Syndicate content

doing business

Growth and development: Why openness to trade is necessary but not sufficient

Selina Jackson's picture
Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

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:

The reforms behind the Doing Business rankings

Cecile Fruman's picture

In Mozambique in 2003, it took an entrepreneur 168 days to start a business. Today, it takes only 19 days. That kind of transformation has major implications for ambitious men and women who are seeking to make a mark in business, or, as is often the case in Africa, seeking to move beyond a life in agriculture. In economies with sensible, streamlined regulations, all it takes is a good idea, and a couple of weeks, and an entrepreneur is in business.

This week, the World Bank Group launched its annual Doing Business 2016 report, which benchmarks countries based on their progress undertaking business reforms that make it easier for local businesses to start up and operate.

For the second straight year, Singapore topped the list, with New Zealand, Denmark, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong SAR, China, coming in closely behind.

In the developing world, standouts included Kenya and Costa Rica, both of which rose 21 positions; Mauritius, Sub-Saharan Africa’s top-ranked economy; Kazakhstan, which moved up 12 places to rank 41st among all countries; and Bhutan, which topped South Asia’s list of reformers. In the Middle East and North Africa, 11 of the region’s 20 economies achieved 21 reforms despite the challenges caused by a number of civil and interstate conflicts.
The reforms tracked by Doing Business are implemented by governments, but the results show up most in the private sector, which is critical to driving a country’s competitiveness and to creating jobs. Ensuring an enabling environment in which the private sector can operate effectively is an important marker of how well an economy is positioned to compete globally. 
For those of us working with governments to help improve their investment climates – and to create a policy environment in which business regulatory costs are reasonable, access to finance is open, technology is shared, and trade flows within and across borders – the real work begins long before the Doing Business rankings are published.

In the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), our mandate is to work with developing countries to unleash the power of their private sector for growth. Much of this work involves reforms in the very areas measured in the Doing Business report: starting a business, dealing with construction formalities, or trading across borders, among other factors.

Our experience working with clients confirms one of this year’s key findings: Regulatory efficiency and quality go hand-in-hand. A good investment climate requires well-designed regulations that protect property rights and facilitate business operations while safeguarding other people’s rights as well as their health, their safety and the environment.

How long does it take to start a business in your country?

Tariq Khokhar's picture
One of the most interesting trends in Doing Business is the reduction in the number of days it takes to start a business across the world. Navigate through the graphic below using the arrows next to the captions and then select any countries or groupings you'd like to see with the dropdown menu at the bottom.

The impact of investment climate reform in Africa: How has 'Doing Business' reform promoted broader competitiveness?

Aref Adamali's picture

Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) impressive growth over the past decade or so has been matched by its equally impressive showing on the World Bank Group's "Doing Business" index. In 2012, one-third of the world’s top reformers on the index were from the continent, and every year its countries feature in the top 10 most active reformers. In 2014, five of the top 10 were from SSA.

Doing Business tracks progress in reforms that support a firm through its life-cycle, from start-up, through to raising capital, to potential closure. Through a mix of wide geographic coverage and rankings that generate a lot of public attention (not all of it wholly positive), the report has been a powerful motivator of investment climate reform, with the data serving as a useful means to measure progress made.
Doing Business as a start
While a large appeal of Doing Business as a measure of a country’s business environment is that it focuses on tangible business activities to which the private sector and policymakers can directly relate, its indicators are limited in scope. They are therefore intended to be used mainly as a litmus test of the state of a country’s investment climate. Therefore, while Doing Business's accessibility and global profile can be very useful in generating momentum for private sector reform, it ought to mainly serve as a starting point for a country to then engage in both broader reaching and deeper investment climate change. (This approach to the use of Doing Business has largely underpinned investment climate reform efforts in SSA by the Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice.)  
So, if Doing Business is a starting point and is used as such, is there evidence to support the assumption that it triggers wider and deeper private sector reform? Or is movement on Doing Businesses a starting point and, unintentionally, an ending point too?
Linkages to wider competitiveness reform data
One of the most comprehensive measures of the state of different countries’ business environments is the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), a data set of over 110 variables that looks at the current state of, and tracks changes in, competitiveness across the world. The data set is structured under 12 pillars that cover measures from institutional development to technology and innovation.

Using GCI as a good measure of competitiveness, and interpreting changes in it as a reflection of a country’s effectiveness in engaging in wider competitiveness reform, we can look at the relationship between GCI and Doing Business and, significantly, the extent of movement on the two indices.
A high-level review of the relationship between changes in GCI and Doing Business for different regions between 2007 and 2013 shows SSA to have performed comparatively well on both indices, performing similarly to countries of Eastern and Central Europe and surpassing the world average.[1] However, looking beyond averages to GCI’s specific pillars, SSA’s performance has been variable, advancing as a region in some areas more than others. Figure 1, below, shows GCI pillars where SSA has improved the most and the least, highlighting the top and bottom three.

Figure 1: Variations within competitiveness
(SSA score on GCI, total and select pillars)  

Of particular interest is Pillar 6, Goods Market Efficiency, because many of the areas that this pillar tracks are also areas where the Bank Group has focused its investment climate reform interventions, from business entry and competition, to taxes, trade and investment. (Two of the 16 indicators in this pillar actually comprise Doing Business data – the number of procedures and days required to start a business.)
Pillar 6 is one of the top three GCI pillars that have the greatest upward pull on SSA’s overall performance on GCI, countering the areas where SSA has slipped in its scores.

Do fewer document requirements lead to faster export and import clearances?

Asif Islam's picture
At the outset, the relationship is rather straightforward: The more the number of documents needed to export or import, the longer the time it will take to clear the required procedures to trade. The policy recommendation that then follows is to reduce the time cost of trade by reducing the number of documents needed and thereby achieve trade facilitation. Correct? To an extent yes. However, further research shows that it is not always as straightforward as it seems.

Inclusive Growth as the Path Toward Sustainable Development: A New Initiative on 'Equality of Opportunity in Global Prosperity'

Elaine R.E. Panter's picture

The correlation is simple: Job creation is the hinge connecting the three pivotal elements of economic development: living standards, productivity gains, and social cohesion. Promoting access to the labor market for all, including traditionally marginalized groups, is therefore paramount to achieving real, sustainable growth.
Following the success story of "Women, Business and the Law," which focuses on legislative gender discrimination and its impact on the economy, the World Bank Group is now launching a new initiative that will develop a set of indicators measuring discriminatory legislation on the basis of racial and ethnic origin, religion and sexual orientation. The project was presented externally for the first time on November 11 by Federica Saliola, Program Manager and Task Team Leader of the project, speaking at Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity & Development: International Human and Economic Development, LGBT Rights and Related Fields conference, organized by The Williams Institute at UCLA.
In her speech, Ms. Saliola reminded the audience that, despite the rapid growth in emerging economies, not all sectors of society have benefitted equally, income inequality has risen, and 1 billion people are still left under the poverty line. In the coming three years, the new project will thus expand the knowledge base of laws, regulations and institutions that discriminate against ethnic, racial, religious and sexual minorities and will collect data across a number of economies covered by the Global Indicators Group. 

Fostering Private Sector Development in Fragile States: A Piece of Cake?

Steve Utterwulghe's picture
Private sector development (PSD) plays a crucial role in post-conflict economic development and poverty alleviation. Fragile states, however, face major challenges, such as difficult access to finance, power and markets; poor infrastructure; high levels of corruption; and a lack of transparency in the regulatory environment. 

The private sector has demonstrated its resilience in the face of conflict and fragility, operating at the informal level and delivering services that are traditionally the mandate of public institutions. However, in post-conflict situations, PSD can have predatory aspects, thriving on the institutional and regulatory vacuum that prevails. The private sector will need to create 90 percent of jobs worldwide to meet the international community’s antipoverty goals, so pro-poor and pro-growth strategies need to focus on strengthening the positive aspects of PSD, even while tackling its negative aspects.

From Paper to Practice: How Easy Is It to Ease Doing Business

Borko Handjiski's picture

A storefront that specializes in nuts The stroke of the pen is powerful indeed; it has led to wars, peace, and lots of other things in between, including changes in a country’s business environment. A large part of what defines the environment for doing business in a country is set in legislation. In many countries around the world, business regulations are more difficult than necessary, and some have taken great efforts to remove unneeded impediments with the aim of stimulating entrepreneurship and investment.

In Armenia, Perception Matters For Tax Reforms

Jean-Michel Happi's picture

Would you be more willing to pay taxes if you didn’t have to spend hours doing it, or if you see that money being used in the right way? Well, you are not alone.
Armenians, like people around the world, feel the same. According to the recently conducted Tax Perception Survey in the country, easier tax compliance and more visible link between taxes paid and public services received was found to be particularly important.

Between 66 percent and 75 percent of respondents said they would be more willing to pay more taxes if the procedures were easy and less time-consuming, if they saw more useful social and other public services, or if they saw less corruption.

Over 95 percent of respondents felt the tax burden is heavy or very heavy, while almost 50 percent reported that evading tax payments was not justified under any circumstances.
About 57 percent noted that high taxes or desperate financial situations were the main reasons for avoiding or evading tax payments.
The data unveiled by the latest Tax Perception Survey,  carried out with USAID support and World Bank Group technical assistance covered around 1,500 households and 400 business taxpayers.  The analysis strengthened the need to modernize the tax system, which has remained a major challenge for Armenia. Despite Armenia’s ranking as 37th in Doing Business, the taxation system, at 103rd on the list, still requires a lot of work.
To be sure, there have been some improvements to the system in the past few years. They include the introduction of electronic filing of tax returns, e-government applications, risk-based audit principles, and taxpayer service centers and appeal system. These achievements contributed to increasing the tax to GDP ratio from 19.5 percent in 2010 to 22.8 percent in 2013.
But much remains to be done to further streamline and simplify tax procedures, modernize the tax administration, and enact a tax code.

Doing Business methodology updates

LTD Editors's picture

The World Bank Group’s Doing Business project provides objective measures of business regulations and their implementation across economies worldwide and selected cities at the subnational and regional level. The first Doing Business report, published in 2003, covered five indicator sets and 133 economies. The most recent report published in late 2013 covered 11 indicator sets and 189 economies.

As with most key international indicator sets, Doing Business has come a long way since its inception in 2002/2003 and continues to be a work in progress. The report team works to improve the methodology each year and to enhance their data collection, analysis and output.