East Asia and Pacific
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious effort to deepen regional cooperation and improve connectivity on a trans-continental scale. While the scope of the initiative is still taking shape, the BRI consists primarily of the Silk Road Economic Belt, linking China to Central and South Asia and onwards to Europe, and the New Maritime Silk Road, linking China to the nations of South East Asia, the Gulf Countries, North Africa, and on to Europe. Six other economic corridors have been identified to link other countries to the Belt and the Road.
As a small, land-locked, and commodity-dependent country in a fast-expanding region, Lao PDR’s growth prospects are directly linked to its ability to integrate with the global economy. This is why the government has been prioritizing economic integration with both the Southeast Asia region and the multilateral rules-based trading system. In 2010, Lao PDR became signatory to the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA), acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2013, and ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2015.
In a recent study, we provide a comparative overview of the landscape of Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) affecting imports in Lao PDR, and identify lingering regulatory hurdles that hamper its ability to reap the gains of deeper integration with the global economy. Our findings reveal that while the existing NTM framework is broadly in line with regional practices (figure 1), Ultimately, the system of quantitative controls applied by Lao PDR is equivalent to an ad-valorem tariff of 5.4%, which is well above regional and world averages.
There are three main problems associated with the procedures for obtaining import licenses in Lao PDR:
Consumers around the world increasingly demand products and services that are simultaneously good for the economy, for the environment, and for society—the triple bottom line of sustainable growth. This rising demand is creating new pathways for businesses and governments to drive change for global good.
Global value chains represent one of the key ways the World Bank Group approaches these new opportunities. By better understanding GVCs, low-income countries can become participants in increasingly fragmented international production processes. GVCs thus offer tremendous potential to better connect the poor to the global economy and its benefits—more and better jobs, higher wages, improved labor conditions, and lower environmental impact.
That’s why we have been developing a new approach that brings the best of the Bank Group together to help low income countries connect to and upgrade within GVCs. Helping firms in developing countries meet the standards of global buyers and lead firms is a part of this effort, because in today’s sophisticated and highly mobile economy, meeting global standards is no longer optional—it’s a necessary condition for being competitive.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has been getting a great deal of attention since it was finalized at the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference– and rightly so. As we’ve written before on this blog, trade facilitation is a powerful driver of increased competitiveness and trade performance in developing countries.
But last month, the spotlight at the WTO was on another important decision from Bali—how to maximize the impact of a waiver to support exports of services from Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
At a meeting on February 5, around 30 WTO Members, covering most major export markets for LDCs, set out in concrete terms what preferences they could provide. The preferences cover a wide range of services and modes of supply, as well as regulatory issues that LDCs have identified in a “collective request” to other WTO Members.
For older generations of Lao citizens, the streets of Vientiane must be nothing short of unrecognizable. Over the past fifteen years, Lao PDR and its capital have enjoyed strong economic growth on the heels of a natural resources boom and closer regional integration. The result has been an undeniable if only gradual trend toward modernity for a country once completely shielded off from the outside world. With some of the world’s fastest growing economies right in its backyard, Lao PDR has benefited significantly from external demand for tradable goods and services and increased foreign direct investment inflows. Cooperation and coordination with development partners has intensified, leading to progressive efforts to reform and increase openness. What’s more, strong growth in real GDP (averaging over 7 percent throughout the two decades to 2014) has been accompanied by a reduction in poverty from 46 percent of the population in the early nineties to 23 percent in 2013.
A well-established correlation in trade economics is the connection between gross domestic product (GDP) and openness to trade: as countries become wealthier, they tend to trade more as a percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP). The correlation is complex and not fully understood. As the authors of the World Bank’s Trade Competitiveness Diagnostic put it: “This relationship runs in both directions: the richer countries become the more they tend to trade; more importantly, countries that are most open to trade grow richer more quickly.”
We welcome 2015 confronting an all-too-familiar reality: there are still people in the world without access to sufficient and nutritional food. One in eight people go hungry every day, according to the United Nations, including an estimated one in six children under the age of five who is underweight. The situation is especially dire for those living in extreme poverty, whose inadequate access to technology, land, water, and other agricultural inputs routinely imperils their ability to produce or secure food for themselves and their families, especially as world food prices have risen in recent years.
On a scale of one to something-must-be-done-now, tackling this problem and ensuring food security remains among the most pressing development issues of our time. The good news is the first Millennium Development Goal to eradicate world hunger is achievable—and the target to halve it by the end of this year is close to being met. But governments have too often failed to meet their obligation to nurture an enabling environment for food security, and in some cases have actually made it worse.
Trade policy can be a proactive—rather than a reactive—tool in helping to ensure greater food security, a theme expounded in our recent publication entitled Trade Policy and Food Security: Improving Access to Food in Developing Countries in the Wake of High World Prices. Although world food prices have risen in real terms in recent years after three decades of decline, there is no global shortage of food. The problem is one of moving food, often across borders, from areas with a production surplus to those with a deficit, at prices that low-income consumers in developing countries can afford.