Note from Let's Talk Development Editors: Co-authors Michael Keen and Ian Parry were not mentioned in an earlier version of this blog post, this has been corrected.
The central focus of climate talks that concluded last year in Lima has been on building wide agreements to restrict national emissions of greenhouse gases. But some important emissions are hard to allocate to individual nations: Those from international aviation and shipping. These currently constitute about 4% (and rising) of global carbon emissions, and are subject to almost no charges. This current state reflects heavy resistance to such charges, from industry and many governments, but also tax competition: Taxing these sectors by any one country can be hard due to their geographic mobility and international nature.
What would you do if you won a billion dollars? Would you just buy more hamburgers for lunch or pick up some extra pairs of socks? Probably not. You would think bigger: maybe a boat, a mansion, a fancy car – luxury goods. Or you might try to make your life easier with a housekeeper, a driver, a chef – luxury services. This switch in the shopping list is so common that economists have a nerdy name for it: “non-homothetic” preferences. That is, people buy different things when they get more money.
It turns out that this dynamic is relevant for development, as we (Bill Battaile, Richard Chisik, and Harun Onder) found in “Services, Inequality, and the Dutch Disease,” a World Bank Policy Research Working Paper published this year. In particular, countries that see a rapid influx of income following a natural resource discovery – say oil or diamonds – are vulnerable to this pattern in a way that could hinder their overall chances of economic growth.
A recent surge in China’s food imports has rekindled concerns about global food demand raised by Brown (1995) and about food self-sufficiency in China. According to UN Comtrade data, China’s trade in food was roughly balanced until 2008 but subsequently moved into deficit, with net imports rising to $38.7 billion in 2013. A key question is whether China will become a massive net food importer like Japan and the Republic of Korea, which rely on world markets for more than 70 percent of grain and soybean demand.
China’s rapid economic growth, at 8.5 percent average annual per capita in purchasing power parity terms since economic reform began in 1978, has dramatically changed Chinese diets. While China’s per capita calorie consumption appears likely to be approaching its peak, the composition of food demand seems likely to continue to change, as consumers shift away from basic staples and towards animal-based products. This shift to greater dietary diversity imposes greater burdens on agricultural resources since animal-based diets require much more agricultural resources than vegetable-based diets.
A substantial literature exists that argues for the alleviation of barriers to imports in general. However, more recently the spotlight has been on the imports of intermediate inputs. The potential benefits from such imports include not just cheaper inputs based on the principle of comparative advantage of fixed costs in production, but also greater adoption of technologies embedded in foreign inputs and potential complementarities between foreign and domestic inputs. The suggested far-reaching rewards in alleviating import restrictions on intermediate inputs include greater private sector development and an eventual increase in economic growth. However, far less has been established regarding the relationship between such imports and their barriers. Can a negative relationship be ascertained, and what is the magnitude of such a relationship?
A new World Bank policy research working paper by Bill Battaile, Richard Chisik, and Harun Onder shows how Dutch disease effects may arise solely from a shift in demand following a natural resource discovery. The natural resource wealth increases the demand for non-tradable luxury services due to non-homothetic preferences. Labor that could be used to develop other non-resource tradable sectors is pulled into these service sectors. As a result, manufactures and other tradable goods are more likely to be imported, and learning and productivity improvements accrue to the foreign exporters.
Temporary trade barriers have become more than an important bellwether for contemporary protectionism; with persistent tariff levels, they are now a primary obstacle to free trade. The World Bank’s newly updated Temporary Trade Barriers Database suggests that the Great Recession-era increases in import protection may be levelling off. Now policymakers begin to face the daunting task of dismantling all of those temporary barriers they imposed during the early phase of the crisis.
In 2000, Port-au-Prince and San Juan accounted for 62 percent of the urban population respectively of Haiti and Puerto Rico. Though they tied for number one in the world rankings as those urban agglomerations that had the highest percentage of their countries urban populations, they were by no means exceptions. Luanda had 57 percent of the urban population of Angola, while Brazzaville had 54 percent of that of Congo. The list goes on to include many developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
These remarkably high concentrations of urban populations in one dominant city were a long time in the making. Around 1930, when developing market economies had an average level of urbanization of 13 percent, 16 percent of their urban population lived in fourteen large cities (cities that had populations of more than half a million). Such high urban concentrations in the developed world had been attained in 1880, when its average level of urbanization stood much higher at 23 percent. The number of the large cities in the developing world as well as their share of the total urban population increased dramatically between 1930 and 1980, by which date they had 43 percent of the urban population, a number which paralleled that of the developed countries. However, the level of urbanization in the latter stood at 65 percent whereas developing market economies had an urbanization level closer to 30 percent.
Two of the most important trade policy developments to take place since the 1980s are the expansion of preferential trade agreements and temporary trade barriers, such as antidumping, safeguards, and countervailing duties. Despite the empirical importance of preferential trade agreements and temporary trade barriers and the common feature that each can independently have quite discriminatory elements, relatively little is known about the nature of any relationships between them. A new World Bank policy research working paper by Chad P. Bown, Baybars Karacaovali, and Patricia Tovar surveys the literature on some of the political-economic issues that can arise at the intersection of preferential trade agreements and temporary trade barriers and uses four case studies to illustrate variation in how countries apply the World Trade Organization's global safeguards policy instrument. The four examples include recent policies applied by a variety of types of countries and under different agreements: large and small countries, high-income and emerging economies, and free trade areas and customs unions. The analysis reveals important measurement and identification challenges for research that seeks to find evidence of systematic relationships between the formation of preferential trade agreements, the political-economic implications of their implementation, and the use of subsequent temporary trade barriers.
The successful WTO Ministerial at Bali has placed trade facilitation in the spotlight, but it is export promotion that takes pride of place in most national trade policy agendas. Sometimes export promotion seems a virtuous exercise, targeting small firms most in need of help. The US Government’s efforts through its Small Business Administration or under the National Export Initiative are an example. At other times, it seems cold-bloodedly pragmatic, geared towards large firms most able to use assistance. Examples are government support for national champions from Brazil to South Korea.