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Global Trade Undergoes a Strong, Yet Uneven, COVID Recovery

Source: World Trade Organization

Global merchandise trade volume is expected to grow 8% this year after declining 5.3% in 2020. However, by 2022, trade growth is expected to slow to 4.0%, according to the WTO, meaning “the effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt as this pace of expansion would still leave trade below its pre-pandemic trend.” 

The recovery of global trade has been strong — but uneven. In the second half of 2020, trade in electronics grew 12% from the demand of remote workers. Textile trade also grew, matching the need for medical masks. Travel and transport services, however, dropped 63% and 19%, respectively, due to travel restrictions. Trade in fuel and mining products was also low at 19% in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Trade volume this year will ultimately depend on the production and distribution of vaccines. Delays in vaccine distribution or a resurgence of the virus could hinder trade growth by nearly 2 percentage points. But if COVID-19 is contained, trade could return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.

Big Tech Invests in Cybersecurity

The top five tech companies are investing in cybersecurity to bolster their cloud dominance, according to a new report by CBInsights. The research firm found that Meta (formerly Facebook), Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple (MAGMA) invested over $2 trillion in cybersecurity companies last year.

The rise in investment comes as cybercrime and ransom attacks hit a record level in 2021. In the United States, ransomware caused government services in Maryland and Atlanta to shut down for days at a time. In the private sector, Guy Carpenter estimates that just 42% of private businesses invest in cyber products, putting the almost $21 trillion in intangible assets of the Fortune 500 at risk.

The rise in investment by MAGMA is a bid to lure users onto the cloud. AWS, owned by Amazon, Azure, owned by Microsoft, and Google Cloud Platform are the most popular cloud platforms and boast a myriad of cybersecurity features. Meta and Apple, meanwhile, are pivoting their platforms to be more privacy-focused given the mistrust of data management by the public and the increasing risk of apps becoming a vector for cyber crime.

2021’s Job Market Broke Records After the Losses of 2020

The 2021 labor market posted its biggest jobs gain in modern history, following the huge job losses of 2020, as lockdowns and restrictions were lifted throughout the United States. Following a year that uprooted the lives of many as companies struggled to stay afloat, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, an estimated 6.5 million jobs were gained in 2021, the most since 1939.

As the Omicron variant spreads throughout the world, however, economists warn that January and February job growth might be more muted. Furthermore, research shows that as many as 5 million members of the workforce might be sidelined as the highly contagious variant continues to spread. And, there is still a 3.6 million jobs deficit from the beginning of the pandemic.

How People Around the World Say AI Will Change Their Lives

The majority of people say that artificial intelligence will improve education, entertainment and transportation along with homes, shopping, safety, the environment and food/nutrition, in a survey conducted by Ipsos and led by the World Economic Forum. Overall, 60% of people think that AI will make their lives easier.

The survey explores attitudes from 28 countries around the world. It found nearly two-thirds of respondents expect AI will profoundly change their daily lives in the next three to five years. Respondents say that education, safety and employment are among the most likely areas to change. Thirteen percent, however, say that AI would not notably change any of the areas shown above, perhaps revealing some people’s skepticism of AI, as just 50% of respondents say they trust companies that use AI as much as they trust companies that don’t.

Previously on BRINK, we’ve covered how artificial intelligence can help businesses, healthy aging and cities.

 

The Greatest Risks for 2022 and Beyond

The health of our planet and societies are the biggest concerns for global risk experts, according to the 2022 Global Risk Report. The most consequential point may be that each of these categories is not mutually exclusive — all of them either balance or exacerbate the risks of the other. 

For example, climate change, measurably accelerated by human activity, has led to biodiversity loss, or the “depletion of the varied forms of life on Earth.” This, in turn, impacts our ability to stay healthy: “Exposure to a diverse range of microbes allows our bodies to mount an effective defensive response against pathogens,” according to ecologist Jake Robinson. 

The declining health of our planet and people can then fracture social cohesion, another highly ranked concern from the report’s survey respondents. We’ve seen social cohesion weaken both physically, as we experienced lockdowns over the last two years, and mentally and emotionally, in terms of the political dimension of COVID-19 and the pandemic’s impact on mental health. The intersectionality of the risks means that efforts to mitigate them need to be considered holistically — and that improvements in one area can positively impact another. 

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