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.
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 interview below is with Pablo Fajnzylber, who recently became sector Manager for the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) network in East Africa. The interview took place while Mr. Fajnzylber was Lead Economist and Sector Leader for PREM in Brazil. Prior to that, he worked at the Chief Economist’s Office for the Latin America and Caribbean region, the Finance and Private Sector Development Department for the same region and the Bank’s Development Economics Research Group. Mr. Fajnzylber has published extensively on a variety of development topics, including various books and articles in professional journals on issues related to growth, international trade, informality, crime, workers’ remittances, private sector development and climate change.
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.
The world is increasingly interconnected, and nowhere is a better example of that than the border between Mexico and the US. Lined with factories, the division between the two countries is blurred by a comprehensive trade agreement, international production chains, and other economic and social ties. On the Mexican side of the border, close to 3,000 factories import components and raw materials, workers assemble goods, and most of the finished products are destined for the US.
Is this good for Mexican workers? These export-oriented industries provide nearly two million jobs, a boon for development. But it turns out that these jobs can disappear quickly: the economic health of the US has a large impact on Mexican workers’ employment status, with downturns and booms amplified through a number of channels. Although the US economy is rarely volatile, this is an important finding that could have policy implications around the world. Mexico is similar to the increasing number of countries that have encouraged export-oriented industry as a strategy for development and enacted trade reforms integrating the local economy with the world market.
While most economists accept that, in the long run, open economies fare better in aggregate than do closed ones, many observers fear that trade harms the poor. African countries, for example, have experienced significant improvements in trade liberalization in recent decades. But Africa remains the poorest continent in the world. It seems that the large gains expected from opening up to international economic forces have been limited in Africa, especially for poor people.
So does trade reduce poverty? In a recent World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, my colleague Maëlan Le Goff and I examine this question, looking at the connection between poverty and trade liberalization in 30 African countries between 1981 and 2000. Our results suggest that trade does tend to reduce poverty, but only in specific settings: in countries where financial sectors are deep, education levels high, and governance strong.
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.
It is far more expensive for Tunisia to trade manufactured goods with its next-door neighbor, Algeria, than to trade them with distant France. Similarly, the cost of trading agricultural goods between neighbors Algeria and Morocco is more than twice as high as it is between Algeria and Spain. What hinders countries that are so close to each other – and that share common languages and elements of culture – from exchanging goods?
This is one of the questions we sought to answer in developing a new trade costs database, which is a joint project between the World Bank and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). In constructing the database, we were initially motivated by a need to provide understandable estimates of trade costs to clients in North Africa. But the database has broader reach: being able to measure and explain the intensity of trade is of practical importance for many countries and for many aspects of our work at the Bank.
Despite being a small, poor, landlocked country, Lesotho leveraged foreign direct investment (FDI) to become Africa’s largest apparel-exporting country, generating upwards of 50,000 jobs for its citizens. Neighboring Swaziland has also relied on foreign investors as the main source of exports, growth, and employment in its economy. Around the world, governments put significant resources into attracting foreign investors –through investment promotion, offering fiscal incentives, and establishing special economic zones, for example – in the hope of catalyzing their economies. And it’s not a bad strategy – FDI can bring significant benefits to developing country economies. It can generate employment, contribute to a country’s infrastructure and potentially bring in additional tax revenues.
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.