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trade policy

'Making the case for trade': Winning voters’ trust by strengthening social safety nets

Christopher Colford's picture

Policy persuasion is most effective when it draws on the evidence base of all the social-science disciplines. Every strand of the social sciences – not just the mathematical precision of economics, but also the nuanced interpretations of history and the subtle trajectories of sociology – has a great deal to contribute as policymakers balance competing priorities.

That multidisciplinary approach – emphasized in such recent works as The History Manifesto, in which Harvard and Brown University historians call for policymakers’ greater reliance on the combined reasoning of all the social sciences – was thoroughly borne out in the recent Development Economics Series lecture by economist David Autor of MIT (who is a scholar at the National Bureau of Economic Research). Presenting a research paper on trade policy, and underscoring the importance of public opinion in shaping policymakers’ approach to it, Autor’s presentation used the logic of political science to highlight the electoral mood swings that help shape countries’ position on international trade.

Using the perspectives of political science – in the paper, “Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure” (co-authored with colleagues from the University of Zurich; the University of California, San Diego; and Lund University) – was a valuable way to help remind Autor's economics-focused World Bank Group audience that policymaking does not occur in an academic vacuum. Even though the Bank’s economics-heavy analyses may try to distill policy options into quantifiable formulae, the policymakers whom the Bank advises get their political mandate from their countries’ volatile voters – who do not always follow homo economicus’ coldly rational approach to decision-making.

Amid the topsy-turvy 2016 electoral cycle in many countries – in which voters’ fears about job losses due to international trade have been inflamed amid an upsurge of populism and protectionism – you don’t have to be a public-opinion pollster to affirm Autor's assertion in his analysis of recent U.S. voting patterns: “We detect an ideological realignment that is centered in trade-exposed local labor markets and that commences prior to the divisive 2016 U.S. presidential election. Exploiting the exogenous component of rising trade with China and classifying legislator ideologies by their congressional voting record, we find strong evidence that congressional districts exposed to larger increases in import competition disproportionately removed moderate representatives from office in the 2000s.”

Translation: If you’re a pro-trade lawmaker in a district that has a high degree of imports from overseas, in a region that has endured what Autor calls “economic scarring,” then you’re likely to pay a heavy price at the ballot box – and, if you’re defeated, your successor just might be a strident protectionist. The Autor analysis shrewdly underscores the adjective “political” in the anodyne textbook phrase, “political economy.”

Spurring global growth via a new Trade Facilitation Agreement

Klaus Tilmes's picture

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.

How can G20 trade policies benefit developing countries?

Michele Ruta's picture
Cambodia garment factory (Chhor Sokunthea / World Bank)


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.

Exploring the nexus between trade policy and disaster response

Selina Jackson's picture
 Nugroho Nurdikiawan Sunjoyo/World Bank


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.  

Evidence That Trade Does Reduce Poverty, But Only If the Conditions Are Right

Raju Jan Singh's picture

Market negotiations. Source: Raju Jan Singh/World Bank.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.

Shifting Focus in Trade Agreements – From Market Access to Value-Chain Barriers

Bernard Hoekman's picture

Chain. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pratanti/5359581911/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.

The Mysterious Case of Chilean Service Exports

Sebastián Sáez's picture

Chile has long been known as a superstar in liberalization reforms and innovative export-led growth strategies. The country successfully exports tourism and transportation services. But these successes are, in some ways, yesterday’s news. The country’s performance in more modern service exports – internet and communications technology, business process outsourcing and others – has been less remarkable. Chile is no India.

What does this mean for a country that has famously followed sound economic policies? Is the government doing something wrong? Is the country stuck? A look at the way services data is interpreted may provide a different answer. Perhaps Chile’s reputation is simply a victim of statistical inaccuracies.

Rise of non-tariff protectionism amid global uncertainty

Julia Oliver's picture

A troubling phenomenon is occurring in large, emerging economies: the gates are closing. Governments, skittish about global economic trends, are introducing new policies to limit imports and exports. The aim is to protect domestic industry in tough times, but the tools governments are using threaten to make their economic problems worse.

A December World Bank analysis documents a trend of creeping protectionism in countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Indonesia – all countries with burgeoning industry. Instead of tariffs, other more indirect policies are being used to hinder free commerce between countries. The Bank analysis, based on World Trade Organization (WTO) monitoring reports and data from the Global Trade Alert, a network of think tanks around the globe, found that the number of non-tariff measures (NTMs) –including quotas, import licensing requirements and discriminatory government procurement rules –showed an increasing trend in the first two years post-2008, and rose sharply in 2011. India, China, Indonesia, Argentina, Russia, and Brazil together accounted for almost half of all the new NTMs imposed by countries world-wide.

The measures take various forms. In December, amid a political shake-up, Indonesia announced its intention to

Rise of Non-Tariff Protectionism amid Global Uncertainty

A troubling phenomenon is occurring in large, emerging economies: the gates are closing. Governments, skittish about global economic trends, are introducing new policies to limit imports and exports. The aim is to protect domestic industry in tough times, but the tools they are using threaten to make their economic problems worse.

A December World Bank analysis documents a trend of creeping protectionism in countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Indonesia – all countries with burgeoning industry. Instead of tariffs, other, more indirect policies are being used to hinder free commerce between countries. The Bank analysis, based on World Trade Organization (WTO) monitoring reports and data from the Global Trade Alert, a network of think tanks around the globe, found that the number of non-tariff measures (NTMs) –including quotas, import licensing requirements and discriminatory government procurement rules –showed an increasing trend in the first two years post-2008, and rose sharply in 2011. India, China, Indonesia, Argentina, Russia and Brazil together accounted for almost half of all the new NTMs imposed by countries world-wide.

After the Holidays, a Time to Reflect on the State of Food in Africa

Ian Gillson's picture

As we gather in kitchens and dining rooms during this two-month stretch of eating and charity, let us pause for a moment to review the state of food trade in Africa: how fares cross-border commerce in key crops on a continent with pockets of harsh weather and unpredictable politics? How goes the traffic in grains and tubers?

It’s clear that prices are high, following the February 2011 peak worldwide. The price of maize in Nairobi has tripled this year alone, while the price of a 50 kg bag of rice in Dakar has risen from $36 to $43.50. These spikes can be blamed partly on increased demand for food crops – including for biofuel production in Europe and the US. They are also due to supply-side factors, such higher energy prices which impact transportation and fertilizer costs, and weak harvests in large exporting countries.


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