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February 2013

Shocks Hit Workers Twice In Offshoring Industries: Lessons From Mexico

Daniel Lederman's picture

Factory in Mexico. Source: Alan Grinberg -- http://www.flickr.com/photos/agrinberg/5536586224/The world is increasingly interconnected, and nowhere is a better example of that than the border between Mexico and the US. Lined with factories, the division between the two countries is blurred by a comprehensive trade agreement, international production chains, and other economic and social ties. On the Mexican side of the border, close to 3,000 factories import components and raw materials, workers assemble goods, and most of the finished products are destined for the US.

Is this good for Mexican workers? These export-oriented industries provide nearly two million jobs, a boon for development. But it turns out that these jobs can disappear quickly: the economic health of the US has a large impact on Mexican workers’ employment status, with downturns and booms amplified through a number of channels. Although the US economy is rarely volatile, this is an important finding that could have policy implications around the world. Mexico is similar to the increasing number of countries that have encouraged export-oriented industry as a strategy for development and enacted trade reforms integrating the local economy with the world market.

Evidence That Trade Does Reduce Poverty, But Only If the Conditions Are Right

Raju Jan Singh's picture

Market negotiations. Source: Raju Jan Singh/World Bank.While most economists accept that, in the long run, open economies fare better in aggregate than do closed ones, many observers fear that trade harms the poor. African countries, for example, have experienced significant improvements in trade liberalization in recent decades. But Africa remains the poorest continent in the world. It seems that the large gains expected from opening up to international economic forces have been limited in Africa, especially for poor people.

So does trade reduce poverty? In a recent World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, my colleague Maëlan Le Goff and I examine this question, looking at the connection between poverty and trade liberalization in 30 African countries between 1981 and 2000. Our results suggest that trade does tend to reduce poverty, but only in specific settings: in countries where financial sectors are deep, education levels high, and governance strong.

More Than the Sum of Its Parts: Why Logistics Matter for Your Kindle

Ben Shepherd's picture

Electronics Factory. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/poorlenz/22590873/sizes/m/in/photostream/Picture a global supply chain. The one that puts together the Amazon Kindle, for example: The flex circuit conductors are made in China, the wireless card is made in South Korea, and the tablet is assembled in Taiwan. The system works because each location specializes in something, whether it is relatively cheap labor, a cluster of machinery, or technical skills. But unlike a product made in a single factory, the Kindle’s components must cross borders.

The ease of crossing those borders – including through seaports or airports – is crucial to the production network. And, as it happens, fluidity is more important to trade in components than trade in final products. This makes sense, logically – it is easy to see how a whole holiday season’s worth of Kindles could be held up if the flex circuit conductors or wireless cards don’t get to Taiwan on time.

Why Is Trade More Costly For Poor Countries? A New Database Gives Us Some Answers

Jean-François Arvis's picture

Airplanes on a runway. Source: World Bank.It is far more expensive for Tunisia to trade manufactured goods with its next-door neighbor, Algeria, than to trade them with distant France. Similarly, the cost of trading agricultural goods between neighbors Algeria and Morocco is more than twice as high as it is between Algeria and Spain. What hinders countries that are so close to each other – and that share common languages and elements of culture – from exchanging goods?

This is one of the questions we sought to answer in developing a new trade costs database, which is a joint project between the World Bank and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). In constructing the database, we were initially motivated by a need to provide understandable estimates of trade costs to clients in North Africa. But the database has broader reach: being able to measure and explain the intensity of trade is of practical importance for many countries and for many aspects of our work at the Bank.