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António Guterres: Read the UN Secretary-General’s Davos speech in full

‘We are in a world in which global challenges are more and more integrated, and the responses are more and more fragmented, and if this is not reversed, it’s a recipe for disaster’
Image: World Economic Forum

Thank you very much to all of you for being here.

If I had to select one sentence to describe the state of the world, I would say we are in a world in which global challenges are more and more integrated, and the responses are more and more fragmented, and if this is not reversed, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Now, if one looks at global politics and geopolitical tensions, with the global economy, and the mega trends – climate change, the movement of people, digitalization – the truth is that they are more and more interlinked, interfering more and more with each other. And indeed the problems are global but the responses are fragmented.

Looking at the global economy – we are now growing still with a relatively acceptable GDP growth, 3.1% last year, but slowing down; and everybody agrees that there are dark clouds on the horizon, and there are risks. And if one looks at the risks, there is really an interrelation of those risks with all the other aspects of global international relations.

The first risk is probably trade tensions, and trade tensions are today essentially a political problem.

A second risk, of course, is related to the debt that is much higher than in the last financial crisis, and which is limiting the capacity to respond to any potential emerging crisis; and also, limiting the capacity of states to implement the projects that would be necessary to achieve the sustainable development goals. But in any case, it remains essentially an economic dimension of the problem.

Then we have the instability in financial markets, and clearly it’s a matter of confidence, so political events have an influence on that; and if one looks at the shutdowns and the Brexit saga, there is a certain sense that political systems do not know exactly what to do when dealing with problems that have strong economic impacts. And so that is a factor of lack of confidence and a factor of lack of confidence creates or increases instability in the markets.

And then the climate risk, and I think the climate risk is the most important systemic risk for the near future. I believe we are losing the race. Climate change is running faster than we are. And we have this paradox: the reality is proving to be worse than scientists had foreseen, and all the last indicators show that. We are moving dramatically into a runaway climate change if we are not able to stop it, and at the same time, I see the political will slowing down. This when technology is on our side and we see, more and more, the business community ready to respond in a positive way, and the civil society more and more engaged. But the political will is still very slow, and we see lots of subsidies to fossil fuels, we see carbon pricing in a very limited way, and we see many still putting into doubt whether climate change is a threat. But in my opinion, it’s the most important global systemic threat in relation to the global economy.

Then we have aspects that are more complex. It’s true that globalization, with all its fantastic improvements in the world, and the technological progress linked to it, has increased inequality at country level, especially inside countries. And there are people that were left behind – people, sectors, regions – that has created a sense of frustration in the rust belts of the world. And this has been a factor in reducing confidence – confidence, trust in governments, in political establishments, and in international organisations like ours – and this also makes it more difficult to have effective strategies in dealing with the economic problems.

And then, the fact that growth has been uneven, and that we have a number of least developed countries in which per capita growth is stagnant; this is creating development gaps that are a factor of instability and of conflict linked to other risks – violations of human rights and other aspects. And so this unevenness in growth is a factor of potential increase in conflict, and countries that are able to solve conflicts are always at risk of going back into those conflicts.

Then if you look at the political mega trends, it is clear for me that we are witnessing a multiplication of conflicts – more and more interrelated and more and more related to a threat of global terrorism – but at the same time the response is more and more fragmented.

We no longer live in a bipolar or unipolar world, but we are not yet in a multipolar world. We are in a kind of chaotic situation of transition. Polar relations have become unclear. The relationship between the three most important powers – Russia, the United States and China – has never been as dysfunctional as it is today. And this is true for the economy, but it’s also true in the paralysis of the Security Council in many very important aspects.

We see the emergence of medium-sized powers that start to be very influential in different scenarios. It’s impossible to look at what happened in Syria without recognising the role of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia. We can do the same in other conflicts around the world.

So power relations are becoming unclear. Fragmentation of actions. Impunity and unpredictability prevailing. And when you say – and you said and it’s right – that we are probably moving into a multipolar world, multipolarity might be a factor of equilibrium but it’s not necessarily a factor of peace and security. We had a multipolar Europe before the First World War, but in the absence of multilateral mechanisms of cooperation and governance we had the First World War. So it is very important to recognise the importance of multilateral mechanisms.

And if I could go with the mega trends that I mentioned – climate change, the movement of people – that today become a political problem, or the questions related to the utilisation, we would see in all of them more and more linkage within politics, economy, technology, movement; all these situations more and more interlinked, and then an enormous difficulty of the international community at the country level and at the global level to respond in a global way.

And this brings us to the centre of the debate today. I am a multilateralist. I am deeply convinced that there is no other way to deal with global challenges, than with global responses, and organised in a multilateral way. But I think that it’s not enough to say this. And it’s also not enough to vilify those that disagree with this and just consider them as nationalists or populists or whatever.

I think we need to understand the grievances and to understand the reasons why – the root causes of why large sectors of the population in different parts of the world today disagree with us. And we need to address those root causes and we need to show these people that we care for them.

And the problem is that to a large extent, political establishments and international organisations, during large periods, let these people be left behind in those, as I mentioned, rust belts of this world and did not show that they cared. And people would think “Oh politicians, they just take care of their own interests and the elections and whatever, and we are here. We are abandoned, we don’t see a future, our jobs are lost, we can’t rebuild our lives. We feel insecure with everything that has happened.”

We need to be able to address the concerns of these people, to talk to them and to act in relation to them. And for that, I think we need a multilateralism that is simultaneously networked to make sure that we are able to address complex challenges – it’s very important for the world to be in close cooperation as today with the World Bank and the IMF but also with other organisations, the World Trade Organisation. We need to work together. There is no way we can do isolated responses to the problems we face. They are all interlinked and it needs to be an inclusive multilateralism. It needs to be a multilateralism in which not only states are part of the system, but in which more and more, the business community, the civil society, the academia, they are all part of the way to analyse problems, to define strategies, to define policies, and then to implement them.

There is no way governments or intergovernmental organisations alone can deal with climate change, can deal with the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or can deal with migration. We need more and more a multilateralism that also is able to incorporate the contribution of all these other sectors, and I think the World Economic Forum has an absolutely vital role to play.

And if you ask me what the priorities are for me, for these at the present moment, I would raise three.

First, to demonstrate to all those that today are not in favour of multilateralism that we care for them. To demonstrate to all those that are feeling that they were left behind that our ideas, our policies, our programs, aim at solving their problems or helping them to solve them. And that is the reason why we try to look at the Agenda 2030 in the developing world as a new inclusive process to leave no-one behind. And there huge cooperation is necessary obviously with the business community and with member states in general and with the civil society. But clearly, to make people understand it is not an abstract debate on global development. This is something linked to the concerns that people have about the future of their jobs, about the future of their communities, and this is even more important when we know the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Second concern, to tell people clearly, look, we understand that, for you, we have problems with bureaucracy, we have problems of being too heavy. We need to reform and we are reforming. We have launched a very substantial, robust program of reform, aiming at simplification of procedures, decentralization. I just sent 200 letters to 200 managers giving them powers they never had in relation to staff management, budget, procurement and other aspects to make them take decisions closer to people we deal with. And then transparency and accountability, that is essential, to prove to taxpayers that they have value for money in what we do.

And then the third aspect that for me is a priority is to show the added value of the United Nations.

There I must say, I think we are doing things. I mean, look at December last year. We were able to bring together the international community in Katowice. Everybody thought that would be a failure. It was not. We managed to approve the world program of the Paris agreement. It doesn’t solve the problem, we need more ambition, more ambition and mitigation. That was not solved there, but it was possible to bring together countries that were in a totally different position, to at least agree on the basis to move forward.

Nobody believed that it was possible to have an agreement, a first agreement in Yemen. It was possible. It will be very difficult to move, but we are pushing for a surge in diplomacy for peace and many other situations have been improving in recent times. South Sudan is looking better. Ethiopia -that is not our merit, it is the merit of the Prime Minister – has done a fantastic step forward in relation to Eritrea.

So a surge in diplomacy for peace, I think, is something that we are proving that we are there, that we are doing things that are necessary, and that nobody can replace the UN in this work.

A second aspect that I would like to underline on this is the fact that, in the humanitarian world, the UN still represents more than half of the humanitarian aid distributed around the world. We supported last year 100 million people in 40 countries, mobilising US $15 billion. And I think that the work the UN does is absolutely irreplaceable, and looking at World Food Programme, UNICEF, UNHCR, what is happening in the world would be – the tragedy would be much bigger without this work.

So I think we have an added value that is proven but it’s clear we need to accelerate in 2019. Accelerate in relation to climate change and we will have a summit in which we want more ambition in mitigation, in adaptation, in finance, and in innovation, and to make governments understand that they are not doing enough and to mobilise as much as possible the business community and the civil society; and that accelerate in relation to the perspectives of the agenda 2030 – this is the sustainable development goals – and create the conditions to mobilise the business community, to mobilise the civil society.

Because obviously, governments cannot do it alone, and this is the central question of this inclusive multilateralism: it’s the recognition, whether people like it or not, that the power of governments to shape societies and the power of governments to solve problems is today much more limited. And if we want to have a true multilateral system, we need, of course, to have an intergovernmental perspective; but we need to make sure that we bring together into this multilateral system the voice and the influence of the business community, the civil society, the scientific community, and all those others that are essential to address together the very dramatic problems we are facing.

The UN Secretary General then took questions from World Economic Forum President, Børge Brende.

Børge Brende, President; Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum and Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations, New York capture during the Session

Are we living in a multipolar world?

We’re not yet there. We maybe have, like a G20 composition, we also have the three powers of Russia, China and the US. You mentioned that, but in addition to a multipolar world decreasing more and more, because we are seeing also other countries more assertive than before, and if there is a vacuum, it will try to be filled. We have this notion of multi conceptual world. And that adds to the complications, because this is also seen as asking questions around human rights and – although agreements that we have had in the UN – the rules-based world order. When you look at human rights, look at gender, and the rights of girls for education in the world – that are crucial issues – some are saying “Oh, these are western values.” But these are really universal values.

Can we do more to protect this and are you concerned that these values are under pressure?

I think it varies. But it is clear that, in general, we can say that we have witnessed – probably because governments feel weaker in relation to the solution of the problems that they face – we have witnessed in several parts of the world the national sovereignty agenda gaining ground in relation to the human rights agenda. And so it is clear that, in several parts of the world, we see the civil society space shrinking. We see media freedom being negatively impacted. And we see the expression of forms of authoritarianism or this new fantastic expression that was invented, “illiberal democracy”. This is clear. The human rights agenda is in trouble and we need to make sure that we mobilise the international community – and again the civil society has a key role to play in this – for human rights to be protected.

Now, gender is different, in the sense that in gender I think we are witnessing a gigantic movement for gender equality, coming from the rank and file, from the society. We have many governments clearly in this direction. We at the UN are totally committed. We have reached gender parity at the level of the senior management group, and of our team leaders around the world. It’s true, those are the ones I appoint directly, so it’s easier to have gender parity; but even in the system, we have now a road map to reach full gender parity in 2028, with the agreement of member states.

And I see in many other countries a lot of effort being done in relation to bringing girls to school, fighting genital mutilation, fighting early marriage. So there are a number of things that are happening. But it’s not enough. But in general, I would say, the human rights situation in general is worse than what we are seeing in gender, where I see now some progress. In some areas, we are having a regression; in other areas, we have some progress, and I hope that in gender, we are making some progress. Of course, there is a long way to go. This is a male dominated world with a male dominated culture, and this is essentially a question of power, and we know that it’s always difficult for power to be given. Normally, power has to be taken.

Secretary-General, you also mentioned the importance of collaboration between governments, business and civil society, and our partnership between the UN and the World Economic Forum here, I think, is very important, and as you said, governments cannot do things alone any more.

You have to mobilise also the private sector, it is 75% of the global GDP. So moving forward, I think collaboration with business – and you have some of the key CEOs in the world here – is crucial when it comes to fighting climate change; but also, to meet sustainable development goals, eradicate all extreme poverty by 2030, and we’re not on track on this.

So what would your challenge be to the business community, or your invitation to the business community, in the coming years?

I think we need to have action on several fronts together. I’ve been talking to many financial institutions, for instance, about the need to support investments in many developing countries, and usually the answer is related to problems of governance, and the questions of corruption and others. So that is why one of the goals is exactly related to governance, to improved governance, improved capacity of member states – especially the least developed member states – to be able to attract private investment and to be able to have normal relations with private investment in the working of their economies. So we need to act with member states to create the conditions for adequate government, for a rules-based relationship with the private sector. We need to mobilise the private sector in order to invest in those countries.

And we need – working with governments, with aid entities, and with the financial system – to find some new instruments or to increase the impact of instruments to reduce the risks of investment in many of these countries. And a lot is being done as you know in insurance, a lot has been done in relation to different forms of financing. Now we have the green bonds, we have social bonds. So a lot needs to be done to make sure that we are able to create the combination of these things. A welcoming environment in the least developed countries, a commitment of the private sector to invest, and the creation of a number of instruments to reduce the risks of that investment in order to make sure to address the huge gaps that we have in the development world in a large chunk of the least developed countries.

We have now developments in areas like artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, drones, that are happening at an unparalleled pace. And you know also the World Economic Forum works on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and this morning I was with African leaders saying that “We lost out on the first, second and the third Industrial Revolution, but we’re not planning to lose out on the fourth. We will have to leap frog.” And we also see that there is a big technological competition between the big nations and we know in a platform economy, the winner easily takes it all. How do you see the UN playing a constructive role here, that this Fourth Industrial Revolution can also be an inclusive revolution, and a revolution that gains all the population of this world?

I see three platforms of action.

First, the impact of a Fourth Industrial Revolution with artificial intelligence as probably the leading role, the impact in the economies and societies will be huge. There will be a massive destruction of jobs and a massive creation of jobs. The problem is that they are not the same jobs and not requiring the same skills. And I think that the World Economic Forum has been doing a lot to raise awareness and to find solutions, but let’s be clear: we need to mobilise much more governments and the business community and the civil society to understand what kind of impact are we going to have in the next decade and what kind of measures do we need to start taking now in order to respond to it? Educational systems – it doesn’t really matter now how much you learn, how many things you learn. What matters is how you learn to learn. Because you will be doing completely different things in your life. The question of safety nets – a new generation of safety nets. So there is a lot that I believe the UN can be a platform for discussion, with the business community and governments, within the sustainable development goals discussion, in order to try to address the massive impact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have on societies and economies; and to try to prevent instead of react. And then, of course, the concept of work will change. The relation between work time, leisure, other occupations, will change. These are things we need to discuss much more in the international community and prepare for what’s coming.

Then there is a second level, in which we are now very much engaged with the high-level panel on digital cooperation. When I look at the web, it’s clear that the web is a fantastic instrument for all of us. It’s clear that we have the dark web and the deep web and all the problems of cybersecurity, etc. And the question of regulation is a very complex question in relation to this. My feeling is that there is no way to use the traditional mechanisms of intergovernmental regulations through conventions that are approved and then agencies that – no. I think that this is the kind of situation in which we need soft mechanisms. We need to bring together all stakeholders – governments, the business community, the scientific community, the civil society – and create mechanisms that allow for a permanent following of what’s happening; for the consensus in creating some norms, some protocol, but not with rigid forms of bureaucracy of regulation; and creating with this the potential more and more for the web to be an instrument for good, and at the same time taking into account that the web is also a question that some governments are using from the point of view of violation of human rights, etc. So it is clear to me this cannot be only an intergovernmental process.

And then I think we have a third area of great interest for us, which is linked with dimensions of security of artificial intelligence: the weaponization of artificial intelligence. We have an agreement, for instance, today, a general agreement that the international law applies to cyberspace. But there is no agreement on how international humanitarian law applies to the cyber dimension of conflicts. There is no agreement with what self-defence means in the case of cyber attacks. And on the other hand, we are witnessing the emergence of systems of weapons that will be autonomous, and in which it will possible for those weapons to decide on targets and to decide on taking the life of people, without any human intervention, in situations in which there is a risk of escalation and there is no accountability. Now how to handle these situations, this discussion is a discussion in which they are in the beginning; in which there are big differences of opinion; but these are the areas where we still need international law, and in a way the role of the United Nations and namely the second commission of the General Assembly is vital. We need to find a minimum of consensus in the world on how to integrate these new technologies in the laws of war that were defined decades ago in a completely different context.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations, New York capture during the Session

But if you look at the coming year, what are your aspirations?

There is a wind of hope that is blowing – and I think Ethiopia was crucial for this wind of hope – that is blowing in relation to the dramatic conflict situation we have in many parts of the world. And my intention is to intensify our surge in diplomacy for peace, and to enhance our partnerships with regional organisations. It is the case of the African Union, it is the case of regional Africa, it’s the case of other parts of the world. And to do everything possible to bring a number of situations in which, until now, it was not possible to launch a serious political process, to bring those situations into a serious political process. Countries like Central African Republic, South Sudan, countries like Yemen, Libya, Syria with all its complexities, are countries where we would like to make huge progress next year.

And then we have situations in which what I was saying about how everything is interlinked, are clear – that they require innovative forms of handling them. In the Sahel, you have conflict, you have terrorism, you have climate change impacting dramatically, you have huge problems of lack of development, and you have problems of governance that are very serious. So it’s a whole area in which all these mega problems are combined. That is why we need this kind of multilateralism that is networking to address everything at the same time, and inclusive. Because this is the kind of area that proves that the systems that we have, that still are fragmented and not able to respond to the kind of problems that more and more we are having in the future, in which everything is interconnected, and all answers need to be comprehensive.

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The Davos Agenda virtual event offers the first global platform of 2022 for world leaders to come together to share their visions for the year ahead.

The week long virtual event, taking place on the World Economic Forum website and social media channels 17-21 January 2022, will feature heads of state and government, CEOs and other leaders. They will discuss the critical challenges facing the world today and present their ideas on how to address them.

The event will also mark the launch of several Forum initiatives including efforts to accelerate the race to net-zero emissions, ensure the economic opportunity of nature-positive solutions, create cyber resilience, strengthen global value chains, build economies in fragile markets through humanitarian investing, bridge the vaccine manufacturing gap and use data solutions to prepare for the next pandemic.

“Everyone hopes that in 2022 the COVID-19 pandemic, and the crises that accompanied it, will finally begin to recede,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. “But major global challenges await us, from climate change to rebuilding trust and social cohesion. To address them, leaders will need to adopt new models, look long term, renew cooperation and act systemically. The Davos Agenda 2022 is the starting point for the dialogue needed for global cooperation in 2022.”


Davos Agenda 2022 participants

World leaders delivering “State of the World” Special Addresses will include:

  • Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India
  • Kishida Fumio, Prime Minister of Japan
  • António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations
  • Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
  • Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia
  • Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia
  • Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister of Israel
  • Janet L. Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States
  • Yemi Osinbajo, Vice-President of Nigeria.

The programme will also feature speakers including:

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)
  • Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency
  • José Pedro Castillo Terrones, President of Peru
  • Ivan Duque, President of Colombia
  • Anthony S. Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health of the United States of America
  • Yasmine Fouad, Minister of Environment of Egypt
  • Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF)
  • Alejandro Giammattei, President of Guatemala
  • Al Gore, Vice-President of the United States (1993-2001) and Chairman and Co-Founder, Generation Investment Management
  • Paulo Guedes, Minister of Economy of Brazil
  • Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation of Rwanda
  • Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda
  • John F. Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate of the United States of America
  • Haruhiko Kuroda, Governor of the Bank of Japan
  • Christine Lagarde,President, European Central Bank
  • Guillermo Lasso, President of Ecuador
  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General, World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • Abdulaziz Bin Salman Bin AbdulazizAl Saud, Minister of Energy of Saudi Arabia
  • Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, European Commission
  • François Villeroy de Galhau, Governor of the Central Bank of France
  • Sarah bint Yousif Al-Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology, Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology of the United Arab Emirates.

Davos Agenda 2022 sessions and launches

Conversations will focus on critical collective challenges across several key areas:

Climate action

Climate action failure, extreme weather and biodiversity loss are ranked the top three most-severe risks for the world over the next decade, according to the Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022, published 11 January 2022.


Top 10 Global Risks by Severity 2022
Climate-related risks top the list of global risks by severity.
Image: World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2022

For a brief moment, a drop in emissions in 2020 proved climate action is possible – and the collective response to COVID-19 is evidence that, if we work together, it’s not too late to save the planet. This requires reaching net zero, achieving the energy transition, committing to circular economies and sustainable consumption and – above all – putting climate and nature at the heart of recovery plans.


Global cooperation

The recent years have seen deepened political and social divides as well as a heightened mistrust of institutions and the spread of misinformation and disinformation. We must renew our commitment to global cooperation and shared prosperity – from vaccine equity to wherever the new era of global space exploration may take us.

At the same time, the shocks of COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation of business and society ­– and innovations in vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and contact tracing have helped us to address the pandemic’s worst impacts. Looking ahead, technology holds the keys to solving the biggest challenges ahead of us: decarbonizing energydiagnosing and treating diseasesecuring our food supply and helping small businesses and entrepreneurs everywhere survive and thrive.

But this rapid digital transformation is not without risk, as we’ve seen cybercrime spike and digital divides widen in the past two years, too. We must work together to balance innovation and responsibility to ensure the digital transformation is driving growth and innovation, and not creating harm.

The Forum will release the Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2022 report on 18 January.

What to watch:

How to follow the Davos Agenda 2022

The event will be livestreamed across the Forum’s website and social media channels. All content will be shared using the official event hashtag #DavosAgenda.

Make sure to follow us on all of our platforms to stay up to date on key quotes, moments and news from the event:

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Digital currencies are growing: the market is valued at more than $2 trillion and involves more than 15,000 varieties. In 2021, El Salvador even adopted Bitcoin as its legal currency.

While private digital currencies are blooming, central banks are catching up. In October 2021, Nigeria joined the Bahamas, the Eastern Caribbean States and Cambodia as one of the first jurisdictions to officially launch central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). Based on the Atlantic Council’s CBDC tracker, 14 countries have launched CBDC pilots while 16 countries are developing CBDCs and 41 are conducting research.

From precious metals to paper money, currencies are crucial for global trade and commerce. As society enters the digital age and more forms of digital currency compete for virality, what does it mean for international trade?

There are three potential ways digital currencies could change international trade:

1. Digital currencies could cause an increase in efficiency for cross-border payments

The speed of settlement for cross-border payments varies from the same business day to five business days. Human interaction is often required in the process of verifying the sender and recipient’s information, for example for anti-money laundering and combatting terrorism financing (AML and CTF) purposes. As a result, the speed of payment is often determined by how much the business hours of the sending institution and the receiving institution overlap; and whether the sending and receiving institutions rely on the same messaging standards.

For digital currencies that rely on decentralized ledgers, money could be sent and received within seconds and around the clock. Future regulatory compliance requirements on digital currency service providers and foreign exchange controls may have an impact on the speed.

2. Digital currencies could provide alternative credit information for trade finance

There’s a $1.7 trillion global trade financing gap, which heavily impacts SMEs who typically don’t have established financial records with banks. Public ledgers of digital currencies could be used to share payment and financial history to underwrite loans for import and export. At the same time, strong privacy protocols would need to be enforced in order to achieve this.

3. Digital currencies could alleviate the issues of de-risking

De-risking creates obstacles for countries perceived with high AML and CTF risks who want to participate in global trade and can increase the transaction costs for buyers and sellers in those countries. While digital currencies do not help reduce the risks of AML and CTF, they could provide alternative payment methods to allow consumers and merchants from those countries to be reconnected with international buyers and sellers.

What European countries are developing digital currencies?
What European countries are developing digital currencies?
Image: Statista/Atlantic Council

New issues caused by digital currencies

Despite their promising potential, digital currencies may not, however, solve some existing problems facing international trade and could raise new issues including:

  • Last-mile problems for financial inclusion: Financial inclusion will continue to be a problem for countries or communities that cannot afford the digital devices needed to hold digital currencies or do not have access to basic infrastructures such as electricity, internet, identification services or outlets to convert cash into digital formats. In the context of global trade, without the basic infrastructure, communities, and especially SMEs, that are excluded today will face an even greater challenge in a world where money is widely digitized.
  • Supply and demand of foreign exchange: It is debatable whether digital currencies could encourage all countries to trade more. While the potential benefits may help increase trade volume for certain countries, it does not change the fundamentals of international trade, which depend on comparative advantages. For countries that struggle with economic development or political stability, they may continue to face these challenges even with digital currencies. The currencies of those countries with limited trade with the outside world would remain undesirable. As a result, even if one type of digital currency gains global presence, converting that into local currency to allow for international trade may still be expensive and difficult if the demand for such local currency is limited internationally.
  • Implications for foreign direct investment (FDI): Many questions are raised by the intersection of cross-border investments and digital currency, as the current framework, such as the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) and the protections it offers, was built well before the age of digital currencies. Would digital currencies be considered as “covered investments” under BIT? Would BIT protections apply to investments made by and in digital currencies? How would the tokenization of FDI work under the current rules? Both states and foreign investors need guidance on these questions.

The international trade community needs to be prepared and capture the opportunities of this new age by closing the digital divide. As we head towards a new age where money and trade in goods and services are more and more digitized, it is crucial to ensure no one is left behind. Investments are needed to provide the right infrastructure for the future, to ensure accessible and affordable connectivity for all.

It is also important for policy-makers to work closely with the technical service providers behind digital currencies to fully understand the potential benefits and risks. Laws and regulations can then provide sufficient protection without stifling innovation. The digital currency governance consortium has provided a great example of public-private partnerships with more than 85 public and private organizations working together to address issues related to digital currencies.

Furthermore, the advancement of payments technology needs to be accompanied by the digitization of trade. A chain is as strong as its weakest link and with heavy reliance on paper documents and a lack of legal support for e-documents or e-signature, the benefits of digital currencies will be limited. Trade policy-makers need to focus on building the right physical and legal infrastructures to create trade for tomorrow.

To achieve the full potential of digital currencies, it will be crucial for countries to sign new types of trade agreements to enable market access for private issuers of digital currencies, to allow payments to operate in conjunction with each other, and to allow data to flow freely and with trust. Singapore, Australia, the UK, Chile and New Zealand have championed such forward-looking trade agreements.

While traditional financial institutions have started to offer settlement through digital currencies and some retailers have started to accept digital currencies, adoption on a large scale is still a long way off, particularly in the cross-border setting. There are yet many technical and regulatory challenges to overcome, ranging from issues of interoperability to the issues of AML, CTF and consumer protection. There’s no doubt, however, that we are entering the age of digital currency and more work needs to be done to allow participants of international trade to reap the benefits.

ILO

Find out about the world of digital labour platforms and the people who work on them, via our interactive map.

 

Digital labour platforms have become a common feature in today’s world and part of our everyday lives. Platforms have grown five-fold over the past decade and have become even more prominent since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online platforms provide businesses with a new way of outsourcing work to a global workforce. Platform work covers a range of tasks such as designing a website, developing software or training an algorithm. They are changing the way work is organised and regulated. According to an ILO study , digital platforms are creating new opportunities, particularly for women, young people, persons with disabilities and marginalised groups in different parts of the world.

However, digital platforms are also blurring the previously clear distinction between employees and the self-employed. Most of the time, workers are poorly paid, and their everyday experience is defined by algorithms. They also often lack access to traditional employment benefits such as social protection, paid leave, minimum wages and collective bargaining.

Consumers International

Every year, on March 15, the consumer movement celebrates World Consumer Rights Day, raising global awareness of consumer rights, consumer protection and empowerment. Consumers International is proud and privileged to coordinate this day of global collaboration, with 200 consumer advocacy members in over 100 countries. In 2021, 73 of our Members carried out local campaigns to ‘Tackle Plastic Pollution’. Collectively, we reached a total global audience of over 31 million consumers.

 

Today, Consumers International announce that the theme for World Consumer Rights Day 2022 is Fair Digital Finance.

The global consumer advocacy movement will call for fair digital finance for consumers everywhere. The movement will generate new consumer-centred insights and campaigns for digital finance that is inclusive, safe, data protected and private, and sustainable.

In a rapidly changing marketplace, World Consumer Rights Day will spark the first-ever global conversation, making the case for solutions that put consumer rights at the core of meaningful and long-lasting change.


About the theme

Digital technologies are reshaping payments, lending, insurance, and wealth management everywhere becoming a key enabler for consumers of financial services.

Digital financial services and financial technology have driven significant changes across the world:

  • By 2024, digital banking consumers are expected to exceed 3.6 billion(Juniper Research, 2020).
  • In the developing world, the proportion of account owners sending and receiving payments digitally has grown from 57% in 2014 to 70% in 2017(Findex 2017).
  • 39% of companies are making fintech adoption a high priority, highlighting the worldwide demand for a more innovative financial landscape  (JDSpura, 2020).

However, digital financial services have created new risks along with exacerbating traditional risks that can lead to unfair outcomes for consumers and leave those who are vulnerable behind in an increasingly cashless society.

There is strong evidence to suggest these risks have increased in recent years and crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic have enhanced these risks, where vulnerable consumers are more fragile due to economic hardship. Achieving fair digital finance for all requires a global, collaborative, and coordinated approach. The rapidly evolving and complex nature of digital financial services demonstrate the need for innovative regulatory approaches and digital financial services and products that centre consumer protection and empowerment.

It is more important now than ever to build on our knowledge and work together to understand what fair financial services looks like in a digital world, and what role consumer-centred financial services can play in global challenges like sustainability. 2022 will be a crucial moment for change with upcoming international policy moments such as the G20 and OECD review of High-level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection.

Our previous work in this area includes: “Banking on the Future: An Exploration of FinTech and the Consumer Interest” and “The role of consumer organisations to support consumers of financial services in low- and middle-income countries”.


Fair Digital Finance Summit (14-18 March 2022)

Consumers International will be hosting a week-long event starting on 14 March 2022, the Fair Digital Finance Summit. The Summit will spark the first-ever global conversation around consumer-centred solutions in digital financial services by bringing together diverse voices of consumer advocates and key marketplace actors in digital financial services to accelerate change.  This global summit will showcase the work, perspectives, and ideas from consumer advocates around the world.

The Summit will kick-off with the Consumer Vision for Fair Digital Finance, offering insights from leaders in the consumer movement on what actions are needed to ensure fair digital finance that is inclusive, safe, data protected and private, and sustainable for consumers everywhere. The week of events will take the form of consumer-centred design sprints and incubators, high-level leadership dialogues and multi-stakeholder workshops, with representation from governments, business, academia, and civil society.


How to join the global movement this World Consumer Rights Day?

We invite all marketplace stakeholders to celebrate World Consumers Rights Day and collaborate with us to promote Fair Digital Finance.

What you can do:

  1. Collaborate with Consumers International and our Members for World Consumer Rights Day 2022 to support our Vision and/or take part in our Summit.
  2. Share information about your plans for World Consumer Rights Day 2022 or for any questions, email wcrd@consint.org.
  3. Connect with us on  TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Instagram for all the latest news and announcements on World Consumer Rights Day 2022.
  4. Engage in this global conversation by using our hashtags #FairDigitalFinance and #BetterDigitalWorld on social media.
  5. Read about our previous work on Financial Services.

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