Today I joined leaders and representatives from 70 countries and 20 international organizations and agencies at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. Together with its development partners, the World Bank Group pledged its continued support to the Afghan people and outlined a course of action to help all Afghans realize their dream of living in peace and prosperity.
Afghanistan has come a long way since 2001 and has made much progress under extremely challenging circumstances: life expectancy has increased from 44 to 60 years, maternal mortality has decreased by more than three quarters and, from almost none in 2001, the country now counts 18 million mobile phone subscribers.
Yet, enormous challenges remain as nearly 40 percent of Afghans live in poverty and almost 70 percent of the population is illiterate. This is made worse by growing insecurity and the return of 5.8 million refugees and 1.2 million internally displaced people. Much also remains to create jobs for the nearly 400,000 people entering the labor market each year.
To that end, here are five priorities we need to address to ensure a more prosperous and more secure future for all Afghans:
To reinvigorate growth in Europe, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi called for more common projects in the European Union (EU). And he emphasized that these efforts need to meet a set of minimum bars: they should “…focus on those actions that deliver tangible and immediately recognisable results… [they] should complement the actions of governments; they should be clearly linked to people’s immediate concerns; they should unequivocally concern matters of European or global significance.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Estimates of the financing gap for emerging market infrastructure range from nearly half a trillion USD to more than US$1 trillion a year over the next decade. The range reflects the difference between the estimated level of infrastructure needed to sustain growth across emerging markets and the actual level of such investment.
The challenges are immense, and resources are scarce. Of the financing that does exist, more than 70% comes from national government budgets; the second largest source (roughly 20%) is the private sector; and remaining resources come from overseas development assistance or aid from developed economies1. Given the overstretched demands of public sector budgets in developed and developing countries alike, any increase is likely to come through more partnership and co-financing from the private sector.
There is now a huge window of opportunity for South Asia to create more apparel jobs, as rising wages in China compel buyers to look to other sourcing destinations. Our new report – Stitches to Riches?: Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia – estimates that the region could create 1.5 million new apparel jobs, of which half a million would be for women. And these jobs would be good for development, because they employ low-skilled workers in large numbers, bring women into the workforce (which benefits their families and society), and facilitate knowledge spillovers that benefit the economy as a whole.
But for these jobs to be created, our report finds that apparel producers will need to become more competitive – chiefly by (i) strengthening links between the apparel and textile sectors; (ii) moving into design, marketing, and branding; and (iii) shifting from a concentration on cotton products to including those made from man-made fibers (MMFs) – now discouraged by high tariffs and import barriers. These suggestions recently drew strong support from panels of academics and representatives from the private sector and government when the report was launched mid-year in Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, and Islamabad. South Asia is now moving on some of these fronts but a lot more could be done.
Moving up the apparel value chain
Stitches to Riches? finds that South Asia’s abundant low-cost labor supply makes it extremely cost competitive (except for possibly Sri Lanka). But rapidly rising living costs in apparel manufacturing hubs, coupled with international scrutiny, are increasing pressure on producers to raise wages. Plus, countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, who enjoy a similar cost advantage, are entering the fray, and some East Asian countries already pose a big challenge. The good news is that the policy reforms needed to keep the apparel sector competitive would likely benefit other export industries and transform economies (view end of the blog).
Both financial inclusion and financial stability are high on international policy makers’ agenda. For instance, the G-20 has called for global commitments to both advancing financial inclusion (the Maya Declaration and the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion) and enhancing financial stability (the Financial Stability Board, Basel III Implementation, and other regulatory reforms). One challenge is that there can be important policy trade-offs between the two objectives.
A rapid increase in financial inclusion in credit, for example, can impair financial stability, because not everyone is creditworthy or can handle credit responsibly—as illustrated in the last decade by the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States and the Andhra Pradesh microfinance crisis in India. In addition, trade-offs between inclusion and stability could arise as an unintended consequence of bad or badly implemented polices.
Efficient, accessible and safe retail payment systems and services are necessary to extend access to transaction accounts to the 2 billion people worldwide who are still unserved by regulated financial service providers.
Having interoperable payment services addresses several important challenges regarding financial access and broader financial inclusion. This is because via a single transaction account.
Establishing payments interoperability is a formidable task. Our experience shows it is important to find the right balance between cooperation and competition when reforming retail payment systems. Despite the advantages that interoperability brings, not all market participants will necessarily embrace interoperability initiatives, e.g. if they fear to lose their dominant position and/or competitive advantage. In an earlier Blog the role authorities to facilitate interoperability has been discussed. Central banks are a key driving force in any payment system reform, but they cannot – and should not – act alone. Other regulators – such as financial and telecom regulators – are also important to achieving interoperability.
Myanmar’s financial sector is undergoing a historic transition. It has witnessed a number of reforms and liberalizations since 2012: private banks have expanded their operations rapidly; more than 1.4 million debit cards have been issued for the first time; thousands of ATMs have been set up; and credit to the private sector has grown steadily, albeit from a low base.
The extent to which firms borrow short versus long term has generated much interest in policy and academic discussions in recent years. For example, concerns of a shortage of long-term investment in the corporate sector have led several institutions to promote policy initiatives aimed at extending the maturity structure of debt, which is often considered to be at the core of sustainable financial development (World Bank, 2015). There is also evidence that more short-term debt increases around financial crises, both as a cause and as a result of financial instability. However, there is little evidence on the actual maturity at which firms borrow around the world.
In a new working paper (Cortina, Didier, and Schmukler, 2016), we study how firms in developed and developing countries have used the expansion in different debt markets (domestic and international bonds and syndicated loans) to obtain finance at different maturities, and how their borrowing maturity evolved during the global financial crisis of 2008–09.
- Financial Sector
The investment of pension fund assets has moved from an obscure topic for actuaries, to an issue which raises political attention at the highest level.
This is for the simple reason that it directly touches the social and economic livelihoods of people.
Since the 2008 global financial crisis, developed economies have been looking for additional sources of long-term capital to fill the gaps which bank and government balance sheets can’t fill. This is a search that has engulfed the developing world for much longer if not for as long as they exist. Younger developing economies are starting to see their pension funds grow, side by side with an increasing awareness of the impact which productively invested assets can have on economic growth both today and tomorrow. If invested for the aligned intensions of social impact and financial return, pension funds can improve people’s lives today and secure their income in future. However, this isn’t a general phenomenon – applying only to larger funds which have invested in the intellectual capacity of their Trustees, and in countries which have understood and embraced the strong relationship between the macroeconomic performance and asset performance.
Redirecting pension investments from short-term assets (government paper, bank deposits) to investments with a long-term impact is key to delivering, not only improved, but sustained returns. Private equity (PE) - equity capital not quoted on a public exchange – is one such asset class. PE investment is increasingly in vogue as such capital is the foundation of all economies, and indeed leads to the development of robust stock markets. If structured with pension investors’ risk-return consideration in mind, it can deliver the diversification benefits which these investors need. If properly targeted, such investments will be vital in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, considering that 15 of the 17 SDGs have a focus on growth, development and sustainability (the last two being on implementation and capital resource origination). Active participation in investee companies by shareholders such as pension funds will be vital for ensuring a future sustainable and shared economy. In turn, for this to work optimally, requires conscientious and capable Trustees.