It is now a commonplace to refer to the 21st century as the Asian Century. With the world economy struggling to recover from the global financial crisis, the Asia Pacific region, and especially its developing countries, has provided much of the impetus for global growth. In 2015, developing countries in the East Asia Pacific region are likely to account for over one-third of global growth — twice as much as the rest of the developing world. China in particular is now an economic powerhouse. By some measures China is now the world’s largest economy as well as the biggest global manufacturer and exporter.
With this economic success has come increased scrutiny of the region. The rest of the world now wants to know: who sets the rules of the game in Asia?
Economic transformation is necessary for growth that can lead to poverty reduction. However, economic transformation in low-income countries is changing as recent evidence suggests countries are running out of industrialization options much sooner than once expected. Is this a cause for concern? What does the past, present, and likely future of structural transformation look like? Read on to find out why leading economist Dani Rodrik is pessimistic and what some possible rays of light are.
Dani Rodrik was in town his week, and I attended a brilliant presentation at ODI. Very exciting. He’s been one of my heroes ever since I joined the aid and development crowd in the late 90s, when he was one of the few high profile economists to be arguing against the liberalizing market-good/state-bad tide on trade, investment and just about everything else. Dani doggedly and brilliantly made the case for the role of the state in intelligent industrial policy. But now he’s feeling pessimistic about the future (one discussant described it as ‘like your local priest losing his faith’).
The gloom arises from his analysis of the causes and consequences of premature industrialization. I blogged about his paper on this a few months ago, but here are some additional thoughts that emerged in the discussion. He’s also happy for you to nick his powerpoint.
Dani identified two fundamental engines of growth. The first is a ‘neoclassical engine’, consisting of a slow accumulation of human capital (eg skills), institutions and other ‘fundamental capabilities’. The second, which he ascribed to Arthur Lewis, is driven by structural differences within national economies – islands of modern, high productivity industry in a sea of traditional low productivity. Countries go through a ‘structural transformation’ when an increasing amount of the economy moves from the traditional to the modern sector, with a resulting leap in productivity leading to the kinds of stellar growth that has characterized take-off countries over the last 60 years.
Manufacturing has been key to that second driver. It is technologically dynamic, with technologies spreading rapidly across the world, allowing poor countries to hitch a ride on stuff invented elsewhere. It has absorbed lots of unskilled labour (unlike mining, for example). And since manufactures are tradable, countries can specialize and produce loads of a particular kind of goods, without flooding the domestic market and driving down prices.
But that very dynamism has produced diminishing returns in terms of growth and (especially) jobs. Countries are hitting a peak of manufacturing jobs earlier and earlier in their development process (see graph). And it could get much worse – just imagine the impact if/when garments, the classic job-creating first rung on the industrialization ladder, shift to automated production in the same way as vehicle production.
I recently spent three days in Hargeisa, Somaliland. An eye-opening experience, as much as one that strengthens my conviction that World Bank Group is doing the right thing by engaging in this fragile country.
Somaliland is business unusual. Imagine among others, sitting in a mandatory security brief and specifying your blood type straight off the plane, going to meetings in armored cars, wearing the hijab – a veil worn by Muslim women in the presence of adult males – scheduling meetings around prayers and the time of Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims end their daily fast during Ramadan.
The business environment in Somaliland is characterized by a fragile state, poor public service delivery, a weak legal and regulatory regime, inefficient and costly trade logistics, and a fragmented private sector with limited structured engagement with the government. Although the private sector accounts for more than 90 percent of GDP (an anomaly in Africa), it has poor access to finance and lacks an organized voice.
Meeting with the President of the Republic of Somaliland.
During my mission, I met with key Ministers, entrepreneurs and development partners and discussed the challenges and opportunities linked to the ongoing economic development agenda, notably the development of infrastructure and the energy sector. The exchanges highlighted how the World Bank Group's program in Somaliland is laying a foundation to create job opportunities and to accelerate the pace of economic development by fostering business reforms and SME engagement. In this light, the set-up of a high-level taskforce – reporting directly to the President – to implement Doing Business reforms compiled in a Doing Business memo, is a milestone and a strong sign of client buy-in. That is always crucial for the World Bank Group's programs to reach their objectives.
Last, I participated in the presentation of the pilot Reform Champion Program, which aims to develop the capacity of government officials and some representatives of the private sector to implement key reforms that will address constraints to economic growth and development. The project is expected to help trained reform champions implement at least five reforms to improve government-to-business services by July 2016.
This week the World Bank Group, the largest multilateral provider of aid for trade, is participating in the World Trade Organization’s 5th Aid for Trade Global Review. Every two years, the Global Review brings together participants in global trade from all over the world, including trade ministers, the heads of international development institutions, the private sector and civil society. We will be focused on the role of trade in helping achieve the Bank Group’s Twin Goals: ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
The role of trade in ending poverty is the subject of a new WTO-World Bank Group publication being launched on 30 June, the first day of the Review. The report argues that to achieve the end of poverty by 2030, more needs to be done to connect the nearly one billion people who remain in extreme poverty to trade opportunities. On 30 June the report will be available online, along with further details about the agenda it sets out for maximizing the gains of trade for the poorest.
A critical part of this effort, and the theme of this year’s Aid for Trade meeting, is the importance of reducing the costs of trade. The Bank Group is publishing new analysis at the review, using a database we have developed with UNESCAP, which illustrates how the costs of getting goods to overseas markets are significantly higher for developing countries. For example, low income countries face costs that are on average three times higher than for advanced economies. Landlocked countries and small islands also face particularly high trade costs. The reasons vary, but include poor road networks, weak logistics, inadequate port facilities, antiquated customs procedures, corruption at border crossings, and outdated legal and regulatory structures. Lowering these trade costs makes firms in developing countries more competitive, allowing them to benefit more from trade opportunities. Implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement will help, and will be an important focus for us at the Review, but the greatest impact will be achieved by comprehensive strategies to tackle these wide-ranging sources of trade costs.
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. 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.
For economists, it is borderline redundant to say that corruption has economic origins—classic and contemporary work has long held the belief that higher salaries are better for corruption. Due to the obvious difficulties of doing real policy reform in developing countries however, researchers and policy makers have seen little evidence that sheds light on this statement; especially in African countries where salaries are often low and where corruption is still a great concern.
Sail Food Production Company is one of the largest food manufacturing factory in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Despite countless hours spent on manual bookkeeping, its owner always complained about errors when reporting profits and losses on the company’s balance sheets.
At the close of each monthly accounting period, the company was always late in submitting profit and loss statements to the Provincial Department of Finance. Similarly, there were many inefficiencies in production and raw material tracking due to the absence of a proper inventory control system.
The scarcity of information technology integration within business operations has limited the development of Sail Food Production and many other Afghan small and medium enterprises (SME) as they are trying to remain competitive in a global business environment. How could this be improved?
Which regions trade more amongst themselves? What are the top products being exported or imported? Who are the top exporting and importing countries in a particular region?
Here is a visual representation of regional trade in South Asia in WITS that can help quickly unpack some of these questions as they relate to the region.
After the jump, we break down these numbers and show how you can explore the viz.
Digital entrepreneurs have the potential to connect to global markets like never before. Whether selling physical goods on internet platforms, or providing digital goods and services that can be downloaded and streamed, an entirely new ecosystem of innovative micro and small businesses has emerged in the developing world.
The World Bank Group hosted some of the pioneers in this space for a full-day conference on Harnessing Digital Trade for Competitiveness and Development on May 19. Here, we heard entrepreneurial success stories—an online platform for jewelry in Kenya, a provider of software solutions in Nepal, an online platform for livestock trade in Serbia—and dove into the constraints and challenges of running a digital business in an emerging economy.
The scope of these challenges made these success stories, and the broader potential they represent, even more inspiring. From internet connectivity to logistics, from financial payments to trade regulations, from bankruptcy laws to entrepreneurial and consumer digital literacy-- clearly, more needs to be done to fully harness the potential of digital trade for competitiveness and development and to foster an enabling environment to digital trade.