Blog posts tagged with 'pt insights'

Testing times for labs

The importance of materials testing cannot be underestimated. Across every major industry, manufacturers, developers and operators of critically important systems, products and components need to be assured that the materials employed in forming their equipment are up to their intended tasks. That’s why the most diligent method of verifying that the materials companies use in manufacturing processes will perform to expectations and adhere to all applicable regulations is through reliable materials testing.

Covid Remedy: Pacific resilience

“Never waste a good crisis,” is a quote often wrongly attributed to Winston Churchill. In fact, it was Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff to former US president Barack Obama, who said it – about the global financial crisis. “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” he told a Wall Street Journal forum in 2008. “And what I mean by that is, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

For at least 12 months, COVID recovery plans have been trending. Every business, government and NGO has tried to think up ways that their services, markets, customers, staff, clients and donors can use the pandemic-induced crisis to become better. 
This publication has already canvassed several COVID-related recovery assessments. These were perhaps premature – the pandemic has only recently arrived on some countries’ shores and is yet to transmit to others – surely reopening, recovery and rebuilding are thoughts for later, beyond the duration of the current crises.

Yet, charting a course to the future helps us in the present. We at Pacific Tenders plan to run a four-part series on the effects of the pandemic on the Pacific and what that post-pandemic future could look like. We’ll focus on different aspects of how the crisis affects our lives – economic, social (including health), political (government, legislation), and human (education, training).
Why is everyone talking about resilience?

Another trend is the use of ‘resilience’ to increase interest in everything from foreign aid packages, to hardware and equipment, to policy and training courses (and perhaps magazine articles!). Resilience is attractive. It’s a noble trait. It implies strength in adversity, courage to hold fast to values, depth to withstand shocks and pressure. It carries the sense that we grow stronger from a crisis, so that next time, we’re ready.

While donor conferences and forums promote new buzzword concepts such as green growth, the blue economy, resilient development and inclusive growth, my observation is that Pacific people have an under-appreciated existing and historical reservoir of resilience. Pacific islands and their inhabitants are not essentially or inherently vulnerable. Whilst they have always been exposed to environmental shocks, many countries which are now classified as ‘small island developing states’ (SIDS), were traditionally sites of resilience.

Previously strong inter-island relationships have been replaced with the idea and labels of remoteness, vulnerability, weakness and ‘least developed countries’ (LDCs). LDCs apparently need to ‘graduate’ to be ‘medium developed countries’ (MDCs), by meeting a range of complex criteria and performance standards, qualifying them for non-concessional finance, amongst other privileges. This counterintuitively incentivises countries to remain as LDCs. The terminology dismisses the value of national culture, natural wealth and resilience as a people. 

Instead of continuing to accept the labels of SIDS and LDCs, the COVID crisis has created an opportunity for Pacific Island countries to develop an interdependent sovereignty. This is not built on false hopes of latent economic strength, or heroically ‘taking our country back,’ but on sound and consistent strategy. This four-part Pacific Tenders series will present the situation and opportunity before us.

Part 1: Economic resilienceCOVID-19 just the start
Forget COVID for a minute - Pacific island countries had issues before COVID-19. And the crises won’t stop with COVID-19 – Solomon Islands faced internal unrest in November 2021; Tonga suffered the impacts of a volcano and tsunami in January 2022. Both are now dealing with their first community transmission covid outbreaks. 

And COVID-19 will not be the last challenge the Pacific Islands face. The threat of cyclones and earthquakes is ever-present. The looming reality of climate-change induced sea level rise may present liveability and livelihood challenges sooner than we think. Grabbing no headlines, but no less critical, is the challenge of updating and applying new building codes, specifications and testing standards to meet the impacts of a changing climate and material sources.

As well as ecological fragility, economic vulnerability is set up by popular labelling such as ‘smallness’, the remoteness effects on trade and a narrow reliance on bilateral donors. Donor mantras talk up infrastructure as the key to “reconnecting people, supporting improved health and sanitation outcomes, and stimulating economic activity and jobs.” While this is true, the pathway to providing and sustaining infrastructure in the Pacific will be different to other places. 
The question is – how can we leverage our advantages and strengths while increasing economic and political sovereignty? Asking and answering that question is an exercise in resilience.
Where will it bite?

The economic impacts of COVID-19 in the Pacific have been as varied as in other parts of the world. Some have lost livelihoods, some have lost income, some have lost loved ones, some have lost all three. In the crisis phase, there are very few ‘winners’. 

Considering a spectrum of models and forecasts can help develop a likely picture. In January 2022, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that, “Global growth is expected to moderate from 5.9 in 2021 to 4.4 percent in 2022” primarily due to tightening monetary policy and supply shortages in the US and China. It is expected to slow further to 3.8 percent in 2023. It is worth noting that for so-called “low-income developing countries”, the slowing trend is reversed – up from 3.1 to 5.3 to 5.5 percent for 2021-2023.

Drilling into figures for the Asia-Pacific region, in December 2021, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) were forecasting growth of 7.0% in 2021 and 5.3% in 2022, though these figures are still skewed by the inclusion of China’s economy.
ADB’s forecast for the Pacific is for 0.6% contraction in 2021 and growth of 4.7% in 2022 – the strong rebound expected as COVID-19 outbreaks subside. Many infrastructure projects have been delayed by COVID, weighing on growth prospects. Unfortunately, inflation is also expected to be at around 3.5% in 2022.

Private sector and government take note – the short-term trend is for growth. The backlog of infrastructure projects should then sustain this further into the future. This will provide employment, as well as new infrastructure assets, which, if well planned, will support economic growth. Businesses respond to certainty and will respond positively to firm and substantiated plans. Expansion of trade and broadening the tax base should be allied to growth plans. 
Walk the talk

Economic and political sovereignty is not about going it alone. It’s not about shunning long-term partners. It’s about leading the conversation on priorities. Many Pacific countries do this well. Vanuatu’s upgrade of the main road network in Port Vila and the two international airports’ runways demonstrate this. Solomon Islands’ attraction of investments into ports, undersea cables and transport network upgrades demonstrate this.
An increase in sovereignty will come as the need to source foreign funds and expertise for investments and polices reduces over time. If money, materials and expertise are always forthcoming, no local sources will spawn or grow. Foreign funds come with strings (implicit or explicit) attached – these can be beneficial, but they can also reduce sovereignty. Policy settings need to find the balance between constraining foreign funding without dampening economic growth. This will encourage national businesses at all levels. 

If rebounding from COVID-19 is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before, then this crisis will not be wasted. Sovereignty over borders kept COVID at bay in many Pacific countries and saved lives. Applying this selectivity over the investments that enter Pacific countries will enhance economic resilience.