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Middle East and North Africa

Does Your Country Export What It Should?

Siddhesh Kaushik's picture

Customs reforms have made trade easier in Georgia. Photo - Irakli Tabagari / World Bank.One of the core principles of trade economics is that of “comparative advantage.” First described by David Ricardo, the theory says that countries are best off if they specialize in products that they can make relatively more efficiently – with lower opportunity cost – than other countries. If this happens, the theory goes, global welfare will increase. This concept is more difficult than it sounds, however – as Paul Krugman has pointed out quite eloquently – and benefits from illustration.

Basketball genius Michael Jordan stars in one example sometimes used in textbooks and classrooms: If Jordan mows his lawn faster than anyone else in the neighborhood, he has an absolute advantage in lawn mowing. But that doesn’t mean that he should mow his neighbor John Smith’s lawn, because that would come at an opportunity cost: in the same two hours it would take Jordan to cut the grass, he could earn much more by playing basketball or making a commercial.

While it is difficult to measure comparative advantage in world trade, one indicator is something called “Revealed Comparative Advantage” (RCA). This is a measure of how a country’s exports compare to those of a bigger group, such as a region or the rest of the world. For example, if a country’s RCA in wheat is high (typically greater than one), that means wheat makes up a higher share of that country’s total exports than it does of the world’s exports. This suggests that that country is a more efficient wheat-producer than the average country.

But countries don’t always produce the products in which they have a revealed comparative advantage. Sometimes Michael Jordan mows the lawn. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples from this new data visualization tool.

What Will the Trade Facilitation Agreement Mean for the Aid for Trade Agenda? New e-Book Provides Answers

Jaime de Melo's picture

The world’s 45 Least Developed Countries that are not oil producers (non-oil LDCs) are exporting less and less in the global market place. Between 1985 and 2012, the world market share of non-oil LDCs’ exports of goods and services fell from 1.2 percent to 0.8 percent—all while their share in world population rose from 7.5 percent to 9.9 percent.

The 2005 Aid for Trade (AFT) initiative was designed to arrest this decline. Yet, LDCs’ trade costs continue to fall less rapidly than those of their competitors.

Clearly, it’s time to re-evaluate the AFT initiative.

A new e-book does just that, and, contrary to what some may think, concludes that the initiative has been beneficial. But due to a collective failure to clearly articulate its results, the achievements of the AFT initiative are now at risk as development budgets come under increasing pressure.

Video: Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy

Miles McKenna's picture
World Bank trade economist Massimiliano Calì recently broke down how conflict, the destruction of capital, and restrictions can lead fragile states into large trade deficits and aid dependence. He called it "The Fragile Country Tale." The video below illustrates this tale in Area C of the Palestinian West Bank, and shows us how things could be different. Check it out...
 
Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy

How Much Cement Do I Export? And Other Weighty Questions

Amir Fouad's picture

WITS is how World Bank economists and users like you can answer tough questions on trade.For client countries of the World Bank, there is no shortage of interest in—or desire for—information on trade flows and market access. Improving trade performance is a critical component of many client countries’ development strategies, and trade data hold the key to understanding how countries are faring in the quest to eliminate trade barriers, increase competitiveness, and turn improved market access into actual trade flows.

But the trade data arena is large and complex, full of topical jargon, different nomenclatures and coding systems, availability constraints, and potentially complicated indicators. For newcomers, trade data navigation can be particularly challenging, which belies the immense value and richness in the wealth of information that has become available and accessible over the past few years.

Enter the World Integrated Trade Solution, or WITS.

A Fragile Country Tale: Restrictions, Trade Deficits, and Aid Dependence

Massimiliano Calì's picture

 Masaru Goto, World BankPart of the World Bank’s new vision is to step up its efforts to help fragile and conflict-afflicted states break the vicious cycle of poverty. But this is no easy task.
 
The destruction of productive assets and the restrictions on the capacity to produce are among the most severe economic impacts of conflicts and fragility. These effects explain why countries in conflict or emerging out of conflict typically have very large trade deficits. The productive sector is often particularly weak by international standards, so exports are low and domestic consumption has to rely on imports. Indeed, five of the ten countries with the largest trade deficit in the world (Timor-Leste, Liberia, the Palestinian territories, Kosovo and Haiti) are considered fragile by the World Bank and other regional development banks (figure 1).
 

Smuggling Adds to Tunisia's Budget Woes

Gael Raballand's picture

The political situation in Tunisia is still volatile, as protests and riots continue to break out across the country. Source- Arne Hoel, World BankRiots broke out across Tunisia last weekend, as citizens reacted to the government’s latest efforts to trim its budget deficit. Officials are struggling to cut spending and increase revenues, all while responding to the demands of a citizenry increasingly dissatisfied with high unemployment and continued inflation.

The economy grew by close to 3 percent last year, but it has not been enough to create new jobs. Making matters worse, many manufacturers and business owners have been forced to lay off workers in response, they say, to a rise in informal trade and “unfair competition”.

A big issue for the business community, informal trade has been equally as troublesome for the cash-strapped transitional government. According to recent World Bank research, the Tunisian government is losing a significant amount of public revenues-- duties, value-added tax and other taxes-- from informal trade along the Libyan and Algerian borders.
 

Notes From the Field: Taking On Politics, Shifting Paradigms

Miles McKenna's picture

Editor's Note: "Notes From the Field" is an occasional feature where we let World Bank professionals conducting interesting trade-related projects around the globe explain some of the challenges and triumphs of their day-to-day work. The views expressed here are personal and should not be attributed to the World Bank. All interviews have been edited for clarity.

The interview below was conducted with Manjula Luthria, a Senior Economist in the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regional division of the Human Development Network. Ms. Luthria's work focuses migration, labor mobility, and social protection. She spoke with us about her early experiences as a country economist for the Pacific Islands region, and how lessons learned there have come to inform the programs and projects her unit works on today.
 

West Bank Check-Points Damage Economy, Illustrate High Cost of Trade Barriers

Massimiliano Calì's picture

Qalandia Check-point. Source - www.flickr.com/photos/37276375@N08/4910258986/in/photolist-8tUmVG-8unY9k-7YfgzGConflict is a major cause of poverty in the developing world today. In addition to endangering lives, conflict disrupts the functioning of an economy in many ways. It destroys infrastructure, prevents children from going to school, and closes factories. A little-studied economic impact is conflict’s tendency to restrict the mobility of goods and labor within and across borders. These restrictions are caused both by insecurity associated with the conflict and by explicit barriers that constrain the mobility of people and goods. Our recent World Bank study measures the harm such barriers have caused the economy of the West Bank by limiting mobility in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Women's Untapped Potential: Examining Gender Dynamics in Global Trade

Cornelia Staritz's picture

A woman inspects her broccoli crop in Honduras. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/feedthefuture/6942506316/Maria knows she is good at selecting ripe tomatoes, but she doesn’t know any women who own nurseries like the one where she works in Honduras. Susan does housekeeping for a hotel in Kenya, but there is little chance that she would ever lead a safari. Salma, at a call center in Egypt, can calm down angry customers, but she has never seen a female manager in her office.

Global value chains (GVCs) are essential to modern trade, and women’s labor is essential to many products and services that are traded across countries. But many limitations hold women back from participating more fully and equally to men in this important and growing global labor force, as we show in a collaborative project by the International Trade Department and the Gender Division at the World Bank. Though the names above are fictional, the situations are representative of what we found in case studies in the horticulture sector in Honduras, the tourism sector in Kenya and the call center sector in the Arab Republic of Egypt.