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trade policy

Economic diversification: A priority for action, now more than ever

Cecile Fruman's picture

The global economy is stagnating, and uncertainty about its future is rising. These trends weigh heavily on countries that depend on the production and export of a small range of products, or that sell products in only a few overseas markets.  Prices of the minerals and other basic commodities that dominate the exports of many poor countries have also declined sharply. All of this points up the need for diversification strategies that can deliver sustained, job intensive and inclusive growth.

The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), a joint practice of the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC), is working with a growing roster of client countries eager to achieve greater economic diversification. This is a worthy goal regardless of economic conditions, but especially so now, as developing countries with sector-dependent economies face mounting pressures.

Chile is an example of a diversified economy, exporting more than 2,800 distinct products to more than 120 different countries. Zambia, a country similarly endowed with copper resources, exports just over 700 products — one-fourth of Chile’s export basket — and these go to just 80 countries. Other low-income countries have similarly limited diversified economies. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Malawi, for example, export around 550 and 310 products, respectively. Larger countries that export oil, such as Nigeria (780 products) and Kazakhstan (540 products), have failed to substantially expand the range of products they produce and export.


AJG Simoes, CA Hidalgo. The Economic Complexity Observatory: An Analytical Tool for Understanding the Dynamics of Economic Development. Workshops at the Twenty-Fifth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence. (2011)
http://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/chl/#Exports

While the sluggish global economy is creating economic problems for traditional exports, other economic trends offer new routes and opportunities for poor countries to diversify. The trend toward the spatial splitting up of production across wide geographic areas, and the emergence and growth of regional and global value chains, offer new ways for developing countries to export tasks, services and other activities. Value chains offer developing countries a path out of the trap of having to specialize in whole industries, with all of the cost and risk that such a strategy entails.

From open data to a collaborative community – looking ahead with TCdata360

Prasanna Lal Das's picture
TCdata360: Your Source for Open Trade and Competitiveness Data


It’s now been about a month since the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice of the World Bank Group launched TCdata360, our new platform for open trade and competitiveness data from the Bank and external sources. The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, and it has included a mixture of the anticipated and the unexpected.

Egypt has been the most popular country page during this period, the indicator on the number of days to start a business has been the second most visited page (though it seems to be ceding its spot to the page on venture capital availability) and we have been struck by the number of people that have searched for information on countries that have laws against sexual harassment in the work place (it’s steadily been one of the top 10 most visited pages on the site). Our data stories have attracted attention as well, especially in social media and there has been consistent interest in the API.

The question now is: Where should we take TCdata360 from here? How does a platform grow after the initial excitement around its release has dissipated? How can you or your organization contribute to the growth of the platform?

Here are a few of our ideas at the moment:
 
  • More data – we have a growing inventory of new datasets.
  • Better user experience – we are tweaking several things, while keeping what people like (which is most of the site).
  • More analytics – we have experimented with Datascoper, a tool to uncover hidden patterns in data, but work remains to make these tools more usable and meaningful.
  • Better engagement with our users – we want to show off your work on the site. Tell us about the insightful work you do using our data; we will share it with all our users. And we are all ears about your ideas for other ways to collaborate.
  • Continue contributing to the open data community – we plan to offer data literacy and other support; stay tuned for greater emphasis on applied data; we are working to make this and other data truly useful in an applied sense to governments, the private sector, and others.
  • Better linkages with the open source world – we built the site on open source and want to share our work with the community; we are constantly looking for tools that we can either integrate into the site or that we should be using. Tell us about them.


Help us improve our list – write us at tcdata@worldbank.org or tweet us at #TCdata360.

'Making the case for trade': Winning voters’ trust by strengthening social safety nets

Christopher Colford's picture

Policy persuasion is most effective when it draws on the evidence base of all the social-science disciplines. Every strand of the social sciences – not just the mathematical precision of economics, but also the nuanced interpretations of history and the subtle trajectories of sociology – has a great deal to contribute as policymakers balance competing priorities.

That multidisciplinary approach – emphasized in such recent works as The History Manifesto, in which Harvard and Brown University historians call for policymakers’ greater reliance on the combined reasoning of all the social sciences – was thoroughly borne out in the recent Development Economics Series lecture by economist David Autor of MIT (who is a scholar at the National Bureau of Economic Research). Presenting a research paper on trade policy, and underscoring the importance of public opinion in shaping policymakers’ approach to it, Autor’s presentation used the logic of political science to highlight the electoral mood swings that help shape countries’ position on international trade.

Using the perspectives of political science – in the paper, “Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure” (co-authored with colleagues from the University of Zurich; the University of California, San Diego; and Lund University) – was a valuable way to help remind Autor's economics-focused World Bank Group audience that policymaking does not occur in an academic vacuum. Even though the Bank’s economics-heavy analyses may try to distill policy options into quantifiable formulae, the policymakers whom the Bank advises get their political mandate from their countries’ volatile voters – who do not always follow homo economicus’ coldly rational approach to decision-making.

Amid the topsy-turvy 2016 electoral cycle in many countries – in which voters’ fears about job losses due to international trade have been inflamed amid an upsurge of populism and protectionism – you don’t have to be a public-opinion pollster to affirm Autor's assertion in his analysis of recent U.S. voting patterns: “We detect an ideological realignment that is centered in trade-exposed local labor markets and that commences prior to the divisive 2016 U.S. presidential election. Exploiting the exogenous component of rising trade with China and classifying legislator ideologies by their congressional voting record, we find strong evidence that congressional districts exposed to larger increases in import competition disproportionately removed moderate representatives from office in the 2000s.”

Translation: If you’re a pro-trade lawmaker in a district that has a high degree of imports from overseas, in a region that has endured what Autor calls “economic scarring,” then you’re likely to pay a heavy price at the ballot box – and, if you’re defeated, your successor just might be a strident protectionist. The Autor analysis shrewdly underscores the adjective “political” in the anodyne textbook phrase, “political economy.”