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Opening Remarks by Deputy Managing Director Tao Zhang at The Eighth IMF Statistical Forum: Measuring the Economics of a Pandemic







November 17, 2020















Good morning,

Welcome to the Eighth IMF Statistical Forum, which offers an opportunity to
discuss cutting-edge issues in economic and financial statistics and build
support for statistical developments to better serve policymaking. I’m
delighted to be here with you and to see such good participation from all
over the world, and I particularly appreciate those who might be attending
very early in the morning or late at night in your countries.

In the last three years, this forum has delved into the measurement of the
digital economy, economic welfare, and the informal economy. We had
discussions with academics and policymakers on data needs and identified
long-term challenges for statisticians. And we discussed ways to address
these statistical challenges in an economy in which new technologies and
data sources are creating new opportunities for statistical systems and
making some old methodologies obsolete.

Today we focus our discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic. We will consider
the ways in which the pandemic has affected the capacity of policymakers,
economists, and statisticians to measure impact and draw inferences to
inform public policy, as well as what we can do to overcome these
challenges.

During the pandemic, statistical agencies—just like private-sector
businesses—have had to adapt and operate differently. Longstanding data
sources and surveys have had to be replaced or revamped. Traditional
approaches to data collection, compilation, and dissemination have had to
be adjusted. In this context, key economic statistics—particularly those
based heavily on surveys—may no longer tell us what we need to know with the same level of accuracy, and all users of official data
need to keep this in mind.

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But I would emphasize that our challenge is not just to figure out how
statisticians can continue doing the same old job. Rather, we must
recognize that the post-pandemic economy may look very different, with more
people working from home, new consumer spending patterns, production
disruptions affecting global supply chains, new jobs and skills, and income
inequality. These changes will bring new statistical demands. Statisticians
will be called to provide measurable and comparable indicators of all of
these trends, and to do so rapidly.

So against this background,
this year’s Statistical Forum is meant to advance our understanding of
the new normal for statistical agencies. Among the questions to be
considered are: (i) Did the pandemic create new data needs? (ii)

How are statistical agencies exploring and using new data sources?

(iii)

To what extent are existing statistical systems resistant to shocks?
and

(iv)

How can this pandemic lead to expanding the scope of existing
indicators and methods to better support decision making?

Responding to these questions is particularly difficult because we are
still in the middle of the pandemic, and the statistical capacity of many
countries and institutions is limited.

The presentations scheduled for the first day of the Forum will identify
emerging data needs for understanding economic and financial developments
and vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic. Presenters also will propose
innovative new indicators and approaches to meet those data needs.
Tomorrow, we will hear about statistical agencies’ strategies to meet the
challenges of producing and communicating timely, accurate, and relevant
information during the pandemic. The agenda for tomorrow also includes a
special high-level panel on Celebrating Statistics: The Science and Art of Making Numbers Talk
to commemorate World Statistics Day (which takes place every five years).

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Some examples of supplemental and granular indicators that fill in the
missing parts of the big picture will be presented on Thursday, followed by
a keynote speech by Professor Ian Goldin, one of the first thinkers to
raise a red flag on pandemics as the biggest threat in our highly
globalized world. His keynote speech will be followed by a one-on-one
discussion with the IMF’s Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva.

In sum, the topics of the Eighth IMF Statistical Forum are highly relevant
for researchers, businesses, and policymakers, as we will discuss new
methods and practices to compile and communicate statistics that will help
meet the data needs of the post-pandemic era.

I look forward to the discussions and your ideas.

Thank you very much.


IMF Communications Department
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