South Asia’s Commerce Ministers meet in Thimphu on July 24. Getting there would not have been easy for many of them, with no direct flights between Thimphu and four of the seven capitals. In June, when some of us convened for a regional meeting in Kathmandu, our Pakistani colleagues had to take a 20 hour flight from Karachi to Dubai in order to get to Kathmandu! This is symptomatic of the overall state of economic engagement within South Asia—in trade in goods and services, foreign direct investment and tourism.
South Asian countries’ trade policies remain inward-looking compared to other regions, and there are even bigger barriers to trade within the region. Today, South Asia today is less economically integrated than it was 50 years ago. Figure 1 below shows that intra-regional trade in South Asia accounts for less than 5 percent of total trade, lower than any other region.
Buy a leather case for your wife’s smartphone on Amazon, select shipping from China with an estimated delivery time of 4-6 weeks, and then be pleasantly surprised when it turns up on your Virginia doorstep in 11 days. The marvels of the modern age – of technology, globalization, and shrinking distances.
Where does South Asia stand on export delivery? Figure 1 illustrates that compared to other economic units around the globe, it is a lot more difficult to trade with(in) SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Agreement). It also shows that bureaucratic hurdles and the time it takes to trade go hand-in-hand. While the region does relatively well on trade with Europe or East Asia, intra-South Asian trade has remained low and costly. It costs South Asian countries more to trade with their immediate neighbors, compared to their costs to trade with distant Brazil (see below)! In fact, it is cheaper for South Asian countries to export to anywhere else in the world than to export to each other (Figure 3). In other words, South Asia has converted its proximity into a handicap.
Poverty has been a concern in societies even before the beginning of recorded history. In the past three decades extreme poverty in the world has decreased significantly. More than half of population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day in 1981. This has dropped to 21% in 2010. More impressively, notwithstanding a 59% increase in population in developing countries, there were 1.2 people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2010, compared with 1.9 billion decades ago. However, the challenge of poverty reduction ahead remains daunting with 1.2 billion still living in extreme poverty. Freeing the world from poverty is perhaps the most important economic goal for the world today. More than a hundred countries are still not able to move away from high poverty traps.
The emergence of mega-regions, as metropolitan areas merge to form a system of cities, has demonstrably contributed to growth in the developed countries. With South Asia experiencing one of the highest urbanization rates, connecting cities presents opportunity to mobilize people, goods and services, and develop supply chains over larger spatial areas. However, this also implies unraveling overlapping commuting patterns, economic linkages, social networks, multiple jurisdictional boundaries- which add to the complexity of decision-making for policymakers and practitioners.
The World Bank’s recent report Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges examines inclusiveness along three dimensions—poverty, inequality, and the distribution of economic opportunities. The findings are summarized in this post.
Economic growth in the last two decades in Bangladesh has been pro-poor. Poverty declined significantly from 58.8 percent in 1991/92 to 31.5 percent in 2010. Bangladesh succeeded in “bending the arc of poverty reduction” in the decade ending 2010, a period in which the number of poor declined by around 15 million, compared with a decline of about 2.3 million in the preceding decade. There has also been regional convergence in poverty patterns during 2005-10. Poverty reduction in the lagging Western divisions (Rajshahi, Khulna, and Barisal) was larger than in the Eastern divisions. A number of other indicators of welfare also show notable improvements between 2000 and 2010 for the general population and the poor alike.
Income distribution stabilized after deteriorating in the 1990s. While comparisons based on consumption data have been used to argue that inequality in Bangladesh is low by international standards, when income rather than HIES consumption data are used, inequality appears to be much higher. The degree of income inequality was reasonably low and stable compared to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines during the 1970s and 1980s. But there was a sharp increase between 1991-92 and 1995-96. Gini consumption concentration ratios based on HIES 2000, 2005, and 2010 data were almost unchanged while Gini income concentration ratios increased by 3.5 percent during 2000-05 followed by 1.9 percent decrease during 2005-10. The good news is it has been a race to the top in the past decade with consumption growing for the poor and non-poor alike. However, income inequality in Bangladesh is relatively high. Among Bangladesh’s peer group of countries only Sri Lanka has a higher income Gini and Cambodia is close.
Recent evidence suggests that remittances have a positive impact on economic growth. This post will examine evidence based on an international panel data set that captures the surge in migration and remittances observed during 2006-09. The dataset includes 70 countries spanning from 1990 to 2009. This to our knowledge is the most recent data set that has been used in empirical remittance work. The recent effort of countries to decrease money laundering, use of improved technology and decrease in transaction costs is leading to a decrease in the unofficial portion of remittances. There has also been a surge in migration and remittances in the last half of the past decade. Thus this dataset should more comprehensively capture the growth impact of remittances compared to previous studies. Different models used to calculate the impact of remittances on growth are detailed in the report titled Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges, Volume II, Main Report, published in June 2012.
The impact of remittances on per capita GDP growth is economically significant
What impact do remittances have on stimulating overall economic growth? Remittances can be used for consumption and investment which further stimulates demand for goods and services, as well as contribute to financial development. On the other hand, they can create dependence in recipients and cause real exchange-rate appreciation which adversely affects domestic production.
The answer is an empirical one which we can answer using available data. Our findings echo recent economic research which shows that remittances, even when not invested directly, can have an important multiplier effect.
In our study, we focused only on the magnitude of the impact of remittances on aggregate demand in Bangladesh and calculated the traditional Keynesian multiplier effect, that is how much income is generated from every remittance dollar, following the approach adopted by Nicholas Glytsos by estimating a consumption function, an investment function, and an imports function. To estimate the parameters we used data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics national accounts covering the period 1981-2010. We ran simple Ordinary Least Squares regressions to estimate the structural parameters. Here is a summary of our results: