May 16, 2020 / 2:52 AM / 20 days ago

IMF's Georgieva urges tech firms to work on access to digital economy for all

FILE PHOTO: IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva speaks during a conference hosted by the Vatican on economic solidarity, at the Vatican, February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Big technology companies that are reaping gains as result of increased reliance on online systems during coronavirus quarantines and lockdowns should work to increase access to the digital economy for all, the head of the IMF said on Friday.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told an event hosted by Politico that the crisis was devastating the global economy, but it also offered an opportunity to tackle persistent inequality and other priorities such as climate change, if recovery funds were properly focused.

“I very much hope that the leadership of tech companies will see this as a chance to demonstrate responsible capitalism, responsible behavior,” she said.

Georgieva said that the big winners from the coronavirus pandemic were the digital economy, and providers of e-commerce, e-government and e-learning services.

Digital companies needed to act in a way that “is good for everybody for society as a whole,” Georgieva said, without citing any specific companies. “It will be extremely important for all of us to watch whether there is further division in access to the internet, to the digital economy.”

There were high risks that the crisis and its economic damage would worsen inequality, and governments needed to take steps to mitigate these risks, Georgieva said. Government spending to keep companies afloat during shutdowns and workers employed would help with the recovery from the crisis.

But she emphasized that even under the best-case scenario of a rebound that starts in the second half of 2020, there will be only a partial recovery in 2021.

The crisis presented an opportunity for governments to invest in environmentally friendly growth stimulus, the IMF head said. Low oil prices also present an opportunity to eliminate “harmful” energy subsidies, a move Georgieva said would reduce government spending at a time of ballooning debt while boosting climate change resilience.

Some conditions for reducing emissions also could be built into the IMF’s lending programs, she said.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and David Lawder; Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool

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