What We're Watching: Protests spread to Pakistan

Pakistan gets the protest bug - Thousands of anti-government protesters descended on the capital Islamabad yesterday, demanding the resignation of cricketer-turned-Prime Minister Imran Khan. The protests, dubbed a "freedom march," were organized by religious groups and political rivals who say the government is illegitimate, installed last year in elections rigged by the country's powerful military. The protesters are also mad about Khan's failure to weed out corruption and revive the economy: Pakistan's fiscal deficit has ballooned, and the rupee continues to plunge. Reports have surfaced that Pakistan's army chief is unhappy with the Prime Minister's handling of the economy and could soon oust him.


Chile cancels major summits amid unrest - Chile has pulled out of hosting two major international summits after government concessions failed to calm weeks of unrest over economic inequality that have left at least 20 people dead. President Sebastian Pinera said that Chile would no longer host next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit or December's COP25, the UN's annual climate conference. Organizers of both events are now scrambling to find alternative hosting options. We note that Donald Trump and Xi Jinping were supposed to meet on the sidelines of the APEC gathering to try and ink a partial trade deal. Spain has since stepped up to host the climate summit, but the outcome of APEC remains unknown.

China's Asian trade deal of the century - In just a few days, China is looking for a breakthrough on a massive new Asian free trade deal with countries that account for almost a third of the world economy. The deal, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), was once seen as little more than a feeble, China-oriented alternative to the much more ambitious Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations that were being led by the United States, without China. But the Trump administration ditched the TPP in early 2017, making RCEP a hot ticket. When Asian leaders meet in Bangkok today, Beijing is hoping to move the deal forward by getting India, the main holdout, to agree to a "substantial conclusion" of the deal. New Delhi has raised concerns about competition from Chinese imports, but also doesn't want to be left out of a trade pact run by its main economic rival.

What We're Ignoring:

Peace Train for the author of Peace Spring - Yusuf Islam, the folk-rock singer/songwriter formerly known as Cat Stevens, had a prolific music career thanks to sentimental hits like "Father and Son" and "Wild World." That is, until the late 1970s when he converted to Islam and quit making secular music for almost thirty years. The British national has now turned up in an unexpected place: Turkey, paying a visit to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to present him with a "peace train" named after another hit song of his (yes, there are photos). We're ignoring this because "peace" doesn't really come to mind when we think of the Turkish leader's current "Peace Spring" military campaign in northern Syria.

CORRECTION: This piece originally listed "Cat's in the Cradle" as a Stevens song, which it is not. It is by Harry Chaplin. We regret the error and apologize to little boy blue.

The danger to informal workers grows: Coronavirus lockdowns have created a world of uncertainty for businesses and workers around the world. But one group of people that could be hit particularly hard are those working in the so-called "informal economy," where workers lack formal contracts, labor protections, or social safety nets. Nowhere is this challenge more widespread than in Africa, where a whopping 85 percent of the work force toils in the informal sector. These workers, which include street vendors, drivers, and the self-employed, don't have the luxury of working from home, which makes social distancing unviable. As a result, many continue to go to work, risking exposure to the virus, because not turning up is often the difference between putting food on the table and starving. What's more, even where governments are trying to provide support, many people lack bank accounts, complicating efforts to get them aid. In Nigeria, for example, some 60 percent of people do not even have a bank account, according to the World Bank.

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As Europe inches past the peak of COVID-19 deaths and the US slowly approaches it, many poorer countries are now staring into an abyss. As bad as the coronavirus crisis is likely to be in the world's wealthiest nations, the public health and economic blow to less affluent ones, often referred to as "developing countries," could be drastically worse. Here's why:

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What's the new normal going to look like? Now that numbers are at least plateauing, if not leveling off in hard hit countries in Europe. An effective lockdown may last 4 - 8 weeks. Once you start pulling back on quarantine measures, what's life look like? What's the economy look like? The idea that life is back to normal anytime soon is really, really overstated.

Assuming workplaces get fully functional with suitable personal protective equipment, feel comfortable that we're not going to get significant additional cases. In the workplace, you organize social distancing in offices, you give people more flexibility on work from home, and everybody in contact regularly with people gets masks. You should be able to get to that point within 3 months in the world's developed economies. They're there functionally in China. That allows you to get the economy going again.

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Ben White, Chief Economic Correspondent for Politico, provides his perspective on the coronavirus-related news in US politics: What's the coronavirus update?

Well, we've gotten at least a little bit of good news that perhaps the rate of deaths in New York City is plateauing and may start to come down. God willing, we'll see if that comes to pass. Also, some indications that if we keep social distancing in place through the end of May, we could see fewer deaths than we worried about and fewer hospital beds need it. So, God willing, that happens.

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