Economists are often considered to be an aesthetically challenged bunch. Yet, as any trade economist will tell you, there is a single visual aid that someone has decided symbolizes all things international trade. To trade economists, this image is inescapable – it seemingly graces every textbook cover, accompanies every policy brief, website, blog post, or article, article, article, or article. There is even award-winning scholarship about it.
The image, of course, is of stacked cargo shipping containers.
The World Region
By now the ink has dried on the hard-fought achievement of the 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) last weekend in Bali, Indonesia. The landmark agreement – the first since the establishment of the WTO in 1995 – consists of three components: trade facilitation, some agricultural topics, and issues of importance to least developed countries.
Beyond the substance, the agreement comes at an important moment. Just at the point when many feared that momentum was shifting toward bilateral agreements and “mega-regional” trade agreements and away from the WTO, members managed to reach agreement at the multilateral level. This is especially important for the small and least developed countries that rely most heavily on the multilateral system to have an equal voice, secure market access, and effectively integrate into the global economy. While trade ministers, the WTO Secretariat, and its Director General deserve credit for the outcome and probably a much-needed rest, attention must now turn toward developing a concerted and well-coordinated effort to ensure successful implementation.
Editor's Note: This blog draws on the forthcoming article “New Trade Regionalism in Asia: Looking Past the Sino-American Great Game," written by Swarnim Wagle, to be published in the Global Emerging Voices 2013 Working Papers.
Negotiations over one of history’s most ambitious trade deals have taken another step towards defining the future of Trans-Pacific trade.
The latest round of discussions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) wrapped up this past weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah. Negotiators are believed to have made headway on a number of thorny issues, clearing the way for ministerial talks to be held in Singapore, Dec. 7-10.
The TPP will draw together 12 countries dotting the perimeter of the Pacific—Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. But it’s the United States’ efforts to spearhead the talks that have attracted the most attention. Concerns over a lack of transparency and the intrusive scope of the agreements’ provisions into national policymaking have led many to question its objective.
- Brunei Darussalam
- New Zealand
- United States
- East Asia and Pacific
- Europe and Central Asia
- Latin America & Caribbean
- The World Region
- Global Economy
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Law and Regulation
- TTIP. Trans-Pacific Partnership
- Agricultural Subsidies
- Free Trade
Concerns over climate change took center stage at this year’s World Bank annual meetings. The message was clear: there doesn’t have to be a tradeoff between economic growth and a cleaner, healthier environment.
“We can make the right choice and still see robust growth,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said during the opening panel discussion, October 8.
With the next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference set to get underway in Warsaw in just a few weeks, Kim and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde have now clearly laid out the economic case for shifting development strategy into a greener gear.
About "Notes From the Field": With this occasional feature, we let World Bank professionals who are 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 Ian Gillson, a Senior Trade Economist in the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) network. Before coming to the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., Mr. Gillson worked in Malawi and the United Kingdom on issues surrounding preferential trade between developed and developing countries, trade-related taxation systems, trade in services and agricultural trade. He spoke with us about his work managing a World Bank trust fund that supports trade-related assistance to poor countries around the globe.
Many countries use trade policy to protect their own consumers from spikes in international food prices. It turns out that this well-intentioned practice can actually do more harm than good. During food price spikes -- such as those in mid-2008, early 2011 and mid-2012 – governments restricted the export of food staples or lowered barriers to importing them. They hoped to keep their domestic prices of rice, wheat, maize, and oilseed low, reasoning that this would help their poor and stop people from falling into poverty. But there is new evidence that, while the practice kept each country’s domestic prices down relative to the world prices at the time, it contributed to the higher international prices that were the source of concern. In a World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, “Food Price Spikes, Price Insulation, and Poverty,” we explore this phenomenon and find that it did not reduce global poverty in 2008. On the contrary, we estimate it may have increased poverty slightly (by 8 million people).
During this week’s World Trade Organization (WTO) Global Review of Aid for Trade in Geneva, almost all of the participants made a strong plea for concluding the Trade Facilitation Agreement. Developing countries shared the gains their economies have achieved by improving border procedures and updating antiquated customs rules. Senior representatives from 27 developed countries and international development organizations signed a high-level Joint Statement that reiterated their commitment to providing financial and technical support for trade facilitation-related assistance to developing countries. Speaker after speaker quoted the extensive, recent research that clearly demonstrates the large potential gains to developing countries from sound investments in trade facilitation. As we heard, diminishing the barriers that impose high trade costs and long delays on traders will result in increased bilateral trade, greater export diversification, enhanced foreign investment and improved national competitiveness.
If everyone is singing from the same song sheet, why has this harmonious chorus not produced a final text that could be agreed upon by all WTO member states?
In many parts of the world, border-crossings are more than just an annoyance for women traders. Women can be subject to physical and sexual abuse from border officials, or charged illegal fees because they cannot read a receipt. Yet women traders are vital to some of the poorest economies in the world.
In addition to – and perhaps related to – the heightened risks women take in cross-border trade, they are underrepresented in the institutions that manage those borders. Men dominate the ranks of customs officials around the globe. One recent count estimated just 45 women in leadership positions in customs administration worldwide.
The World Customs Organization (WCO) is trying to change that statistic. On July 1, the WCO, with support from the World Bank, will hold a conference in Brussels to stimulate a conversation about women in customs - about their empowerment through both trade and public administration. Called the Women in Customs, Trade and Leadership Conference, the day-long agenda will address the hurdles faced by women in a wide range of roles, from informal traders to customs officials.
Consider an image: hubs and spokes sprawling across a map. At the Bank, we work in many fields that could be portrayed this way – finance, trade, transportation, infrastructure or urban and regional development. The position of a country, a city or a bank in its network is vital to explaining its individual economic performance. The property of the network as a whole is also important to understanding the resilience of the system and its parts to shocks or contagion effects.
In May, the Bank’s Trade Department and the IMF’s research department brought together, for the first time, a group of experts on various types of networks. The objective was to find out what the "science of networks" can tell us about the practice of international and development economics. The group included network planners from the private sectors, regulators, economists and physicists.
A large increase in crude oil prices stands out among numerous factors to explain most of the jump in food prices over the last decade. Indeed, as we found in a recent World Bank study, oil prices were more important to food prices than several other long-term price drivers, including exchange rates, interest rates and income. This finding has important implications for policy and for governments hoping to mitigate the negative effects of food price swings.
Initially, the post-2004 commodity price increases bore resemblance to the temporary increases of the 1950s (Korean War) and the 1970s (oil crisis). But it is becoming clear that the current situation has a more permanent character. Most commodity prices are now two or three times higher than they were a decade ago. Indeed, nominal prices of energy, fertilizers, and precious metals tripled between the two time periods we compared (1997-2004 and 2005-2007). Metal prices went up by more than 150 percent in that time, and most food prices doubled.