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.
On the northern tip of Lake Kivu, where eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) meets Rwanda, the pedestrian border crossing connecting the lush town of Gisenyi, Rwanda and the frenetic city of Goma in the DRC is called ‘’Petite Barrière’’. The name is misleading: the ‘’barrière’’ is in fact large and crowded, and features one of the highest daily flows of traders in Africa; between 20,000 and 30,000 traders cross it every day. For them, as for many others in the region, cross-border trade is a critical source of income.
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This week, I will be joining a panel of women in trade at the World Trade Organization’s Public Forum in Geneva, Switzerland. Along with Lilianne Ploumen, Trade Minister from the Netherlands; Yuejiao Zhang of China’s International Trade and Economic Arbitration Commission; former United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab; and Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs; we will be discussing how to make trade work more inclusively. For me, the focus will be how to make trade work more inclusively for the poor living in developing countries.
With the growing importance of global value chains as a conduit for trade integration, much of the recent empirical analysis and other literature has focused on the impacts of non-tariff barriers, behind-the-border measures, and other transaction costs. Traditional barriers, tariffs in particular, have generally been dismissed as less disruptive to trade and, therefore, have fallen out of the policy debate. However, evidence is surfacing from developing countries that import taxes are on the rise, increasing protection, and their disruptive tendencies are often disguised. Along with the rising tendency to subsidize domestic industries, these additional taxes tend to further augment the inherent anti-export bias, which can be particularly detrimental to trade-led development strategies and policies in developing countries.
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.
This week the World Bank Group, the largest multilateral provider of aid for trade, is participating in the World Trade Organization’s 5th Aid for Trade Global Review. Every two years, the Global Review brings together participants in global trade from all over the world, including trade ministers, the heads of international development institutions, the private sector and civil society. We will be focused on the role of trade in helping achieve the Bank Group’s Twin Goals: ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
The role of trade in ending poverty is the subject of a new WTO-World Bank Group publication being launched on 30 June, the first day of the Review. The report argues that to achieve the end of poverty by 2030, more needs to be done to connect the nearly one billion people who remain in extreme poverty to trade opportunities. On 30 June the report will be available online, along with further details about the agenda it sets out for maximizing the gains of trade for the poorest.
A critical part of this effort, and the theme of this year’s Aid for Trade meeting, is the importance of reducing the costs of trade. The Bank Group is publishing new analysis at the review, using a database we have developed with UNESCAP, which illustrates how the costs of getting goods to overseas markets are significantly higher for developing countries. For example, low income countries face costs that are on average three times higher than for advanced economies. Landlocked countries and small islands also face particularly high trade costs. The reasons vary, but include poor road networks, weak logistics, inadequate port facilities, antiquated customs procedures, corruption at border crossings, and outdated legal and regulatory structures. Lowering these trade costs makes firms in developing countries more competitive, allowing them to benefit more from trade opportunities. Implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement will help, and will be an important focus for us at the Review, but the greatest impact will be achieved by comprehensive strategies to tackle these wide-ranging sources of trade costs.
Which regions trade more amongst themselves? What are the top products being exported or imported? Who are the top exporting and importing countries in a particular region?
Here is a visual representation of regional trade in South Asia in WITS that can help quickly unpack some of these questions as they relate to the region.
After the jump, we break down these numbers and show how you can explore the viz.
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.