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Economy

World Will Improve Where It Matters Most In 2019

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The world economy is set to enjoy a very good year. In that, it will be much like 2018 and 2017 and most probably like 2020 and 2021. Economic growth will be fairly strong in most of the countries where such expansion does the most good. While rich countries worry about objectively tiny setbacks, poor people are overall gaining more of the dignity that comes with adequate material comfort.

Consider extreme poverty. The World Bank draws the line between the wretched of the earth and everyone else at daily consumption of goods and services worth $1.90. The Our World in Data website at Oxford University estimates that 72 percent of the world’s population lived below that line in 1950. The World Bank’s preliminary estimate for 2018 is 8.6 percent, down from 10 percent in 2015.

Fewer very poor people means more are enjoying better lives. The proportion of the global population without access to electricity is declining by about 0.3 percentage points a year. The number of children not enrolled in school is shrinking by about 5 million annually. Almost every indicator of basic prosperity shows the same trend.

The good news is pretty much global. Even Africa, long the lagging continent, is starting to catch up. The proportion of African children that die before they turn five has declined from 21 percent in 1975 to 8 percent in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. Better health comes from – and with – greater wealth. Real per person income in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by 40 percent in the last decade.

Not all the news is good. Due to war and civil conflict, primarily in Africa, the proportion of the world’s population that is undernourished has risen by 0.2 percentage points in the last two years. Still, at 11.9 percent, it is 2.2 percentage points lower than a decade ago.

The prediction of more global gains in 2019 is pretty solid. There are also good reasons to believe that 2029 will be fine. Economic growth in very poor countries is becoming a virtuous circle. More education and better health creates better workers, who support stronger institutions, which make larger and more effective investments, which produce the money needed to pay for even better schooling and health.

That pattern has held in country after country for at least two decades. Bad governments do slow progress, but it takes war or total state failure, as in Venezuela, to reverse the progress.

The almost unstoppable global retreat of misery and ignorance is arguably the best news ever in economic history. For political history, however, the trends are far less clear. The old belief that greater wealth would naturally bring more open societies looks flawed. The populace of many countries, both richer and poorer, seem pretty happy with autocratic and extreme nationalist governments.

China is the prime example. The oppressive and fairly corrupt Communist Party has presided over rapid and widespread increases in prosperity. Its cross-border ambitions, both civil and military, have expanded as well.

That is worrying for many reasons. One of them is that war is probably the only force destructive enough to stop the upward march of global economic good news. The great question, for both 2019 and 2029, is whether progress will threaten prosperity by leading to the use of the world’s ever-larger supply of ever more deadly arms. -Reuters

-Edward Hadas

Economy

Ford and IBM among quartet in Congo cobalt blockchain project

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 Carmaker Ford (F.N), technology giant IBM (IBM.N), South Korean cathode maker LG Chem (051910.KS) and China’s Huayou Cobalt (603799.SS) have joined forces in the first blockchain project to monitor cobalt supplies from Democratic Republic of Congo.

The pilot, overseen by responsible-sourcing group RCS Global, aims to help manufacturers ensure that cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries has not been mined by children or used to fuel conflict.

Companies are under pressure from consumers and investors to prove that minerals are sourced without human rights abuses, but tracking raw materials throughout their journey is challenging.

The project announced on Wednesday has been quietly under way since December. Starting with industrially mined cobalt in Congo, it is monitoring supplies all the way to lithium-ion batteries for Ford vehicles.

Supplies of cobalt, expected to be needed in huge quantities for electric vehicles and electronic devices, are concentrated in Congo, a sprawling, volatile nation that has been racked by civil war and political tension.

The outcome of elections in December, which had been intended to be Congo’s first democratic transfer of power in six decades, is contested.

RCS says the IBM blockchain platform could be used to include other minerals and to allow artisanal miners, which analysts say are the biggest issue with regard to ethical sourcing, to join a blockchain-based network of validated participants.

Blockchain, famed as the technology behind cryptocurrency bitcoin, works by providing a shared record of data held by a network of individual computers rather than a single party.

For the pilot project, which should be completed around the middle of the year, cobalt from Huayou’s industrial mine will be placed in secure bags, entered into a blockchain and traced from the mine and smelter to LG Chem’s cathode and battery plant in South Korea and then on to a Ford plant in the United States.

Because minerals are often combined with metals from various sources when they are smelted, they are particularly difficult to track.

The RCS project seeks to enforce best practice by using guidelines drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

IBM said it was exploring the potential of chemical analysis using artificial intelligence to pinpoint the origin of cobalt and ensure so-called clean cobalt was not smelted with minerals sourced less responsibly.

“There is no fool-proof method, but you have to keep the ball moving forward, to keep raising the level of accuracy,” Manish Chawla, general manager of IBM’s mining and industrial sector business, told Reuters.

VW and Ford team up

“Blockchain has been proven to be a very effective technology in raising the bar.”

IBM has already worked with retailers including Walmart (WMT.N) and Carrefour (CARR.PA) to trace food through supply chains.

In the mining sector, meanwhile, Anglo American’s (AAL.L) De Beers has begun using blockchain to track diamonds. -Reuters

Barbara Lewis

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Economy

150 percent price rise fails to fill Zimbabwe’s fuel pumps

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A drastic 150 percent overnight rise in Zimbabwe’s fuel prices failed on Sunday to ease a nationwide petrol and diesel shortage caused by a lack of hard currency.

Most service stations still had no fuel to sell to motorists who have been sleeping in their vehicles to queue. Some said they were awaiting an official notice from the regulatory authority (ZERA).

Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi tweeted that commodity price volatility “will be temporary before goods prices normalize”.

The acute shortage of U.S. dollars has made it hard for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to import not only fuel but also drugs and other goods.

Mnangagwa himself was on Sunday setting off on a five-nation tour that starts in Russia and ends at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency in 2009 after it was wrecked by hyperinflation, and adopted the greenback and other hard currencies such as sterling and the South African rand.

But now there is not enough hard currency to back up more than $10 billion in electronic funds trapped in local bank accounts, prompting demands from businesses and civil servants for cash that can be deposited and used to make payments.

Mnangagwa has said his government will not let businesses raise prices but they have been doing so anyway, arguing that they have no choice but to buy dollars at a premium on the black market.

Inflation is already at a 10-year high of 31 percent and, in the past two weeks, public transport firms have tripled fares citing a shortage of fuel, which some have been buying on the black market.

An assistant at a service station owned by Zuva Petroleum said: “We have not received any supplies since Thursday evening but we are hoping we will get a delivery before end of the day.”

A ZERA spokesman said all fuel companies had been notified of the new prices.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said it planned a national strike from Monday in protest at the “insensitive and provocative” fuel price increase, although such calls have in the past not been widely followed.

Teachers, who are not represented by ZCTU, are planning a nationwide strike from Jan. 22, and civil servants have threatened to join them. -Reuters

  • MacDonald Dzirutwe

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Economy

World Bank Sees Global Growth Slowing In 2019

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The growth of the global economy is expected to slow to 2.9 percent in 2019 compared with 3 percent in 2018, the World Bank said on Tuesday, citing elevated trade tensions and international trade moderation.

“At the beginning of 2018 the global economy was firing on all cylinders, but it lost speed during the year and the ride could get even bumpier in the year ahead,” World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva said in the semi-annual Global Economic Prospects report here.

The World Bank outlook comes as the United States and China have been engaged in a bitter trade dispute, which has jolted financial markets across the world for months. The two economies have imposed tit-for-tat duties on each other’s goods, although there were signs of progress on Tuesday as the two countries prepared to enter a third day of talks in Beijing.

Growth in the United States is likely to slow to 2.5 percent this year from 2.9 percent in 2018, while China is expected to grow at 6.2 percent in the year compared with 6.5 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank.

Emerging market economies are expected to grow at 4.2 percent this year, with advanced economies expected to grow at 2 percent, the World Bank said in the report. -Reuters

  • Kanishka Singh

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