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.
At the World Free Zone Convention in Izmir, Turkey, which I attended in December, an important question was asked: Have "Special Economic Zones" entered the 21st Century? Evidence shows that, in many ways, they have – but in many instances we are still seeing across the globe the same isolated economic enclaves with few linkages to the local market and little economy-wide impact.
More than ever, special economic zones (SEZs) are on the defensive, despite the fact that the more than 3,500 SEZs worldwide have provided employment for more than 60 million people.
I believe that two zones, in particular, can shed light on the factors of success and failure in SEZs today: Shenzhen, China, which is almost universally considered to be a success story, and the Calabar Free Trade Zone in Nigeria, which has failed to live up to its original projections.