The Investment Policy team of the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice has learned that China is about to adopt a new foreign investment law that would bring about several potentially significant improvements to the current investment regime. Although we have not yet seen an English-language version of the proposed law, and therefore have to rely for the moment on accounts by international law firms and chambers of commerce that have seen (and sometimes commented on) the draft law, I wanted to share the news with the Private Sector Development community because of the new law’s potential impact – not just in China but across East Asia.
China has very significant political and economic clout in the region and across the developing world. Its reforms are closely watched, and they could inspire many other developing and emerging economies to follow suit.
After soliciting comments on the three existing laws, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) issued a draft of the Foreign Investment Law on January 19, also soliciting public comment – a process that, incidentally, should also inspire many countries.
If passed, the new law would abrogate and ‘unify’ the three current laws that regulate foreign investment: namely, the Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Law, the Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise Law and the Sino-Foreign Contractual Joint Venture Law. Although going from three laws to one can in itself be a positive thing – simplifying the regulatory environment usually is a good idea – what really matters to the investor community is the substantive or procedural changes that the new law would introduce.
A first change is that the new law would adopt a “negative list” approach, modeled on the system in place in the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ). As a reminder: Under a negative-list approach, certain sectors where foreign investment is restricted, capped or prohibited are specifically enumerated on a negative list. And foreign investment in restricted sectors can only proceed through some sort of ex ante screening and approval mechanism by a governmental authority or agency. On the other hand, under such a system, investments in sectors that are not on the negative list can usually proceed without any prior screening and approval, using, for example, the normal company registration process.
The negative-list approach is one that T&C’s Investment Policy Team often recommends to our client countries, because it fosters transparency and predictability and because it reduces government discretion over the admission of investors. Obviously, in this case, we would need to see the actual negative list before we can offer a more definitive assessment. But assuming that the number of sectors on the negative list is not excessive or, better, that sectors previously closed or restricted are now open to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the impact of this single change could be very significant.
Every minute, dozens of people in East Asia move from the countryside to the city.
The massive population shift is creating some of the world’s biggest mega-cities including Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta, Seoul and Manila, as well as hundreds of medium and smaller urban areas.
This transformation touches on every aspect of life and livelihoods, from access to clean water to high-speed trains that transport millions of people in and out of cities during rush hour each weekday.
When we go to the supermarket, our decision-making is considerably aided by having the price, ingredients and source of goods clearly labeled. This allows us to rapidly compare the characteristics, perceived benefits, and price of different products to make what is usually an informed and instantaneous purchase decision.
When it comes to making investment choices for public programs, we do not traditionally have the same luxury of information. The full benefits and costs of those interventions, including the long-term costs to maintain and operate a service, are rarely understood or taken into account in the decision. As a result, public decisions are usually made based on the most visible costs (capital investment required from the public budget), historical choices and the political process.
Many African countries are striving to move up the global value chain in the footsteps of countries like China and (more recently) Bangladesh. We asked Paul Lister – Director of Legal Services and Company Secretary, Associated British Foods (ABF) – how ABF and its subsidiaries determine where it will source goods. He says that in the end, efficiency is key.
Although the incremental costs associated with such upgrades are fairly negligible, attention to detail is paramount. That is not always easy, and the attached picture (at right) taken during an implementation support mission some years ago illustrates this challenge quite well — this ramp is not aligned with sidewalk and too narrow for a wheelchairs to actually use.
Within that context, a project that took us to a series of medium-sized cities in North East China turned into one of the most memorable experiences of our careers. The Liaoning Medium Cities Infrastructure Project focused on rehabilitating and improving urban roads in five medium-sized cities of the industrial province of Liaoning. While on paper all the final designs complied with official accessibility requirements, the finished product often looked like the attached picture, with just enough askew to render the infrastructure unusable to many users. As the Bank team, we were struggling to get our counterparts within the city government to appreciate the issue. When we pointed out and followed up on particular issues, they would often see us as being nitpicky and somewhat out-of-touch with the gritty realities of construction in local conditions.
We’re doing a lot of talking and listening here at COP 20 in Lima about climate finance – how hundreds of billions of dollars were invested globally last year to clean up the air, get efficient energy to more people, make agriculture more productive, and build resilience to extreme weather events.
We all know and acknowledge much more still needs to be done – the International Energy Agency and others believe we need at least $1 trillion dollars of new investment each year to address climate change.
There’s no way that public money alone can meet that goal. We need to find ways to catalyze the limited public funds we have to unlock private investment. That, of course, means investors need to have the confidence that the right policies are in place to make long-term investments for the climate.
For China, the minimum wage is a useful tool to reduce wage and income inequality, and in recent years, the minimum wage has risen rapidly in many provinces. We recently asked Shi Li (Professor of Economics, School of Economics and Business, Beijing Normal University) about the economic impact of the higher minimum wages. He cautions that enforcement was lax until 2009 and the results of the initial studies are inconsistent and sometimes contradictory.
Change is what development is all about. The hard part, as the well-chosen title of a new World Bank book makes clear, is persuading the right kind of change to put down roots and flourish.
Institutions Taking Root is a collection of success stories about building state capacity in challenging contexts. The common theme of these stories is not success in itself. They move us firmly on from the old ‘cometh the hour, cometh the leader’ cliché. A good harvest takes more than one seed; years of preparation go into the fertile ground that yields it.
The book looks at the committed group of leaders in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development who continued to perform key functions during civil conflict. It considers the pool of leaders who have filled key positions inside and outside The Gambia’s Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, and yet have held onto a common and consistent vision of policy and implementation.