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Beyond Infrastructure: Trade Facilitation Priorities for the Belt and Road Initiative

Marcus Bartley Johns's picture
Countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative face a major challenge in facilitating trade. While large investments in trade-related infrastructure capture global headlines, transaction costs generated by inefficient border clearance and trade-related regulatory requirements are one of the major policy risks facing the BRI.
 

India: A logistics powerhouse in the making?

Karla Gonzalez Carvajal's picture
Photo: Daniel Incandela/Flickr
The numbers are in: India now ranks 44th in the latest edition of the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index, a relatively high score compared to other countries at similar income levels. This number matters not just to the logistics sector, but to India’s economy as a whole. Indeed, logistics can directly impact the competitiveness of an entire market, as its ability to serve demand is inextricably linked to the efficiency, reliability and predictability of supply chains.

Broadly defined, logistics covers all aspects of trade, transport and commerce, starting from the completion of the manufacturing process all the way to delivery for consumption. To say that it is a complex business is an understatement.

First, there is always a delicate balance between the public arm, which provides the roads, railways and waterways, and lays down the rules and regulations, and the private sector, which has responsibility for carrying out logistics operations in a smooth and seamless manner. This fine interplay is further complicated by the globalization of manufacturing which—with many more ports of call in the logistic chain—is putting ever-increasing pressure on the sector. In addition, there are very practical challenges in integrating different modes of transport, in speeding up border crossings, and in dealing with trade protections–all of which impact external trade.

But as difficult as it might be, creating a well-functioning logistics sector is essential to any nation looking to compete in the global economy. India is a case in point. To fuel its global ambitions, the country has taken active steps to up its logistics game.

Announcing the winners of the 2018 #OneSouthAsia Photo Contest

World Bank South Asia's picture


Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the world’s most dynamic regions.

It's also one of the least integrated.

A few numbers say it all: Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5 percent of South Asia’s total trade; Intra-regional investment is smaller than 1 percent of overall investment.

South Asia’s transport corridors can lead to prosperity

Martin Melecky's picture
 World Bank
Transport corridors offer enormous potential to boost South Asia’s economies, reduce poverty, and spur more and better jobs for local people, provided the new trade routes generate growth for all and limit their environmental impact. Credit: World Bank

This blog is based on the report The Web of Transport Corridors in South Asia -- jointly produced with the Asian Development Bank, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency

No doubt, South Asia’s prosperity was built along its trade routes.

One of the oldest, the Grand Trunk Road from the Mughal era still connects East and West and in the 17th century made Delhi, Kabul and Lahore wealthy cities with impressive civic buildings, monuments, and gardens.

Fast forward a few centuries and today, South Asia abounds with new proposals to build a vast network of transport corridors.
 
In India alone—and likely bolstered by the successful completion of the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) highway system—several transport proposals extending beyond India’s borders are now under consideration. 
 
They include the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), linking India, Iran and Russia, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, and the Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor.
 
The hope is that these transport corridors will turn into growth engines and create large economic surpluses that can spread throughout the economy and society.

Arguably, the transport corridor with the greatest economic potential is the surface link between Shanghai and Mumbai.
 
These two cities are the economic hubs of China and India respectively, two emerging global powers.
 
The distance between them, about 5,000 kilometers, is not much greater than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.
 
But instead of crossing a relatively empty continent, a corridor from Shanghai to Mumbai—via Kunming, Mandalay, Dhaka, and Kolkata—would go through some of the most densely populated and most dynamic areas in the world, stoking hopes of large economic spillovers along its alignment.
 
“Build and they will come” seems to be the logic underlying many massive transport investments around the world.
 
However, the reality is that not all these investments will generate the expected returns.
 
Worse, they can become wasteful white elephants—that is, transport infrastructure without much traffic—that would cost trillions of dollars at taxpayers’ expense.
 
So, how can South Asia develop transport corridors that have a positive impact on their economies and benefit all people along the corridor alignments and beyond?  
 
First, countries need to change the mindset that transport corridors are mere engineering feats designed to move along vehicles and commodities.
 
Second, sound economic analysis of how corridors can help spur urbanization and create local jobs while minimizing the disruptions to the natural environment, is key to developing successful investment programs.
 
Specifically, it is vital to ensure that local populations whose lives are disrupted by new infrastructure can reap equally the benefits from better transport connectivity.
 
The hard truth is that the development of corridor initiatives may involve difficult tradeoffs.
 
For instance, more educated and skilled people can migrate to obtain better jobs in growing urban areas that are benefiting from corridor connectivity, while unskilled workers may be left behind in depopulated rural areas with few economic prospects.
 
But while corridors can create both winners and losers, well-designed investment programs can alleviate potential adverse impacts and help local people share the benefits more widely.
 
In that vein, India’s Golden Quadrilateral, or GQ highway system, is a cautionary tale. 
 
No doubt, this corridor had a positive impact. 
 
Economic activity along the corridor increased and people, especially women, found better job opportunities beyond traditional farming.
 
But this success came at a cost as air pollution increased in the districts near the highway.
 
This is a major tradeoff and one that was documented before in Japan when levels of air pollution spiked during the development of its Pacific Ocean Belt several decades ago.
 
Another downside is that the economic benefits generated by the GQ highway were distributed unequally in neighboring communities.  

Decoding development: Insights from Singapore’s Economic Development Board

Kelvin Wong's picture

Singapore’s transformation into a trade and finance hub that leads global rankings of competitiveness often prompts observers to ask: What is its secret sauce?  We at the Singapore Hub for Infrastructure and Urban Development asked Kelvin Wong, Assistant Managing Director of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, or EDB, to share with us the country’s journey in developing its logistics sector, considered among the world’s most competitive and innovative.

Could complex value chains help explain lower export elasticities?

François de Soyres's picture

This blog post is based on de Soyres, Frohm, Gunnella and Pavlova (2018), Bought, Sold and Bought Again: Complex value chains and export elasticities”, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series No. 8535.

Economics textbooks outline a clear-cut relationship between movements in a country’s exchange rate and its export volumes. When the currency depreciates, export volumes are expected to increase by some amount. By how much exports increase is called the exchange rate elasticity of exports. Yet, some recent episodes of significant exchange rate movements, such as those in Japan (2012–2014) and the United Kingdom (2007–2009), were not associated with very large movements in trade volumes.1 This perceived unresponsiveness of exports to exchange rate fluctuations has raised the question among some commentators as to whether the exchange rate elasticity of export volumes have changed or even become zero.

Boosting access to markets in Paraguay: A rendezvous with saleswomen

Francisco Obreque's picture

Fair in Capiibary, San Pedro Department. Farrah Frick / World Bank

The producers of Capiibary, a small town in the San Pedro Department, will never forget Friday, May 4th, 2018, when Mario Abdo Benítez, the elected President of Paraguay, visited their fair during his first field trip after winning the elections.
 

Can Social Enterprises improve the agriculture value chain for farmers

Elaine Tinsley's picture
E-soko provides mobile farming tips, pricing and weather alerts to subscribers at a low monthly fee. The photo captures the crop performance difference between an E-soko user (left) and non- E-soko farmer (right) in Kenya. 
Photographer: Elaine Tinsley, World Bank


What are the key pain points smallholder farmers face? Gaps across the agriculture value chain—lack of access to affordable financial products, limited knowledge of high-quality inputs, low usage of technology and market data, and poor market links. Social enterprises (SEs) in the agriculture sector are successfully closing these gaps, believing that the cost of their services or products will be recuperated by the benefits and income gains that smallholders will achieve.
 
For example, SEs implement innovative solutions through information and communications technology (ICT) platforms. Esoko’s text alerts on weather conditions and crop market prices saves smallholders in Ghana both time and money. Shamba Shape Up is a “makeover” style farming reality show that gives advice on improving farms and increasing yields to Kenyan farmers. Digital Green recruits local, established farmers to share their farming techniques—from pest-control to seed treatment—in over 3,500 videos for peer smallholders in Africa and India.

How to measure trade protection?

Caroline Freund's picture

What is the best single measure of a country’s import tariffs? As we know, countries don’t have a single tariff, but a landscape of tariffs and other trade barriers. For comparison purposes, it is useful to distill the array of tariffs down to a single number.

In terms of tariffs, there are two common ones: the simple average Most Favored Nation (MFN) applied tariff and the weighted average MFN applied tariff. (MFN is the tariff that WTO members and other favored partners receive.) Neither is perfect.

Unveiling new paths to create more Jobs for the Poor

Maria Laura Sanchez Puerta's picture
Also available in: Français
Onion field in Northern Côte d’Ivoire - Photo by Raphaela Karlen / World Bank

One out of ten people in the world —around 766 million people— still lived below the extreme poverty line in 2013. Most of them, 80 percent, live in rural areas and have very low productivity jobs. Improving jobs and earnings opportunities for these poor and vulnerable workers is at the core of the World Bank Group agenda and it requires holistic economic inclusion initiatives to move them into sustainable livelihoods.


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