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Why do smaller countries benefit from greater trade with their neighbors?

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Quay cranes on docks Sri Lanka. Dominic Sansoni/World Bank

The real end winner of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is going to be Mexico […]” said then Mexican president Vicente Fox, in 2001. He was referring to Mexico’s gains from trade integration with the USA through NAFTA.

Vicente Fox was right. Mexico has continued to make sustained gains in trade over a 20 year period after signing NAFTA in 1994 with the US, its much larger partner (figure 1).



​Opening up trade is not easy because losses can be immediate, while gains, despite being potentially much larger and more widespread, are often dispersed over time. Producers that may sustain losses from more open imports are often well organized and can hold up reforms quite effectively. Moreover, when one of the countries involved in mutual trade liberalization is disproportionately large, it enables the smaller country lobbies to raise the specter of being swamped by imports from its larger partner.

In the case of South Asia, a history of political differences further complicates deeper trade and economic cooperation within the region. Under these circumstances, opening up trade to neighbors requires strong leadership and a bold vision about the role of trade and regional integration in economic development.

Corridors for Shared Prosperity: A Case for Replication

Pallavi Shrivastava's picture

For those trying to address challenges in global poverty, inclusive businesses offer solutions to some of the world’s most intractable social problems. Business models that create value for the low-income communities are becoming viable - these have been tested, fine-tuned and perfected by some of the finest brains. Once perfected, it makes sense to contextualize and spread these innovations or the knowledge to markets across the globe. To be able to do this, replication is an important tool.

Strengthening the Ecosystem to Mainstream Inclusive Businesses

Pallavi Shrivastava's picture



“Intelligence and capability are not enough; there must also be the joy of doing something beautiful.”
These words by Dr. Venkataswamy tower over us as we enter the flagship Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India, and continue to reflect in the staff’s philosophy during our short visit.

The Aravind Eye Hospital needs no introduction. Tucked in the remote south of India, it is the result of its founder’s vision of eliminating needless blindness. Started in 1976 by Dr. Venkataswamy, the hospital provides accessible, affordable and quality eye care to all sections of the society through cross-subsidization, which creates a commercially viable and sustainable business model.

Aravind Eye Care is an example of a business model innovation, also referred to as an ‘inclusive business model’. IFC defines inclusive business models as those offering goods, services and livelihoods to the poor in financially sustainable and scalable ways. Globally, inclusive businesses are being recognized as important players for development. More entrepreneurs are realizing the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) market as an opportunity to design and implement innovative solutions. As per an IFC study, the BoP represents a potential market of $5 trillion globally - the largest slice of this lies in South Asia, particularly India, given the size of BoP population in the region.

However, inclusive businesses continue to face several barriers in scaling and replicating their success such as lack of access to finance, absence of trained human resources, weak supply chain linkages etc. and above all, an underdeveloped support ecosystem to overcome critical market gaps. Addressing these barriers will not only help capitalize on the growth potential but also mainstream the sector.

World Bank Group is playing a catalytic role in unlocking opportunities for innovative, impact focused businesses. The South Asia Inclusive Business Program has been working towards enhancing private sector participation and inclusive business activity in the region. While working on the high level through systemic interventions, the team is also connecting with organizations on the ground by supporting them to scale sustainably and/or replicate across borders.

Next Wave of Economic Reforms in India

Varun Sridharan's picture
Dr. Denis Medvedev, the World Bank Group’s Senior Country Economist, spoke at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta on the Next Wave of Economic Reforms in India on 20th November, this year.  The talk focused on the challenges facing the Indian economy in achieving inclusive growth with a special focus on reducing poverty in the lower income states.
IIM Calcutta Discussion
Photo Credit: Roli Mahajan

Shipbuilding Promises Hope for Skilled Workforce

Ahamad Tanvirul Alam Chowdhury's picture
A view of the Khulna Shipyard

Promoting career opportunities through industry linkages for those who complete technical and vocational education is now a reality in Bangladesh. The local shipbuilding industry is thriving with strong growth potential. Currently, the demand for technically skilled workers in Shipbuilding industry is high. The industry is likely to become a major employment provider for the technically skilled workers in Bangladesh. Not surprising, that 55 of the 72 welders who had completed their training from Khulna Shipyard Technical Training Centre (KSYTTC) were absorbed by a private shipbuilding and light engineering firm, Khulna Shipyard Limited (KSY) in August 2014. The same company will hire 30 more in the coming month.

Rural jobs allow people to escape poverty; urban jobs are a ticket to the middle class

Yue Li's picture
South Asia is sometimes known as the land of extremes with opulence surrounded by poverty.

How much social mobility is there in South Asia? The intuitive answer is: very little. South Asia is home to the biggest number of poor in the world and key development outcomes – from child mortality to malnutrition – suggest that poverty is entrenched. Absence of mobility is arguably what defines the caste system, in which occupations are essentially set for individuals at birth. Not surprisingly, the prospects for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to prosper are believed to be gloomier in this part of the world.

And yet, our analysis in Addressing Inequality in South Asia, reveals that economic and occupational mobility has become substantial in the region in recent decades. In fact, it could even be comparable to that of very dynamic societies such as the United States and Vietnam. The analysis also suggests that cities support greater mobility than rural areas, and that wage employment – both formal and informal – is one of its main drivers. 

​When splitting the population into three groups—poor, vulnerable, and middle class—upward mobility within the same generation was considerable for both the poor and the vulnerable. In both Bangladesh and India, a considerable fraction of households moved above the poverty line between 2005 and 2010. Meanwhile, a sizable proportion of the poor and the vulnerable moved into the middle class. In India, households from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – considered together – experienced upward mobility comparable to that of the rest of the population.  

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