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investment climate

All text messages are not created equal

Pierre Guislain's picture
Photo credit: Adam Fagen/Flickr
Eight months after the launch of the World Development Report 2016 on Digital Dividends, I am happy to report that our efforts to operationalize the findings are well under way. For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere, affordable access to broadband internet is key. This requires both robust broadband infrastructure, and the strengthening of analog complements to digital solutions, including a pro-competitive and effective regulatory framework, a sound business environment, good governance and digital skills.

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.

Why Juba?

Jean Lubega-Kyazze's picture
Construction in Juba
 
The World Bank Group continues to engage in South Sudan despite the odds, and for good reason

Tell people you work in Juba – capital of South Sudan and now the newest member of the East African Community – and more often than not they won’t know where to find it on a map. Those of us who know are often met with doubtful stares when we talk about enhancing trade and competitiveness in a country that is struggling to emerge from decades of grueling civil war, not to mention a 98 percent illiteracy rate, inadequate capacity, a maternal mortality rate of 254 for every 100,000 births and a 250 out of 1,000 infant mortality rate.

Fact is, Juba is situated in the heart of Africa, where such challenges, and the daunting figures that go along with them, exist. But look deeper and you see commitment, potential, and signs of the World Bank Group’s positive impact. In short, you see opportunity.

Can other cities be as competitive as Singapore?

Sameh Wahba's picture
 Joyfull/Shutterstock
Photo: Joyfull/Shutterstock
Singapore is an example of one of the most competitive cities in Asia and in the world. Many, many other cities want to be the next Singapore. In fact, Singapore has been so successful that some believe that its success cannot be emulated. They forget that in the 1960s, Singapore faced several challenges – high unemployment, a small domestic market, limited natural resources, not to mention that most of the population lived in overcrowded unsanitary conditions in slums. Challenges that would sound very familiar to a large number of cities in the developing world.

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?

Foreign direct investment and development: Insights from literature and ideas for research

Christine Qiang's picture
 The Leeds Library by Flickr user Michael D Beckwith


For many decades, academia and policy making has debated about the role of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in development. Such question has been very difficult to elucidate, not only because the discussion has being colored by many ideological dogmas, but also because the very fundamental characteristics of cross border investment have evolved over time. Indeed, over the last five decades, the paradigm of FDI has changed significantly. Traditionally FDI has been visualized as a flow of capital, flowing from “North” to “South” by big multinational enterprises (MNEs) from industrial countries investing in developing countries, traditionally aiming to exploit natural resources in the latter or to substitute trade as a means to serve domestic consumption markets. Such paradigm has changed significantly.
 
Today, FDI is not only about capital, but also --and more important-- about technology and know-how, it no longer flows from “North” to “South”, but also from  “South” to “South” and from “South” to “North”. Further, FDI is no longer a substitute of trade, but quite the opposite. Today FDI has become part of the process of international production, by which investors locate in one country to produce a good or a service that is part of a broader global value chain (GVC). Investors then, have become traders and vice-versa. Moreover, FDI is now not only carried out by only big MNEs, but also from relatively smaller firms from developing countries that are investing in countries beyond their home countries. Last but not least, cross-border investment is no longer only about portfolio investment and FDI. International patterns of production are leading to new forms of cross-border investment, in which foreign investors share their intangible assets such as know-how or brands in conjunction with local capital or tangible assets of domestic investors. This is the case of non-equity modes of investment (NEMs) –such as franchises, outsourcing, management contracts, contract farming or manufacturing.

The impact of investment climate reform in Africa: How has 'Doing Business' reform promoted broader competitiveness?

Aref Adamali's picture

Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) impressive growth over the past decade or so has been matched by its equally impressive showing on the World Bank Group's "Doing Business" index. In 2012, one-third of the world’s top reformers on the index were from the continent, and every year its countries feature in the top 10 most active reformers. In 2014, five of the top 10 were from SSA.

Doing Business tracks progress in reforms that support a firm through its life-cycle, from start-up, through to raising capital, to potential closure. Through a mix of wide geographic coverage and rankings that generate a lot of public attention (not all of it wholly positive), the report has been a powerful motivator of investment climate reform, with the data serving as a useful means to measure progress made.
 
Doing Business as a start
While a large appeal of Doing Business as a measure of a country’s business environment is that it focuses on tangible business activities to which the private sector and policymakers can directly relate, its indicators are limited in scope. They are therefore intended to be used mainly as a litmus test of the state of a country’s investment climate. Therefore, while Doing Business's accessibility and global profile can be very useful in generating momentum for private sector reform, it ought to mainly serve as a starting point for a country to then engage in both broader reaching and deeper investment climate change. (This approach to the use of Doing Business has largely underpinned investment climate reform efforts in SSA by the Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice.)  
 
So, if Doing Business is a starting point and is used as such, is there evidence to support the assumption that it triggers wider and deeper private sector reform? Or is movement on Doing Businesses a starting point and, unintentionally, an ending point too?
 
Linkages to wider competitiveness reform data
One of the most comprehensive measures of the state of different countries’ business environments is the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), a data set of over 110 variables that looks at the current state of, and tracks changes in, competitiveness across the world. The data set is structured under 12 pillars that cover measures from institutional development to technology and innovation.

Using GCI as a good measure of competitiveness, and interpreting changes in it as a reflection of a country’s effectiveness in engaging in wider competitiveness reform, we can look at the relationship between GCI and Doing Business and, significantly, the extent of movement on the two indices.
 
A high-level review of the relationship between changes in GCI and Doing Business for different regions between 2007 and 2013 shows SSA to have performed comparatively well on both indices, performing similarly to countries of Eastern and Central Europe and surpassing the world average.[1] However, looking beyond averages to GCI’s specific pillars, SSA’s performance has been variable, advancing as a region in some areas more than others. Figure 1, below, shows GCI pillars where SSA has improved the most and the least, highlighting the top and bottom three.

Figure 1: Variations within competitiveness
(SSA score on GCI, total and select pillars)  




Of particular interest is Pillar 6, Goods Market Efficiency, because many of the areas that this pillar tracks are also areas where the Bank Group has focused its investment climate reform interventions, from business entry and competition, to taxes, trade and investment. (Two of the 16 indicators in this pillar actually comprise Doing Business data – the number of procedures and days required to start a business.)
 
Pillar 6 is one of the top three GCI pillars that have the greatest upward pull on SSA’s overall performance on GCI, countering the areas where SSA has slipped in its scores.

Olympic opportunity: Renew the ideal of the global Games – by restoring the Olympics to their historic home

Christopher Colford's picture

Wasting billions of dollars, time and time again, to stage self-indulgent sports spectacles is no way for any society to build shared prosperity for the long term. But just try explaining that common-sense economic logic to the sports-crazed cities that keep lining up to purchase a moment of fleeting fame – and that end up squandering vast sums, by building use-once-throw-away “white elephants” for one-off events like the Olympic Games or the World Cup soccer tournament.

The sports-industrial complex continues to beguile the gullible and the grandiose, even though scholars have long warned of the futility of sports-event-driven spending. Beijing spent about $40 billion to host the 2008 Summer Games, and Sochi spent upwards of $50 billion to stage the 2014 Winter Games – while Brazil spent $20 billion to host (and heartbreakingly lose) the final rounds of 2014 World Cup soccer. Not to be outdone for extravagance and excess, Qatar reportedly plans to spend as much as $200 billion for the 2022 festivities.

Like the deluded leaders of declining Rome – who distracted their once-industrious city into passivity by pacifying the populace with what the poet Juvenal derided as panem et circenses: "bread and circuses" – modern-day civic leaders are allowing their obsession with media-moment athletic fame to trample economic logic. The scale of their civic hubris – and the malign self-interest of the construction firms, financiers, flacks and fixers who goad credulous Olympic-wannabe cities into wanton overspending – is insightfully dissected in a valuable new book, “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup,” by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College.

In recent remarks at the World Bank, Zimbalist deplored the reckless rush that stampedes many cities into bleeding their civic coffers in the quest for Olympic notoriety. The saddest example may be the city of Montreal, whose debt from the 1976 Summer Games burdened the sorry city for 30 years.

Yet the suckers keep taking the bait. Boston, said Zimbalist, recently put forth an extravagant multibillion-dollar bid for the 2024 Summer Games – and only later, after the initial headlines and hoopla had abated, did more complete statistics reveal the likely scale of Boston’s folly. And, of course, the Olympic organizers would again stick the long-suffering taxpayers with the bill for any revenue shortfall.

Zimbalist’s logic is a wake-up call for those who somehow imagine that “this time is different” – that one-shot wonders might somehow produce long-term economic benefits. Some occasional exceptions suggest how very rare it is that optimists are rewarded: London, for example, may have gained a much-needed morale boost after its successful 2012 Summer Games, and two (but only two) Olympic festivals actually turned a profit – both of them in Los Angeles, which shrewdly re-used some of its 1936 Olympic facilities when it again played host to the Summer Games in 1984. But for most cities – Montreal in 1976, Sarajevo in 1984Athens in 2004 and many more – the money spent on soon-to-crumble stadia, ski jumps and swimming pools was a diversion from urgent human needs and productive investment.

Zimbalist makes a compelling case – yet beyond the diagnosis of the malady, one seeks a prescription to cure it. Can such Olympic megalomania be tamed? Are there other ways to build, and pay for, worthy sports facilities that honor the spirit of the Olympic Games while avoiding the overspending that bleeds their hosts dry?

A potential solution arose amid Zimbalist’s recent World Bank discussion. Rather than build one-shot Olympic facilities that are destined to be discarded as soon as each extravaganza is finished, why not build just one enduring set of permanent Olympic facilities that can be refurbished and re-used, year after year? Build it right, and build it only once: That way, the cost of building and maintaining an Olympic complex could be spread over generations.

Pursuing that solution seems especially timely right now, and here's why. Where is the historically logical place to locate such a permanent Olympic site? Why, in Greece, of course, where the Olympics originated in 776 B.C. and continued until 393 A.D. There could be no more authentic place to have today’s marathoners run than in Marathon itself – no more meaningful place to have skiers schuss than on Mount Olympus, or to have boaters ply the very waters that warmed Odysseus’ odyssey.

Can countries legislate to attract more investment?

Ivan Nimac's picture

The effectiveness of legislating to address investment policy shortcomings is a recurrent debate in development circles. More specifically, do countries need a singular investment law? Should governments expend the political capital required to put in place a law if the likelihood of its implementation is questionable from the outset? Is it not better to work on more implementation-focused activities? And: If countries do undergo the reform process, what should it entail?

Revising or enacting investment laws is one of the first steps that many developing countries take to achieve its objectives for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). In some cases, the purpose is to signal political will to reform; in other cases, changes are more substantial and seek to profoundly increase legal certainty and improve the value proposition for investors. Reforms may also arise from obligations that countries adopt under international investment agreements.

Investor certainty can bring substantial payoffs to host countries. Foreign investors want to be clear, among other things, about market access; about the requirements for business operation; about their rights and obligations; and about the accessibility and enforcement of dispute resolution.

Lack of certainty can have dire consequences. According to the 2013 Political Risk Survey by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), almost 10 percent of investment plans were cancelled or existing investments were withdrawn due to various adverse regulatory changes in the preceding year. The value of such lost investment, coupled with the cost of international disputes that may arise from it, could climb to tens of millions of dollars for a single case.

But, this does not mean that enacting an FDI law is a guarantee of more investment. Effective reform requires, first, policy based on good practice and, second, implementation (legal, regulatory and administrative) through institutions that are up to the task. An investment framework should be implementable locally while remaining consistent with good practice.

Ideally, an investment law should be a part of a broader set of reforms dedicated to achieving specific objectives, such as more exports, jobs, productivity and other forms of value addition. All stages of investment should be addressed, including attraction, retention and linkage to the local economy.

Halting the 'race to the bottom’ in corporate conduct: Governance reform, focus on ethics must repair the damage

Christopher Colford's picture

When terms like “criminal conspiracy” and “felony” appear in confessions and plea bargains, the criminal-justice system sits up and takes notice. And when the confessed felons are some of the world’s largest corporations, the private sector ought to be jolted into action, too.

The continuing shame of confessed corporate misconduct – in this case, lawbreaking conducted with such a degree of guile that the U.S. Attorney General called it “breathtaking flagrancy” and that the FBI labeled it criminality “on a massive scale” – reached a new intensity this month: Four of the world’s largest banks confessed to taking part in a five-year-long conspiracy to manipulate the world’s foreign-exchange markets.

This latest in a series of stern legal judgments has damaged the corporate reputations of some of the world’s most pivotal financial institutions – with guilty pleas, to felony charges no less, entered by Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC and The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC. A separate guilty plea by UBS – along with earlier fines against Bank of America and HSBC in separate settlements in related cases – has brought the total of fines against those once-trusted, now-tarnished firms to about $6 billion.

The corporate confessions of deliberate lawbreaking, pursued with systematic and sinister stealth – at the very center of the international financial system – vividly validate the recent exhortation of Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund: that corporate governance must be strengthened and that a higher standard of individual ethics must prevail, especially in the financial sector.

Lagarde wisely linked skewed incentives and a short-term profit-maximization mindset to the risk of financial instability, in an eloquent recent address to the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s conference on “Finance and Society”: “There is still work to be done to address distorted incentives in the financial system. Indeed, actions that precipitated the [global financial] crisis were – mostly – not so much fraudulent as driven by short-term profit motivation. This suggests to me that we need to build a financial system that is both more ethical and oriented more to the needs of the real economy – a financial system that serves society, and not the other way round.”

Those who champion the creative potential of the private sector (including, I imagine, the regular readers of this blog) have a particular reason – one might even say, a special responsibility – to voice their anger about the foreign-exchange-rigging scandal and other acts of lawlessness.

Idealists who esteem the private sector’s ingenuity in delivering growth and jobs sans frontières know that business' creativity will be indispensable in achieving the vital development goals of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. Society thus rightly expects that the full measure of corporate energies should be focused on companies’ central mission of generating wealth that benefits all of society. Whenever any of those energies are diverted – especially toward criminal schemes that put short-term personal plunder ahead of long-term economic growth – the lawbreakers undermine public confidence (or what little remains of it, in the wake of the global financial crisis) in the fairness of the economic system.

Moreover, lawbreakers provide ammunition to critics who allege that today’s economic system is irredeemably corrupt, through-and-through – thus making it even more difficult for law-abiding companies, holding true to the values of honest business behavior, to make the case for policies that liberate private-sector dynamism.

Fostering Private Sector Development in Fragile States: A Piece of Cake?

Steve Utterwulghe's picture
Private sector development (PSD) plays a crucial role in post-conflict economic development and poverty alleviation. Fragile states, however, face major challenges, such as difficult access to finance, power and markets; poor infrastructure; high levels of corruption; and a lack of transparency in the regulatory environment. 

The private sector has demonstrated its resilience in the face of conflict and fragility, operating at the informal level and delivering services that are traditionally the mandate of public institutions. However, in post-conflict situations, PSD can have predatory aspects, thriving on the institutional and regulatory vacuum that prevails. The private sector will need to create 90 percent of jobs worldwide to meet the international community’s antipoverty goals, so pro-poor and pro-growth strategies need to focus on strengthening the positive aspects of PSD, even while tackling its negative aspects.

What Do We Know about the Impact of Tax Reforms on Private Sector Development?

Miriam Bruhn's picture

I recently conducted a literature review on the impact of tax reforms on private sector development as part of the Investment Climate Impact Project.1 My goal was to take stock of what is currently known about the impact of reforms that the World Bank is supporting in this area and to identify the gaps in knowledge that we ought to fill by conducting more impact evaluations. While tax reforms can have a broad range of effects in the economy, the focus here was on private sector outcomes only, as measured by investment, tax evasion by formal firms, formal firm creation, and firms’ economic performance.

It turns out that most papers in this area study the impact of changing tax rates. Both cross-country and micro-level  studies suggest that lowering tax rates can increase investment, reduce tax evasion, promote formal firm creation and ultimately lead to an increase in firms’ sales and GDP growth overall. However, lowering tax rates also has important implications for government revenue and it is thus often difficult to balance the trade-offs between various goals of public policy.


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