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Waiting on a waiver - what the WTO's new services initiative could mean for LDCs

Marcus Bartley Johns's picture

Workers sort, repack, and ship goods in Al Obaied Crop Market, North Kordofan, Sudan. Source - Salahaldeen Nadir/World BankThe 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. 

ECOWAS, CET, and EPA – let’s take the debate to where the action is

Erik von Uexkull's picture

Road near Zaria, Nigeria. Source - pjotter05The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is making some real progress in regional integration. After decade-long negotiations, it has just launched its own Common External Tariff (CET), and now a final proposal for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union is also on the table.

However, vast differences in opinion remain regarding the likely effects of these reforms. In Nigeria—a key player in the region— debate is currently lively as to whether the country should sign the EPA, with some local stakeholders wary of the proposed reduction in trade protection.

Noting these concerns, the World Bank Group recently shed more light on the anatomy of these trade shocks. By analyzing detailed trade and firm data in a simple short-term framework, we were able to pick up details that are important determinants of how the reforms might play out—even in the longer run. The full reports can be found here, along with a non-technical policy note.

So what did we find?

On the cusp of modernity: the Lao private sector at a crossroads

Amir Fouad's picture

A worker at a construction site in Lao PDR.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.

Picture Trade: Getting Richer, Trading More

Jose Daniel Reyes's picture
Openness to Merchandise Trade and GDP per Capita (Average 2010-2012)

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.”

Lessons Learned from Armenia's Open Skies

Daniel Saslavsky's picture
"Flight 2." Source - Ken Douglas


Air transport is an increasingly critical area for trade and trade facilitation. As such, our World Bank trade teams are always searching for global good practice and promising policy results.

This search recently brought us to Armenia, where an “Open Skies” policy has been in place since late 2013. For a country with a long legacy of tight regulations in its commercial aviation market, this new policy signaled a sharp break from tradition.

Although there are no single accepted definitions of Open Skies, it refers to a set of provisions typically agreed on a bilateral basis, that enable each party to set freely the number of flights, carriers, types of aircraft and destinations; but also pricing freedom, as well as establishing the conditions for fair competition and provisions for carriers to engage in commercial cooperation.  

Armenia’ Open Skies policy is particularity important when considering the country’s historically limited connectivity with international markets – partly determined by geography, and partly determined by geopolitical considerations. Besides being landlocked, the country has open land borders with only two of its four neighboring countries.

Better Than Sliced Bread? How Trade Integration Can Boost Food Security

Amir Fouad's picture

Salt-rising bread, sliced. Source - Therese Carle-SandersWe 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.

With a Visit to West Africa, Renewed Commitment to Women Traders

Cecile Fruman's picture

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 World Bank Group.I recently returned from a trip to West Africa during which I crossed the Benin-Nigeria border by car at the Seme border post. While waiting for our passports to go through lengthy controls and stamping, I observed the intense activity of the numerous cars, motorbikes and pedestrians passing through.

Sure enough, most of the women were on foot, and they were the ones who were submitted to the most intense scrutiny. While the men on motorbikes were able to ram their way through by refusing to slow down, the women all had to go through a narrow passage where they were subject to questioning and document requirements. It was quite apparent that women were being asked for bribes that men were able to waive by driving right though! I had been reading about how women are subject to more intense harassment at border crossings – this experience brought this to life very vividly.

It made me thankful for all the work we at the World Bank Group are doing to help women traders on the African continent.

Why It Is Time to Take Action on Agriculture in Turkey

Donald F. Larson's picture

Turkish eggplant. Source - Suzie's FarmTurkey’s bid to join the European Union (EU) may finally be getting “back on track,” according to the bloc’s top official for enlargement. And while that track may still have a number of hurdles to clear, recent research, carried out by the World Bank Group outlines several interim policy measures that could bring the sides closer together while also benefitting the Turkish economy.

Most goods already move freely between the two economies, under the EU-Turkey Customs Union established in 1995. But agriculture, as is often the case, has proved a sticking point and remains outside the Customs Union today.

A set of permanent institutions, established under the 1963 Ankara Agreement, have chipped away at agricultural trade restrictions. These have steadily provided technical support and helped to facilitate quick action when political opportunities have arisen. And today there is still opportunity to take action on agriculture—with or without becoming an EU Member State.

Avoiding the “Harm” in Harmonized Standards for Food Staples in Africa

John Keyser's picture

Preparing vegetables taken from garden, Mongu, Zambia. Source - Felix Clay/DuckrabbitAfrica’s imports of staple foods could more than triple in the next 15 years. Without an increase in crop yields and an improvement in the trade of surplus food from areas with good growing conditions to deficit zones, importing sufficient amounts of staple food could cost the continent upwards of US$150 billion per year by 2030.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. As the World Bank showed in its 2012 report, Africa Can Help Feed Africa, the continent could easily deliver improved food security to its citizens through increased regional trade.

Often the nearest source of inputs or best outlet for farm products is a across a border, yet high costs and unpredictable rules make trade difficult and discourage investments by small farmers in raising productivity and large investments by private companies in input supply and food marketing.

Facilitating regional trade is therefore more important than ever for reducing poverty and meeting Africa’s growing demand for staple foods.

In Trade Facilitation Assistance, Does Country Size Matter?

Jamal Ibrahim Haidar's picture

Border post at the Senegal-Guinea Bissau border. Source - jbdodane/Flickr​Greater attention is now being devoted to trade facilitation measures. The 159 members of the WTO agreed during their December 2013 meeting in Bali on a Trade Facilitation Agreement. And the European Commission, the World Bank, and other donors have just launched the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Support Program (TFSP).
 
The TFSP is to help developing countries reform and modernize their border procedures. Such initiative is important as time delays at customs affect trade. Each additional day that a product is delayed prior to being shipped reduces trade by more than 1%. Put differently, each day is equivalent to a country distancing itself from its trade partners by about 70 km on average.

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