After a decade of strong growth in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cameroon was compared favorably with fast-growing East-Asian economies. This fame came to a sudden stop in the late 1980s when the country experienced one of the world’s deepest and most protracted recessions, triggered by large fall in the terms of trade and appreciation of the real exchange rate. Debts - previously at reasonable levels - mounted, banks failed and poverty increased. A 50% devaluation of the CFA Franc, a currency Cameroon shares with other former French colonies, in January 1994 pushed the foreign-currency denominated debt to increase to over 100 percent of GDP, triggering the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief process. Cameroon successfully exited HIPC in 2006. Since then, the authorities have set the goal to become a middle income country by 2035, anchoring their growth strategy on building infrastructure. After some initial success, with real growth steadily increasing from 1.9% in 2009 to 5.9% in 2014, the country is facing again some fiscal strains and risk of its debt distress has risen from low to moderate to high, in just 3 years.
Israel has one of the most admired innovation systems in the world. With the highest Research & Development (R&D) spending and venture capital investment as a percentage of GDP, the country has positioned itself as a global leader in research and innovation, earning the title of “start-up nation.”
Avi Hasson, Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy and Industry and Chairman of the Israel Innovation Agency, was at the World Bank Group last week to share some of the “secret sauce” behind Israel’s success in the innovation and entrepreneurship space.
Hasson highlighted the key role played by public-private partnerships over the last 40 years. Those partnerships have resulted in the establishment of an innovation infrastructure — including educational and technical institutions, incubators and business accelerators —anchored within a dynamic national innovation ecosystem built around shared social goals.
Specifically, to reduce the risk for investors, the government has focused on funding technologies at various stages of innovation — from emerging entrepreneurs and start-ups to medium and large companies. Strengthened by that approach, the Israeli ecosystem is maturing: according to Hasson, mergers and acquisitions have increased and exit profits have almost tripled over the last three years, with more and more new projects being started by returning entrepreneurs.
The global economy is stagnating, and uncertainty about its future is rising. These trends weigh heavily on countries that depend on the production and export of a small range of products, or that sell products in only a few overseas markets. Prices of the minerals and other basic commodities that dominate the exports of many poor countries have also declined sharply. All of this points up the need for diversification strategies that can deliver sustained, job intensive and inclusive growth.
The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), a joint practice of the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC), is working with a growing roster of client countries eager to achieve greater economic diversification. This is a worthy goal regardless of economic conditions, but especially so now, as developing countries with sector-dependent economies face mounting pressures.
Chile is an example of a diversified economy, exporting more than 2,800 distinct products to more than 120 different countries. Zambia, a country similarly endowed with copper resources, exports just over 700 products — one-fourth of Chile’s export basket — and these go to just 80 countries. Other low-income countries have similarly limited diversified economies. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Malawi, for example, export around 550 and 310 products, respectively. Larger countries that export oil, such as Nigeria (780 products) and Kazakhstan (540 products), have failed to substantially expand the range of products they produce and export.
AJG Simoes, CA Hidalgo. The Economic Complexity Observatory: An Analytical Tool for Understanding the Dynamics of Economic Development. Workshops at the Twenty-Fifth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence. (2011)
While the sluggish global economy is creating economic problems for traditional exports, other economic trends offer new routes and opportunities for poor countries to diversify. The trend toward the spatial splitting up of production across wide geographic areas, and the emergence and growth of regional and global value chains, offer new ways for developing countries to export tasks, services and other activities. Value chains offer developing countries a path out of the trap of having to specialize in whole industries, with all of the cost and risk that such a strategy entails.
One of our main areas of focus is the enabling environment – helping governments foster digital development by putting in place the right policies and regulations.
Now, what are some of the main issues?
First, across the world, but especially in developing countries, competitiveness continues to be dragged down by ‘red tape’, including numerous procedures, authorizations and delays to start a business or launch a service, costly and unreliable property registration, or stifling labor regulations. I am sure you are all familiar with the Doing Business report and the World Bank’s many programs to support business reforms worldwide.
While the digital industry also faces these regulatory hurdles, it is confronted with additional challenges.
Let me give you an example. With your phone in hand, you are about to send a text message to a friend. Your phone offers you a choice: to send the text message through your mobile operator, or to send it via the internet through an app. Depending on what platform you use, your text message will be taxed differently. All text messages are not created equal: different digital services are treated differently from a regulatory and fiscal point of view, with no real level playing field.
Transport history was in the making a few days ago when a Bangladeshi ship carried a consignment of
1,000 tons of steel and iron sheets from the Port of Kolkata in West Bengal to India’s northeastern states, through Bangladesh. This first-ever transshipment of transit goods marked the formal launch of transit trade and transport between India and Bangladesh using a combination of river and land routes.
Senior government officials and top diplomats from both countries, including the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, the Bangladesh Minister and Secretary of Shipping, the Senior Secretary of Commerce, and officials of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, attended an inaugural ceremony to observe the unloading of goods at Ashuganj Port on the bank of the Meghna River, according to media reports. The general cargo terminal at Ashuganj Port will be rehabilitated and modernized under the newly approved regional IDA project to support Bangladesh’s waterways to handle the loading and unloading of large volumes of cargo.
Value addition through manufacturing has been a major focus of economic policymakers across the world, and at times with remarkable success, most famously in East Asia. Initial ‘Asian miracles’ in places like South Korea have since been eclipsed by the meteoric rise of manufacturing in China, which has grown its exports in manufactures by 18 percent a year over the past 10 years, compared to a global average of 7 percent (ITC Trade Map data).
Most countries generally seemed to follow a basic pattern, initially establishing manufacturing credentials in light manufacturing, such as in textile and apparel, but then in time moving on from such products to higher-value-added and more complex products. As they moved on and up, they opened space for other countries to move into the initial entry products, following the so-called ‘flying geese’ model of division of labor.
There have been noticeable absences though, with not all regions having moved into manufacturing. This is partially the case with Central and South America, but most strikingly with Sub-Saharan Africa.
What can be done to support countries in their quest to deepen their manufacturing sectors, and extract the jobs and technological development that this can offer? How can they develop the kinds of deep and comprehensive manufacturing ecosystems that have enabled China to maintain investment despite fast-rising labor costs?
And so, what better place than Singapore for the Asia Launch of the Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth: What, Who & How report. The World Bank Group, along with the Centre for Liveable Cities and International Enterprise Singapore co-sponsored the launch as part of Urban Week held in Singapore from 8-11 March, 2016. The roundtable was attended by over 100 delegates representing cities from 23 countries.
The competitiveness potential for cities is enormous. Almost 19 million extra jobs, annually, could be created globally if cities performed at the level of the top quartile of competitive cities. Of this potential, more than 1/3, i.e. equivalent to an additional 7 million jobs, comes from cities in East Asia. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 200 million people moved to East Asia's urban centers – these people will need jobs. Where will these jobs come from? How will they be generated?