A new report, From Hair Stylists and Teachers to Accountants and Doctors - The Unexplored Potential of Trade in Services in Africa, indicates that African countries are trading in services, often in unexpected ways. Africa’s export potential in traditional services, such as tourism, is clearly recognized, but the emerging success of exports of nontraditional services is often overlooked. Hairdressers, doctors, educators, and accountants are all examples of service providers who are moving across borders to take advantage of employment opportunities away from home. Many of these workers are finding opportunity in the informal sector, driven to other countries due to poverty and lack of opportunities at home. Read more in the feature story and report
The China sourcing conundrum
In conversations with U.S. and European retailers and brands, ELEVATE – a company formed in 2013 to support corporate social responsibility – finds that apparel buyers rate diversifying away from China as one of their top three sourcing goals.
This is not to suggest that there is a desire to exit China – which currently holds by far the largest share of global apparel trade, at 41 percent – but rather a need to significantly reduce dependence on product from China, owing to rising costs, factory closures, unenthusiastic second generation family ownership, new attitudes about working in factories, and a perception that China wants to move to higher-value manufacturing. Sourcing and procurement organizations feel uncertain, and uncertainty is not a friend of supply chains.
The problem is that for all its uncertainty, China still has a huge base of factories, a well-developed transport infrastructure, and a comprehensive eco-system that supplies cut-and-sew operations, and management that has matured with years of experience. Even if a buyer would like to give another country an opportunity, many corporate risk managers view certain countries or regions as quite challenging for doing business.
South Asia could seize this opportunity by better meeting requirements – besides competitive costs – that are vital to global buyers. These include: (i) quality, which is influenced by the raw materials used, skill level of the sewing machine operator, and thoroughness of the quality control team; (ii) lead time and reliability, which are greatly affected by the efficiency and availability of transportation networks and customs procedures; and (iii) social compliance and sustainability, which has become central to buyers’ sourcing decisions in response to pressure from corporate social responsibility campaigns by non-governmental organizations, compliance-conscious consumers, and, more recently, the increased number of safety incidents in apparel factories.
Surveys of global buyers show that East Asian apparel manufacturers rank well above South Asian firms along these key dimensions, as noted in a new World Bank report on apparel, jobs, trade, and economic development in South Asia, Stitches to Riches (see table). So, what can South Asia, which now accounts for only 12 percent of global apparel trade, do to become a bigger player? An encouraging recent development is that buyers have started collaborating to facilitate new sourcing possibilities – as the case of Bangladesh illustrates.
In the past several decades Malaysia has witnessed strong economic growth and has become one of Asia’s newly industrialized countries. In one generation it transitioned successfully from low to upper-middle-income status, due in large part to outward looking policies, trade, and foreign direct investments (FDI) — which contributed to the successful diversification of the economy. Today, Malaysia faces the challenge of escaping the middle-income trap as its productivity slows and it becomes less competitive.
Free trade agreements (FTAs) such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Malaysia EU-FTA bring the potential for greater market access for Malaysia. This new generation of free trade agreements offers opportunities for Malaysia to strengthen reforms beyond tariff reduction, covering commitments such as competition and investment policies, non-tariff measures, intellectual property rights, labour standards, and opening up government procurement for competition. With a market-friendly government and a strong track record of reforms, there are new opportunities for reinvigorating structural reforms to support private sector-led economic growth. Accelerating productivity growth is a key element of the 11th Malaysia Plan, which aims to bring Malaysia to high income status by 2020.
It has been almost four years since I first became involved with the regional public-private dialogue initiative, the Caribbean Growth Forum (CGF). In June 2012, I walked into the conference room at University of the West Indies, Mona Campus for the Launch of the first phase of the initiative and there was something electric in the air. It was new and fresh, but old fears lingered; was this to become 'just another regional talk-shop?'
Wide-eyed and optimistic I was determined that for my small part it wouldn't turn out that way.
Judging by the number of views of the recent Facebook livestream event on intra-regional trade and investment in South Asia, there is significant interest in this topic. And there should be, given that there remain many important and untapped opportunities to use the power of trade and investment to enhance economic opportunities, including for lesser-skilled people and women in the region.
According to respondents of the Facebook poll conducted during the above event in May 2016, the most important policy to enhance intra-regional trade would be to invest in connectivity and border crossings. Policy makers seem to realize this as well. Over the last two years, new efforts to deepen South Asian cooperation in trade have focused almost exclusively on trade facilitation issues. Let me elaborate.
China now dominates the global apparel market – accounting for 41% of the market, compared with 12% for South Asia. But as wages in China continue to rise, its apparel production is expected to shift toward other developing countries, especially in Asia. How much of China’s apparel production can South Asia capture and therefore how much employment could be created? This is important because apparel is a labor intensive industry that historically employs relatively large numbers of female workers.
In our new report, Stiches to Riches?, we estimate that South Asia could create at least 1.5 million jobs, of which half a million would be for women. Moreover, that is a conservative estimate, given that we are assuming no changes in policies to foster growth in apparel and address existing impediments.
Nepal is a country full of untapped potential, but several obstacles stand in its way of becoming a more modern and globally connected economy. Outdated trade and investment policies hurt exporters especially and make it difficult for them to reach markets in developed countries. A new World Bank Group report takes stock of current participation in global markets and makes recommendations on how the country can increase trade integration and boost its economy.
So far, 2016 has been a year filled with challenges and uncertainties. Global economic growth is weak, commodity prices remain low, and international trade isn’t picking up. In fact, voters around the world are questioning long-held beliefs in open markets, and populists are exploiting their fears by suggesting divisive policies and promising easy solutions to complex issues. Against this backdrop, it would seem that staying afloat is already a remarkable feat by any country.
But to make progress in the fight against poverty and to reactivate economic activity to provide opportunities for all, countries have to do much more. They have to tackle necessary and sometimes difficult reforms, deal with tradeoffs, but most of all, they need to stay focused on what is good for most people in the long-term.
Panama, already projected to be Latin America’s fastest-growing economy over the next five years, was the big winner when the expanded canal opened its locks on June 26. New port projects and related logistics hubs are in the works to attract global manufacturers and further enhance the country’s competitiveness.