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Daily Current affairs 26 August 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

Relevant articles from PIB:

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered:

Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

 

WorldSkills Kazan 2019

 

What to study?

For prelims: Key features and objectives of the conference, About Worldskills and it’s associates.

For mains: Need for and significance of competition in encouraging skill development.

 

Context: The 45th WorldSkills Competition is being held at the KAZAN EXPO International Exhibition Centre in Kazan, Russia.

 

What is it?

It is a flagship event of the WorldSkills Internationalorganised every two years.

It is the biggest vocational education and skills excellence event in the world that truly reflects global industry.

The aims of the competition include demonstrating the advantages of learning a vocational skill, and encouraging ‘parity of esteem’ between vocational and academic qualifications.

 

About Worldskills:

WorldSkills currently has 79 Member countries and regions, most of which organise national skills competitions that help to prepare the workforce and talent of today for the jobs of the future.

WorldSkills International was formerly known as the International Vocation Training Organisation (IVTO).

It was founded in the 1940s and emerged from a desire to create new employment opportunities for young people in some of the economies that were devastated by the Second World War.

 

What Is WorldSkills India?

WorldSkills India is an initiative of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) under the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. NSDC, through its WorldSkills India initiative, has been leading the country’s participation at WorldSkills International competitions since 2011.

 

The key objectives of WorldSkills India are to:

  1. Promulgate skills in the society and motivate the youth to pursue vocational education.
  2. Champion skills and learning for work through local, regional, national and international skills competition and contribute to the society.
  3. Invite sponsorships to organize the local, regional, national and international skills competitions and also host international competitions.
  4. Establish links and a long-term association with the WSI secretariat along with development of cooperation with the Government of India, state Governments, registered vocational skills training and awarding bodies.

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered:

  1. India and its neighbourhood- relations.
  2. Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

 

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

 

What to study?

For prelims: RCEP- Key facts and Geographical location of member countries.

For mains: Why is India concerned, gains and losses from this, what India needs to do?

 

ContextStakeholders’ Consultations by Department of Commerce on RCEP.

 

What you need to know about RCEP?

  1. RCEP is proposed between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the six states with which ASEAN has existing FTAs (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).
  2. RCEP negotiations were formally launched in November 2012 at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.
  3. Aim: RCEP aims to boost goods trade by eliminating most tariff and non-tariff barriers — a move that is expected to provide the region’s consumers greater choice of quality products at affordable rates. It also seeks to liberalise investment norms and do away with services trade restrictions.

 

Why has it assumed so much significance in recent times?

When inked, it would become the world’s biggest free trade pact. This is because the 16 nations account for a total GDP of about $50 trillion and house close to 3.5 billion people. India (GDP-PPP worth $9.5 trillion and population of 1.3 billion) and China (GDP-PPP of $23.2 trillion and population of 1.4 billion) together comprise the RCEP’s biggest component in terms of market size.

 

Why is India concerned?

Greater access to Chinese goods may have impact on the Indian manufacturing sector. India has got massive trade deficit with China. Under these circumstances, India proposed differential market access strategy for China.

There are demands by other RCEP countries for lowering customs duties on a number of products and greater access to the market than India has been willing to provide.

 

Why India should not miss RCEP?

If India is out of the RCEP, it would make its exports price uncompetitive with other RCEP members’ exports in each RCEP market, and the ensuing export-losses contributing to foreign exchange shortages and the subsequent extent of depreciation of the rupee can only be left to imagination. Some of the sectors that have been identified as potential sources of India’s export growth impulses under RCEP to the tune of approximately $200 billion.

There are more compelling trade and economic reasons for RCEP to become India-led in future, than otherwise. India would get greater market access in other countries not only in terms of goods, but in services and investments also.

 

However, there are views that in present form the RCEP agreement is not good for India. Why?

  1. The current account deficit (CAD) touched 8 per cent of GDP, and the agreement in the present state of negotiations would mean forgoing a substantial part of the revenues.
  2. Greater access to Chinese goods may have impact on the Indian manufacturing sector. India has got massive trade deficit with China. In fiscal year 2017-18, the trade deficit with China was $63 billion.
  3. Under these circumstances, India proposed differential market access strategy for China.
  4. Exports from ASEAN into India have grown far quicker than Indian exports to the bloc, which they attribute to the fact that India is a “services economy.”
  5. There are demands by other RCEP countries for lowering customs duties on a number of products and greater access to the market than India has been willing to provide.
  6. Apart from China, India is also losing out to financial and technological hub of Singapore, agriculture and dairy majors Australia and New Zealand, plantations of South East Asian countries, and pharmaceutical trade with China and the US.
  7. With e-commerce as part of the discussion, the Indian resistance at WTO of not letting the discussion on digital trade will weaken.
  8. The free movement of investments will benefit investors in the US, Singapore, Japan and China, but very few Indians will be taking advantage of this.
  9. New Delhi is also worried that the RCEP will open backdoor negotiations and may lead to the country losing out on TRIPS agreements. This may result in giving way to global majors in agriculture seed and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

 

Way ahead:

Bilateral talks between India and China are crucial for an early conclusion of RCEP negotaiations as agreed by other members. Indian policymakers need to be mindful of domestic sectors’ concerns before agreeing on terms of deal. Simultaneously, there is a necessity to improve our competitiveness in the economy. India must play its due role to get its due place in the regional economic configurations.


 

Relevant articles from various news sources:

 GS Paper 3:

Topics Covered:

  1. Awareness in space.

Gravitational Lensing

 

What to study?

For Prelims and mains: what is gravitational lensing, why is it useful and Overview of James Webb telescope.

 

Context: Using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope as a sort of time machine, researchers plan to investigate how new stars are born, with the help of a natural phenomenon called “gravitational lensing”.

 

What is gravitational lensing? How it works?

  • Gravitational lensing is an effect of Einstein’s theory of general relativity – simply put, mass bends light.
  • The gravitational field of a massive object will extend far into space, and cause light rays passing close to that object (and thus through its gravitational field) to be bent and refocused somewhere else.
  • The more massive the object, the stronger its gravitational field and hence the greater the bending of light rays – just like using denser materials to make optical lenses results in a greater amount of refraction.

 

Why is lensing useful? 

  1. Gravitational lensing is useful to cosmologists because it is directly sensitive to the amount and distribution of dark matter.
  2. Lensing can help astronomers work out exactly how much dark matter there is in the Universe as a whole and also how it is distributed.
  3. Lensing has also been used to help verify the existence of dark matter itself.

 

What is the James Webb Space Telescope?

  1. The James Webb Space Telescope, also called Webb or JWST, is a large, space-based observatory, optimized for infrared wavelengths, which will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope.
  2. It will cover longer wavelengths of light than Hubble and will have greatly improved sensitivity.
  3. The longer wavelengths enable JWST to look further back in time to see the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, and to peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

 

Why is Webb an infrared telescope?

By viewing the universe at infrared wavelengths Webb will show us things never before seen by any other telescope. It is only at infrared wavelengths that we can see the first stars and galaxies forming after the Big Bang. And it is with infrared light that we can see stars and planetary systems forming inside clouds of dust that are opaque to visible light.

 

Who is James Webb?

This space-based observatory is named after James E. Webb (1906- 1992), NASA’s second administrator. Webb is best known for leading Apollo, a series of lunar exploration programs that landed the first humans on the Moon. However, he also initiated a vigorous space science program that was responsible for more than 75 launches during his tenure, including America’s first interplanetary explorers.

 


Sources: the Hindu.


GS Paper 2:

Topics covered:

Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

 

IMF Standards for data dissemination

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: SDDS- features, need for and significance.

 

Context: According to the IMF’s “Annual Observance Report of the Special Data Dissemination Standard for 2018”, India failed to comply with multiple requirements prescribed in the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS).

 

Background:

The yearly observance report for each member country lists the compliances and deviations from the SDDS under each data category for that year. There are over 20 data categories which IMF considers for this report to capture a nation’s economic health including national accounts (GDP, GNI), production indices, employment, and central government operations.

The report lists three types of deviations from SDDS:

  1. The first deals with delays in data dissemination from the periodicity prescribed in the SDDS.
  2. The second occurs when member countries do not list a data category in their Advance Release Calendars (ARC) despite the category being mandated by the SDDS.
  3. The third deviation occurs when data is not disseminated at all for a particular period.

 

What is Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS)?

The SDDS is a global benchmark for disseminating macroeconomic statistics to the public.

SDDS subscription indicates that a country meets the test of “good statistical citizenship.”

Countries that subscribe to the SDDS agree to follow good practices in four areas: the coverage, periodicity, and timeliness of data; public access to those data; data integrity; and data quality.

 

SDDS Plus:

  1. The SDDS Plus is the highest tier in the Fund’s Data Standards Initiatives and builds on the progress achieved under the SDDS.
  2. It is open to all SDDS subscribers, although it is aimed at economies with systemically important financial sectors.
  3. In addition to the requirements under the SDDS, the SDDS Plus emphasizes stronger data dissemination practices to enhance data transparency and help strengthen the international financial system. 

 

Need:

Data dissemination standards enhance the availability of timely and comprehensive statistics, which contributes to sound macroeconomic policies and the efficient functioning of financial markets.

 

Sources: the Hindu.


Facts for Prelims:

 

Krishna temple in Bahrain:

Context: PM Narendra Modi has announced a renovation project of USD 4.2 million for the iconic Shri Krishna Temple in Bahrain.

Key facts:

  • The temple completes 200 years this year.
  • The temple is estimated to have been established around 1817 and was built by Thathai Bhatia Hindu community, and is still being managed by them.
  • It is considered to be the first and the oldest temple in the Gulf countries and has been a place of worship for a host of Hindus since centuries.

UAEs Highest Civilian Award ‘Order of Zayed’:

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi was honoured with prestigious ‘Order of Zayed’, United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) highest civilian award.

The award is in the name of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of UAE.

 

Project SURE:

  • The SURE project is a commitment by India’s apparel industry to set a sustainable pathway for the Indian fashion industry.
  • SURE stands for ‘Sustainable Resolution’ a firm commitment from the industry to move towards fashion that contributes to a clean environment.
  • This framework would help the industry reduce its carbon emissions, increase resource efficiency, tackle waste and water management, and create positive social impact to achieve long-term sustainability targets.

 

Women’s Equality Day:

It is celebrated on August 26 every year to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment in the United States of America that provides equal rights to women including the right to vote.


 

Summaries of important Editorials:

 

Is the World Trade Organization becoming a new battlefront?

Context: U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month attacked the World Trade Organization (WTO)for allowing countries such as India and China to engage in unfair trade practices that affect American economic interests.

 

What’s the issue?

Mr. Trump took issue with the “developing country” status enjoyed by India and China at the WTO. He argued that these countries are not developing economies, as they claim to be, but instead grown economies that do not deserve any preferential trade treatment from the WTO over developed countries such as the U.S.

 

What is the “developing country” status?

The “developing country” status allows a member of the WTO to seek temporary exception from the commitments under various multilateral trade agreements ratified by the organisation.

Introduced during the initial days of the WTO as a mechanism to offer some respite to poor countrieswhile they try to adjust to a new global trade order marked by lower barriers to trade.

 

How are they classified?

The WTO does not formally classify any of its members as a developing country. Individual countries are allowed to unilaterally classify themselves as developing economies. So, as many as two-thirds of the 164 members of the WTO have classified themselves as developing countries.

 

Need:

  1. Countries such as India and China, while seeking exception from various WTO agreements, have argued that their economic backwardness should be considered when it comes to the timeline of implementation of various trade agreements.
  2. Developed countries such as the U.S. have tried to force poorer countries to impose stringent labour safety and other regulations that are already widely prevalent in the West. These regulations can increase the cost of production in developing countries and make them globally uncompetitive.
  3. Developing countries further view the introduction of labour issues into trade agreements as beyond the scope of the WTO, which is primarily supposed to be an organisation dealing with trade.

 

Benefits:

  1. Developing countries can seek to delay the implementation of the WTO agreements owing to their disadvantaged economic status.
  2. They can continue to impose tariffs and quotas on goods and services in order to limit imports and promote domestic producers who may otherwise be affected adversely by imports that are lower in price or better in quality.

 

What’s the allegation by the US now?

  1. While the “developing country” status was supposed to help poor countries ease gradually into a more globalised world economy, it has had other unintended effects.
  2. Since the WTO allows countries to unilaterally classify themselves as “developing”, many countries have been happy to make use of this freedom.
  3. Even many developed economies such as Singapore and Hong Kong which have per capita income levels higher than the U.S., have made use of the provision to classify themselves as growing economies.
  4. Further, countries such as China justify that while their per capita income level has increased many-fold over the last few decades, these are still far below that of high income levels in countries such as the U.S.
  5. Many economists also oppose the fundamental argument of poorer countries that low per capita income levels justify their decision to raise trade barriers. They argue that free trade benefits all countries irrespective of their income levels.
  6. In fact, they argue that protectionist trade barriers impede the transition of developing economies to higher income levels. The developing country status may thus simply be a false pretext to justify protectionism.

 

What lies ahead?

Since developing countries are likely to oppose any efforts to stop them from protecting their domestic economic interests, global trade rules are unlikely to experience any drastic reform any time soon.

Further, ahead of the next ministerial-level talks of the WTO scheduled to be held in Kazakhstan next year, the inability of the WTO to rein in global trade tensions has raised questions about its relevance in today’s world.

 

Need for urgent reforms:

  1. Global tariff rates over the years have dropped more due to bilateral trade agreements rather than due to multilateral trade agreements brokered at the WTO. 
  2. The dispute resolution mechanism of the WTO, which can pass judgments on disputes, lacks the powers to enforce them as the enforcement of decisions is left to individual member states.
  3. While initially envisaged as a global body to promote free trade, the WTO has now deteriorated into a forum where competing governments fiercely try to protect their narrow interests.

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