Digitisation crucial to rebuilding economy

SCO official says cross-border e-commerce will boost competitiveness of economies

Our Correspondent December 15, 2020


Although the Covid-19 outbreak has wreaked enormous damage on the global economy, it has also brought new opportunities, said Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Secretary-General Vladimir Norov.

Speaking at plenary of the four-day 23rd Sustainable Development Conference titled “Sustainable Development in Times of Covid-19” on Monday, Norov said that the digital economy and cross-border e-commerce would play an increasingly important role in rebuilding the world economy after Covid-19 in terms of achieving economic growth, increasing competitiveness of economies and improving quality of lives, thus contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In times of Covid-19, global online retail sales were on the rise, and additional jobs were being created, he added. “SCO member countries see stability in Afghanistan as the need for regional peace and economic development,” Norov said, adding that Afghanistan shared border with four SCO member states and its stability was crucial for peace and development in the entire region.

He said that this year’s SCO summit concluded with the finalisation of an action plan for implementation of the SCO Development Strategy 2025, which focused on early recovery of economies from the pandemic.

Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Executive Director Abid Qaiyum Suleri highlighted the key facets of Food Security Dashboard, which was developed jointly by the SDPI and National Food Security Division, and would be launched in coming days of the conference.

Suleri said that the coronavirus outbreak had negatively affected most aspects of the SDGs. The pandemic had increased incidence of poverty, food insecurity, diverted resources from conventional diseases and elective surgeries to Covid-19, and deprived hundreds of millions of students of classrooms, he said.

The SDPI official added that for women and girls, it had turned into a shadow pandemic, and lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities had increased the risk of further spread of Covid-19.

“On the one hand, the core agenda of SDGs seems to be compromised, and on the other, there is a silver lining, as it has brought social sector development back on the radar of governments,” he added.

He said that now world governments simply could not afford to compromise on health, social protection and food security.

Earlier, speaking during a panel discussion on “Setting Pakistan’s Agenda for Universal Social Protection”, Federal Minister for Interprovincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza emphasised the importance of social protection as an indispensable art of policymaking - primarily to build coordination between federal and provincial governments in order to remove financial barriers, enhance income and food security, protect and provide jobs, and deliver social protection through structural reforms to address shocks like Covid-19 and alike.

Meanwhile, speaking at a panel discussion titled “Economic Growth, Social Protection and the International IMF Programme amid Covid-19”, former finance minister Dr Hafiz Pasha said, “We did not have a big number of Covid-19 cases in our country as compared to other developing and developed nations around the world, but still Pakistan has seen a significant reduction in GDP growth.”

“Our independent estimate is that growth fell by 2.5% during fiscal year 2019-20 and will only remain at 1% during the ongoing fiscal year. This is the largest decline since the early 2000s. Almost 70% of the displaced workers are from the informal sector, which will have implications for welfare,” he added.

Furthermore, the former finance minister said that the number of unemployed workers doubled due to Covid-19.

“The central bank reduced the interest rate which was a big move and increased liquidity in the transitional period. Remittances increased 27% thanks to workers abroad. Ehsaas programme also brought fruitful results. Main issue for the government is that there is still a fiscal crunch. There will be large debt servicing payments in the future. It seems that Pakistan has no option except to go back to the IMF,” Pasha concluded.

Highlighting different aspects of the Covid-19 impact on the national economy, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Pakistan head Dr Jochen Hippler said that the development of vaccines for Covid-19 was sadly operated by international powers like the US and European states.

Dr Bushra Yasmin from the Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi said that the poor were highly vulnerable to diseases and disasters. Pakistan’s score on the Social Protection Index is about 0.047, which is the lowest in South Asia.

She said that the pandemic had hit the youth in terms of their jobs, education, and training.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2020.

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