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Vulnerable yet invaluable: Protecting our patrimony by safeguarding art, artifacts, archaeology and assets

Christopher Colford's picture

The spectacular recovery of a long-missing painting by Pablo Picasso – a canvas that had been stolen more than a decade ago, in a daring museum theft in Paris – offers a vivid reminder of the illicit worldwide trade in stolen assets, artworks and archeological artifacts. Preventing the cross-border smuggling of stolen money, art and natural treasures poses a stern challenge to law-enforcement authorities. Yet the vigilance of the international network of corruption-hunters and asset-trackers can often result in a triumph, as illustrated by the case of the now-recovered Picasso.

The art world hailed last week’s revelation that “La Coiffeuse,” painted by Picasso in 1911, had been intercepted in December by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. The painting was identified during its shipment to a climate-controlled warehouse in Long Island City, New York, and it was then seized while it was in transit at Port Newark, New Jersey. The work – unseen since its 2001 theft from the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris – had been shipped on December 17 from Belgium to the United States in an innocent-looking FedEx container, adorned with a holiday-season tag marked, “Joyeux Noel.” Its shipping registration papers falsely described it as an “art craft/toy” valued at $37. The legal process that began last week in New York should soon have the canvas on its way back to France, where it is owned by the nation.

The Picasso had been assigned an estimated value of about 2 million euros at the time of its theft in 2001 – suggesting how lucrative the underground market for stolen art may be. Despite any such theoretical valuation, however, such cultural riches are truly beyond price: They belong to humanity’s shared patrimony, and thus their theft is an immeasurable crime against history.



"La Coiffeuse" by Pablo Picasso. Photograph via the U.S. Department of Justice.

The sudden recovery of the Picasso has reminded art-watchers – and law-enforcement officials – that the 25th anniversary of a still-baffling crime is fast approaching: the March 18, 1990 theft of $500 million in artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. That theft deprived the world of, among other masterpieces, Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” painted in 1633. Despite occasional rumors that some of the stolen works might be available somewhere on the global black market, that crime remains unsolved – and the criminals, part of the vast international network of art thieves and smugglers, remain at large.

Police agencies and global asset-trackers certainly face a herculean task. International plunder takes many forms – from the “grand-scale corruption” that infects fraudulent banking transactions to the looting of countries’ wealth by dictators and kleptocrats. Cracking down on the illicit flows of funds worldwide – which are sometimes abetted by corruptible accountants and pliant lawyers, who help steer loot to safe havens and stash money in offshore tax-dodging accounts – requires persistent detective work and meticulous forensic accounting. In the case of stolen art treasures, the art world must appeal to the conscience of connoisseurs and dealers – and must rely on the integrity of curators at museums large and small, who surely know better than to traffic in property whose provenance might be even slightly suspicious.

Units like the Stolen Assets Recovery (StAR) Initiative – a joint effort by the World Bank and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime – patiently promote cooperation among transnational, national and local law-enforcement bodies. That task requires a commitment for the long haul, as they steadily pursue capacity-building among governments and private-sector watchdog agencies that are determined to build their anticorruption capabilities. Closer legal, technical and financial coordination sans frontières is an indispensable tool in hunting down and repatriating looted lucre.

As in the case of the now-recovered Picasso, the effort to protect priceless artworks sometimes ends in a law-enforcement success. In a just-opened art exhibition in Washington, art-watchers can now get an up-close look at an inspiring example of how a strong national commitment to fighting crime – backed by methodical investigative work and tenacious legal processes – can achieve enduring results.

The Embassy of Italy last week opened an exhibition of irreplaceable artworks that might have forever vanished onto the international black market, had it not been for the work of one of the country's specialized military units: the Guardia di Finanza, which since 1916 has protected Italy from smuggling, drug trafficking and financial crimes. Its specialized art-investigations team, the Gruppo Tutela Patrimonio Archeologico, has successfully prevented the theft of many works of art, some of which can now be seen (by appointment) at the Embassy on Whitehaven Street. Treasures such as these are integral to Italy’s culture and the West's heritage.

In opening the exhibition, Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero noted that “the trafficking of archaeological works is a growing phenomenon that in recent years has spiraled upwards at an alarming rate” – with Italy ranking “first among the countries [that are] victims of this crime. . . . These treasures belong to Italy. But they also belong to European identity and, by extension, to all mankind.”

With the Picasso canvas soon headed back to Paris, and with the recovered art and archaeological treasures now being celebrated at the Embassy, arts-watchers can breathe easier, knowing that these masterworks are secure. But protecting the global patrimony requires the constant vigilance of corruption-hunters and asset-trackers – like the Guardia di Finanza, the StAR unit and their law-enforcement allies worldwide – who stand guard against the plunder of the vulnerable yet invaluable assets that comprise the common heritage of humanity.


ECOWAS, CET, and EPA – let’s take the debate to where the action is

Erik von Uexkull's picture

Road near Zaria, Nigeria. Source - pjotter05The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is making some real progress in regional integration. After decade-long negotiations, it has just launched its own Common External Tariff (CET), and now a final proposal for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union is also on the table.

However, vast differences in opinion remain regarding the likely effects of these reforms. In Nigeria—a key player in the region— debate is currently lively as to whether the country should sign the EPA, with some local stakeholders wary of the proposed reduction in trade protection.

Noting these concerns, the World Bank Group recently shed more light on the anatomy of these trade shocks. By analyzing detailed trade and firm data in a simple short-term framework, we were able to pick up details that are important determinants of how the reforms might play out—even in the longer run. The full reports can be found here, along with a non-technical policy note.

So what did we find?

​Are mega-trade agreements a threat to Brazil?

Otaviano Canuto's picture
The landscape of international trade negotiations has been undergoing an upheaval. On the multilateral level, after 15 years of unsuccessful attempts to close the Doha Development Round at the World Trade Organization (WTO), the negotiation system has shown to be highly vulnerable to blockades by any small group of member countries. The complex web of diverse individual country objectives, cutting across several interrelated themes, made reaching a deal harder than originally expected.

Why do smaller countries benefit from greater trade with their neighbors?

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Quay cranes on docks Sri Lanka. Dominic Sansoni/World Bank

The real end winner of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is going to be Mexico […]” said then Mexican president Vicente Fox, in 2001. He was referring to Mexico’s gains from trade integration with the USA through NAFTA.

Vicente Fox was right. Mexico has continued to make sustained gains in trade over a 20 year period after signing NAFTA in 1994 with the US, its much larger partner (figure 1).



​Opening up trade is not easy because losses can be immediate, while gains, despite being potentially much larger and more widespread, are often dispersed over time. Producers that may sustain losses from more open imports are often well organized and can hold up reforms quite effectively. Moreover, when one of the countries involved in mutual trade liberalization is disproportionately large, it enables the smaller country lobbies to raise the specter of being swamped by imports from its larger partner.

In the case of South Asia, a history of political differences further complicates deeper trade and economic cooperation within the region. Under these circumstances, opening up trade to neighbors requires strong leadership and a bold vision about the role of trade and regional integration in economic development.

China and the World Bank: Partners for reform

Jingrong He's picture


In the last ten years, China’s public procurement market has grown tenfold reaching an estimated $270 billion in 2013. Such significant growth has made the improvement of the public procurement system an imperative for the Chinese Government.

In the context of China’s commitment to enhance its procurement system, it is also seeking to accede the World Trade Organization’s Government Procurement Agreement (WTO GPA). As China looks to necessary procurement reforms, the World Bank has partnered with the Ministry of Finance to support these efforts, which have the potential to have transformational impact.

On the cusp of modernity: the Lao private sector at a crossroads

Amir Fouad's picture

A worker at a construction site in Lao PDR.For older generations of Lao citizens, the streets of Vientiane must be nothing short of unrecognizable. Over the past fifteen years, Lao PDR and its capital have enjoyed strong economic growth on the heels of a natural resources boom and closer regional integration. The result has been an undeniable if only gradual trend toward modernity for a country once completely shielded off from the outside world. With some of the world’s fastest growing economies right in its backyard, Lao PDR has benefited significantly from external demand for tradable goods and services and increased foreign direct investment inflows. Cooperation and coordination with development partners has intensified, leading to progressive efforts to reform and increase openness. What’s more, strong growth in real GDP (averaging over 7 percent throughout the two decades to 2014) has been accompanied by a reduction in poverty from 46 percent of the population in the early nineties to 23 percent in 2013.

Which countries could be affected by plunging oil prices: a data perspective

Siddhesh Kaushik's picture
Tumbling oil prices continue to dominate the headlines. Although oil prices have started to rise earlier in the week, this issue is still of concern to many oil-exporting countries.
 


(Source: FRED Economic Data)

A recent World Bank Group feature story broke down country by country the potential regional consequences. And according to the Bank Group’s Global Economic Prospects report, the decline in oil prices will dampen growth prospects for oil-exporting countries.

There are various factors that can be used to assess the impact of falling oil prices on countries. One such factor is trade. Countries exporting mostly fuel products will lose export revenue as oil prices drop. The chart below shows the top 15 countries that exported fuel in 2012. You can visualize the data for other years and products using the World Integrated Trade Solution’s (WITS) product analysis visualization tool.

'It’s the Trust, Stupid!' The Influence of Non-Quantifiable Factors on Policymaking

Steve Utterwulghe's picture



Should trust be something that policymakers need to worry about? I started reflecting on this question after I came across the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer. It suggests that 80% of the people surveyed in 27 markets distrust governments, business or both (see figure 1).

A staggering number, to say the least. The year 2014 did not spare us from economic, geopolitical and environment turmoil. Nonetheless, the trend over the last few years has been a growing distrust in our leadership, despite the fact that progress has been made in the three main pillars of trust: integrity, transparency and engagement. More needs to be done, it seems.

Figure1. Trust in business and government, 2015



As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist and poet, wrote: “Our distrust is very expensive.” The lack of trust in our government affects policies and reforms, and thus damages the overall economic environment. Investors will lack confidence and shy away. Growth will stagnate, sustainable jobs won’t be created, and trust in government will erode even further. A vicious circle is being created.

Professor Dennis A. Rondinelli, lately of Duke University, argues: “What are called 'market failures' are really policy failures. The problems result from either the unwillingness or inability of governments to enact and implement policies that foster and support effective market systems.” Distrust thus influences policymakers in multiple ways: They will either adopt bad policies, or overregulate. A study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics shows that “government regulation is strongly negatively correlated with measures of trust.”  “Distrust creates public demand for regulation, whereas regulation in turn discourages formation of trust. . . . Individuals in low-trust countries want more government intervention even though they know the government is corrupt” (see figure 2).

Figure 2. Distrust and regulation of entry. Regulation is measured by the (ln)-number of procedures to open a firm.
Sources: World Values Survey and Djankov et al. (2002).




The evaporation of trust in government institutions requires that governments and development agencies rebuild trusted institutions. However, it also behooves all of “society’s stakeholders” to rebuild trust among themselves and “engage.”

Integrity and transparency are two of the pillars of trust that have received a lot of attention during the past decade. Indeed, tackling corruption and ensuring transparency have been at the top of the institutional and corporate development agenda. The third pillar, engagement, has been more rhetorical or grossly underestimated.

A prerequisite for inclusive and responsive policymaking is that citizens use their voice and engage constructively with government institutions. As we have seen, increasing social and political trust helps market economies function more effectively. In turn, sound economic policies foster social and political trust. In recent years, the practice of structured public-private dialogue (PPD) has helped the private sector and other stakeholders engage in an inclusive and transparent way with governments. PPD mechanisms have resulted in better identification, design and implementation of good regulations and policy reforms intended to create an improved investment climate and increase economic growth. As a result, this process has built mutual trust between institutions and business.

Confidence-building has been most critical in post-conflict and conflict-affected states where deep mistrust among stakeholders is prevalent. That topic will be discussed in greater depth at our 2015 Fragility Forum’s session on public-private and multi-stakeholder dialogue, coming up on February 13. Foreshadowing the Fragility Forum, a panel discussion in Preston Auditorium on Monday, February 2 – featuring, among others, Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who is the author of  “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security” – will focus on "Corruption: A Driver of Conflict."
 
In an age of distrust, this type of policy reform – through multi-stakeholder engagement – is not an obvious exercise. The economist Albert Hirschman claims that “moving from public to private involvements is very easy because any single individual can do it alone. Moving from private to public involvements is far harder because we first have to mobilize a lot of people to construct the public sphere.” But the increase of PPD platforms across the world  the WBG Trade & Competitiveness’ Global PPD Team currently supports 47 PPD projects worldwide  suggests that there is an appetite for engagement among citizens, business and governments alike.

Trust can be slowly restored by, among other things, designing adequate interventions such as PPD mechanisms. By their inherent iterative process of discovery, collaborative identification of issues and joint problem-solving, PPDs can activate favorable mental models of stakeholders. According to the 2015 World Development Report on "Mind, Society and Behavior," these “mental models can make people better off.” I would argue that these mental models drawn from their societies and shared histories can help build trust as well.
 
Trust matters for policymakers. Ultimately, it matters for all citizens. Designing interventions and offering a safe space where stakeholders can engage with governments in an inclusive and transparent fashion will go a long way toward restoring that valuable trust.
 

Picture Trade: Getting Richer, Trading More

Jose Daniel Reyes's picture
Openness to Merchandise Trade and GDP per Capita (Average 2010-2012)

A well-established correlation in trade economics is the connection between gross domestic product (GDP) and openness to trade: as countries become wealthier, they tend to trade more as a percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP). The correlation is complex and not fully understood. As the authors of the World Bank’s Trade Competitiveness Diagnostic put it: “This relationship runs in both directions: the richer countries become the more they tend to trade; more importantly, countries that are most open to trade grow richer more quickly.”


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