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Law and Regulation

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.

Nepal: Modest beginnings, big rewards

Taneem Ahad's picture
In recent years, Nepal has made the headlines for the wrong reasons. In April 2015, it was shaken by a huge earthquake that claimed thousands of lives and caused country-wide destruction.  In previous decades, it suffered political violence and chronic instability.

Yet despite these difficulties, the country rebounded strongly with growth at 7.5 percent in Fiscal Year 2017 and was able to achieve significant progress in business through a series of seemingly modest yet important steps.

Over the course of four years, Nepal’s Ministry of Industry, the country's Office of the Company Registrar (OCR) and IFC’s Investment Climate Team implemented a series of reforms to encourage business registration online. In 2013, a new mandatory online registration service was launched. Help desks in the Kathmandu OCR office, extensive training for business owners, a media campaign, and an enabling legal directive eased the speed and efficiency of the registration process for businesses.

Within a short period of time, almost 100 percent of companies – as opposed to 10 percent during the initial phase of launch – were registered online. Registration became simpler, saving money for both businesses and the government. Online registration also addressed the challenges of the government's limited capacity and poor technology readiness through extensive training and peer-to-peer learning. The processes became more transparent with online file tracking.

In the year following the launch of the online registration system, Nepal’s ranking for "Starting a Business" in the World Bank Group’s 2014 Doing Business Report rose by 6 places. The number of days it took to start a business dropped by 45 percent and led to a 24-percent increase in the number of new companies registered annually.



In Nepal, an employee of the Trade and Export Promotion Centre works on the Nepal Trade Information Portal. The portal, financed under the Nepal-India Regional Trade and Transport Project, provides information that traders need to import and export goods, including information on permits, laws and taxes. Photo Credit: Peter Kapuscinski / The World Bank

These successes produced broader lessons for Nepal and others facing similar challenges. These include:
  • Make change compulsory, easy and durable. People adapt to new circumstances only if they feel compelled to do so, and only if they fel that the change is not going to disrupt their businesses.
  • Ensure coordination between government offices in supporting initiatives. There must be "buy-in" from all government agencies involved at all levels. ICT changes must be fully coordinated with business staff. 
  • Nurture trust and cooperation between the WBG and government teams.  Study and learn about previous experiences, communicate how the current project will be carried out, and keep talking to partners in government. 

Economic marginalization of minorities: Do laws provide the needed protections?

Elaine R.E. Panter's picture

Never in recent history has anti-minorities rhetoric — anti-immigrants, anti-religious-minorities, anti-LGBTI — been so pronounced in so many countries around the world. Those groups, we are told, are the cause of our current economic crisis because they steal our jobs, fuel criminality and threaten our traditional way of living. And yet, the causes of our economic crisis are probably more nuanced, and initial research seems to suggest that more and not less social inclusion will help us overcome the instability of our times.

The exclusion of minorities from the labor force is becoming politically and economically unsustainable for many states that are struggling to retain their legitimacy and strengthen their competitive potential in an increasingly global marketplace. As a consequence, governments, international development agencies and academic institutions are now looking seriously at ways to develop policies that guarantee a more equal and sustainable form of economic development — development that addresses both short- and  long-term economic goals.

The World Bank’s Equality Project attempts to address this problem. The idea driving the project is that institutional measures that hamper the access of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities to the labor market and financial systems (such as legal and policy restrictions, or the absence of appropriate, positive nondiscrimination actions) directly affect their economic performance and, as a consequence, represent a cost for the economy: If a sizeable percentage of the population is not given the opportunity to acquire a high-quality education, a good job, secure housing, access to services, equal representation in decision-making institutions and protection from violence, human capital will be wasted, income inequality will grow and social unrest will ensue. The World Bank’s widely cited Inclusion Matters report puts it succinctly: “Social inclusion matters because exclusion is too costly. These costs are social, economic and political, and are often interrelated.”

The project collected and validated data on the legal framework of six pilot countries: Bulgaria, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Tanzania and Vietnam. The methodological approach of collecting cross-country comparable data according to key indicators yielded some general but interesting results, published in a research working paper in March 2017.

Private sector engagement is key to success on gender equity

Anabel Gonzalez's picture

Photo: Visual News Associates / The World Bank

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, if there is one concept to keep in mind above all others, it’s that gender equity is vital 24-7-365, and not just as a once-a-year observance.

You have heard the argument before and you will hear it again: Economies cannot reach their full potential if half the population is systematically blocked from full participation. This fundamental idea motivates the World Bank Group as it redoubles its efforts to address gaps in gender equality.

Our deepening work to close key gender gaps shows that the issues go far beyond economic inequity. Barriers to women’s full economic participation also impose moral, emotional and at times even physical costs.

We see this in the laws that prevent wives from making autonomous decisions about their careers. We see it in instances of violence against women in the workplace. We see this when harassment occurs at rural border crossings where women traders can encounter threats, and worse, from border guards.

In developing and developed countries alike, women face obstacles to starting and managing a business, to accessing finance, to earning equal pay for equal work, and to owning land or other assets. Many countries maintain laws and regulations that advantage men while discriminating against women, often relegating them to the status of a legal minor.

As Emeritus Professor Linda Scott of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School told us recently, “Women are economically disadvantaged in every country on the planet” and “women’s economic exclusion imposes a significant drag on world economies and societies.”

A key part of the Bank Group’s gender effort revolves around the importance of leveraging the private sector to ensure that reform goes beyond policy statements and creates real economic benefits for women and men. The Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C) has developed an approach to gender equity that focuses on expanding market opportunities, enabling private initiative, and developing dynamic economies.

The work we are doing recognizes the entrenched nature of the obstacles to fuller economic empowerment for women. Achieving results at scale will require sustained commitment. But we also understand the importance of realizing near-term progress to catalyze change, and we recognize how interventions in particular countries can show the way forward elsewhere.

The concept is simple: Good results generate more good results.

Lessons from Five Years of Helping Governments Foster Incentives Transparency

Harald Jedlicka's picture

Global competition to attract foreign and domestic direct investment is so high that nearly all countries offer incentives (such as tax holidays, customs duty exemptions and subsidized loans) to lure in investors. In the European Union, the 28 member states spent 93.5 billion euros on non-crisis State Aid to businesses in 2014. In the United States, local governments provided and average of US$80.4 billion in incentives each year from 2007 to 2012.

In order to better understand the prevalence of incentives worldwide, the Investment Climate team in the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice of the World Bank Group reviewed the incentives policy of 137 countries. Results showed that all of the countries that were surveyed provide incentives, either as tax or customs-duty exemptions or in other forms. Table 1 (below) shows the rate at which these instruments are used across advanced and emerging economies. For instance, tax holidays are least common in OECD countries and are most prevalent in developing economies. In some regions they are the most-used incentive.[1]





However, despite offering incentives, few countries meet all the requirements of a fully transparent incentives policy. These include: mandating by law, and maintaining in practice, a database and inventory of incentives available to investors; listing in the inventory all aspects of key relevance to stakeholders (such as the specific incentive provided, the eligibility criteria, the awarding and administration process, the legal reference and the awarded amounts); making the inventory publicly available in a user-friendly format; requiring by law the publication of all formal references of incentives; and making the incentives easily accessible to stakeholders in practice. A T&C study now under way on incentives transparency in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region showed that none of the eight countries analyzed has a fully transparent incentives policy. (See Graph 1, below.)




Easy business exit is as important as easy business entry

Simon Bell's picture



How to identify and support fast-growing firms that can take off, create jobs, and yield significant value in a short period of time is one of our biggest dilemmas in nurturing private sector development in emerging markets. 
 
The Sustainable Development Goals (#8) include the need for decent jobs as an important developmental priority, and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) are expected to create most jobs required to absorb the growing global workforce.
 
But many young firms will fail; by some accounts more than half of new firms won’t make it to their second birthday. 
 
However, despite the high rate of firm failure, research from the US and evidence from India, Morocco, Lebanon, Canada and Europe shows that it’s largely young firms that create the bulk of net new jobs (net jobs are jobs created minus jobs lost) and lasting employment opportunities.
 
In addition, even when a firm survives beyond the first two years of operation, there are no assurances it will become a fast-growing firm -- a gazelle. 
 
Although estimates vary widely, the share of gazelles -- fast-growing firms that generate a lot of value-added and jobs -- is thought to be only between 4% to 6% of all SMEs, and, possibly, even less in many emerging countries.
 
All this makes creating favorable conditions for entrepreneurship a priority. 
 
Easing business entry -- the time and cost involved in establishing a new enterprise -- is extremely important.  As the annual Doing Business report shows, many countries have made a lot of progress on this indicator over the past decade.  
 
But business exit is an equally critical piece of the puzzle.

Understand the differences, act on the commonalities in a globalized economy: How can Public-Private Dialogue be of help?

Steve Utterwulghe's picture



The Mongolian government’s economic advisors. Photo by Steve Utterwulghe


Misunderstanding, distrust, lack of genuine consultation. These are some of the words that I hear the most from various public and private stakeholders during my regular missions to developing countries.

From Bamako to Ulan Bator, where I am writing this post, the relentless echo of grievances points to the fact that the government doesn’t understand – or want to listen to – the private sector, and therefore doesn’t trust it. And likewise, the private sector sees public authorities as often incompetent, corrupt and an impediment to competitiveness and wealth creation.

While generalizing is a dubious exercise, the similarity and recurrence of complaints across the globe warrants deeper digging.

The issue of trust in policymaking is a complex field of study. The origin of mistrust of the private sector by the government in many developing countries is embedded in the socio-political culture and economic history of the state.
That being said, it is now rare to find a government that categorically denies the contribution of the private sector to the economic development of a nation. About 90 percent of the jobs are created by the private sector in the developing world, and about 50 percent of those are created by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Furthermore, as José Juan Ruiz from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has written, “Policymakers realize that they need to access the deep knowledge held by the private sector in order to learn about market failure and formulate the right policies to address them.”

On the other hand, the private sector wants a stable and transparent regulatory environment in which to operate. It doesn’t want more regulations, but better regulations that will protect its investments. For that, it needs the government to listen and act in a way that will create an enabling business environment. Building trust is hard work.

Differences between public and private stakeholders certainly exist, but so do commonalities. It never takes long for parties to acknowledge that there is a clear common ground to strive for: sustainable economic development that should lead to inclusive growth. That, in turn, will spur job creation and revenue collection for the state. That’s an irrefutable win-win scenario.

Opening markets: Mexico uncovers and slashes local barriers to competition

Marialisa Motta's picture

In the state of Chiapas, Mexico — where nearly 1 million people live in moderate to extreme poverty — bus fares have been too high, and the availability of buses has been limited. Over four years, consumers on a single route have paid $2.5 million more than necessary. Tortillas in states across Mexico are more expensive than they need to be. In one state, firms overcharge for road construction by an estimated 15 percent, making it difficult to provide the high-quality transport services for cargo and construction materials that are necessary to build a logistics hub to diversify the state economy beyond petroleum. Another state has a very dynamic economy, hosting a greater density of industrial parks than comparable states. Given the positive spillover effects — industrial activity boosting local employment, demand, and purchasing power — the state expected growth in retail markets. Yet, stores have not been opening. Yet another state relies on tourism to generate business opportunities and jobs, including for poor people. However, until recently, tourists found that commercial establishments in the state’s primary municipality closed in the evenings and at night, often preventing them from going shopping.
 
What do these examples have in common? Local barriers to competition.

In the past few years, the Mexican Federal Competition Authority (COFECE) and Better Regulation Authority (COFEMER), internationally recognized institutions, as well as the World Bank Group, have pointed out that subnational regulations restrict competition in local markets. In many municipalities in Mexico, regulations and government interventions allow market incumbents to deny entry to new firms, to coordinate prices, to impose minimum distances between outlets, or to grant incumbents exclusive rights to artificially protect their dominant position. In total, a lack of vigorous marketplace competition costs the Mexican economy about one percentage point of GDP growth each year – a shortfall that affects the country’s poorest households by an estimated 20 percent more than its richest households. Most countries, however, have never systematically scrutinized local barriers to competition.


 
To address such issues effectively, competition policy experts from the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice have developed an innovative tool – the Subnational Market Assessment of Competition (SMAC) – to systematically identify, prioritize and support the removal of local barriers to competition. (The SMAC is built from the World Bank Group Markets and Competition Policy Assessment Tool, or MCPAT.) The World Bank Group designed the SMAC to prioritize the reform of the rules and practices that most severely prevent healthy competition in the primary sectors for each state’s economic development.

Toward a more durable form of globalization, beyond 'neoliberal' negligence

Christopher Colford's picture

“Globalization and technological change create huge challenges for modern economies, but they are not uncontrollable forces of nature. The economy we have is the economy we choose to build. It is time to make different choices, and show that capitalism can be remade.” — Prof. Mariana Mazzucato of the University of Sussex and Prof. Michael Jacobs of University College London, the editors of “Rethinking Capitalism.”

The shadows lengthen and the daylight shortens amid these elegiac end-of-summer evenings — but there’s a palpable feeling nowadays, in Washington and other capitals, that we’re approaching not just the sunset of a season, but the twilight of an era.

The sudden change in the policy discourse over the past year has shattered the familiar old contours of the globalization debate, with a “populist explosion” in the world’s developed economies forcing policymakers everywhere to reconsider the boundaries of “the art of the possible.” In many of the world's developed economies, a recalibration of globalization is under way.

In this insolite interim, the fraught phrase of Antonio Gramsci comes to mind: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot [yet] be born. In this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Three incisive recent analyses illustrate the impassioned arguments that underscore this end-of-an-era feeling. Together, the analyses set the stage for the imminent publication of a new book of essays by a group of eminent economists, whose ideas may chart the way toward a more durable, more inclusive approach to globalization.

 
  • Second: Diagnosing how a phase of economic history may have run its course, Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz (a former Chief Economist of the World Bank) in Project Syndicate asserts that the laissez-faire approach to globalization has reached its (il)logical conclusion: “The failure of globalization to deliver on the promises of mainstream politicians has surely undermined trust and confidence in the ‘establishment.’ . . . Neoliberals have opposed welfare measures that would have protected the losers [of globalization]. But they can’t have it both ways: If globalization is to benefit most members of society, strong social-protection measures must be in place. The Scandinavians figured this out long ago; it was part of [their] social contract. . . . Neoliberals elsewhere have not – and now, in elections in the US and Europe, they are having their comeuppance.”  
 
  • Third: A series of insightful columns by Martin Sandbu in The Financial Times – tracing an “insurrection [that] has been a long time coming” – explores the links among economic stress and social-class anxiety that provoked this year’s social eruption: “Over the past generation, the trajectory of the white working class has no doubt changed the most for the worse, compared with the previous generation.”


The history-minded reflections of Jacques, Stiglitz and Sandbu underscore the fact that many economists are still pondering how so many of their policy prescriptions went so badly wrong, opening the way for the global financial crisis.

‘Smartest Places’ via smarter strategies: Sharpening competitiveness requires ingenuity, not inertia

Christopher Colford's picture

Defeatist demagoguery marred the 2016 election season, and it continues to resonate with many beleaguered voters in advanced Western economies, who dread the gloom-and-doom scenarios sketched by narrow-minded nationalists. For reassurance about positive strategies for economic renewal, try a dose of optimism about urban “hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool” – thanks to a book that champions smart public policies, delivered through an activist approach to Competitiveness Strategy.

Gazing into the rear-view mirror is a mighty reckless way to try to drive an economy forward. Yet backward-looking nostalgia for a supposedly safer economic past – with voters' anxiety being stoked by snide sloganeering about “taking back our sovereignty” and “making the country great again” – infected the policy debate throughout the dispiriting 2016 election year, and its defeatist aftermath, in many of the world’s advanced economies.

Scapegoating globalization and inflaming fears of job losses and wage stagnation, populists have harangued all too many voters into a state of paralysis or passivity. Lamenting the loss of a long-ago era (if ever it actually existed) of economic simplicity, nativists and nationalists have been conjuring up illusions about an era when inward-looking economies were (allegedly) somehow insulated from global competition.

Optimism has been in short supply lately, but an energetic new book – co-authored by a prominent World Bank Group alumnus – offers a hopeful perspective on how imaginative economies can become pacesetters in the fast-forward Knowledge Economy. Advanced industries are thriving and productivity is strengthening, argue Antoine Van Agtmael and Fred Bakker, now that many once-declining manufacturing regions have reinvented their industries and reawakened their entrepreneurial energies.

Welcome to the brainbelt,” declares “The Smartest Places On Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation” (published by Public Affairs books). Now that brainpower has replaced muscle-power as the basis of prosperity in an ever-more-competitive global economy, the key factor for success is "the sharing of knowledge." Longlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, “Smartest Places” is receiving well-deserved attention among corporate leaders and financial strategists – and it ought to be required reading for every would-be policymaker.

The era of “making things smart” has replaced the era of “making things cheap” – meaning that industries no longer face a “race to the bottom” of competing on costs but a “race to the top” of competing on creativity. Knowledge-intensive industries, and the innovation ecosystems that generate them, create the “Smartest Places” that combine hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool.





Those optimistic themes may sound unusual to election-year audiences in struggling regions, which are easy prey for demagogues manipulating populist fears. Yet those ideas are certainly familiar to readers at the World Bank Group, where teams working on innovation, entrepreneurship and competitiveness have long helped their clients shape innovation ecosystems through well-targeted policy interventions that strengthen growth and job creation.

“Smartest Places,” it strikes me, reads like an evidence-filled validation of the Bank Group’s recent research on “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth.” That report, published last year, offers policymakers (especially at the city and metropolitan levels) an array of practical and proven steps that can help jump-start job creation by spurring productivity growth.
 

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