Dots on the world map – they are coral atolls and volcanic islands spread across a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean with names as exotic as their turquoise water, white sand and tropical foliage.
Twelve Pacific Island countries are members of the World Bank. Between them they are home to about 11 million people, much less than one percent of the global population.
One of them, Kiribati, consists of 33 atolls and coral islets, spread across an area larger than India, but with a land mass smaller than New Delhi. With less than 10,000 inhabitants, Tuvalu is the World Bank’s smallest member country.
Despite such remote and tiny landscapes, the Pacific Island countries – including Fiji, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia and Timor-Leste – represent far more than meets the eye.
Those unfamiliar with the fast growing emerging economies of East Asia are likely to think that governments in these countries let market forces and capitalism roam free, red in tooth and claw. That was certainly my impression before coming to work in the region, and generally that held at the outset of our work by the group of us that wrote a new World Bank report “East Asia Pacific At Work: Employment, Enterprise and Wellbeing” .
The report shows just how wrong we were. We could be forgiven this impression—many of us had come from assignments in Latin America and the Caribbean or in Europe and Central Asia, where the distortions and rigidities from labor regulation and poorly designed social protection are rife, and where policy makers cast envious looks at the stellar and sustained employment outcomes in East Asia.
Well, it turns out that although they came relatively late to labor regulation and social protection, many governments in the region have entered this arena with gusto. We were surprised to find that, going just by what is written in their labor codes, the average level of employment protection in East Asia is actually higher than the OECD average.
- Social Development
- Law and Regulation
- Labor and Social Protection
- Financial Sector
- East Asia and Pacific
- Solomon Islands
- Papua New Guinea
- Micronesia, Federated States of
- Marshall Islands
- Lao People's Democratic Republic
- Korea, Republic of
In June 2009 Samoa was the set for the popular TV program Survivor. It was a fantastic choice. It is one of those picture-perfect places–shady palms, trees dripping with fruit, blossoming hibiscus, all framed by powder sand beaches. It is a vastly understated paradise.
A few months later, the country was once again centre stage. This time for something utterly distressing and heart-breaking as the country embarked on the harrowing search for real life survivors after they were struck by a powerful tsunami on 29 September 2009.
Galu afi means “wave of fire” and is the traditional Samoan word used to describe a tsunami. It describes the force that gains momentum as the wave generates and the sheer destruction that it brings to bear. That is what happened here.
On the surface, the pace of life in the Pacific island country of Samoa is slow. Island time. That’s an impression that’s reinforced when touring the idyllic string of resorts and beach fales (small timber and thatch tourist cottages, often without walls and open to the tropical breeze) along the South East coast of Upolu, Samoa. You can watch the heat rise in a haze across the ridiculously tranquil blue waters and golden sands, as coconut palms wave, and tourists enjoy a weekend drink in the seafront restaurant of the locally-owned and recently rebuilt Tafua beach fales.
Earlier today, the World Bank released its annual Doing Business report, which tracks business regulation reforms and ranks emerging economies on the “ease of doing business.”