Image "Pro Pit" by Aaron Webb is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“Never let an opportunity pass by, but always think twice before acting,” says a Japanese proverb with particular pertinence for East Asia today.
Plunging oil prices present a significant opportunity for most of the region’s developing countries to strengthen the competitiveness of their economies and take advantage of the ongoing global recovery.
The drop in oil prices — over 50% since mid-2014 — reflects several years of increasing oil supply, particularly in North America, along with decreased geopolitical risks to global production, OPEC’s efforts to maintain production levels and market share, and weaker-than-expected global growth last year. These factors are likely to persist, with oil prices expected to remain low through at least 2016.
Most countries in East Asia, including Japan, benefit from the price decline because they are oil importers. They can expect more rapid economic growth, lower inflation and improved current account balances.
Duty- and quota-free access for exports to global markets is something developing country trade negotiators have demanded for years. Few other “stroke-of-the-pen” measures could boost employment and reduce poverty in low income countries in such large numbers. For instance if the US removed tariffs on Bangladeshi garments – which average around 13%, but for some items are as high as 33% – then exports to the US could rise by $1.5 billion from the FY13 level of $5 billion, in turn generating employment for at least an additional half a million, primarily female, workers. Examples of other countries facing US tariffs include Cambodia (12.8% average tariff rate on its exports to the US), India (4.01%), Indonesia (5.73%), and Vietnam (7.41%). Progress in trade facilitation would likely have even greater pay-offs to growth and employment, but these require structural reforms and investments, while the decision to remove tariffs is a simpler, “stroke-of-the-pen” measure.
A competitive export sector is one of the key engines of a successful transition to high income. Turkish policy makers knew this well, and so they put an increase in export competitiveness at the forefront of their ambitious targets to get the country into the top 10 economies worldwide by 2023. What are the chances of success?
To try and answer this question, the World Bank working closely with Turkey’s Ministry of Economy carried out a Trade Competitiveness Diagnostic (“Turkey Country Economic Memorandum: Trading Up to High Income”), which was just launched in Ankara. The team looked at how Turkey did during the past decade, a period of rapid growth in global trade. It turns out that Turkey did pretty well – its exports during the 2000s grew 15.3 percent annually, twice the average growth in the OECD, 6 percentage points above world trade growth and only 4 percentage points slower than in China. Turkey’s global market share grew by 60 percent (from 0.53 to 0.82 percent) between 2002 and 2009 and is getting close to Turkey’s share of the world population (1.06 percent). At the same time, Turkey increased its export sophistication and improved product quality.
|Bananas for export go through rigorous quality inspection. The plantation employs some 2,000 workers in Maguindanao, Mindanao.|
“It was a war zone, one of the most dangerous places on earth.”
That’s how Mr. Resty Kamag, human resource manager of La Frutera plantation based in Datu Paglas (Population: 20,290) in Maguindanao (the Philippines) described the national road traversing the town from the adjacent province.
Residents and travelers, he said, wouldn’t dare pass through the highway after three in the afternoon for fear of getting robbed, ambushed or caught in the crossfire between rebels and government soldiers.
“That was before the company started operations here in 1997,” said Mr. Kamag. La Frutera operates a 1,200-hectare plantation for export bananas in Datu Paglas and neighboring towns, providing jobs to more than 2,000 people.
Countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are a cauldron of wrenching social change. For years pundits have attributed the region's tense social fabric to relatively high population growth rates, a lack of economic diversity, autocratic governments, and, in many countries, on an over-reliance on oil.
Howard Pack, eminent business and public policy Professor at the Wharton School, came to the World Bank earlier this week to share his views on the question of why MENA countries never came close to the equivalent of an East Asian miracle and how they might get on a more successful economic path.
Presidents Hu and Obama created buzz earlier this week in Washington when they met on pressing bilateral issues, including US-China business and investment regulation, trade, currency imbalances and security concerns. US-China clean energy cooperation is an important part of that bilateral dialogue (see transcript of my intervention at a January 18 US-China Strategic Forum hosted by Brookings).
Cooperation between the two countries can yield big economic benefits. The world is recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In this context, taking advantage of clean energy opportunities is crucial to fueling a sustained global recovery.
We learned that the idea to start a rose farm first came to Ryaz’s (Owner of the farm) father, an Indian- origin head of a successful Ugandan conglomerate, after a visit to Ethiopia, where he scoped out potential business opportunities. Although he considered banking and bottled water, highly favorable soil and climatic conditions (warm days and cold nights), competitive fuel and electricity costs and, above all, competitive air freight costs - which account for more than fifty percent of the export-related production costs - made rose farming an easy choice, despite Ethiopia not having any flower industry to speak of at the time.
A liberal trade regime is regarded by most economists as being necessary for sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction over the long term. One of the main reasons for this is that trade liberalization helps to boost incentives for export growth, and in turn exports are one of the main drivers of long term economic growth. Most of the fastest growing developing countries in the last three decades, such as the East Asian tigers, have also sustained very rapid export growth. Exporters usually face greater competitive pressure than do suppliers of goods to the domestic market, and so must constantly innovate to improve efficiency and the quality of their products. Hence exports usually lead the economy in upgrading technology and improving factor productivity, both of which are crucial for long term growth.
“There was no secret, we had no choice but to take chance and sail into rough waters”- Lee Kuan Yew
Singapore is an inspiration to Sri Lanka and other developing countries in terms of economic development, political stability, and good governance. Since 1967, it has increased its per-capita purchasing power (PPP) 10-fold to $44,600 in 2007, surpassing countries such as Switzerland’s PPP ($37,300) in 2007. Singapore also has high demographic development compared to Sri Lanka even though both countries were about even in 1960s. The President, Lee Kuan Yew, navigated the Singaporean economy after gaining independence in 1965. With a population of over 5 million, Singapore maintains a market driven guided economy with diversity in cabinet and government.
What was their secret to success?
At independence in 1965, the economy was met with unemployment problems, an unskilled workforce, few entrepreneurs, no domestic savings, wretched housing conditions, militant labour unions and racial riots. They devised a strategic economic plan; developing entrepot (commercial) trading, export driven manufacturing, and then creating a service based knowledge economy.