Modern Tools, Age-old Wisdom: on India-Sri Lanka Relations

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Opinion

Prasad Kariyawasam was Sri Lanka’s one-time Foreign Secretary and High Commissioner to India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Credit: V.V. Krishnan, the Hindu

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jul 31 2020 (IPS) – The unique India-Sri Lanka relationship, de jure, is between equals as sovereign nations. But it’s asymmetric in terms of geographic size, population, military and economic power, on the one hand, and social indicators and geographical location, on the other. It is steeped in myth and legend, and influenced by religious, cultural and social affinities.


This is an opportune time for Sri Lanka and India to nourish the roots of the relationship using modern toolkits, but leveraging age-old wisdom and experience.

Historical ties

History reveals that the advent of Buddhism to Sri Lanka during the time of Emperor Ashoka was the result of cross-border discourse. For many centuries in the first millennia, the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura housed an international community which included traders from India, China, Rome, Arabia and Persia.

Later, Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka travelled to India, China, Cambodia and Java leaving behind inscriptions. Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, to this day, contain shrines for Hindu deities. The colonial expansion of European maritime nations reshaped the Sri Lankan economy. Labour from south India was brought to Sri Lanka to work in plantations.

The Indian freedom struggle had its influence on Sri Lanka as well. There was cross-border support for the revival of culture, tradition, local languages, spiritual practices and philosophies, and education. Both countries transformed into modern nations with constitutional and institutionalised governance under colonial rule.

Most aspects of today’s globalisation existed in a different form in the pre-colonial era with free exchange of ideas, trade and intellectual discourse. However, process engineering by colonial powers for identification and categorisation of people was a factor in the emergence of separatist ideologies based on ethnicity, language and religion.

This mindset is now ingrained and accentuated in politics. Episodic instances of communal hostility are referenced often to suit tactical political gain. Around the world today, and not just in South Asia, policies and thinking are becoming communally exclusive, localised and inward-looking.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world against this backdrop, allowing some leaders an opportunity to double down on insular thinking, ostensibly for providing local communities with better economic and social prospects, and security.

Meanwhile, governance models favoured by nations keep vacillating between fundamental freedoms-based democratic systems and quasi democratic, socialist authoritarian systems.

In this regard, the people of Sri Lanka and India have been served well by long years of uninterrupted democratic governance. This has provided long-term stability for both countries and must not be vitiated.

Sri Lanka’s strategic location makes it apparent that not only economic fortunes but the security of both countries are inextricably linked. Therefore, it is heartening that India and Sri Lanka constantly strive for excellence in neighbourly relations, recognising that a calamity in one country can adversely impact the other.

Though robust partnerships with other countries must be sought in line with the non-alliance foreign policies of both countries, such efforts must be bounded by an atmosphere needed for peace, prosperity and stability.

Among others, freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific together with a rules-based international order and peaceful settlement of disputes are of common interest. While avoiding advocacy of zero-sum solutions on crucial issues, both countries must seek to harmonise strategic and other interests in line with common values and socioeconomic compulsions.

Addressing issues and imbalances

The socioeconomic development of Sri Lanka has remained linked to India. But there are many options available to address issues of imbalance and asymmetries. For instance, Sri Lanka can encourage Indian entrepreneurs to make Colombo another business hub for them, as logistical capacities and facilities for rest and recreation keep improving in Sri Lanka.

Integrating the two economies but with special and differential treatment for Sri Lanka due to economic asymmetries can be fast-tracked for this purpose. There is immense potential to accentuate or create complementariness, using locational and human resource potential, for harnessing benefits in the modern value chains.

Robust partnerships across the economic and social spectrum can promote people-to-people bonhomie. And engagement of legislatures is essential for promoting multiparty support.

With many countries receding into cocoons due to the pandemic, this is an opportunity for both countries to focus on the renewal and revitalisation of partnerships.

This article was originally published in the Hindu, the English-language daily owned by The Hindu Group and headquartered in Chennai, Tamil Nadu
https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/modern-tools-age-old-wisdom/article32206425.ece

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The Great Lockdown Through a Global Lens

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Opinion

The empty corridors of a locked down UN Secretariat in New York. Credit: United Nations

WASHINGTON DC, Jun 17 2020 (IPS) – The Great Lockdown is expected to play out in three phases, first as countries enter the lockdown, then as they exit, and finally as they escape the lockdown when there is a medical solution to the pandemic.


Many countries are now in the second phase, as they reopen, with early signs of recovery, but risks of second waves of infections and re-imposition of lockdowns. Surveying the economic landscape, the sheer scale and severity of the Global Lockdown are striking.

Most tragically, this pandemic has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. The resulting economic crisis is unlike anything the world has seen before.

This is a truly global crisis. Past crises, as deep and severe as they were, remained confined to smaller segments of the world, from Latin America during the 1980s to Asia in the 1990s. Even the global financial crisis 10 years ago had more modest effects on global output.

For the first time since the Great Depression, both advanced and emerging market economies will be in recession in 2020. The forthcoming June World Economic Outlook Update is likely to show negative growth rates even worse than previously estimated. This crisis will have devastating consequences for the world’s poor.

Aside from its unprecedented scale, the Global Lockdown is playing out in ways that are very different from past crises. These unusual characteristics are emerging all over the world, irrespective of the size, geographic region, or production structure of economies.

First, this crisis has dealt a uniquely large blow to the services sector. In typical crises, the brunt is borne by manufacturing, reflecting a decline in investment, while the effect on services is generally muted as consumption demand is less affected.

This time is different. In the peak months of the lockdown the contraction in services has been even larger than in manufacturing, and it is seen in advanced and emerging market economies alike.

There are exceptions—like Sweden and Taiwan Province of China, which adopted a different approach to the health crisis, with limited government containment measures and a consequently proportionately smaller hit to services vis-à-vis manufacturing.

It is possible that with pent-up consumer demand there will be a quicker rebound, unlike after previous crises. However, this is not guaranteed in a health crisis as consumers may change spending behavior to minimize social interaction, and uncertainty can lead households to save more. In the case of China, one of the early exiters from lockdown, the recovery of the services sector lags manufacturing as such services as hospitality and travel struggle to regain demand.

Of particular concern is the long-term impact on economies that rely significantly on such services—for example, tourism-dependent economies.

Second, despite the large supply shocks unique to this crisis, except for food inflation, we have thus far seen, if anything, a decline in inflation and inflation expectations pretty much across the board in both advanced and emerging market economies.

Scene in New York City Subway during COVID-19 Outbreak. Credit: United Nations

Despite the considerable conventional and unconventional monetary and fiscal support across the globe, aggregate demand remains subdued and is weighing on inflation, alongside lower commodity prices. With high unemployment projected to stay for a while, countries with monetary policy credibility will likely see small risks of spiraling inflation.

Third, we see striking divergence of financial markets from the real economy, with financial indicators pointing to stronger prospects of a recovery than real activity suggests. Despite the recent correction, the S&P 500 has recouped most of its losses since the start of the crisis; the FTSE emerging market index and Africa index are substantially improved; the Bovespa rose significantly despite the recent surge in infection rates in Brazil; portfolio flows to emerging and developing economies have stabilized.

With few exceptions, the rise in sovereign spreads and the depreciation of emerging market currencies are smaller than what we saw during the global financial crisis. This is notable considering the larger scale of the shock to emerging markets during the Great Lockdown.

This divergence may portend greater volatility in financial markets. Worse health and economic news can lead to sharp corrections. We will have more to say about this divergence in our forthcoming Global Financial Stability Report.

One likely factor behind this divergence is the stronger policy response during this crisis. Monetary policy has become accommodative across the board, with unprecedented support from major central banks, and monetary easing in emerging markets including through first time use of unconventional policies.

Discretionary fiscal policy has been sizable in advanced economies. Emerging markets have deployed smaller fiscal support, constrained to some extent by limited fiscal space. Furthermore, a unique challenge confronting emerging markets this time around is that the informal sector, typically a shock absorber, has not been able to play that role under containment policies and has instead required support.

We are now in the early stages of the second phase as many countries begin to ease containment policies and gradually permit the resumption of economic activity. But there remains profound uncertainty about the path of the recovery.

A key challenge in escaping the Great Lockdown will be to ensure adequate production and distribution of vaccines and treatments when they become available—and this will require a global effort. For individual countries, minimizing the health uncertainty by using the least economically disruptive approaches such as testing, tracing, and isolation, tailored to country-specific circumstances with clear communication about the path of policies, should remain a priority to strengthen confidence in the recovery.

As the recovery progresses, policies should support the reallocation of workers from shrinking sectors to sectors with stronger prospects.

The IMF, in coordination with other international organizations, will continue to do all it can to ensure adequate international liquidity, provide emergency financing, support the G20 debt service suspension initiative, and help countries maintain a manageable debt burden.

The IMF will also provide advice and support through surveillance and capacity development, to help disseminate best practices, as countries learn from each other during this unprecedented crisis.

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Predicting COVID-19 Infection Fatality Rates Around the World

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Opinion

WASHINGTON DC, Jun 16 2020 (IPS) – The world saw more new confirmed COVID-19 cases last week than any week to date. And as the pandemic grows, its epicenter is moving from advanced economies to more developing countries, including Brazil, India, and South Africa.


How is the pandemic likely to evolve as it spreads to poorer countries?

In a new working paper, we attempt to answer one piece of that question, predicting the infection fatality rate, or IFR, for COVID-19 for 187 countries based on demography, comorbidities, and the strength of health systems.

The IFR numbers we report are somewhat higher—sometimes dramatically so—than the figures given for many developing countries in earlier influential studies, including the Imperial College team’s scenarios for the global pandemic and a recent report by the WHO Africa bureau.

That difference can be chalked up to how we incorporate two factors: pre-existing health conditions, and the relative strength of health systems.

For many developing countries, comorbidities partially offset the advantages of youth

A recent study in Science by Salje et al., for instance, finds that with French-level healthcare, the probability of dying with COVID-19 rises roughly eight-fold when moving from the 60-69 age group to the 70 and above range. This is good news for developing countries, which generally have a much younger population than France.

Most previous forecasts of the COVID-19 infection fatality rate have incorporated this demographic advantage. However, they have generally not included the offsetting effect of cross-country differences in comorbidities.

Those comorbidities—such as diabetes, hypertension, and ischemic cardiovascular diseases— matter a lot. Data from Italy show that roughly 96 percent of COVID-19 fatalities report one or more relevant comorbidities.

Inverting that probability using Bayes’ rule and data on France’s IFR and comorbidity distribution, we find that the probability of dying from a COVID-19 infection for patients under 40 is roughly 134-times higher with a relevant comorbidity than without.

Developing countries generally have lower rates of relevant comorbidities compared to high-income countries (where the best measures of infection fatality rates come from). But whereas comorbidities are concentrated among the elderly in rich countries, some developing countries—such as South Africa—report a considerably higher share of these conditions among middle-aged people.

Future work would benefit from more careful treatment of comorbidities like HIV/AIDS that have higher prevalence in lower-income countries. But even a simple adjustment for comorbidities partially undermines many developing countries’ demographic advantages.

Evidence from other viral respiratory infections suggests a much bleaker scenario for COVID-19 in the developing world

So far, our estimates assume that an individual infected with COVID-19 in, say, Uganda has the same probability of dying as someone with the same sex, age, and number of comorbidities in France. Clearly that’s optimistic, given the overall capacity of Uganda’s health system relative to France’s. But exactly how optimistic?

To gauge how much fatality rates might vary with health system capacity, we draw on estimates of the infection fatality rate for another viral respiratory infection, namely influenza. We focus on children under five years old, to purge variation in age and comorbidities that typically begin later in life, and scale the odds ratio of dying from COVID-19 by the ratio of child influenza death rates across countries by income group.

Adjusting for health-system capacity in this way yields COVID-19 infection fatality rates that are considerably higher than previous estimates for the developing world. For the five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with the largest confirmed COVID-19 epidemics to date, our results are roughly twice as high as those from Imperial College, which does not factor in comorbidities or health system strength beyond a simple capacity constraint on hospital beds.

And they are roughly eight times higher than forecasts from the WHO Africa, which do not adjust for health system capacity and only scale the IFR downward (never upward) due to comorbidities.

Comparing predicted COVID-19 infection fatality rates across studies

Our results are more in line with the Imperial College predictions for Europe, as shown in the bottom panel above. For the five European countries shown, we can also compare to a more “gold standard” benchmark, i.e., infection fatality rates calculated on the basis of seroprevalence studies of a random sample of the population (blue bars).

Both our results and the Imperial college results match these seroprevalence studies fairly well on average, but fail to explain much of the intra-European variance (some of which may be due to variance in how deaths are counted, e.g., Belgium’s fairly liberal definition of a COVID-19 death to include all unexplained nursing home deaths).

In short, our IFR estimates seem fairly plausible for Europe, where we have an independent reference point, and our results suggest that earlier predictions for developing countries that ignore health system capacity may be far too optimistic.

In line with recent news reports, it’s likely young people will make up a larger share of COVID-19 deaths in the developing world

In the United States to date, patients over 75 years old represent over 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths. In Italy, the number of fatalities above 70 is 85 percent.

Both demography and weak health systems explain why COVID-19 deaths are more concentrated among younger people in the developing world

Although predicted IFRs display a steep age gradient in all contexts, due to demographic differences the bulk of deaths in low- and lower-middle income countries is predicted to come from middle-aged patients (40-70).

Less obviously, differences in health system capacity are also likely to flatten the age gradient of COVID-19 deaths in developing countries. In Europe, data is consistent with the hypothesis that intensive care saves the lives of a higher proportion of young than elderly COVID-19 patients. Thus, when high-quality intensive care is lacking, the advantages of youth are more muted.

These estimates are far from the final word on this question. But we hope that our calculations provide an important cautionary note about developing countries’ demographic advantages in facing down COVID-19.

Planning for the ongoing pandemic response and calibration of containment policies should factor in the wide variation in predicted IFRs across contexts. Specifically, policymakers in low-income countries should be cognizant that any demographic advantages with respect to COVID-19 fatality rates are likely to be partially offset by disadvantages in terms of the age-distribution of comorbidities, and even more so by gaps in health system capacity.

*Justin Sandefur is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD) ; Selene Ghisolfi is an economics post-doc at the Laboratory for Effective Anti-poverty Policies Bocconi, and a PhD student at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University; Ingvild Almås is a professor of economics at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University; Tillmann von Carnap is a PhD student at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University; Jesse Heitner is a health economist at Aceso Global; and Tessa Bold is an associate professor at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University.

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How Cities Can Turn COVID-19 Crisis into an Opportunity to Build Better

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Opinion

Johnny Miller is a photographer, documentary maker and UN-Habitat Champion based in Cape Town South Africa.

High rise apartments & green spaces contrast with the adjacent sprawling slum area in Mumbai, India. Credit: Johnny Miller

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Jun 12 2020 (IPS) – From shocking death tolls to widespread job losses, there is no understating the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the world’s cities.

Health care systems, economies, and social lives have been upended by a virus for which the world was totally unprepared.


But even as cities struggle with basic needs like providing a safe environment for all, there is as an opportunity for long-lasting changes to make our cities both more prosperous and equitable and less vulnerable to future shocks such as highly contagious diseases.

Cities and local governments should be recognized for steps they are already taking to build public health, social, and economic resilience during this crisis. They are disinfecting public transport and are keeping public spaces clean.

They are mobilizing both professional and volunteer networks to source, make, and distribute personal protective equipment for frontline workers. They are making sure food reaches older persons who are self-isolating for their own safety and struggling families with children who are no longer going to school, being challenged equally by new ways of working such as home schooling and home office.

This unprecedented moment requires emergency action and social solidarity. We can seize on this brief window to “retro-fit” and make permanent improvements by both delivering the fundamentals of sustainable cities from the pre-pandemic era and adopting the measures that are likely to be necessary in the post-pandemic era.

Our future cities need to be resilient, sustainable, inclusive and equitable. They need to be forward-thinking, able to innovate and better positioned to withstand shocks and catastrophes like the Covid-19 pandemic.

To do this they will need to respect core human values of dignity and care, and invest in citizens’ health along with decent shelter, clean water, and free education. They will recognize that diversity is a strength, and that achieving equality of outcomes for all means safeguarding the rights of expression and culture.

Future cities must rethink and reorganize their built environment using the lenses of equity and access. COVID-19 has exposed the reality of profoundly divided populations. Regenerating neglected urban areas can bring healthy, sustainable benefits to local communities, which in turn increases city resilience as a whole.

Connecting communities with people-friendly parks, green spaces, and community-aligned infrastructure allows neighborhoods to prosper and thrive once more.

We see some cities embrace the “new normal’. Lyon has a plan to more permanently house 1,500 homeless people who were offered temporary shelter during France’s lockdown. Cities around the world have closed streets to cars in order to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists.

Already, Seattle and Paris have said some of those changes will be made permanent. Bogota, one of South America’s most cycle-friendly cities and already a leader in sustainable transport, just dedicated over 70 more kilometers of bike lanes on top of the 550 that already exist.

With the disruption of global supply chains and long-distance air travel, it is possible that future cities will look and act more locally, with localized and self-sustaining networks of food production, green spaces, and even power generation.

By moving away from a reliance on overseas producers, we can unlock the true value of neglected assets and resources within communities which currently lie dormant.

At the same time, the cities of the future will be more reliant on digital technology and the wide utilization of the internet even as children learning from home eventually go back to school and knowledge workers connecting remotely will eventually return to spending more time in the offices again.

Even in the poorest regions of the world, city dwellers are beginning to rely on the internet for education, business, banking, and social relationships. COVID-19 has already opened our eyes to a world where only those with the freedom and privilege to be able to access the online world are the ones able to access all society has to offer.

The current crisis provides an opportunity for cities to ensure that digital services are available to everyone, but they need to take a proactive approach to digital technologies.

This could include investing in community broadband and free public wi-fi, providing digital literacy and skills to older people and marginalized communities and making websites and online platforms accessible to people with disabilities. Bridging the digital divide, already a pre-pandemic challenge, will be essential to building back better neighborhoods.

The good news is that many cities already see the benefits of resilient, inclusive societies, and some areas like Kerala state in India are weathering the COVID-19 storm well even without massive financial resources.

This is showing that focusing on public health delivery in a compassionate, equitable way, is just as important as economic stimulus to the recovery of a region once the pandemic is over.

The choices we make in the next year will define our societies for an entire generation and perhaps beyond. Let’s use this opportunity as a fulcrum to leverage the future that we know we can build together.

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COVID-19 & its Impact on Textile & Garment Supply Chains in Developing Nations

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Opinion

Antonella Teodoro is Senior Consultant at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) & Luisa Rodriguez is Economic Affairs Officer, UNCTAD

GENEVA, Jun 11 2020 (IPS) In the first quarter of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic led to a 3% drop in global trade values. COVID-19 could trigger the biggest economic contraction since World War II, affecting all industries from finance to hospitality.


As there is significant uncertainty about how the epidemiological and economic situation will evolve, assessing the duration and the gravity of the pandemic seems like an impossible task.

However, recent forecasts suggest: trade volumes decreasing between 13% and 32% in 2020 (WTO, 2020), global growth falling to -3% (IMF, 2020) and different maritime seaborne scenarios ranging from a return to sector average (around 3% p.a.) after 2022 to growth rates falling by 17% by 2024 (Stopford,2020)[i].

Industries whose operations are more globalized (and particularly those that rely on Chinese inputs for production) were most exposed to initial supply chain disruption due to COVID-19. This was the case for precision instruments, machinery, automotive and communication equipment (UNCTAD, 2020).

Given its non-essential nature, the fashion industry faces significant risks. Indeed, in times of COVID-19, as consumers around the world remain in lockdown, they no longer need new products. This industry is characterised by a highly integrated global supply chain.

In it, many developing countries play the role of the supplier of low-cost inputs. This article highlights some of challenges and concerns that some of these countries face, many of which are dependent on textile and garment exports.

The textile industry supply chains, trade logistics and developing countries

The accession of China to the WTO (2001) and the expiry of the WTO Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (which ended a 10-year trade regime managed through quotas) on 1st January 2005 contributed to making China an important centre of textile and clothing global value chains (GVCs).

These two developments led to shift apparel production and sourcing (by globalized retailers and producers) to China and other Asian countries because of low labour costs (UNCTAD, 2005), following the cost-reducing logic of GVCs.

As wages gradually rose in China and Chinese plants moved to produce higher-value goods, countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam, with lower wages costs started attracting factories to relocate their production from China.

At the global level, China remains an important supplier of fashion goods (as shown in Figure 1) but has also become an important consumer of this industry.

Figure 1: Top 20 exporting countries of fashion goods*
(share in global exports), estimated TEU 2019

* SITC, 2-digit categories including: Textile fibres, Textiles & made-up articles, Clothing & accessories. (Source: MDS Transmodal, March 2020)

Major exporters of fashion goods for whom exports in the sector represent a significant share of export earnings are shown in Figure 2. Consequently, the Asian country most badly affected by the disease outbreak could be Bangladesh where circa 85% of its exports include fashion goods, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Top 20 exporting countries of fashion goods*
(share in total country exports), estimated TEU 2019

* SITC, 2-digit categories including: Textile fibres, Textiles & made-up articles, Clothing & accessories. (Source: MDS Transmodal, March 2020)

Given the globalized nature of the industry, companies and retailers must transport their goods and raw materials across many countries. Besides China, other countries play an important role as key hubs around which trade of fashion products takes place.

This is the case for the United States (as the most important retail market), and some European countries (such as Belgium, Germany, France and UK), with ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp featuring prominently in this trade. (CO, 2018).

From a logistics point of view, the textile, apparel and garments industry is considered a time-sensitive industry. Irregularities in making goods reach a particular place at a specified location on time can lead to reduced (or no) profits for the textile owner.

In addition, clothing collections change quickly: their lifecycle is short (as perishable products) and their commercialization is characterized by strong seasonal peaks. In this sense, textile logistics are characterized by small stocks and short delivery times.

These goods and raw materials are usually transported using a combination of land, sea, and air. Within this trade logistics context, strong multimodal interlinkages are key to ensure Just in Time delivery.

E-commerce developments have further accentuated time-related logistics requirements, such as next day delivery, as well as the capacity of handling a large volume of returns and offering the possibility for manufacturers and dealers to check the location of their articles at any time.

Emerging concerns related to COVID19 from the perspective of developing countries

The COVID-19 outbreak led to production stops in China first, followed by closures of shops elsewhere around the world.

For the moment, European and American retailers, the two destination markets for this sector, are still cancelling their orders. Cancelled orders are a cause for concern in many sourcing countries.

As shippers are increasingly invoking ‘force majeure’ clauses within their contracts to halt their payments, on 8 April, the Sustainable Textile of Asian Region (STAR) Network, the body, which brings together representatives of the producing associations from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Pakistan and Vietnam, released a joint statement on the issue.

It urged brands and retailers to consider the impact that their purchasing decisions during the coronavirus pandemic could have on workers and small businesses in the supply chain and, therefore, to honour their contracts with their suppliers.

In their statement, the STAR Network invited global businesses to “support business partners in the supply chain as much as possible, and aim at a long-term strategy of business continuity, supply chain unity and social sustainability.”

Supply chain disruption: the reduced production perspective

The evolution of local epidemiologic situation in key sourcing countries, has impacted workforce availability and production, as well as multimodal logistics underpinning global value chains.

One of the concerns in this respect is that production of fashion goods could be moved away to other sourcing countries that are resuming activities faster in the Asian region or that are closer to retailers to diversify their supply chain risk.

Governments in developed countries around the world are implementing unprecedented actions to ease the effect on their economies from measures put in place to limit the spread of the pandemic.

Most developing countries do not have similar financial means, health systems or social safety nets to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and its economic impacts.

In this context, various assistance packages have been announced by IMF, the World Bank and others with a view to supporting economies, including emerging market economies.

Transport connectivity impact

Observable changes derived from the pandemic concerning maritime transport networks include, for example a reduction in service frequency (blank sailings and idle fleet) and changes in routing affecting particularly Asia-Northern Europe services, a key axis in the trade of fashion goods.

Shipping lines are reducing the number of port calls in the maritime services they offer to adapt to declining demand and cargo imbalances (JOC, 2020).

This is likely to affect the liner shipping connectivity of sourcing countries both in terms of intercontinental as well as intra-regional feeder calls and, if this situation persists, could make economic recovery even harder.

The fashion industry is undoubtedly under pressure in these uncertain times. Depending on the role that countries play in the supply chain, building resilience could entail different needs and approaches.

Prospects appear particularly bleak for low-cost sourcing countries that are highly dependent on textile and garments exports for revenues, concurrently faced with the challenge of limited financial means and less developed health systems and social safety nets to cope with the socio-economic effects of the pandemic.

In the short-term, lockdowns around the world have thrown a spotlight on risks associated with high supply chain interconnectedness and challenges associated with global sourcing.

This has also had an impact on trade logistics, as the glue that holds global value chains together. Observable changes introduced in maritime transport services to cope with reduced demand and cargo imbalances illustrate this.

The key question is what will this mean in the longer term, after surviving this unplanned humanitarian and financial crisis, particularly for the weakest links of the chain?

Driven by growing pressure towards more environmentally friendly lifestyles, the fashion industry was already confronted, before the pandemic, with increased concerns regarding its sustainability footprint, particularly consumption patterns associated with ‘fast fashion’ (increasing levels of expenditures and waste disposal) and associated production patterns (workplace conditions, environmental impact of textiles processing).

Will the current crisis accelerate a transformation in consumption patterns, inducing structural changes to the industry supply chain?

For example, could it lead to generalize new models such as ‘seasonless designs’ or lead to shorter value chains (i.e. increased local or regional sourcing)? Certainly, moving away from the “just in time” or “made- to- order” business models will have an impact on trading and transport patterns.

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Crisis Hits Oil Industry and Energy Transition Alike

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Energy

Mexico's state-run oil giant Pemex faces a difficult outlook due to the fall in international oil prices and the crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens its production and finances, in a situation analysed during the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mexico’s state-run oil giant Pemex faces a difficult outlook due to the fall in international oil prices and the crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens its production and finances, in a situation analysed during the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

MEXICO CITY, May 22 2020 (IPS) – While it attempts to cushion the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Latin American and Caribbean region also faces concerns about the future of the energy transition and state-owned oil companies.


These questions were discussed at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised by the Institute of the Americas. It was held online May 18-22, rather than bringing together more than 50 speakers at the institute’s headquarters in the coastal district of San Diego, in the U.S. state of California, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alfonso Blanco of Uruguay, executive secretary of the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE), said during a session on global trends and the regional energy industry that the changes seen during the pandemic will spread after the crisis and will be long-lasting.

“There will be structural transformations and we are convinced that most consumer behaviors will change after the pandemic. Demand will vary due to changes in the main areas of transportation and other energy areas. The effects on fossil fuel consumption will be strong and there will be a greater impact on renewable energies,” he said.

OLADE, a 27-member regional intergovernmental organisation for energy coordination, estimates that electricity demand has fallen by 29 percent in Bolivia compared to 2019, as a result of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19, and by 26 percent in Argentina, 22 percent in Brazil and 11 percent in Chile.

“There will be structural transformations and we are convinced that most consumer behaviors will change after the pandemic. Demand will vary due to changes in the main areas of transportation and other energy areas. The effects on fossil fuel consumption will be strong and there will be a greater impact on renewable energies.” — Alfonso Blanco

Likewise, final energy demand plummeted 14 percent in Brazil compared to 2019, 11 percent in both the Andean and Southern Cone regions, nine percent in Mexico, seven percent in Central America and five percent in the Caribbean.

As countries went into lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, electricity consumption by businesses and factories declined, due to the suspension of activities.

Leonardo Sempertegui, legal advisor to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), said the pandemic may be a wake-up call for countries lagging behind in the energy transition.

“This may be the new normal. The structure and governance of the energy architecture to cope with the next phase are changing dramatically. Energy poverty and the energy transition cannot be solved regardless of who controls a resource; these challenges cannot wait,” he said in the same session.

In Latin America, nations like Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras and Uruguay have made progress in the energy transition since 2015, while Brazil has slid backwards and countries like Mexico are stuck in the same place, according to the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, released May 13.

As the region heads into the fourth month of the pandemic, countries are assessing their electricity markets, which have been shaken by the crisis.

Nations like Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru have resorted to long-term electricity auctions, which have generated low prices for renewables, while Mexico suspended such schemes in 2019.

In Argentina, as Andrés Chambouleyron, a non-resident fellow at the Institute of the Americas, explained, industrial consumption fell by 50 percent and electricity distributors have not been able to obtain sufficient revenues to cover fixed costs or electricity purchases.

The government has thus provided financing to Cammesa – the electricity wholesale market administration company – to pay the generators, since it is bound by contracts to buy the energy.

“There will be a permanent change in electricity consumption in Argentina. We have cheaper gas than before; the models say that you have to use more gas because it is cheaper than other sources. We won’t see much change in Argentina’s energy mix, and that could extend to all of Latin America,” said Chambouleyron, who warned of breach of and renegotiation of contracts for energy purchases.

Low oil prices threaten to slow down the energy transition in Latin America, although renewable energies already compete with the costs of fossil fuels, agreed experts at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. The photo shows solar panels on a house in Ajijic, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Low oil prices threaten to slow down the energy transition in Latin America, although renewable energies already compete with the costs of fossil fuels, agreed experts at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. The photo shows solar panels on a house in Ajijic, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

While renewables are already competing in price with conventional sources, low oil and gas prices undermine their expansion, a predicament that alternative energy sources have been facing in recent years.

In addition, the rise in the cost of international credit and the fluctuations of the dollar against local currencies may make generation more expensive.

In another session on the outlook for state-owned oil companies, Marta Jara, former president of Uruguay’s public oil company ANCAP, said the current crisis could accelerate the transition, but called it a “major challenge”.

“The temptation is to be opportunistic and forget the roadmap of the energy transition. We must invest in sustainable energy systems, decarbonise transport. It is important to secure funding and create jobs. I hope the crisis opens the door to be more innovative,” she said.

Viable or not?

The plunge in fossil fuel prices is damaging the finances of the region’s oil producing countries, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, and state companies in the sector are facing problems with regard to planning and operations.

But it benefits net importers, like the countries of Central America or Chile, whose oil bills have shrunk, while for consumers in both oil producing and importing countries the cost of electricity could go down.

“The most competitive will be the countries with lower oil extraction costs. Some projects will not be economically viable. We will see greater economic problems than in 2019,” predicted Lisa Viscidi, director of the Energy, Climate Change and Extractive Industries Programme at the non-governmental Inter-American Dialogue, during a panel on the situation in several Caribbean nations.

The pandemic and a rise in Saudi production announced on Mar. 10 led to a collapse in oil prices and the consequent risk of bankruptcies in the industry. State-owned oil companies have fared better than others so far in the crisis.

In another session on the outlook for state-owned oil companies, John Padilla, managing director of the private consulting firm IPD Latin America, stated that “it will take time to get out of this situation, with effects for the region, and the need for great efficiency.

“Most nations have been exporters, efficiency will be the key. What has not been done is to cultivate domestic and regional markets, state enterprises are not going to play the same role as they always have,” he said.

Public companies such as Brazil’s Petrobras and Colombia’s Ecopetrol entered the crisis in a better position than Mexico’s Pemex, Venezuela’s PDVSA and Argentina’s YPF, according to experts.

“These are difficult times, even for the best prepared. We can hope that if the country and its company are in trouble, if governments need money, they can get more out of the companies,” said Francisco Monaldi, interim director of the Baker Institute for Public Policy’s Latin America Initiative at the private Rice University in the U.S. state of Texas.

In his view, “Mexico is in better fiscal conditions, it should not be a problem. But Pemex can drag Mexico down. If the government doesn’t change direction, it could become a serious problem,” he said as an example.

Although Pemex will increase its investment in 2020, the oil company reported losses of 20 billion dollars in the first quarter of this year. Due to the crisis, Petrobras limited its investment to 3.5 billion dollars and its daily production to 200,000 barrels, and postponed the sale of eight refineries.

For Lucas Aristizábal, a senior director in Fitch Ratings’ Latin American corporates group, some state-owned oil companies are viable and others are not.

“In 2021, the financial contribution of oil will be lower for governments. If they want the companies to play a key role, they will put more pressure on their financial structure. The current situation illustrates the economics of these corporations,” he said during the forum.

Pemex and YPF were already losing money per barrel in 2019, while Petrobras has more balanced production costs.

On the oil horizon, and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Guyana has become the rising star, although there is still political uncertainty, as the result of the Mar. 2 presidential elections is still unclear.

“It’s hard to predict what will happen. There is a risk of U.S. sanctions that would not affect investment in the sector, but would pose a political risk to the country,” said Thomas Singh, in the Department of Economics at the public University of Guyana.

The country expects to extract 600,000 barrels per day by 2024 and take in revenues of five billion dollars, with reserves exceeding five billion barrels.

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