WEF: Economists warn of deepening human misery amid global economic fragmentation 

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Moscow's war of aggression has disrupted grain production in Ukraine but also the supply line from Russia's vast wheat fields. (Shutterstock)
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Protesters take part in a demonstration during the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 24 May 2022

WEF: Economists warn of deepening human misery amid global economic fragmentation 

  • Experts warn the pandemic and war in Ukraine have exacerbated the trend towards “deglobalization” 
  • Chief Economists Outlook forecast warns inflation and supply chain disruption will deepen food insecurity 

DUBAI: The World Economic Forum’s Chief Economists Outlook report has warned of potentially dire human consequences that could result from the fragmentation of the global economy, exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

In their latest quarterly report, published on Monday, day two of the WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, experts forecast higher rates of inflation in the US, Europe and Latin America, with a resultant decline in real wages in both high-income and low-income countries.

The regions that appear particularly vulnerable to a lower rate of economic activity include the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which have already experienced worsening levels of food insecurity in recent years.

As supply chains enter a third year of disruption, governments and businesses are rethinking their approach to exposure, self-sufficiency and security. As a result, experts warn that firms are realigning their supply chains along geopolitical fault lines, creating a new “economic iron curtain.”

Economists fear these trends could set global development back decades.

“We are at the cusp of a vicious cycle that could impact societies for years,” Saadia Zahidi, the WEF’s managing director, said in a statement issued on Monday. 

“The pandemic and war in Ukraine have fragmented the global economy and created far-reaching consequences that risk wiping out the gains of the last 30 years. 




Saadia Zahidi, WEF managing director, speaking during the panel discussion on Monday. (Supplied)

“Leaders face difficult choices and trade-offs domestically when it comes to debt, inflation and investment. Yet business and government leaders must also recognize the absolute necessity of global cooperation to prevent economic misery and hunger for millions around the world.”

The most visible effect of this disruption has been the rising price of food. The war in Ukraine is expected to increase wheat prices by 40 percent this year, while the price of vegetable oils, cereals and meats continue to skyrocket.

The process of “deglobalization,” a term coined by the Chief Economists Outlook report in 2021 to describe the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been expedited by the economic and geopolitical fallout from the invasion of Ukraine.

The country is one of the world’s biggest exporters of grain and vegetable oils and the blockade of its Black Sea ports has disrupted the global supply of these commodities. In addition, Ukrainian farmers displaced by the conflict have been unable to tend this year’s crops, foreshadowing further shortages.

During a panel discussion at the Davos meeting, David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, said that about “49 million people are knocking on famine’s door in 43 countries,” including Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, Mali, Burkina Faso, Congo, Guatemala and El Salvador. 

“This is going to be hell on earth,” Beasley said on the opening day of the WEF event. “Because of this crisis, we are taking food from the hungry to give to the starving.” 

 

It is not only rising food prices that concern economists. The World Bank expects energy prices to increase by 50 percent in 2022, before easing in 2023-24. Many fear that government efforts to mitigate the threat of energy insecurity will prioritize carbon-intensive sources rather than green renewables, setting back climate action.

In many advanced economies, the rising cost of living is already having a detrimental effect on quality of life.

Speaking during a visit to Tokyo on Monday, US President Joe Biden acknowledged the squeeze many Americans are feeling as a result of high inflation and supply-chain shortages but said a recession is not inevitable.

“Our GDP is going to grow faster than China’s for the first time in 40 years,” he said. “Now, does that mean we don’t have problems? We do. We have problems that the rest of the world has, but less consequential than the rest of the world has because of our internal growth and strength.”

Biden’s rejection of an imminent economic slump in the wake of financial market jitters about “stagflation,” which means persistent high inflation combined with high unemployment and stagnant demand in an economy, found backing from another of the speakers at the Davos gathering, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.




Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, participating in a panel discussion of the WEF on Monday. (Screengrab from WEF video)

However, she admitted that the IMF expects weak growth in comparison with last year, when the world was emerging from the worst of the pandemic, and added that there is now a risk of further declines because of the war in Ukraine and the resulting fragmentation.

“The costs of further disintegration would be enormous across countries,” Georgieva said in a blog post ahead of the WEF meeting, highlighting the potential for new waves of cross-border migration.

“And people at every income level would be hurt — from highly paid professionals and middle-income factory workers who export, to low-paid workers who depend on food imports to survive.

“More people will embark on perilous journeys to seek opportunity elsewhere.”

 

 


Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022

Updated 17 August 2022

Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022

  • The two countries will bolster ties further with the signing of 12 new deals this week

RIYADH: The mutual trade between Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Uzbekistan reached $95 million in the first half of 2022, a substantial increase considering that bilateral trade barely exceeded $17 million last year.

According to a joint news statement, the value is expected to grow rapidly by the end of 2022. The numbers assume significance in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In fact, the number of Uzbek companies running on Saudi funds increased from about nine to 38 in the last five years. Of the 38, 19 are sole proprietors, and the rest are joint ventures.

The two nations will bolster the ties further by signing 12 new agreements on Wednesday and Thursday when Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visits the Kingdom.

According to an Uzbek state agency, high-level talks will take place in Jeddah, where the two nations will discuss opportunities to enhance multilateral cooperation further.

The discussion will focus on the green economy, technology and digitalization, innovations, small business and entrepreneurship. 

Following the meeting, new agreements are expected to be signed in the energy, telecommunications, agriculture, chemical and petrochemical industries, besides encouraging ties in culture, sports and education.

The Kingdom has become one of the largest foreign investors in energy infrastructure and one of Uzbekistan’s most significant developers of green energy projects.

ACWA Power’s Uzbek interests

Recently, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan and Saudi energy company ACWA Power signed several investment agreements for about $3 billion.

ACWA Power will develop and operate a wind energy project with a production capacity of 1,500 MW in the Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan.

When commissioned, the plant will become the largest of its kind in Central Asia and one of the largest wind power plants in the world. 

FASTFACTS

• The number of Uzbek companies running on Saudi funds increased from about nine to 38 in the last five years.

• Recently, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan and Saudi energy company ACWA Power signed several investment agreements for about $3 billion.

• The Saudi Fund for Development has contributed to the implementation of many projects in Uzbekistan, including funding the Samarkand-Gozar Road project, with a total value of $30 million.

ACWA Power also signed an agreement to establish the 100MW Nokus wind farm project, the first renewable energy project to be implemented in partnership with Uzbekistan’s public and private sectors.

The power generating company also won a $108 million wind contract after proposing a tariff of 2.56 cents per kilowatt-hour, the lowest in Uzbekistan.

Additionally, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan signed a 25-year power purchase agreement with ACWA Power to establish a combined-cycle gas turbine power plant in Shirin, located in Syrdarya, Uzbekistan. The deal amounts to $1.2 billion.

According to the statement, these projects will contribute to achieving Uzbekistan’s national goal of raising the total renewable energy generation capacity to 30 percent by 2030.

Saudi Fund for Development

Moreover, the Saudi Fund for Development has contributed to the implementation of many projects in Uzbekistan, including funding the Samarkand-Gozar Road project, with a total value of $30 million.

The fund also contributed to 20 projects in the republic, including building pumping stations and other projects involving sewage, chemicals, mining, building materials, water and agriculture.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture of Uzbekistan, the Saudi and Uzbek delegations have discussed issues of cooperation in agriculture, including the prospects for enhancing mutual trade in agricultural products.

Both parties will likely sign memorandums of cooperation in agriculture, veterinary medicine and livestock development at the meeting.

They also agreed to deepen cooperation in the agricultural sector to enhance trade in farming, livestock and other products between the countries.

After signing the memoranda, action plans will be prepared, including specific measures and areas for developing cooperation and joint projects.

The Saudi side invited the Uzbekistan delegation to attend its most prominent exhibition of the agro-industrial complex, which will be held at the end of October in Riyadh.


Saudi banks shut down 42 branches in 12 months, increase digital presence

Updated 15 August 2022

Saudi banks shut down 42 branches in 12 months, increase digital presence

  • More banks are switching to increased virtual interactions and digitalization, and new banks are opening entirely on that premise

CAIRO: Saudi banks shut down 42 branches over the year ending in June, revealed the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA.

The number of bank branches in Saudi Arabia also inched lower to 1,927 in the second quarter this year from 1,932 in the same quarter last year.

So, what are the reasons behind this decreased number of bank branches, and when did this trend begin?

The most common assumption would be the COVID-19 pandemic and its prolonged effect on the entire economy, including the financial and banking sectors.

Between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2021, which includes the peak of the pandemic, 68 branches were closed. 

Also, bank branches continued to decrease quarterly long after lifting COVID-19 restrictions, albeit there was no clear trend.

Between May 2020 and June this year, 137 bank branches in the Kingdom shut shop.

It is worth mentioning that branches that have closed are not second-tier or underperforming banks but some of the largest and well-performing ones. For instance, Al Rajhi Bank, which had 543 branches in the fourth quarter of 2020, reduced it to 515 by June this year.

While COVID-19 sparked the digital revolution, advanced and innovative technologies did the job.

The past three years of the pandemic slowly began the transformation toward digital banking, which can be seen closely in the Saudi banking sector.

More banks are switching to increased virtual interactions and digitalization, and new banks are opening entirely on that premise.

Last February, SAMA licensed and welcomed the Kingdom’s third digital bank D360 Bank, following the launch of STC and Saudi Digital Bank in June last year.

Similarly, according to SAMA, 19 Saudi fintech companies have been authorized to provide payment services, consumer microfinance and electronic insurance brokerage over the past few months.

So, what does the future of digital banking in the Kingdom hold and will the population accept this digital revolution?

In a survey conducted by Ipsos in the Kingdom in October 2021, the research major pointed out that 61 percent still trust traditional banks, while 47 percent counted on mobile service providers and 40 percent depended on popular digital brands to carry out financial transactions.

The report added: “63 percent said that they will be making all their financial transactions through digital banking in the future, and 58 percent believe that people would no longer use cash as a payment method.”


Saudi banks increase loans by $77.1bn in Q2

Updated 14 August 2022

Saudi banks increase loans by $77.1bn in Q2

  • Kingdom is moving toward Vision 2030 by developing the trade sector and ensuring its sustainability

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s bank loan portfolio rose by SR289 billion ($77.1 billion) in the second quarter of this year from the same quarter a year ago, according to a recent statistical bulletin released by the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA.

Bank loans totaled SR2.42 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2022, up from SR1.95 trillion in the second quarter of 2021, showed the SAMA report.

The SR289 billion increase was led by an SR191.1 billion growth in miscellaneous activities. Its share increased by 2 percentage points to 52 percent in the second quarter of 2022.

The data showed that the value of Saudi banks’ aggregate loan portfolio totaled SR2.24 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2022, up 14.8 percent from the year before and up 4 percent from the previous quarter.

The annual growth in bank loans dropped to a negative in 2017 and remained below zero until the third quarter of 2018. However, bank loans have been seeing an upward trend ever since, according to the SAMA report.

From the third quarter of 2018 until the end of 2019, the value of Saudi bank loans grew at an average rate of 3.7 percent year on year; between 2020 and the second quarter of this year, it grew at an average rate of 14.8 percent year on year.

The dominating segment in the Kingdom’s loans was miscellaneous economic activity, which acquired 52 percent of the total loans this quarter.

Commerce came in second, holding 17.2 percent of total loans in the country, recording SR385.7 billion in the second quarter, showed the data.

The Ministry of Commerce in the Kingdom has been moving toward the Saudi Vision 2030 by developing the trade sector and ensuring its sustainability, according to the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform.

The platform stated: “The Ministry of Commerce’s mission focuses on improving the business environment in Saudi Arabia through enacting, developing and supervising the implementation of flexible and fair trade policies and regulations.”

Even though total bank loans expanded this quarter, two economic activities saw a quarterly decline in bank credit in the second quarter of this year: manufacturing and processing and transport and communication.

Bank loans to transport and communication fell by SR6.2 billion in the second quarter of 2022 from the same quarter the previous year.

Compared to the previous quarter, the sector dropped from 2.1 percent of total loans in the first quarter to 1.9 percent, showed the SAMA bulletin.

Bank loans given to manufacturing and processing fell by SR4 billion in the second quarter of 2022 from the same quarter the previous year.

The data showed that the sector dropped from 7.2 percent of total loans in the first quarter to 6.9 percent compared to the previous quarter.

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QS Monitor taps 90% of global food trade

Updated 15 August 2022

QS Monitor taps 90% of global food trade

  • Platform currently operates in 72 countries: Managing director Burak Karapinar

RIYADH: UAE-based global food trade startup QS Monitor has created a platform for food traders to ship their goods risk-free.

Established in 2020, the company mitigates the risk for exporters as they streamline their shipments to avoid food loss by providing traders with the requirements for their goods to pass security measures.

Burak Karapinar, the managing director and founder of QS Monitor, told Arab News that the platform currently operates in 72 countries, which amounts to almost 90 percent of the global food trade industry.

“We are in 72 countries and growing, but this represents almost 90 percent of the global food trade. So, the ones we don’t have on the platform right now are either small countries or ones that are not big in the food trade,” Karapinar said.

Calling it the “Google for food trade,” Karapinar explained that traders input the product along with the destination, and QS Monitor will provide a complete list of requirements.

But that is not at all. Joe Hawayek, the board member of QS Monitor, told Arab News that the platform also links users to testing laboratories in their country.

“We are linking them with a testing laboratory in their country that can conduct these tests, issue them with the relevant certification that says they have passed, and they take it and travel with it for their product from the start,” he added.

By linking these players, Karapinar is trying to mitigate the food loss in the supply chain caused due to contamination. 

FASTFACTS

• As the Ukraine-Russia war affected the global food trade sector, the company plays a huge role in ensuring importers are still connected with exporters.

• Saudi Arabia and the UAE import most of their eggs from Ukraine, and because of the platform, importers could find alternative sources for their products.

“To give you an idea, 72 percent of global food loss happens in the supply chain, not at home or on the consumer’s plate,” he pointed out.

As the Ukraine-Russia war affected the global food trade sector, the company plays a huge role in ensuring importers are still connected with exporters.

“That’s another beauty that we can provide to this platform. The onboarding of a supplier takes months. You need to be able to verify all the information and make sure the supplier meets your criteria and standards.

“Through our platform, you don’t need to do that. You can gather this information. And you can make your decision. So, we also add the trust element between the buyer and the seller,” Karapinar said.

Hawayek also added that Saudi Arabia and the UAE import most of their eggs from Ukraine, and because of the platform, importers could find alternative sources for their products. With a network of over 400 laboratories, the company provides several services through its platform and certification for Halal requirements for certain foods.

“We did more than 10,000 transactions last year; this includes certification testing, inspection, product registration, and supplier audits,” Karapinar added.

With 6,000 traders on the platform, Karapinar stated that the company currently has 1,000 traders on QS Monitor from the Kingdom and is planning to grow that number by a minimum of five times.

In addition, the company is currently in series A funding stage and is on its way to raising $8 million and expanding its staff from 18 to 60 people in the next five months.

QS Monitor also won UAE’s FoodTech Challenge provided by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, which features almost 600 companies.

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Gazprom ramps up gas flow to Hungary via Turkstream pipeline, official says

Updated 13 August 2022

Gazprom ramps up gas flow to Hungary via Turkstream pipeline, official says

  • The agreement with Gazprom is for 15 years, with an option to modify purchased quantities after 10 years

BUDAPEST: Russia’s Gazprom has ramped up flows to Hungary via the Turkstream pipeline that brings gas to Hungary via Serbia, a Hungarian Foreign Ministry official said on Saturday.

EU member Hungary has maintained what it calls pragmatic relations with Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, creating tensions with some EU allies keen to take a tougher line.

Hungary, which is about 85 percent dependent on Russian gas, firmly opposes the idea of any EU sanctions on Russian gas imports and Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also lobbied hard to secure an exemption from EU sanctions on Russian crude oil imports.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow last month, seeking a further 700 million cubic meters of gas on top of an existing long-term supply deal with Russia.

Under a subsequent agreement, Gazprom started ramping up gas flows to Hungary on Friday, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Tamas Menczer said in a statement.

Menczer said Gazprom would add 2.6 million cubic meters of additional gas per day to previously-agreed deliveries via Turkstream through August, with the amount of September deliveries being negotiated.

Hungary’s reserves stored 2.84 billion cubic meters of gas by the middle of July, the lowest level for that period over the past five years based on data by the national energy regulator.

Under a deal signed last year, before the start of the war in neighboring Ukraine, Hungary receives 3.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year via Bulgaria and Serbia under its long-term deal with Russia and a further 1 bcm via a pipeline from Austria.

The agreement with Gazprom is for 15 years, with an option to modify purchased quantities after 10 years.

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