Post-pandemic world economy still feeling COVID-19’s sting

May 17, 2023
Window cleaners work in Muntinlupa City, Philippines. — courtesy ILO/Bobot Go
Window cleaners work in Muntinlupa City, Philippines. — courtesy ILO/Bobot Go

GENEVA — Prospects for a robust global economic recovery remain dim as the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic carry on, according to the UN’s latest World Economic Situation and Prospects report, released on Tuesday.

Risks of a prolonged period of low growth stand, amid stubborn inflation, rising interest rates, and heightened uncertainties, in addition to the ever-worsening impact of climate change, the report found.

The current global economic outlook also presents an immediate challenge to delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), said Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

“The global community must urgently address the growing shortages of funding faced by many developing countries, strengthening their capacities to make critical investments in sustainable development and helping them transform their economies to achieve inclusive and sustained long-term growth,” he said.

According to the report, the world economy is now projected to grow by 2.3 percent in 2023 and 2.5 percent in 2024, a slight uptick in the global growth forecast for 2023, according to the report, which is produced by DESA.

In the United States, resilient household spending has prompted upward revision of the growth forecast to 1.1 percent in 2023.

Driven by lower gas prices and robust consumer spending, the European Union’s economy is now projected to grow by 0.9 percent. As a result of COVID-19 related restrictions being lifted, China’s growth in 2023 is now forecast to be 5.3 percent.

Despite this uptick, the growth rate is still well below the average growth rate in the two decades before the pandemic, of 3.1 percent.

For many developing countries, growth prospects have deteriorated amid tightening credit conditions and rising costs of external financing.

In Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is projected to increase only marginally this year, reinforcing a longer-term trend of stagnating economic performance.

The least developed countries are forecast to grow by 4.1 percent in 2023 and 5.2 percent in 2024, far below the seven per cent growth target set in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Global trade remains under pressure due to geopolitical tensions, weakening global demand and tighter monetary and fiscal policies. The volume of global trade in goods and services is forecast to grow by 2.3 percent in 2023, well below the pre-pandemic trend.

Inflation remained stubbornly high in many countries even as international food and energy prices fell substantially in the past year. Average global inflation is projected at 5.2 percent in 2023, down from a two decade high of 7.5 percent in 2022.

While upward price pressures are expected to slowly ease, inflation in many countries will remain well above central banks’ targets.

Amid local supply disruptions, high import costs and market imperfections, domestic food inflation is still elevated in most developing countries, disproportionately affecting the poor, especially women and children.

Rapid tightening of global financial conditions poses major risks for many developing countries and economies in transition. Rising interest rates, coupled with a shift in developed economies from quantitative easing to quantitative tightening, have exacerbated debt vulnerabilities and further constrained public spending options.

Current policy challenges call for stronger cross-border policy cooperation and concerted global actions to prevent many developing economies from becoming trapped in a vicious cycle of low growth and high debt.

Labour markets in the United States, Europe, and other developed economies have continued to show remarkable resilience, contributing to sustained robust household spending. Amid widespread worker shortages and low unemployment rates, wage gains have picked up.

Employment rates are at record high levels in many developed economies with gender gaps narrowing since the pandemic.

Exceptionally strong labor markets are, however, making it harder for central banks to tame inflation.

The Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and central banks in other developed countries have continued to raise interest rates in 2023, but at a slower pace than last year, which saw the most aggressive monetary tightening in decades.

The banking sector turmoil in the United States and Europe has added new uncertainties and challenges for monetary policy.

Although swift and decisive actions by regulators helped contain financial stability risks, vulnerabilities in the global financial architecture and the measures taken to contain them will likely dampen credit and investment growth going forward. — UN News

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