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East Asia and Pacific

Encouraging investment policy and promotion reform in times of uncertainty

Amira Karim's picture

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is often considered by economists and policymakers as integral to economic growth – a cornerstone of modernization, income growth and employment.

Yet for many countries, FDI can be elusive, and chasing it can lead policymakers to frustration.

Even economies built by FDI – for example, Singapore – are on this continuous chase, aware that attracting and retaining FDI is not an easy task. They also know that the benefits of FDI do not accrue automatically and evenly across all countries, sectors and local communities.

But first, there must be a realization of the importance of FDI. Singapore – a country once called a “political, economic and geographic absurdity” by its first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew – never doubted the centrality of FDI, promoting it from the outset of its independence. Singapore saw in FDI an opportunity to develop a substantial industrial base, to create new jobs for its then-poor and low-skilled workforce, and to generate crucial tax revenues for its nascent government to spend on education and infrastructure.

Two decades after that initial strategic acceptance of FDI, Singapore emerged as a newly industrialized economy.

It is little surprise, then, that Singapore’s experience was highlighted at a recent World Bank Group peer-to-peer learning event here in the city-state. Responding to strong demand from client countries, two teams from the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice – the Investment Policy and Promotion (IPP) team and the Singapore Hub team – co-hosted the learning forum entitled "Promoting Investment Policy and Promotion Reform in Times of Uncertainty."

Supported by SPIRA – the Support Program on Investment Policy and Related Areas – the forum enabled some 80 government officials from East Asia, South Asia and Africa to share their experiences in economic and export diversification; to discuss the role of international trade and investment agreements as leverage toward domestic reforms; and to discuss how to translate investment policy and promotion strategies into measurable results. SPIRA, implemented by the IPP team, supports client countries across all regions in attracting, facilitating and retaining different types of FDI.

India, Malaysia share experiences how to support start-up SMEs

Mihasonirina Andrianaivo's picture



Both Malaysia and India are countries steeped in innovation with a strong desire to foster new, innovative start-up enterprises. 
 
With a global focus on providing more support to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) – and recognizing that start-ups play a crucial role in creating jobs, growth, exports and innovation within most economies – Asian countries are keen to learn from each other’s experiences. These efforts have taken on a greater priority in India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and his “Make in India” and “Start-Up India” campaigns.
 
The World Bank has been supporting India for several years in the area of MSME finance, which is one of the most widely recognized impediments to SMEs, particularly for start-up enterprises.  Through the $500 million MSME Growth Innovation and Inclusive Finance Project, the World Bank supports MSMEs in the service and manufacturing sectors as well as start-up financing for early stage entrepreneurs.  The start-up support under this project ($150 million) is for early stage debt funding (venture debt) which isn’t well evolved. (Unlike India’s market for early stage equity which is considered to already be reasonably well developed.)
 
As part of this project, the World Bank and the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), recently held a workshop in Mumbai to allow market participants to learn from one another, and particularly about Malaysia’s successful support for innovative start-up SMEs. The workshop’s participants included banks, venture capital companies, entrepreneurs, fintech companies, seed funders and representatives from the Malaysian Innovation Agency (Agensi Inovasi Malaysia – AIM).

The challenge of affordable housing for low-income city-dwellers

Zaigham M. Rizvi's picture



Housing is a numbers game: The more people there are in any city or town, the greater the need is for housing. The number of people living on the planet is rising every second, as the
World Population Clock shows, while the amount of habitable land (what housing specialists call “serviced land”) remains limited.

It is critical that additional affordable, decent dwellings be developed, as today’s world population of about 7.38 billion (increasing by more than 80 million per year, at the current population growth rate of about 1.13 percent per annum) approaches about 9 billion by 2030 and a projected 11 billion by 2050.

Urbanization intensifies the need for city-focused housing: By 2030, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will be urban – and, even more daunting, nearly half of that urban population will be living in poverty, in substandard housing or in slums. The challenge of providing affordable housing for low-income city-dwellers is universal, with intensifying urban congestion making it an urgent priority in Asia and Africa.

Helping Mongolians become savvier in managing their personal finances

Siegfried Zottel's picture
 

Did you know that low-income Mongolians are better at managing daily finances than higher income earners, although those with better incomes are more likely to make provisions for the future?

These were the findings of a comprehensive demand-side assessment on financial capability in Mongolia which the World Bank Group carried out in 2013.

These findings make sense.  Poor people – those with low and irregular incomes – devote a lot of time to thinking about how to stretch their money to put food on the table while being able to cover other daily spending needs.  They tend to have surprisingly sophisticated financial lives despite having limited income, the Portfolios of the Poor found.

Mission to Myanmar: Promoting the full development potential of an economy in transition

Cecile Fruman's picture
In Yangon, the urban modernization of Myanmar is well under way | Photo by Stephanie Liu


How do you help a burgeoning democracy like Myanmar with its transition to a market-based economy after 50 years of isolation, poor infrastructure and limited capacity for reform? You do it by  engaging closely with the government, the private sector and development partners, and by providing the full range of data, financing and knowledge available across all sectors of the economy.

As I conclude my first visit to Myanmar, a fragile and conflict-affected country where the World Bank Group started our development engagement just three years ago, I've witnessed first-hand how the WBG can best support such an economy in transition. As Myanmar looks forward to its first free and fair election in over two generations – an event coming up in November – the challenge will be to ensure continued reform momentum during a period of dramatic political change.
 
Seldom have we faced such dramatic circumstances in a country where our engagement is in such an early stage and where the development potential is so great. A country of 50 million people that went from once being the rice basket of Asia to today having the lowest life expectancy and the second-highest rate of infant and child mortality among ASEAN countries as well as vast untapped farmland, Myanmar provides a once-in-a-lifetime development opportunity. This situation offers a chance for the WBG’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice to contribute to the transformation of an economy and society by supporting regulatory reforms, improving trade policy and trade facilitation, helping generate investment and improving the ability of the country to compete in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.
 
I was privileged during my visit to meet with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Commerce and their senior staff, and to open the Third Session of the Trade Sector Working Group, which the WBG co-chairs with the European Union and the Ministry of Commerce. Surrounded by India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Lao PDR – countries that together have about 40 percent of the world’s population – Myanmar has markets at its doorstep that are ready to be tapped. The removal of investment and trade sanctions by the West has also opened significant new opportunities farther afield.

Financial inclusion in Asia – time for disruption?

Nataliya Mylenko's picture



More than half of the world’s population lives in Asia and its robust growth is supporting the world economy.  After weathering well the 2008 crisis Asia is now in the spotlight with currencies depreciating and capital markets in retreat.  One widely voiced concern is rapid expansion of credit in the past decade fueled by abundant liquidity.  Globally, and in Asia, regulatory response to the 2008 crisis has been to strengthen financial regulation and de-risk financial intermediation.  Yet the reality of credit markets in most Asian economies is quite different from that in high income economies.  While domestic credit by financial sector represented on average over 100% of GDP for high income OECD countries, emerging Asia’s average in 2014 stood at 60%. The differences across countries are substantial in this diverse region, but in two thirds of Asian economies domestic credit is less than 60% of GDP.  The reality for most economies in Asia is that of limited and often inefficient financial markets which do not serve fully their growth needs. Low level of financial inclusion is a major contributing factor and a major challenge.

Developing local industries connected to the gas value chain: What can Tanzania learn from Malaysia?

Cecile Fruman's picture
Joining with our World Bank Group teams in the field in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania, I was pleased to recently see first-hand evidence of the strong impact that our Global Practice on Trade and Competitiveness is having on economic development throughout East Africa. Our projects are currently helping our clients improve their business environment, increase the competitiveness of firms in key sectors, and develop trade flows.

Shaping the Debate on Promoting Jobs and Competitiveness in Small Island Developing States

Ivan Rossignol's picture

The United Nations has declared 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in recognition of the contributions this group of countries has made to the world, and to raise awareness of the development challenges they confront – including those related to climate change and the need to create high-quality jobs for their citizens.

The Third International Conference on SIDS in September in Apia, Samoa will be the highlight event.  The World Bank Group is helping shape the debate on both climate and jobs with a delegation led by Rachel Kyte, the Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, and with senior-level participation in the conference’s Private Sector Forum.

Is the global jobs agenda relevant to small islands states?

Tackling the challenges related to the jobs agenda in large and middle-income countries could be seen as the most significant issue for the Bank Group’s new Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, of which I’m a member. Yet the Minister of Finance of Seychelles recently challenged my thinking on this. 

At the June 13  joint World Bank Group-United Nations' High-Level Dialogue on Advancing Sustainable Development in SIDS (which precedes the September conference on SIDS), the presentation by Pierre Laporte, the Minister of Finance, Trade and Investment of Seychelles – who is also the chair of the Small States Forum – led to a lively discussion on various job-creation and growth models that the SIDS countries may want to pursue. 

The sentiment among SIDS leaders was that one-size-fits-all solutions will not do when it comes to jobs and growth.  Yes, they do want to continue to address the tough fiscal challenges they face, but they want to tackle them while creating job opportunities for their citizens. 

Decades of reforms have not helped SIDS grow at a rate similar to the rest of the world: On average, their pace of job creation is about half the global rate. The lack of opportunities felt by many generations resulted in a heavy “brain drain” that exceeds the level seen in other developing countries. 

It is becoming very clear that business as usual in SIDS will not do.  Creative solutions need to be found now.

Sri Lanka - Resplendent Island, Raring to Deliver

Parth Shri Tewari's picture


Sri Lanka conjures up different images in the minds of different people: lush green tropical canopies, steaming cups of aromatic tea, and hardworking fishermen in their dinghy boats.

For me, the country also packs enormous promise for growth and development. There is not the slightest doubt that Sri Lanka will have to come clean and deal with the aftermath of its prolonged civil war. However, at a fundamental level, there is a sense of hunger in its people to rebuild their lives and their country. The new-found peace that engulfs the population is cherished by most, and is part of dinner conversations especially with foreigners like me.




Sri Lanka already holds a strong position in certain agricultural and industrial exports, like tea or uncut diamonds. Combine this with its strategic location – situated at the crossroads of major shipping routes connecting South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East – and you have a potent combination, a promise waiting to be fulfilled.

I recently spoke at an event organized by the country’s top business newspaper, the Daily Financial Times, in partnership with the well-regarded Colombo University MBA Alumni Association. The focus of the forum was the country’s emerging six-hub strategy – Maritime, Commercial, Knowledge, Aviation, Energy and Tourism: the cornerstone of its further economic development.

The euphoria leading up to the event was palpable. The ceremonial drums and lighting of the auspicious lamp to evoke good omen created the perfect ambience. I was nervous, not because of stage fright, but because I was about to present a contrarian viewpoint to private-sector and public-sector experts, while sharing the stage with the Minister of Economic Development and the Governor of the Sri Lanka’s Central Bank. Even though my arguments were well-thought-through and fact-based, it was going to be a delicate dance, as I was about to communicate some tough arguments against the implementation of the full-blown six-hub strategy.

Innovation and Insurance: Protection Against the Costs of Natural Disaster

Olivier Mahul's picture



Natural disasters – such as tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones and floods – are costly to society, in terms of both human destruction and financial losses. Governments ultimately bear the full cost of the havoc wreaked by natural disasters, which can create an enormous strain on limited government budgets, especially in developing countries. This is even before we begin to contemplate the development impact and how the poorest of the poor are disproportionately affected.

Just last week, the world saw the widespread damage that the St. Jude storm inflicted across Europe, and we witnessed its effect on hundreds of thousands of people. Most advanced economies, however, have sufficient capacity to be able to absorb the financial losses inlicted by natural disasters. Higher-income countries enjoy (relatively) efficient public revenue systems and developed domestic insurance markets.



By contrast, developing countries do not have the same degree of access to financial and insurance markets. They face limited revenue streams, limited fiscal flexibility, and limited access to quick liquidity in the wake of an event. This is particularly so for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as the Pacific island nations.

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