The World Bank Group has often argued that delivering outcomes in WTO negotiations around the core issues of the Doha Round is critically important for developing countries. Let’s take one example: with three-quarters of the world’s extreme poor living in rural areas, fulfilling the Doha Round mandate on agriculture could make a real contribution to the Bank Group’s goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.
But recent news reports on global trade talks suggest that WTO Members are finding it hard to develop a shared vision on key issues and are unlikely to deliver significant progress at the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi from December 15-18. Efforts are being made to produce outcomes on important issues like export competition in agriculture but large gaps remain only one week before the Ministerial Conference.
This continued impasse on the Doha Round is indeed a significant missed opportunity, but should this be cause for despair about the future of global trade governance? We don’t think so. There have been developments in the global trade agenda that are worthy of our attention, which should provide some hope in the lead-up to the Nairobi conference that with political will, it is possible to move forward. Here are five of these developments:
Private Sector Development
We are experiencing a battle of ideas regarding the state of the global economy and prospects for growth. Larry Summers has been leading the group of economists proclaiming that the world entered an era of secular stagnation since the global financial crisis. On the other end, Standard Chartered Bank and other players have been arguing that we are experiencing an economic super cycle—defined as average growth of around 3.5 percent from 2000-2030—due to strong growth in emerging markets and fueled by a global demographic dividend.
There is not even agreement on the factors that drive global growth and development. While parts of the Americas and Asia just concluded the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and recent World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements on trade facilitation and information technology products show progress is possible, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the U.S. and the EU remain highly controversial and the upcoming WTO Ministerial in Nairobi will likely underwhelm.
However, if you look at the facts, the situation is very clear:
Strong trade connectivity can help disaster response and recovery by ensuring that humanitarian relief goods and services get to where they are needed when disaster strikes. Trade policy measures, however, can sometimes have adverse effects. Research led by the World Bank highlights that a common complaint of the humanitarian community is that customs procedures can delay disaster response, leaving life-saving goods stuck at borders. Other measures such as standards conformity procedures, certification processes for medicines, and work permits for humanitarian professionals can slow the delivery of needed relief items. Border closures can exacerbate situations already marked by human tragedy and unlock full-scale economic crises.
This nexus between trade policy and humanitarian response was discussed at an event organized jointly by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the World Bank Group and World Trade Organization at the 5th Global Review of Aid for Trade on June 30 in Geneva. Among the steps suggested to address concerns were rigorous disaster planning; better coordination between humanitarian actors, implementation of the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement and better recognition of the role of services.
Anabel Gonzalez, Senior Director of the the World Bank Group's Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, has published a new blog post on competition policy, "From Tirole to the WBG Twin Goals: Scaling up competition policies to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity." The piece addresses the links between competition policies, economic growth, and household welfare. It also explains how the Global Practice is scaling up support to governments on effective competition policies.
Read more here.
Labor-intensive, light manufacturing industries led the economic transformation of some of the most successful developing countries in the world, including China and Vietnam. In Sub-Saharan Africa, that was simply not the case. The region’s share of the global light manufacturing market has declined to less than one percent since China’s emergence in the 1980s. Nevertheless, a review of recent trends in exports suggests that some East African countries –Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – are making headway in light manufacturing industries.
According to the World Bank Group’s 2011 report, “Light Manufacturing in Africa,” the global trading environment “favors Sub-Saharan Africa if it can overcome key constraints in the most promising subsectors.” Those subsectors include the manufacture of food products and beverages; apparel and the dressing and dyeing of fur; wood and wood products; luggage and the tanning and dressing of leather; and fabricated metal products. Sub-Saharan Africa enjoys low labor costs and abundant resources, as well as preferential trade access to US and EU markets for light manufactures. Despite these advantages, the competitiveness of Africa’s light manufacturing industry continues to be undermined by the costs of importing and exporting intermediate inputs of both goods and services.
Digital entrepreneurs have the potential to connect to global markets like never before. Whether selling physical goods on internet platforms, or providing digital goods and services that can be downloaded and streamed, an entirely new ecosystem of innovative micro and small businesses has emerged in the developing world.
The World Bank Group hosted some of the pioneers in this space for a full-day conference on Harnessing Digital Trade for Competitiveness and Development on May 19. Here, we heard entrepreneurial success stories—an online platform for jewelry in Kenya, a provider of software solutions in Nepal, an online platform for livestock trade in Serbia—and dove into the constraints and challenges of running a digital business in an emerging economy.
The scope of these challenges made these success stories, and the broader potential they represent, even more inspiring. From internet connectivity to logistics, from financial payments to trade regulations, from bankruptcy laws to entrepreneurial and consumer digital literacy-- clearly, more needs to be done to fully harness the potential of digital trade for competitiveness and development and to foster an enabling environment to digital trade.
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.
In the late 1950s, a group of businessmen and politicians on the outskirts of a small town in western Ireland realized their local airport was in jeopardy of losing its international flights. Knowing how important transit passengers and the airlines were to their economy, a proposal for a special industrial area near the airport was submitted and approved, marking the inception of the world’s first modern free trade zone in Shannon, Ireland. Today, the concept has gone global with an estimated 4,300 various types of zones worldwide.
All across the world, we have seen countries exploring and seizing the potential of these industrial zones—often also called industrial parks or special economic zones. In East Asia, you can point to the experiences of China, Singapore, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea and Vietnam. In Central America, we have those of the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Honduras. In the Middle East and North Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan have also created zones. In Sub-Sahara Africa, Mauritius first set up an export processing zone all the way back in the 1970s, and today, countries across the region continue to experiment with modern industrial zone regimes.
The concept of the industrial zone is gaining more acceptance globally. The appeal lies in these zones’ ability to catalyze economic development and structural transformation.
- South-South FDI is seeing important growth. According to OECD stocktaking, the share of South-South FDI in total world FDI has grown from some 3% at the beginning of the century to around 14% in 2009. See the OECD’s Development Co-operation Report 2014.
- South-South FDI has stayed strong even as global FDI has been volatile. Despite a fall in FDI from OECD countries by 57% below 2007 levels in 2012, FDI from developing countries rose by 19 percent, according to the OECD’s Development Co-operation Report 2014.
- South-South mergers can lead to economic upgrading. In 2013, over two-thirds of gross cross-border mergers and acquisitions by Southern multinational enterprises (MNEs) targeted partners in developing and transition countries, and half of these involved foreign affiliates of MNEs from developed countries passing their assets on to MNEs from developing countries, according to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2014.