Over the past 15 years, China has emerged as one of the world’s financial inclusion success stories. While much attention has been paid to the rapid innovation and massive scaling of Chinese fintech companies, China’s successes in financial inclusion reach beyond fintech. Account ownership has increased significantly and is now on par with that of other G-20 countries. One of the largest agent banking networks in the world has been established. And a robust financial infrastructure has been developed that underpins these successes.
So what can policymakers in other countries learn from China’s experience? While China is in some ways a unique environment, there are still valuable lessons to be learned from both its successes as well as its remaining challenges.
A new report released last week -– Toward Universal Financial Inclusion in China: Models, Challenges, and Global Lessons - provides a wealth of data and information about the various initiatives and efforts that have contributed to China’s advances in financial inclusion. The report, which was jointly written by the People’s Bank of China and the World Bank Group, also outlines remaining challenges and distills lessons for policymakers in other countries.
“Should we focus our efforts on foreign investment or domestic investment?” Policymakers in developing economies often ask this question when the World Bank Group advises them on how to improve their countries’ investment climate or investment promotion efforts. Our answer is: They do not need to choose one over the other. In order to grow and diversify, an economy needs both domestic investment and foreign direct investment (FDI). The two forms of private investments can be strong complements.
Recognizing the Potential Benefits of FDI
The economic benefits of FDI were identified a long time ago. A Harvard Business School paper published 30 years ago summarized the benefits of FDI based on an extensive review of economic literature (Wint, 1986). In short: Benefits traditionally attributed to FDI include job creation, transfer of technology and know-how (including modern managerial and business practices), access to international markets, and access to international financing.
Granted, some of these benefits also occur thanks to domestic investment. For instance, domestic investments create jobs in a host economy – usually many more than FDI. However: What FDI does well is enhance or maximize some of the benefits already generated by domestic investments in a developing economy.
To stay with the example of job creation: Foreign firms might not create as many jobs as the domestic private sector, but they often create better-paid jobs that require higher skills. That helps elevate the skills level in host economies. The same can be said for other FDI benefits. For instance, more advanced technologies and managerial or marketing practices can be introduced in a developing economy through foreign investment, and at a much faster rate than would be the case if only domestic investment were allowed. Moreover, through partnerships with foreign investors who have existing distribution channels and commercial arrangements around the world, developing countries’ firms can benefit from increased market access.
In China, millions of rural residents each year migrate to cities to seek work. As they find jobs in modernizing industries, they gain the skills they need to earn higher incomes. In this photo, an employe in Chongqing is learning higher-level computer skills. Photo: Li Wenyong / The World Bank
Value addition through manufacturing has been a major focus of economic policymakers across the world, and at times with remarkable success, most famously in East Asia. Initial ‘Asian miracles’ in places like South Korea have since been eclipsed by the meteoric rise of manufacturing in China, which has grown its exports in manufactures by 18 percent a year over the past 10 years, compared to a global average of 7 percent (ITC Trade Map data).
Most countries generally seemed to follow a basic pattern, initially establishing manufacturing credentials in light manufacturing, such as in textile and apparel, but then in time moving on from such products to higher-value-added and more complex products. As they moved on and up, they opened space for other countries to move into the initial entry products, following the so-called ‘flying geese’ model of division of labor.
There have been noticeable absences though, with not all regions having moved into manufacturing. This is partially the case with Central and South America, but most strikingly with Sub-Saharan Africa.
What can be done to support countries in their quest to deepen their manufacturing sectors, and extract the jobs and technological development that this can offer? How can they develop the kinds of deep and comprehensive manufacturing ecosystems that have enabled China to maintain investment despite fast-rising labor costs?
Cites are the heartbeat of the global economy. More than half the world’s population now resides in metropolitan areas, making a disproportionate contribution to their respective countries’ prosperity. The opportunities and challenges associated with urbanization are quite evident in the world’s most populous country, whose cities are among the largest and most dynamic on Earth. To better understand what a thriving metropolitan economy looks like in the Chinese context, our Competitive Cities team selected Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, for inclusion among our six case studies of economically successful cities, as the representative of the East Asia Pacific Region.
As recently as the turn of the millennium, Changsha’s economy was still dominated by low-value-added, non-tradable services (e.g. restaurants and hair salons) – an economic structure commonly seen today in many low- to lower-middle-income cities. Since then, Changsha has achieved consistently high, double-digit annual growth in output and employment, despite its landlocked location and few natural or inherited advantages, such as proximity to trade routes or mineral wealth. With per capita GDP surging from US $3,500 in 2000 to more than US $15,000 in 2012, Changsha has accomplished a feat so many other World Bank clients can only dream of: leapfrogging from lower-middle-income to high-income status in barely a decade, and an economy now comprised of much more sophisticated, capital-intensive industries.
Photos via Google Maps
We took a closer look at the success factors behind this city’s dramatic growth story, and what lessons its experience may hold for cities elsewhere, especially in terms of (1) how to overcome coordination failures and bureaucrats working in silos and (2) how to ensure a level playing field for all firms in the city (that is to say, competition neutrality), even in industries with a strong SOE presence – something still not commonly seen in China these days.
Changsha’s (and Hunan’s) growth has clearly benefitted from a highly conducive national macroeconomic and policy framework, including a plan entitled The Rise of Central China, aimed at spurring development in areas beyond the country’s booming coastal regions. This and other initiatives provided for the removal of investment restrictions, more favorable tax treatment, and enhanced infrastructure and connectivity to coastal commercial gateways. China’s massive stimulus plan in 2009 (in response to the global financial crisis and recession) jump-started construction activity in the country, providing further impetus to one of Changsha’s principal industries, construction machinery and equipment manufacturing. And national government interventions in earlier decades – especially the establishment of dedicated research institutes – provided a critical contribution to Changsha’s accumulation of expertise in such disciplines as machinery or metallurgy.
Notwithstanding these national initiatives, responsibility for local economic development in China is highly decentralized, with municipal government leaders directly tasked with achieving GDP growth and tax revenue targets. Municipal governments also have rights over almost all land in cities, which can be leased or used as collateral to fund local infrastructure. In Changsha, municipal authorities used these prerogatives to improve their city’s economic competitiveness.
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With this week's kickoff of the 2016 China “Business 20” (B20) proceedings in Beijing, this is an opportune time to reflect on some of the key accomplishments of the 2015 Turkey B20. As many readers of this blog know, the B20 is the premier dialogue platform of the business community with the G20 policymakers representing the most important economies of the world, and it is influential in identifying and supporting policies that are crucial for overall economic development. I believe that taking stock of the past enables us to learn from both successes and failures, and helps sustain the momentum on what worked and generated the desired impact.
Looking back at my involvement as Chair of the B20 Steering Committee, what strikes me as a major achievement is the amplification of the voice of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). I believe that, if we want our economies to have healthy and inclusive growths, this must remain as a key priority for the upcoming B20 in China.
Participants in the Turkish G20/B20 process shared the assessment that SMEs’ potential was not being fully realized. SMEs account for about two-thirds of all private-sector jobs globally and about 80 percent of net job growth. They are the engine for equitable growth and poverty alleviation. And they are the backbone of the middle class and of social stability. Yet they suffer disproportionately from limited access to markets, finance, talent, skills and innovation. In addition, regulations also often put them at a disadvantage. Until recently, SMEs had lacked an organization that would champion their cause.
With these major issues in mind, and with strong deliberations of the B20 Leadership and support from the G20 Finance Ministers, last year TOBB and the ICC officially founded the World SME Forum (WSF), with the mission to help improve the overall growth and impact of SMEs globally, by effectively tackling the key challenges they face. WSF aims to provide SMEs with effective representation and to advance the recognition of the role of SMEs in the global economy by partnering with international financial institutions (IFIs) and development agencies. WSF has membership from associations and chambers working in the SME space from all over the world.
WSF is ready to represent SME interests with regional and global bodies, and to advocate for better rules and regulations among standard-setters.
As I am on my way to Beijing, I cannot help but think that this is indeed a major achievement, which will give the SME development agenda a much better chance at succeeding. WSF can be a “bridge” across B20 presidencies, so that we can ensure continuity in the crucial SME agenda. WSF can help avoid any loss of momentum on the implementation of the recommendations we develop during each cycle.
Even better, after B20 China officially decided to continue the SME Development Taskforce, which was started for the first time by B20 Turkey, they invited WSF to be a Business Network Partner for the Taskforce. WSF will therefore be coordinating the network and will help drive the ideas that emerge from the Taskforce discussions into implementation.
Sub-Saharan Arica has launched a new wave of “special economic zones” (SEZs), with more and more countries establishing or planning to establish SEZs or industrial parks. However, can Africa overcome the past stigma and make the zone programs truly successful?
This was one of the hot topics during the China-Africa “Investing in Africa Forum,” held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from June 30 to July 1, organized by the World Bank Group with the government of Ethiopia, the government of China, the China Development Bank and UNIDO.
Why did the the African zones fail, in the past, to attract many investors? My answer was they were not truly “special” in terms of business environment and infrastructure provisions, and many constraints were not significantly improved inside the zones. This analysis was supported by another panelist, His Excellency Dr. Arkebe Oqubay, Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. According to Dr. Oqubay, past zones in Africa were “missing the ‘basics’ such as power, water and one-stop services, and were not aligned with national development strategy.”
That viewpoint was shared by almost all the other panelists, which included senior African and Chinese officials and international experts at the SEZ session, which was characterized with candid discussions and greatly benefited from the background paper prepared by Douglas Zeng of the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice.
In 2013, investment commitments to infrastructure projects with private participation declined by 24 percent from the previous year. It should be welcome news that the first half of 2014 (H1) data – just released from the World Bank Group’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) database, covering energy, water and sanitation and transport – shows a 23 percent increase compared to the first half of 2013, with total investments reaching US$51.2 billion.
A closer look shows, however, that this growth is largely due to commitments in Latin America and the Caribbean, and more specifically in Brazil. In fact, without Brazil, total private infrastructure investment falls to $21.9 billion – 32 percent lower than the first half of 2013. During H1, Brazil dominated the investment landscape, commanding $29.2 billion, or 57 percent of the global total.
Four out of six regions reported declining investment levels: East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Fewer projects precipitated the decrease in many cases. Specifically, India has experienced rapidly falling investment, with only $3.6 billion in H1, compared to a peak of $23.8 billion in H1 of 2012. That amount was still enough to keep India in the top five countries for private infrastructure investment. In order of significance, those countries are: Brazil, Turkey, Mexico, India, and China.
Sector investments were paced by transport and energy, which together accounted for nearly all private infrastructure projects that were collected in this update. The energy sector captured high investment levels primarily due to renewable energy projects, which totaled 59 percent of overall energy investments, and it is poised to continue growth due to its increasing role in global energy generation.
The energy sector also had the biggest number of new projects (70), followed by transport (28), then water and sewerage (12). However, transport claimed the greatest overall investment, at $36 billion, or 71 percent of the global total.
While we need to see what the data for the second half of 2014 show, what we have to date suggests that infrastructure gaps may continue to grow as the private sector contributes less. It also suggests that, in many emerging-market economies, there is much work to be done to bring projects to the market that will attract private investment and represent a good deal for the governments concerned.
The Investment Policy team of the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice has learned that China is about to adopt a new foreign investment law that would bring about several potentially significant improvements to the current investment regime. Although we have not yet seen an English-language version of the proposed law, and therefore have to rely for the moment on accounts by international law firms and chambers of commerce that have seen (and sometimes commented on) the draft law, I wanted to share the news with the Private Sector Development community because of the new law’s potential impact – not just in China but across East Asia.
China has very significant political and economic clout in the region and across the developing world. Its reforms are closely watched, and they could inspire many other developing and emerging economies to follow suit.
After soliciting comments on the three existing laws, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) issued a draft of the Foreign Investment Law on January 19, also soliciting public comment – a process that, incidentally, should also inspire many countries.
If passed, the new law would abrogate and ‘unify’ the three current laws that regulate foreign investment: namely, the Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Law, the Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise Law and the Sino-Foreign Contractual Joint Venture Law. Although going from three laws to one can in itself be a positive thing – simplifying the regulatory environment usually is a good idea – what really matters to the investor community is the substantive or procedural changes that the new law would introduce.
A first change is that the new law would adopt a “negative list” approach, modeled on the system in place in the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ). As a reminder: Under a negative-list approach, certain sectors where foreign investment is restricted, capped or prohibited are specifically enumerated on a negative list. And foreign investment in restricted sectors can only proceed through some sort of ex ante screening and approval mechanism by a governmental authority or agency. On the other hand, under such a system, investments in sectors that are not on the negative list can usually proceed without any prior screening and approval, using, for example, the normal company registration process.
The negative-list approach is one that T&C’s Investment Policy Team often recommends to our client countries, because it fosters transparency and predictability and because it reduces government discretion over the admission of investors. Obviously, in this case, we would need to see the actual negative list before we can offer a more definitive assessment. But assuming that the number of sectors on the negative list is not excessive or, better, that sectors previously closed or restricted are now open to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the impact of this single change could be very significant.
A few weeks ago, the results of the OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) module on financial literacy were revealed, with Shanghai taking top honors in this category – just as it has in the last two rounds (in 2009 and 2012) on the traditional academic curriculum (reading, math and science).
This is no coincidence, as the OECD results and many other studies suggest a close relationship between education levels and academic performance in math and reading comprehension and scores on financial literacy tests.
In the PISA report, the correlation coefficients between financial literacy scores and performance in mathematics and reading were 0.83 and 0.79 respectively across 13 OECD countries in the survey sample. For high performers like Shanghai and New Zealand, these correlations were even stronger: 0.88 for mathematics, 0.86 for reading.
While waiting for general improvement in academic performance is one path to improved financial literacy, the urgency of addressing financial skills for today’s youth has led many educators and policymakers to look for more immediate steps that can be taken, including financial education interventions at school. The PISA results, however, don’t include an assessment of the value of possible financial literacy curricula, due to the “limited and uneven provision of financial education in schools.” That factor makes comparisons across countries difficult, as described in the report.