Photo by Marcus Bartley Johns
It might not have made the leading global headlines but, three weeks ago, there was a significant new development in global governance of trade and foreign investment. In Beijing, China convened the first meeting of a new working group in the G20 to pursue initiatives in these areas: the G20 Trade and Investment Working Group (TIWG). Over two days, officials from G20 members and invited governments, along with the World Bank Group and other international organizations, discussed the future direction of trade and investment in the G20.
This is a promising step. There is no doubt that the G20 can have an impact in this area. The G20 accounts for three-quarters of world trade; half of global inward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and two-thirds of global outward FDI; and 80 percent of global output. Actions taken by the G20 also have a clear impact on developing countries outside the G20, with around 70 percent of non-G20 developing-country imports coming from the G20 countries, and around 80 percent of those countries’ exports directed to the G20.
However, the G20 has yet to deliver its full potential on trade and investment.
In the wake of the financial crisis and the elevation of the G20 to a leaders-level forum, the group emphasized immediate post-crisis recovery, as well as such pressing issues as financial regulation and macroeconomic stability. Attention has since shifted to the need to restore growth in a still-weak global economy, defining the achievement of “strong, sustainable and balanced growth” as a key priority for the G20.
As the global economy struggles to emerge from its chronic slow-growth stall, policymakers are increasingly focused on an energetic opportunity to help jump-start economic growth: the adoption of the landmark Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) that is now nearing ratification and implementation. By helping reduce trade costs and by helping enhance customs and border agency cooperation, a recent WTO report has found, the successful implementation of the TFA’s provisions could boost developing-country exports by between $170 billion and $730 billion per year. The OECD has calculated that the implementation of the TFA could reduce worldwide trade costs by between 12.5 percent and 17.5 percent.
Buoying the spirits of those who hailed the broad support for TFA at December’s ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Nairobi, 68 countries have already ratified the agreement. The number of county-by-country ratifications is fast approaching the total of 107 required for the TFA to go into effect. Adopted in December 2013 at the WTO’s conference in Bali, the TFA is the WTO’s first-ever multilateral accord, having won approval from all 162 WTO member nations. The agreement contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods traveling across borders. It also sets out measures to promote cooperation among customs and border authorities on customs compliance issues.
A recent seminar at the World Bank Group – convened by the Trade Facilitation Support Program (TFSP) of the Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C) – explored the provisions of the TFA and learned of the increasingly active role of the private sector in supporting the TFA’s enactment. Awareness and momentum are building as a new coalition of private-sector firms – the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation – mobilizes business support for TFA’s effort to speed and strengthen cross-border commerce. As the seminar heard from Norm Schenk, who serves as the chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) Commission on Customs and Trade Facilitation, members of the alliance plan to meet in Washington this week to explore strategies for promoting the TFA’s adoption.
In Jordan, for example, the use of ICT and digital technologies affects firms’ export performance across multiple dimensions (figure 1) – share of exports, sales, market share and survival. This trend can be seen in other developing countries as well, including Chile, India, Indonesia, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and Ukraine.
Yet, as the 2016 World Development Report Digital Dividends highlights, despite the many individual success stories and the rapid spread of digital technologies, aggregate effects on development, growth, jobs, and services of low-income developing countries (LIDCs) is lagging. The lack of ICT capacity and access is often most evident in limiting the opportunities of small- and medium-enterprises (SMEs), as illustrated in the World Bank-OECD report Inclusive GVCs.
Let’s start with the basics. What is a trade tariff? It’s a customs duty, or tax, on imported merchandise. For example, if a store owner is importing shoes, a tariff collected by her government might add to the price she has to pay for them. There has been a global effort to reduce tariffs around the world because they make goods more expensive for firms and consumers alike. Lowering tariffs was a major objective of the Uruguay round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization. But in certain circumstances, some governments consider tariffs helpful as a policy tool – they raise revenues and protect local industry from foreign competition (in the shoe example, a locally produced shoe might be cheaper than the imported one with a tariff).
While we’ve used a simple example, tariffs can be quite complex. There are three main types of tariff and they can be queried in UNCTAD TRAINS available through World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS). The three types of tariff are Most Favored Nation (MFN), Preferential and Bound Tariff.
The successful conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations has generated a lot of interest. While much of the discussion has focused on what the mega-regional trade agreement – the largest in a generation – means for environmental or labor standards, equally important are the regulatory standards on agricultural and food products known as Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, which are addressed in Chapter 7 of the agreement.
But how much do SPS standards really matter for trade?
Countries impose food safety standards for good reason, namely to protect the health of domestic consumers. However, domestic food safety standards often deviate from international ones. From an exporter’s point of view, such standards are likely to be seen as barriers to entry. Producers must modify production processes in order to meet each individual market’s product regulations, which raises the cost of the product for consumers. Economists and policy-makers are hungry for micro-level evidence on the effects of such standards on trade.
New World Bank Group research (Fernandes, Ferro, Wilson 2015) offers a first look at how a specific set of mandatory product standards—in this case, the maximum pesticide residue permitted on unprocessed food—impacts exporters. Novel firm-level data for exporters from 42 developing countries from 2006-2012 were analyzed along with data on pesticide standards for 243 agricultural and food products in 63 importing countries. We found that pesticide standards differ greatly across countries.
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:
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:
A key topic for the G20 this year is what can be done to boost inclusiveness in the global economy. Ministers and officials, with advice from the World Bank Group and others, have been looking into what policies they can adopt to maximize the development prospects of lower income countries outside the G20 (what the Turkish Presidency has termed “low-income developing countries” -LIDCs). A critical area of action is in trade – an area where G20 countries have asked the Bank Group to survey the current situation and provide recommendations.
In our work, we found that the value of LIDC imports and exports has increased substantially over the last decade, but it still represents only between 3 and 4% of world trade (Figure 1). The share of LIDC exports in the global services market is similarly low and has remained stagnant during the last 3 decades. Although there are some exceptions – Vietnam and the Philippines – LIDCs are poorly integrated into global value chains (GVCs) – they constitute only 3% of world imports in parts and components.
G20 countries are the main trading partners of LIDCs. Around 70% of imports of LIDCs come from the G20 and around 80% of LIDC exports are directed to the G20. Trade costs between LIDCs and any G20 country, however, are systematically higher than the trade costs between G20 countries or other non-LIDCs and any G20 country (Figure 2).
Naturally, many domestic factors that inhibit the productive capacity of LIDCs contribute to the low connectivity of LIDCs to GVCs and world trade more generally. However, trade policies of G20 members can help low-income developing countries integrate in the world economy. In our analysis for the G20 we reviewed key G20 trade policies and how they could be improved to benefit LIDCs.
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.