs control, post-clearance audits, establishment and publication of average release times, procedures to allow expedited release of at least goods entered through air cargo facilities and procedures for releasing perishable goods within the shortest possible time.

Provisions requiring publication and availability of information (such as applied rates and import/export restrictions) on the internet and for allowing traders and “other interested parties” the opportunity for comment and if necessary consultations before introducing or amending laws of general application to trade in goods, aim to promote transparency. While this latter provision may sound like an invasion of policy space, developing countries should take advantage of this provision to have their say on proposed policies by developed countries which might have an impact on their exporters.

The Agreement also includes some ‘best endeavour” provisions, such as encouraging members to use relevant international standards in their formalities and procedures and to establish a single window for traders. The Agreement further provides for the establishment of a permanent WTO committee on trade facilitation and member states are required to designate a national committee to facilitate domestic coordination and implementation of the provisions of the Agreement.

Special and Differential Treatment

The TFA presents numerous benefits for Caribbean SIDS. However, Caribbean governments’ capacity to implement these trade facilitation reforms varies considerably as evidenced by the difference in their Category A notifications.

The special and differential treatment provisions in Section II of the Agreement take this into account by linking countries’ commitments to their capacity to implement them. Moreover, LDCs will only be required to undertake commitments to the extent consistent with their individual development, financial and trade needs or their administrative and institutional capabilities.

These flexibilities are based on the modalities that had been agreed in Annex D of the July 2004 Framework Agreement and paragraph 33 of and Annex E of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration. Developing countries and LDCs are to receive assistance and support for capacity building to implement the provisions of the Agreement in accordance with their nature and scope.

Developing and LDC countries are required to categorise each provision of the Agreement  based on their individual implementation capacity, with Category A being those measures they can implement by the time the Agreement comes into force (or within one year after  for LDCs), Category B being those which they will implement after a transitional period following the Agreement’s entry into force and Category C meaning those which require capacity building support for implementation after a transitional period after the Agreement’s entry into force. Most Caribbean SIDS, including Barbados, have now submitted their Category A notifications.

Trade Facilitation Facility

A key developmental element of the TFA, the Trade Facilitation Facility (TFF) was established in July 2014 to provide assistance to developing countries and LDCs to ensure “no WTO member is left behind”. The TFF is to provide assistance in helping them assess their capacity to implement the TFA, by maintaining an information sharing platform to assist with the identification of possible donors , providing guidance on the implementation of the TFA through the development or collection of case studies and training materials,  undertaking donor and recipient match-making activities and providing project preparation and implementation grants related to the implementation of TFA provisions in cases where efforts to attract funding from other sources have failed.

According to the World Trade Report 2015, once it enters into force, the TFA is expected to reduce total trade costs by up to 15 per cent in developing countries.

Status of Implementation

At the recently concluded COTED meeting in Georgetown, Guyana, CARICOM members reported on their status of TFA implementation. However, this status information has not been made public. Despite this, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has a ‘compare your country on trade facilitation performance’ portal which allows for comparing countries on trade facilitation indicators.

Looking at Barbados’ performance for instance, Barbados “matches or exceeds the average performance of high income countries in the areas of fees and charges and simplification and harmonisation of documents”, with performance improving in appeal procedures and automation. However, some ground was lost in information availability and internal border agency cooperation.

Implementation Challenges

Trade facilitation reforms can be beneficial to Caribbean SIDS.  This does not mean however that there will not be significant implementation challenges, particularly the infrastructure costs related to technology and equipment, and administrative, human resource and training costs. There will also be costs associated with raising private sector awareness. These costs are not just one-time costs but are recurring.  In light of competing resource demands and their limited access to concessionary loans these costs will not be easy for cash-trapped Caribbean SIDS which already have high debt to GDP ratios.

The flexibilities in the Agreement allow states  to implement the provisions in accordance with their capabilities and there are aid for trade initiatives such as the European Development Fund of which Caribbean SIDS have been taking advantage in varying degrees.  Other challenges for implementation include limited human resource capacity and the need to reform existing laws and regulations to give effect to obligations.

Surveys of developing countries and LDCs conducted by the WTO found that trade facilitation remains a high priority for developing countries. For Caribbean SIDS there certainly has been some interesting developments on this front. The governments of several Caribbean states have openly stated their countries’ firm commitment to trade facilitation and their recognition of its potential for economic growth.

Trinidad & Tobago was recently approved for a $25 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to help strengthen the country’s Single Electronic Window for Trade and Business Facilitation Project (TTBizLink). With the aim of becoming a logistics hub, Jamaica has recently established a Trade Facilitation Task Force. Technical assistance and aid for trade facilitation are also included in the EC-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement, which includes a protocol on mutual administrative assistance in customs matters.Moreover, in Barbados’ latest Trade Policy Review 2014 WTO members noted the considerable progress the country made with respect to the adoption of trade-facilitation measures. Recently, the island  also amended its Customs Act to allow for post-clearance audits.

Taking full advantage of the technical assistance, aid and capacity building assistance under the TFF will be key for Caribbean SIDS in their implementation efforts.

The Case of Mauritius 

As the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius was the first SIDS to ratify the Agreement, it provides useful lessons for Caribbean SIDS. Seizing the opportunity to boost its competitiveness, Mauritius has received assistance from the International Trade Centre and UNCTAD, including for the establishment of the Mauritius National Trade Facilitation Committee. One can read about the Mauritius experience here.

Conclusions

Despite the high costs and challenges of implementation, trade facilitation reforms pursuant to the WTO TFA have the potential to bring many benefits to Caribbean SIDS. By streamlining the flow of cross-border trade, the ratification and speedy implementation of the TFA by Caribbean SIDS and their trade partners will allow Caribbean exporters to capitalise on the market access openings available in foreign export markets, thereby boosting Caribbean SIDS’ export competitiveness and GDP growth, with spillovers for income and job creation. However, regional exports will still need to meet SPS and technical standards which for many exporters still remain significant barriers to trade.

Ratification and full implementation  of the TFA by all CARICOM states could also improve Caribbean regional integration by easing transaction costs of exporting across CARICOM states. Implementing these reforms also send a strong signal to the business community of these countries’ commitment to improving their business environment.

Full realisation of the benefits of the TFA will not be automatic and the degree will largely be contingent on the pace and depth of implementation of the Agreement by  Caribbean governments and their trading partners and on stakeholder buy-in. Stakeholder holder consultation and strong coordination between public and private actors will be crucial for the formulation of implementation plans and the monitoring and assessment of the impact of the reforms. In this regard, lessons can be learnt from the Mauritius experience. Trinidad & Tobago and Belize have already made the step by ratifying  the Agreement. It is hoped that other Caribbean SIDS will soon follow suit.

The full text of the Trade Facilitation Agreement is available here:

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. Please note that the views expressed in this article are solely hers. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Barbados decides to lower applied tariff on cement: A good or bad thing?

Alicia Nicholls

Barbados’ Minister of Industry & Commerce, the Hon. Donville Inniss, recently announced that the country’s applied import tariff on hydraulic cement which stood at 60% would be lowered to as low as 5%. One of the instruments of trade and development policy, an ad valorem import tariff is a duty levied on the value of an imported good calculated as a fixed percentage of the good’s value, including cost, freight and insurance.

Import tariffs are an important source of central government revenue. In 2014 Barbados netted BDS $223m (USD $111.5m) in import duties according to Central Bank  of Barbados reports. High tariffs are also used for public policy reasons to discourage and limit the use and entry of foreign  goods deemed to be harmful to public health.

As a tool of trade and development policy, they are also often used to protect infant industries or those industries deemed to be of vital national importance for food security or otherwise from competition from imported like foreign goods. In many cases the foreign goods may be cheaper and thus more attractive to local consumers due to the foreign manufacturers’ more favourable economies of scale and lower input costs. By making the “like” imported good more expensive than the local counterpart as a result of the tariff, consumer demand for the imported good is dampened and the local good becomes the more price competitive. This helps to ensure a measure of protection for local production and jobs in that industry.

The high tariff on imported cement was a policy designated three decades ago to offer protection to the island’s only cement manufacturer, Arawak Cement Ltd, which is now a subsidiary of pan-Caribbean cement manufacturer, Trinidad & Tobago based, Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL).

Japan for instance imposes an over 700% tariff on imported rice to protect its vitally important  rice industry. Import tariffs are levied by all governments. Those countries which are members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) set a ceiling rate for each tariff line in their schedule of concessions. These ceiling rates are known as bound rates.  Applied rates refer to the rates of duty actually charged, whether MFN or non-MFN, and unlike bound rates may be changed unilaterally by the state.

Like many developing countries, Barbados’ applied tariffs are usually much lower than its bound rates. This is not always the case though as data taken from the WTO Tariff Download Facility showed Barbados had a bound rate of 70% for all major HS tariff lines concerning cement, including portland, hydraulic lime and aluminous. Although high bound rates relative to applied rates do impact on predictability for those seeking to export to a country, they do help the country retain a certain measure of fiscal and regulatory policy space such as to limit the entry of goods deemed to be harmful to public health or to temporarily offer greater scope of protection to an industry.

The rationale behind the Government’s decision to lower the tariff on imported cement from 60% is to promote efficiencies in Arawak and allow consumers a better price for cement. High tariffs often cause market distortions, allowing local firms to become complacent and  inefficient, resulting in higher prices,  lower quality products and lack of options for the consumer.  It is one of the reasons why in the case of infant industries, high tariffs are usually lowered once it is deemed that the industry is competitive enough to withstand competition from “like” outside goods.

Indeed, the issue of regional protection for TCL by way of a common external tariff of 15% for non Caricom originating  cement had been a contentious one in the Caribbean Community due to complaints about cement shortages and quality issues, spawning the first two cases before the Caribbean Court of Justice’s original jurisdiction (TCL v CARICOM in 2009 and TCL, TCL Guyana v Guyana in 2010). The genesis revolved around Guyana’s unilateral suspension of the CARICOM common external tariff for cement without first seeking the approval of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) as per Article 83(1) of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. A more recent case was brought by TCL against the CARICOM Competition Commission in TCL v Competition Commission in  2012 which was dismissed.

With regard to the present issue in Barbados, the lowering of the cement tariff is advantageous on the whole. Local construction companies have been lobbying the Government for years to lower the tariff due to the high costs of locally produced cement. As cement is a necessary input for construction from homes to hotels to luxury marinas, high cement costs increase construction costs which of course are a determining factor for developers when conducting their cost-benefit analysis.

Construction costs in Barbados are already relatively high. Such a situation is not ideal for a country where economic recovery has been anaemic (real GDP growth up to September this year has been a paltry 0.3% y-o-y  despite record tourist arrivals), where construction is a major driver of output (construction contributes on average 5.7% to GDP, according to Central Bank of Barbados), and where construction, along with tourism, is expected to assist in economic recovery. There is also the hope that the increased competition will help Arawak further step up its game.

A potential downside to the lowering of the tariff, however, is that despite on going restructuring efforts, the inflow of cheaper foreign cement (cheaper often due to lower manufacturing and labour costs) could make Arawak unable to compete price wise, which could result in the  further loss of jobs and closure if it is unable to compete, and with it a further decline in local manufacturing output. However, should this threaten to occur, Arawak naturally could make a case to the Government to slightly raise the applied tariff. All in all, I believe the lowering of the applied tariff for imported cement will redound to the benefit of the country.

In his Hoyos File this week, veteran journalist and publisher of the Broad Street Journal, Patrick Hoyos, whose articles I absolutely enjoy, wrote as per usual an interesting and insightful article about the issue of the lowering of the cement tariff, couching it in a wider discussion and critique of Barbados’ tariff policy. Click here to have a read!

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. Please note that the views expressed in this article are solely hers. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

 

 

Private Sector Development in the Caribbean: A Regional Overview 2015

Alicia Nicholls

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently released a report entitled “Private Sector Development in the Caribbean: A Regional Overview” commissioned by Compete Caribbean. The report discusses private sector development in the Caribbean region and is based primarily on the analysis in the Private Sector Assessment Reports (PSARs) on fourteen Caribbean countries which are available as separate reports on the website of Compete Caribbean.

A direct extract from the Report:

For the Caribbean countries as a group, 2015 will be a significantly more difficult year than the previous three, reflecting the still-challenging economic climate. The need for private-sector-oriented solutions to these nations’ longstanding challenges has never been greater.

Some of the key challenges and opportunities identified in the PSARs are:

Challenges:

  • Strained public finances
  • Cost of energy
  • Access to finance
  • Human capital, in particular inefficient labor markets and emigration of skilled labor
  • Innovation capacity

Opportunities:

  • Engagement of diasporas
  • Key measures to improve business environment
  • Improve education systems
  •  Improve firm productivity
  •  Regional approach to climate change

The full report may be accessed on the website of Compete Caribbean here. Happy reading!

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

OECD Trims Growth Forecast and Warns of Trade Deceleration in Latest Economic Outlook

Alicia Nicholls

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has again trimmed its global growth forecast slightly downward in its second economic outlook for the year, reflecting the weakness in Emerging Market Economies (EMEs). The Paris-based grouping predicts global GDP will expand by just 2.9% in 2015, down from 3% forecasted in its Interim Outlook this September. Eight years into the crisis this is the weakest growth since 2009. In its report, the OECD noted that the outlook for EMEs is “a key source of uncertainty at present given their large contribution to global trade and GDP growth”.

While the OECD predicts that global trade and output will recover in 2016/2017 assisted by stimulus measures in China, in his address at the launch of the report, OECD Secretary General, Jose Angel Gurria, emphasised that this improvement is dependent on a variety of factors, including “supportive macroeconomic policies, investment, continued low commodity prices for advanced economies and a steady improvement in the labour market”.

In anticipation of the COP21 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, the OECD’s Economic Outlook report includes a chapter on climate change which calls for urgent action to address this global issue. In his address Secretary General Gurria stressed “we are on a collision course with nature and we have to change course” and urged that  “the fragility of economic recovery cannot be an excuse for policy inaction”.

Key points from the Report 

  • Global output is expected to grow by 2.9 percent in 2015 (weaker than the 3 percent predicted in the September Interim Outlook), with a modest upturn to 3.3 percent in 2016 (slower than the 3.6 percent forecasted in the September Interim Outlook), provided there is smoothening of the slowdown in China and stronger investment in advanced economies.
  • In contrast to 2011 and 2012 where EMEs were propelling global growth, lacklustre EME growth, including recessions in Brazil and Russia and a slowdown in China have negatively impacted global output and trade growth in 2015.
  • Global trade growth has slowed and is precariously close to levels usually associated with a global recession. Noting the link between trade and economic growth, the OECD pointed out that softening Chinese demand for imports is responsible in part not just for the deceleration of global trade but has negatively affected growth in economies which are linked to the Chinese economy. In its report, the OECD noted that “a more significant slowdown in Chinese domestic demand could hit financial market confidence and the growth prospects of many economies, including the advanced economies”.
  • Growth in the Chinese economy is projected to slow to 6.8 percent in 2015 (up slightly from 6.7 percent in the September forecast), 6.5 percent in 2016 and 6.2 percent in 2017 as the Chinese economy rebalances towards consumption and services activity.
  • Advanced economies remain resilient so far. The growth forecast for the United States economy is 2.4 percent in 2015, 2.5 percent in 2016 and 2.4 percent in 2017. Despite steady recovery in output and in employment, workers pay is still subdued. The OECD has expressed its belief that the time is ripe for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. This would be the first interest hike by the US central bank since the recession began.
  • Although recovery in the Eurozone is expected to strengthen, growth projections were downgraded from the September Interim Outlook. Eurozone countries are now expected to grow by 1.8 percent in 2016 and 1.9 percent in 2017 thanks to lower oil prices, accommodative monetary policy and an easing of budget tightening.
  • The refugee surge to the EU is expected to promote labour force growth and help offset the effect of an ageing population but this will depend on several factors, including the skill set of the refugees and current labour market conditions.
  • Unemployment in OECD countries is expected to fall but there will still be 39 million people out of work in OECD countries, six million more before the crisis started.
  • Trade and investment protectionism, inequality and productivity are problems which must be countered in order for growth to be achieved. There is also need for accelerating structural reforms.
  • A well-designed climate change policies can bring an improvement in short term outlook.
  • The OECD will release a policy note looking at the labour market and fiscal impact of the European refugee surge in advance of the G20 summit in Antalya.

The full report and presentations on the OECD Economic Outlook may be found here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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