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Fresh thinking on economic cooperation in South Asia

Nikita Singla's picture
 Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir & Surendar Singh/ Bangladesh) Photo By: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank
Young Economists sharing the stage with Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist and Coordinator, Regional Integration (Left to Right: Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir/Bangladesh & Surendar Singh/ India). Photo by: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank


That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.

Deepening regional integration requires sufficient policy-relevant analytical work on the costs and benefits of both intra-regional trade and investment. An effective cross-border network of young professionals can contribute to fresh thinking on emerging economic cooperation issues in South Asia.

Against this background, the World Bank Group sponsored a competitive request for proposals.  Awardees from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, after being actively mentored by seasoned World Bank staff over a period of two years, convened in Washington DC to present their new and exciting research. Research areas included regional value chains, production sharing and the impact assessment of alternative preferential trade agreements in the region.

Young Economists offer fresh thoughts on economic cooperation in South Asia

Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Surendar Singh, Policy Analyst, Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS International) presented their research: Of Streams and Tides, India-Bangladesh Value Chains in Textiles and Clothing (T&C). They focus on how to tackle three main trade barriers for T&C: a) high tariffs for selected, but important goods for the industries of both countries; b) inefficient customs procedures and c) divergent criteria for rules of origin classification.

Sreerupa Sengupta, Ph.D. Scholar at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi discussed Trade Cooperation and Production Sharing in South Asia – An Indian Perspective. Reviewing the pattern of Indian exports and imports in the last twenty years, her research focuses on comparing the Global Value Chain (GVC) participation rate of India with East Asian and ASEAN economies. Barriers to higher participation include a) lack of openness in the FDI sector; b) lack of adequate port infrastructure, and long port dwell times; and c) lack of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).

Aamir Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad presented his work on Economy Wide Impact of Regional Integration in South Asia - Options for Pakistan. His research analyzes the reasons for Pakistan not being able to take full advantage of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, and finds that the granting of ASEAN-type concessions to Pakistan in its FTA with China would be more beneficial than the current FTA arrangement. The work also draws lessons for FTAs that are currently being negotiated by South Asian countries.

Bringing technology to the doorsteps of India’s smallholder farmers for climate resilience

Priti Kumar's picture

Photo by Nitish Kumar Singh“I walk through three farm plots of my fellow farmers every day to examine the crop growth and occurrences of pest attacks or crop failure. I send photo alerts via my smart phone to Cropin, which sends an advisory within a few minutes to remedy the problem, said Pratima Devi, a climate smart village resource professional in Manichak village in the Barachatti block of Gaya district in Bihar, India.
 
Cropin Technology Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a private software and mobile apps company, has developed digital applications to advise farmers on ways to achieve optimal harvests, depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators. In less than a month, Pratima Devi completes a visit to all the farm plots in her village that are registered to get agro-advisories. “Women farmers appreciate my efforts and have started trusting my advice because they see a positive difference on their farms,” she adds.

Ramchandra Prasad Verma has the status of a master trainer of climate-smart village resource professionals in the same Barachatti block. He succinctly explains how data on weather parameters, such as rainfall, temperature and humidity, provided by the Automatic Weather Station (AWS), which was installed by another private Indian company, Skymet, helps farmers make smarter decisions in the village. “When the AWS shows temperatures of 35-40 degree Centigrade, farmers will wait for cooler temperatures before transplanting paddy mat nurseries into the field. Otherwise, there is a fear of losing crops in high temperatures”, said Verma. Earlier farmers relied on traditional wisdom alone, but now digital information can help them make faster and better decisions on the times of sowing and harvesting.

When Verma was a village resource professional, he had raised the maximum number of alerts in Bihar and received many advisories from Cropin on sowing, soil health, seed treatment, and weather forecasts that benefitted farmers. Over time, he developed skills to interpret technical advisories, train farmers to apply information on their fields, and interact with Cropin and Skymet professionals, which earned him the status of a master trainer.

Developing resilience in agriculture to regular weather shocks in the short-term and to climate change in the medium- to long-term is one of the biggest challenges facing Indian farmers today. Large-scale pilots are being implemented in four districts of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh to test the effectiveness of digital apps to generate climate resilient solutions for farming needs. This was made possible through a public-private partnership between the State Rural Livelihood Missions in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh with  Cropin Technology and Skymet. These pioneering digital tools are being developed and utilized as part of the Sustainable Livelihoods and Adaptation to Climate Change (SLACC) Project associated with  the Government of India’s National Rural Livelihoods Project (NRLP).

What do "Sustainable Cities" look like to you? Enter our global photo contest by October 6 (deadline extended to October 15)

Dini Djalal's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية | 中文
Enter our global photo contest by October 15

Building healthy and well-functioning cities and communities that continue to thrive for generations is the goal of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC), a collaboration that unites cities across continents in their endeavors towards achieving sustainable, resilient development.
 
What would these cities and communities look like to you? The GPSC, its partner cities, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) invite you to articulate sustainability through the medium of photography.


Whether it be elements of your city that represent sustainability, or a moment in time that captures the spirit of inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban development, we invite you to share your vision with us, through your photographs.
 
The winners of the photo competition will each win exciting prizes: a $500 voucher for purchasing photography equipment, as well as a chance to be recognized at an award ceremony and have their photographs featured in the World Bank / GPSC’s online and print materials.
 
Here’s how the Sustainable Cities Photo Contest will work:

How do import tariffs on cars affect competitiveness? The case of India and Pakistan

Priyam Saraf's picture

For decades, various governments around the world have used trade-distorting policies (tariff and non-tariff barriers) to support the development of local automotive industries that would not have otherwise been economically viable. However, to what extent are these policies, which once helped attract market-seeking automakers (or Original Equipment Manufacturers: OEMs), still serving the interests of these countries is uncertain.

In fact, for India and Pakistan, two of the biggest South Asian automotive producers, a recent World Bank Group report highlights that such polices might be reducing competitiveness and slowing down the spread of world-class good practices in the value chain. These effects need to considered carefully. A process of reform via gradual reduction of import tariffs and convergence with international environmental and safety standards is recommended to enhance competitiveness of this sector.

In the automotive sector, India is the world’s sixth-largest auto producer by volume, but it owns less than 1 percent of global export markets compared with more than 3 percent for China, 4.5 percent for Korea and 7 percent for Mexico. The average auto firm in India exported only 5 percent of its total sales, compared to 16 percent in China. Productivity levels in India are one-third the levels in China, and this gap persists for OEMs that are sub-scale, with below-average investment in innovation and skills, and with low participation in global value chains (GVCs). All these factors were discussed in a previous Private Sector Development blog post. The situation is worse in Pakistan, with lower levels of exports and productivity, and with similar factors driving it.

Trade policies, through tariff and non-tariff barriers, play an important role in shaping the external environment, which in turn influences a firm’s incentive to become more productive (or not). Firms facing greater competition in their product markets are inclined to raise the minimum productivity threshold to operate profitably and reduce inefficiencies. They do this both through investing in productivity-enhancing activities and through reducing costs, which in turn helps them capture greater market shares. Competition also helps reallocate resources from the less-productive to the more-productive firms, increasing the incentives for all firms to invest in the within-firm productivity levers such as innovation and skills.

Understanding the effects of the world’s largest workfare program

Klaus Deininger's picture

As the world’s largest workfare program, India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has attracted much atten­tion. Yet its impacts on agriculture have been relatively neglected. A re­cent paper by Deininger, Nagarajan, and Singh addresses this gap by fo­cusing on the program’s effects on ag­ricultural productivity as well as labor market outcomes.

The program offers unskilled em­ployment, for up to 100 days a year per household, in projects to provide local productivity-enhancing infrastructure. Wages are set by statute, at rates that are equal for men and women and, it is hoped, not attractive enough to pre­vent effective self-targeting.

And a river runs through it

Atul Agarwal's picture

Integrating the Brahmaputra’s innumerable ferries into Assam’s wider transport network

Anyone who has visited Assam cannot help but be struck by the mighty Brahmaputra. The river straddles the state like a colossus, coursing through its heart, and severing it two - the northern and southern banks. During the monsoon, so vast is the river’s expanse - almost 20 km in parts - that you cannot see the other side. So fearsome are its waters that the Brahmaputra is India’s only river with a masculine name; all the others have feminine appellations. Yet, just four bridges, including India’s longest bridge that was recently inaugurated on its tributary the Lohit - and one more under construction - span the state’s entire 900 km stretch of river.
 
Given this formidable natural barrier, most of Assam’s towns have developed on the river’s southern flank, where the plains are wider. With little connectivity, the northern side remains cut off from the mainstream, and is largely underdeveloped.


 
What’s more, the small communities living on the river’s hundred or so inhabited islands remain isolated. It can be quite frustrating to see a school or a medical center on the other side and not be able to access it! Only Majuli, the world’s largest riverine island and an administrative district by itself, supports schools and some form of medical facilities for its more than 100,000 residents.

What’s holding back India’s automotive sector?

Priyam Saraf's picture

For several decades, manufacturing in the automotive sector has made a strong contribution to spurring national growth, to promoting technology acquisition, and to raising incomes for workers across skill levels in developing economies as well as in developed nations. In India – the world’s sixth-largest producer of cars, where the automotive sector has been growing but at well below its tremendous potential – productivity levels would need to increase rapidly. A wave of autonomous functionality in vehicles and other technology-driven disruptions are not far away with the involvement of tech giants like Google, Tesla, and Uber. This makes the need to improve productivity in order to respond quickly to changing environments even more critical for traditional automakers. 

Some long-awaited reforms in India to improve automotive manufacturing performance came through this year. In July, the Government of India implemented a unified Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime to replace the multiple taxes that had been levied, in the past, by the state and central governments. This makes for a more integrated market, with uniformity in tax rates where automakers will be helped by easier compliance, the removal of cascading effect of taxes and the reduction of the costs of doing business. Reinforcing this, the union budget allocation in February allows for more investments in roads and highways, farm-friendly policies and income-tax reform for the middle class. Those steps will increase demand for small passenger vehicles and for the farm-equipment segment. This is all good news for the automakers in India.

Still, much more needs to be done to increase overall productivity in this job-creating and technology-rich sector. According to a recently published report by the World Bank Group, entitled “Automotive in South Asia: From Fringe to Global,” productivity (measured by value added per worker) in India’s auto sector remains less than one-third the level of China. From 1993 to 2004, the growth rate of Total Factor Productivity in China’s automotive sector was 6.1 percent per year, compared to only 1.1 percent in India. The growth rate of labor productivity was 9.8 percent per year in China, compared to 3.1 percent in India. Even though India has been increasing production of units at 11 percent to 15 percent per year (from 2005 through 2015) , it could do much better on improving productivity levels.

Flooded rivers: taking a bird’s eye view

Zuzana Stanton-Geddes's picture
When a river swells beyond its usual patterns, the impact on its surroundings can be devastating. In 2014, 51 people lost their lives and over 20% of Serbia’s population were affected by floods when eight rivers spilled over their banks. Photo credit: Dusan Milenkovic / Shutterstock.com
Floodplains are attractive areas for development, with over 2 billion people living within the world’s 10 largest river basins. Yet, they are also at particular risk from overflowing rivers. Globally, river floods affect more than 21 million people. By 2030, due to climate change, population growth, and rapid urbanization, this number could rise to 54 million.

Is technology the way forward for addressing mental health among youth?

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
After an accident at his workplace, Bhoomi, a 26-year-old from rural Tamil Nadu, India, lost interest in work and isolated himself from everyone. His neighbors were at a loss to understand the change in his behavior. He was labeled a “lunatic,” which worried his parents and propelled them to seek help.
 
Mental illness or disability can be a debilitating experience for an individual as well as his or her family. People not only have to deal with the physical and biological impacts of an illness, but also with the social and cultural stigma that accompanies it.
 
This was what Bhoomi and his family went through before they benefited from the Tamil Nadu government’s Mental Health Program (TNMHP).

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