Last January 2017, the World Bank launched TCdata360 (tcdata360.worldbank.org/), a new open data platform that features more than 2,000 trade and competitiveness indicators from 40+ data sources inside and outside the World Bank Group. Users of the website can compare countries, download raw data, create and share data visualizations on social media, get country snapshots and thematic reports, read data stories, connect through an application programming interface (API), and more.
Trade and Competitiveness
Tolstoy's War and Peace was the big data of its time. A memorable moment from the epic novel occurs when Prince Andrei awakens following a severe injury on the battlefield. He fears the worst but, "above him there was nothing but the sky, the lofty heavens, not clear, yet immeasurably lofty, with gray clouds slowly drifting across them. 'How quiet, solemn, and serene, not at all as it was when I was running.'" Time appears to slow down and the Prince sees life more lucidly than ever before as he discovers the potential for happiness within him.
In many ways the scene captures what we demand of big data—not the bustle of zillions of data points as confusing as the fog of war, but sharp, clear insights that bring the right information into relief and help us connect strands previously unseen. The question of whether this idea is achievable is the starting point of a paper about big data on trade and competitiveness just published by the World Bank Group. In it, we asked—can big data help policy makers see the world in ways they haven't before? Are decisions that are informed by the vast amounts of data that envelop us better than decisions based on traditional tools? We didn't want a story trumpeting the miracles of big data; we wanted instead to see the reality of big data in action, in its messiness and its splendor.
Who are Spain's neighbors? Is Canada closer to Spain than Portugal? What about Estonia or Greece? The answer? Depends on the data you are looking at!
Earlier this week I crunched data based on a selected list of indicators from the new Open Trade and Competitiveness platform from the World Bank (TCdata360) and found some interesting trends. In 2009 Spain was closer to economies like Estonia, Belgium, France and Canada while 6 years later in 2015, Spain's closest neighbors were Greece and Portugal. How and when did this shift happen?
Other trends I spotted using the same data? It seems the Sub-Saharan region ranks the lowest in Ease of Doing Business, that in 2007 Israel held the record for R&D expenditure as % of GDP, while in the same year Malta topped FDI net inflows as % GDP, and that the largest annual GDP growth in the last 20 years occurred in Equatorial Guinea in 1997.
Figure 1: Dots represent values for an economy at a given point in time for years 1996 to 2016 overlaying their box-plot distributions. Colors correspond to geographical regions.
People who look at the Doing Business report’s Trading Across Borders indicator and the Logistics Performance Index (LPI) often wonder why one country can perform well on one of the rankings but not so well on the other although they both measure trade and logistics. In fact, earlier this year, the Doing Business team organized a workshop at the World Bank Global Knowledge and Research Hub in Kuala Lumpur to clarify the differences between the two datasets.
Let’s start off with a few definitions:
The Doing Business report is a World Bank Group flagship publication, which covers 11 areas of business regulations. Trading Across Borders is one of these areas. It looks specifically at the logistical processes of exporting and importing. Data is updated annually and the latest edition covers 190 economies. Doing Business collects data from local experts and measures performance as reported by domestic entrepreneurs, while taking into consideration factual laws and regulations.
The Logistics Performance Index is a benchmarking tool which focuses on trade logistics. It is created to help countries identify the challenges and opportunities they face as they relate to customs, border management, transport infrastructure, and logistics services. Updated biennially, the latest data and report cover 160 economies. Data is collected from global freight forwarders and express carriers who provide feedback on the logistical “friendliness” of the countries they operate.