The breakup of the former Soviet Union left more than a dozen newly independent states in its wake. What were the top priorities for these newly-minted governments? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of them got things started by becoming members of existing international organizations and acceding to international multilateral legal instruments, both rites of passage as symbolic as they are pragmatic for any new country. But they also got quickly to work establishing dozens of bilateral road transport agreements (BRTAs) with other nations. BRTAs, it turns out, form the bedrock of many countries’ transport and trade integration strategies, and they are the first type of agreement concluded in any initiation of foreign trade relations. In other words, when it comes to trade, it all starts with road freight transport.
The World Region
Countries that want to use preferential trade agreements to boost trade with Africa should re-examine the rules of engagement. New evidence shows that certain rules underlying preferential trade agreements are drastically hindering their intended benefits. In fact, in a World Bank Policy Research Paper and an article forthcoming in The World Bank Economic Review, we find that relaxing those definitions could increase the agreements’ benefits by four times more than just removing tariffs.
In February, the United Nations named 2013 the Year of Quinoa and made the president of Bolivia and the first lady of Peru special ambassadors to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The World Bank joined in with a kick-off event and celebration of Bank-funded work that is helping Bolivian quinoa farmers bring their product to market. The focus on this nutritious “super-food,” which is grown mainly in the Andean highlands, is an effort to decrease hunger and malnutrition around the world.
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa) has long had good-for-you credentials. In 1993, a NASA technical report named it a great food to take into space. (“While no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other in the plant or animal kingdom.”) The pseudo-grain –which is more closely related to beets and spinach than to wheat or corn – has been promoted in recipes distributed by the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the American Institute for Cancer Research. In fact, quinoa already has done quite well on the world stage. Global import demand has increased 18-fold in the last decade, mainly due to consumption in Europe, Canada, and the U.S.
Governments and policy makers often look to small and medium-sized enterprises to drive growth in developing economies. These SMEs are held up as incubators of creativity and entrepreneurship, pushing the market to change, expand, and better meet consumer needs. But perhaps SMEs aren’t the only category to applaud. Research has shown that certain firms, regardless of their size, create jobs, export goods, and generally grow faster than others. We think these are the firms to watch.
To explain, we use an animal analogy developed by David Birch. Birch classified firms into “mice,” small firms that tend to stay small; “elephants,” large firms that do not grow rapidly; and “gazelles,” firms that both grow rapidly and account for a large share of employment or revenue growth. These gazelling firms are key to nascent, growing economies. As Caroline Freund and Martha Denisse Peirola show in Export Superstars, a World Bank Research Policy Paper, it is often a few big firms that account for the lion’s share of national exports. Not only are these few good firms responsible for the largest growth in exports, they also contribute most of the export diversification. In fact, countries’ relative comparative advantage is defined by these large, well-performing firms.
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.
Value chains are an ever more prominent feature of global commerce, with goods being processed – and value being added – in multiple countries that are part of the chain. No longer is trade as simple as manufacturing in one country and selling in another. Rather, goods often cross many borders, undergoing processing and accruing components in diverse settings before ending up in a retail store. A new database developed by the OECD and WTO provides greater clarity into value-added trade trends. Looking at the world through a “value-added” lens challenges our conventional thinking about trade policy, and in particular, the focus of where policy makers should be spending their efforts. This new perspective makes clear that to truly benefit from the dynamism of value chains, governments will need to cooperate in new ways -- with each other and with members of the private sector.
A company importing desktop computers into Russia expects border processing times of up to six weeks. Chinese customs authorities take so long inspecting drug shipments that a global healthcare company must hold nine days’ worth of inventory. Concerned about the prevalence of theft, a cell phone manufacturer must provide a security detail for overland shipments in Mexico.
These are examples of the supply chain barriers that, as a whole, are more detrimental to world trade than tariffs, according to a new report, Enabling Trade: Valuing Growth Opportunities, released today at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The study, a collaborative effort between Bain & Co., the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, concludes that a concerted effort to reduce supply chain barriers to levels observed in the best performing countries could increase global GDP by some 4.7 percent – six times more than what could be achieved from eradicating all remaining import tariffs.
Chile has long been known as a superstar in liberalization reforms and innovative export-led growth strategies. The country successfully exports tourism and transportation services. But these successes are, in some ways, yesterday’s news. The country’s performance in more modern service exports – internet and communications technology, business process outsourcing and others – has been less remarkable. Chile is no India.
What does this mean for a country that has famously followed sound economic policies? Is the government doing something wrong? Is the country stuck? A look at the way services data is interpreted may provide a different answer. Perhaps Chile’s reputation is simply a victim of statistical inaccuracies.
Africa’s infrastructure deficit is no secret. Several recent studies by the World Bank and others have confirmed that across the continent, roads are inadequate, railways in poor condition and waterways limited. While the problems are most obvious at the national level, they are more acute along routes connecting countries. Lack of resources contributes to the patchy state of infrastructure connectivity between African countries. But it is not the only hurdle. A key question is: given limited resources, how should infrastructure be planned, prioritized and financed?
Sixteen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are landlocked. To trade goods in overseas markets, they must cooperate with their coastal neighbors, working together to plan roads, transport goods to port and keep borders open. This is harder than it sounds. While numerous regional organizations exist to coordinate infrastructure planning in Africa, in practice they are made up of representatives with interests rooted in their own countries. Decisions by these bodies are often political and driven by members’ desire to see projects in their home territories.
A troubling phenomenon is occurring in large, emerging economies: the gates are closing. Governments, skittish about global economic trends, are introducing new policies to limit imports and exports. The aim is to protect domestic industry in tough times, but the tools they are using threaten to make their economic problems worse.
A December World Bank analysis documents a trend of creeping protectionism in countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Indonesia – all countries with burgeoning industry. Instead of tariffs, other, more indirect policies are being used to hinder free commerce between countries. The Bank analysis, based on World Trade Organization (WTO) monitoring reports and data from the Global Trade Alert, a network of think tanks around the globe, found that the number of non-tariff measures (NTMs) –including quotas, import licensing requirements and discriminatory government procurement rules –showed an increasing trend in the first two years post-2008, and rose sharply in 2011. India, China, Indonesia, Argentina, Russia and Brazil together accounted for almost half of all the new NTMs imposed by countries world-wide.