This blog is part of the series #OneSouthAsia exploring how South Asia can become a more integrated, thus more economically dynamic region.The blog series is a lead up to the South Asia Economic Conclave, an event dedicated todeepening existing economic links through policy and investments in regional businesses.
Development practitioners often paint two faces of South Asia. One South Asia is dynamic, growing, urbanizing and globalizing. The other South Asia is still predominantly agricultural, stiflingly landlocked and stagnating as a consequence of policy, institutional, and infrastructure constraints. Unfortunately, Nepal still falls into the latter category. But promising signs of change are on the horizon, mostly to do with openings at regional integration.
This blog is part of the series #OneSouthAsia exploring how South Asia can become a more integrated, thus more economically dynamic region.The blog series is a lead up to the South Asia Economic Conclave, an event dedicated todeepen existing economic links through policy and investments in regional businesses.
Which South Asia do you live in? The one which offers world-class metros and malls, super-specialty hospitals, gourmet eateries and designer homes where servants make your meals, drive your car or clean your mess?
Or do you live in the South Asia where sanitation, water and electricity are a luxury, where filth, ignorance and violence means death comes early and more frequently from illness, poverty and natural disasters? Statistically, the latter is more likely.
Having lived in Southeast Asia, where the emergence of the Tigers has transformed the lives of millions of poor through investment in human development, infrastructure and exports producing high growth rates, the visible poverty and chaotic streets of South Asia are troubling. So, too, is the contrast provided by India's dollar billionaires -- the third-largest rich man's club in the world.
As Pakistan readies to celebrate its independence day, we can all feel satisfied about progress in restoring macroeconomic stability, but should also realise that the country can and should do much better. Pakistan has many assets, of which it can make better use — from its vast water and river endowment, to its coastline and cities, to its natural resources. And there are upsides: a growing middle class, a lively informal economy and a strong influx of remittances. Pakistan can also be proud of the first peaceful transfer of power between two civilian governments. But to reach its full potential, Pakistan needs to focus on two critical areas, both obvious and urgent. It needs to ensure that its people have the means to fully participate in and contribute to the economy. And it needs to integrate itself more, globally and regionally.
The first challenge is demographic. As a result of rapid population growth, 1.5 million youngsters reach the working age each year. The question is, will the private sector be able to provide the jobs they need and want? And will the youth have the skills to get good jobs? Pakistan must do far better in education. Primary school net enrollment is about 57 per cent, well below other South Asian countries. Enrollment drops by half in middle school, with much lower levels for girls and children from poor families. This is not a good foundation to build on.
It is not surprising then that Pakistan also struggles to give all its citizens the opportunity to participate in building better lives for themselves. Only 25 per cent of women participate in the labour force, compared to 50 and 80 per cent in most developing countries. Women and girls deserve better. Research shows that girls with little or no education are far more likely to be married as children, suffer domestic violence, and live in poverty. This harms not only them, but also their children, their communities and the economy. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity and improve development outcomes for the next generation. It is smart economics.
Pakistan has taken steps to empower women. The Benazir Income Support Program, supported by the World Bank, has provided millions of women with national ID cards and makes direct payments to them, strengthening their ability to take decisions and move out of poverty.
More than 50% of today’s international trade goes through regional trading arrangements. While trade is a critical component of regional integration, integration has several other dimensions including energy cooperation and intra-regional investment, to name a few. After carefully examining cases of regional integration in Southeast Asia, the Americas and Africa, we present five lessons for South Asia.
Lesson 1: Facilitate trade in goods and services
Despite falling tariffs, there is still a large gap between the price of the exported good and the price paid by the importer, largely arising from high costs of moving goods, especially in South and Central Asia. On a percentage basis, the potential gains to trade facilitation in South and Central Asia, at 8 percent of GDP, are almost twice as large as the global average. High trade costs have contributed to South Asia being the least integrated region in the world.
FIGURE 1: Intra-regional trade share (percent of total trade), 2012
In the ASEAN region, most countries have established either Trade Information Portals or Single Windows that have enhanced trade facilitation, reduced trade costs and enhanced intra-regional trade. A Trade Information Portal allows traders to electronically access all the documents they need to obtain approvals from the government. A Single Window (a system that enables international traders to submit regulatory documents at a single location and/or single entity) allows for the electronic submission of such documents. These single windows, using international open communication standards, facilitate trade both within the region and with other countries using similar standards.
In services, one barrier to trade involves the movement of skilled workers, accountants, engineers and consultants who may move from one country to another on a temporary basis. The Southern Common Market (Mercosur)’s Residence Agreement allows workers to reside and work for up to two years in a host country. This residence permit can be made permanent if the worker proves that they can support themselves and their family.
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?
Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.
To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.
“The real end winner of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is going to be Mexico […]” said then Mexican president Vicente Fox, in 2001. He was referring to Mexico’s gains from trade integration with the USA through NAFTA.
Vicente Fox was right. Mexico has continued to make sustained gains in trade over a 20 year period after signing NAFTA in 1994 with the US, its much larger partner (figure 1).
Opening up trade is not easy because losses can be immediate, while gains, despite being potentially much larger and more widespread, are often dispersed over time. Producers that may sustain losses from more open imports are often well organized and can hold up reforms quite effectively. Moreover, when one of the countries involved in mutual trade liberalization is disproportionately large, it enables the smaller country lobbies to raise the specter of being swamped by imports from its larger partner.
In the case of South Asia, a history of political differences further complicates deeper trade and economic cooperation within the region. Under these circumstances, opening up trade to neighbors requires strong leadership and a bold vision about the role of trade and regional integration in economic development.
Dr. Denis Medvedev, the World Bank Group’s Senior Country Economist, spoke at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta on the Next Wave of Economic Reforms in India on 20th November, this year. The talk focused on the challenges facing the Indian economy in achieving inclusive growth with a special focus on reducing poverty in the lower income states.
Country Partnership Strategies are a central element of the World Bank Group’s effort to act in a coordinated way to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. But they can be hard for the average person to navigate—some are three-volume tomes, and others can be dense with technicalities. When we make them inaccessible to the general public, we often forgo a critical opportunity to build broad support for our work.
This year, the Bank Group’s India team decided to take a more innovative approach—one that has the potential to directly engage the public and perhaps even spur others to join us in our cause. In producing the Country Partnership Strategy for India, the team opted not to create a simple PDF for the website. Instead it produced a well-designed book, flush with easy-to-understand graphics and appealing photographs. It also produced a highly interactive web application that visualizes the strategy—and tracks the strategy’s progress towards its goals over time. The tool shows exactly how individual projects along with knowledge and advisory work line up with our twin goals, and what outcomes we expect in each instance.