Time to Change Gears for Poland’s Economy
Poland is Europe’s growth champion. It has more than doubled its GDP per capita since the beginning of post-socialist transition in 1989, consistently growing since 1992, and was the only EU economy to avoid a recession in 2009. Poland is a prime example of the success of the European “convergence machine”. In 2014, the level of income adjusted for purchasing parity exceeded $24,000 and reached almost 65% of the level of income in the euro zone, the highest absolute and relative level since 1500 A.D.
However, past successes do not guarantee a prosperous future and Poland cannot afford to grow complacent. Given the significant productivity gap—Poland’s productivity per hour amounts to less than half of that in Germany —technology absorption will continue to drive private sector productivity in the near term, but it is unlikely to help sustain—not to mention accelerate—economic growth in the long term as Poland moves closer to the technology frontier. Investment in private sector R&D and innovation will have to increase far more rapidly. Growth can stagnate if Poland doesn’t start shifting from imitating others to generating new ideas, from quantity to quality, and from potato chips to microchips.
Time to Change Gears for Poland’s Economy
Despite their mixed record last year, Future Development's bloggers once again offer their predictions for 2015. Eight themes emerge.
1. Global growth and trade. The US economy will strengthen far above predictions. Together with lower oil prices and a better business climate in emerging markets, this will create substantial positive spill-overs, including to the smaller export-oriented Asian economies, boosting the growth of their manufactured exports well above recent trends. The US will look to open new free trade agreements in Asia—India may try to join—and seek opportunities to do the same in Africa. Meanwhile, Germany will face increasing resistance to the free-trade agreement with America (TTIP), just as Angela Merkel celebrates her 10th year in office.
- oil prices
- Public Sector and Governance
- Private Sector Development
- Labor and Social Protection
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Global Economy
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- Russian Federation
- United States
A decade of elevated oil prices brought prosperity to many developing countries. Incomes rose, poverty shrank, macroeconomic buffers were rebuilt. The fiscal space for investing more in education and infrastructure increased, resulting in better sharing of prosperity. At the same time, higher commodity prices and surging global demand resulted in much more concentrated exports in all developing oil-rich countries. "Diversifying exports" became a priority for policy makers and development economists around the world. Historical experience and evidence to the contrary from successful resource rich countries notwithstanding, many widely believe that a more diversified export structure should be an important national goal and may well be a synonym for development, a goal that government can target and achieve. And a more diversified export structure typically meant a smaller share of commodity exports in total shipments abroad or a reduced concentration – as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschmann index – of exports.
Hopes are high for Tunisia’s economy to improve after Tunisians voted for a new parliament in October. Pre-election polls consistently highlighted that the economy was the foremost preoccupation of Tunisians. Yet, political debates in the run up to the elections largely ignored longstanding economic problems.
Absurdly complex regulations divide the Tunisian economy between a protected “onshore” sector that sells to Tunisian consumers and a competitive “offshore” sector that exports, mostly to Europe. "It's pointless trying to understand the logic of it - there is no logic," says Belhassen Gherab, head of Aramys, one of Tunisia's largest textile and clothing groups. He gives an example: "Suppose I have a machine that breaks down because one small circuit board needs replacing. If I'm an offshore company, I call up DHL and have it delivered within 24 hours. If I'm an onshore business, I'll have to bring it in through customs. I may be waiting 30 days, with my entire production halted, just for that one circuit board."
This is the story of a country located next to the largest and most connected economic block in the world, with fairly low labor costs and a relatively well educated workforce. You would expect that country to do well. However, the state of Serbia’s economy is problematic. Today, Serbia’s output is below what it was in the 1980s (in the time of Yugoslavia) and only half of its working age population has a job in the formal sector.
At the heart of Serbia’s problems are two interconnected imbalances, which explain why the country appears to be stuck on its path to prosperity. First, the economy is running on domestic consumption, which was fueled by financial inflows since 2000, while exports remain well below potential. Second, employment is driven by the state, not the private sector, with almost half (45%) of all formal jobs in the government or State Owned Enterprises.
Duty- and quota-free access for exports to global markets is something developing country trade negotiators have demanded for years. Few other “stroke-of-the-pen” measures could boost employment and reduce poverty in low income countries in such large numbers. For instance if the US removed tariffs on Bangladeshi garments – which average around 13%, but for some items are as high as 33% – then exports to the US could rise by $1.5 billion from the FY13 level of $5 billion, in turn generating employment for at least an additional half a million, primarily female, workers. Examples of other countries facing US tariffs include Cambodia (12.8% average tariff rate on its exports to the US), India (4.01%), Indonesia (5.73%), and Vietnam (7.41%). Progress in trade facilitation would likely have even greater pay-offs to growth and employment, but these require structural reforms and investments, while the decision to remove tariffs is a simpler, “stroke-of-the-pen” measure.
From time to time, countries experience rapid economic growth without a significant decline in poverty. India’s GDP growth rate accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s, but poverty continued to fall at the same pace as before, about one percentage point a year. Despite 6-7 percent GDP growth, Tanzania and Zambia saw only a mild decline in the poverty rate. In the first decade of the 21st century, Egypt’s GDP grew at 5-7 percent a year, but the proportion of people living on $5 a day—and therefore vulnerable to falling into poverty—stagnated at 85 percent.
In light of this evidence, the World Bank has set as its goals the elimination of extreme poverty and promotion of shared prosperity. While the focus on poverty and distribution as targets is appropriate, the public actions required to achieve these goals are not very different from those required to achieve rapid economic growth. This is not trickle-down economics. Nor does it negate the need for redistributive transfers. Rather, it is due to the fact that economic growth is typically constrained by policies and institutions that have been captured by the non-poor (sometimes called the rich), who have greater political power. Public actions that relax these constraints, therefore, will both accelerate growth and transfer rents from the rich to the poor.
Some examples illustrate the point.
A competitive export sector is one of the key engines of a successful transition to high income. Turkish policy makers knew this well, and so they put an increase in export competitiveness at the forefront of their ambitious targets to get the country into the top 10 economies worldwide by 2023. What are the chances of success?
To try and answer this question, the World Bank working closely with Turkey’s Ministry of Economy carried out a Trade Competitiveness Diagnostic (“Turkey Country Economic Memorandum: Trading Up to High Income”), which was just launched in Ankara. The team looked at how Turkey did during the past decade, a period of rapid growth in global trade. It turns out that Turkey did pretty well – its exports during the 2000s grew 15.3 percent annually, twice the average growth in the OECD, 6 percentage points above world trade growth and only 4 percentage points slower than in China. Turkey’s global market share grew by 60 percent (from 0.53 to 0.82 percent) between 2002 and 2009 and is getting close to Turkey’s share of the world population (1.06 percent). At the same time, Turkey increased its export sophistication and improved product quality.
Some Myths about Informal Trade in Developing Countries
By definition, informal trade is difficult to measure because even if everyone has seen it, there is no evidence of it in official statistics. Thus, estimates are often difficult to arrive at and quite costly because they require the collection of data from several sources (customs data, data from border surveys, local economic and social statistics, interviews with actors and stakeholders in the sectors concerned).
However, such efforts appear to be bearing fruit: as information and data production improves, a number of assertions based on rumors or even beliefs are contradicted by actual figures. It is especially interesting to note that the phenomena and characteristics of informal trade are the same, whether in central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, or North Africa.
Lessons on Governance from Bangladesh’s Garment Industry
One year ago today, in the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital city, an eight-story garment factory collapsed of its own weight, killing 1,130 young workers and injuring thousands more. The ghastly photos of bodies trapped in the Rana Plaza wreckage provoked outrage in the wealthy world, targeted largely at global retailers who purchased garments there. North American and European consumers called for measures to ensure safe conditions and humane treatment for Bangladeshi garment workers, mostly young women from poor families in remote rural areas. Many called for a boycott of the big-box retailers and of the Bangladeshi products they sell.
I had just moved from Bangladesh to Europe at the time, and my advice to friends who asked was: “Go ahead and buy those skinny jeans or that tank top if you want. It’s the right thing to do for Bangladesh and its young workers.”