|Our understanding of country-level trade in goods, and of conventional trade policy—tariffs and quotas—has improved. But other dimensions of international integration, including firm-level transactions and trade in services, and of policies affecting international integration, such as trade facilitation and export promotion, remain less well understood. New research is beginning to remedy gaps in our knowledge and facilitate informed policy-making. PDF Version (493 KB) |
Research focuses on how trade in goods and services, foreign investment and migration, and the policies influencing these flows affect economic development. Both national policies and international agreements are studied. The specific policy research questions are in many cases defined by demand from Bank operations and client countries; addressed by collecting new data which are rigorously analyzed and widely disseminated; studied in collaboration with researchers from developing countries and other development institutions; and the results implemented in cooperation with staff from Bank operations and client countries.
New ways of measuring and analyzing trade protection are helping us understand its extent and causes
Researchers developed three measures of trade distortions, each well-grounded in theory and each capturing a key aspect of trade policy: the Trade Restrictiveness Index (TRI) summarizes the effects of a country’s trade policy on its own welfare; the Overall Trade Restrictiveness index (OTRI) summarizes effects on its import volume, and hence on its trading partners; and the Market Access OTRI (MA-OTRI) summarizes the effects of partner countries’ distortions on its exports. Empirical estimates revealed that poor countries have more restrictive policies, but they also to face higher trade barriers on their exports. Including non-tariff barriers (along with tariffs) increases measured trade restrictiveness by an additional 87 percent. A series of studies in Africa are demonstrating how non-tariff barriers also fragment regional markets. Among non-tariff barriers, stringent product standards are becoming a serious hindrance to trade in some sectors.
The crisis raised fears of widespread protectionism but researchers demonstrated that this was a dog that did not bark. Only a handful of countries, such as Argentina, China, Malawi, Russia, and Turkey imposed higher tariffs on products with significant trade flows. But the crisis did accentuate a longer-term trend of increasing recourse to antidumping, safeguard, and countervailing duty policies among some countries—as revealed by the World Bank’s new Database on Temporary Barriers to Trade. Countries sometimes used antidumping and safeguard exceptions to unwind commitments to lower tariffs in the face of domestic political-economic pressure. Moreover, these barriers are increasingly a “South-South” phenomenon, with China, in particular, a victim of actions by other developing countries. Still, the rise in tariffs and antidumping duties is estimated to have jointly caused trade to drop only by about US$43 billion, which is less than 2 percent of the decline in global trade. Aggregating across all product categories, the evidence suggests that the collapse in trade was caused primarily by a synchronized demand-side shock, but supply-side frictions did play a role within manufacturing.
Who gets the protection? It is well-known that declining industries are more likely to receive trade protection, yet standard economic approaches suggest that protection should be given to expanding sectors. To explain this anomaly, a new study introduced concepts of loss aversion from behavioral economics to better explain actual policy choices. A clear prediction emerges: when an industry first begins to decline, significant protection is provided to isolate it from reductions in the world price. However, if the industry continues to decline, policy approaches free trade.
New firm-level data is yielding insights on how firms begin to export and what sustains exports…
Understanding what drives and sustains exports success has proved elusive, but a new dataset being constructed by the trade research group is helping. For example, firm-level data on the nontraditional agriculture sector in Peru, which grew seven-fold from 1994 to 2007, reveals new products are typically introduced by large experienced exporters. These introductions provoke tremendous firm entry and exit in the export sector. Similarly, data for Costa Rica for the period 1997–2007 reveal that on average, about 30 percent of firms in each year tend to exit export activities, and a similar percentage of firms enter. Even though exiting and entering firms tend to be smaller than incumbent firms in terms of export value, in the long run new product-firm combinations (i.e., product-firm combinations not present in 1997) account for almost 60 percent of the value of exports in 2007. A study of Mexican trade integration under NAFTA also shows intense product churning within firms, and that new exporters enter foreign markets with a small export volume and a small number of varieties, most of which were previously sold at home.
Africa is no different. A study of Malawi, Mali, Senegal and Tanzania reveals a high degree of experimentation with new products and markets associated with low survival rates, as in high- and middle-income countries. Survival probability rises with the number of firms exporting the same product to the same destination from the same country, pointing to the existence of cross-firm synergies, which may be driven by information spillovers. Firms that are more diversified, in terms of products and in terms of markets, are more likely to be successful and survive beyond the first year.
…and on the relationship between trade and economic performance
It is now well-established that exporters tend to be more productive than domestic firms. However, these premiums are found to vary considerably across countries, being higher in countries with lower export participation rates, with more restrictive trade policies, and in countries exporting to relatively more distant markets.
A study finds only weak evidence that “what you export matters” and suggests that “how” any particular good is produced merits more attention from a policy perspective. For example, natural resources are not necessarily a curse, and some countries have leveraged them into sustainable and diversified development while others have not. Different goods do appear to have potential for growth in export quality measured by unit value, but poor countries show lower growth even conditioning on goods composition. “High tech” goods such as computers can be the product of highly skilled human capital, but can also involve rote assembly work with little dynamic growth potential.
Increased competition from low-price producers in China and India has induced manufacturing firms in other emerging economies to position themselves in domestic and international markets by offering upgraded and differentiated rather than generic labor-intensive products. For example, a rich dataset of Chilean manufacturing plants reveals a positive and robust effect of import competition on product quality.
The link between market incentives and technology adoption is more nuanced. Survey data for 7,000 firms in 28 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia reveal that while stronger consumer pressure is significantly associated with technology adoption, competitor pressure is not, suggesting that it is primarily firms with rents that are able to adopt new technologies. Foreign-owned firms exhibit significantly better technology adoption outcomes, but privatized firms with domestic owners do not.
The impact of international integration on the labor market is a central concern for policy makers. New research suggests that the impact of exports depends on their destination. One reason is that exporting to high-income countries requires quality upgrades that are skill-intensive. A study of Argentine manufacturing firms during 1998–2000 reveals that firms induced by the Brazilian currency devaluation of 1999 to shift from Brazilian to high-income markets hired a higher proportion of skilled workers and paid higher average wages than other exporters (to non-high-income countries) and domestic firms.
Trade policy is taking newer pro-active forms and these efforts need to be informed by better evidence
In developing countries and the World Bank’s work, there is a shift away from economy-wide reforms of tariffs and trade restrictions toward focused interventions to facilitate trade and promote exports. But there is limited evidence on whether such interventions work and why. A new book on the impact evaluation of trade-related policy interventions took the first steps toward more rigorous evaluation of trade-related interventions, drawing upon experience in other areas (labor, education, health). Systematically building impact evaluation into trade projects could lead to better policy design and a more credible case for “aid-for-trade.”
Trade facilitation efforts must target infrastructure and delay
As tariffs have declined, it has become evident that protection is not the only impediment to trade. Weakness in infrastructure—both hard (e.g., ports and roads) and “soft” (e.g., customs and other regulations)—also hurt trade. Trade costs are higher in Africa than in other regions, and trade facilitation could have a powerful effect on trade. Similarly, improving the quality of physical infrastructure so that Egypt’s indicator increases half-way to the level of Tunisia would increase its exports by more than 10 percent, roughly equal in impact to a 7.5 percent cut in tariffs faced by Egyptian exporters in destination markets. A 1-percent increase in aid-for-trade facilitation (about US$220 million in 2008) could potentially result in US$290 million of additional exports.
The Bank has developed new measures of trade costs, such as the Logistics Performance Index (LPI), which are spurring efforts to facilitate trade through reforms that encompass behind-the-border measures. Estimates suggest that an increase in the LPI of low-income countries to the middle-income country average would increase imports by 8.5 percent and exports by 15 percent. Apart from explicit trade costs, “trade delayed is trade lost.” Using newly collected data on the days it takes to move standard cargo from the factory gate to the ship in 98 countries, it was estimated that each additional day that a product is delayed prior to being shipped reduces trade by more than 1 percent.
Well-designed export promotion can help
The number of national export promotion agencies (EPAs) has tripled over the past two decades. Many EPAs were retooled, partly in response to critiques of their efficacy in developing countries. New survey data covering 103 developing and developed countries, suggest that today’s EPAs and their strategies have a statistically significant effect on exports. EPA services help overcome foreign trade barriers and address information problems associated with exports of heterogeneous goods. There are also strong diminishing returns, suggesting that as far as EPAs are concerned, small is beautiful.
A new book examines the sudden and abrupt drop in international trade and the reported trade finance “gap” during the 2008–09 financial crisis. It finds that trade finance was not the main driver behind the 2008 trade collapse, but that small and medium enterprises were particularly vulnerable to the tightening of trade finance conditions. The swift response of the international community in maintaining specific programs to support vulnerable segments helped.
Exchange rate policy also matters. Export surges in developing countries tend to be preceded by a large real depreciation, which leaves the exchange rate significantly undervalued. Depreciation is associated with a significant reallocation of resources in the export sector, and stimulates entry into new export products and new markets. These new exports are important, accounting for over 40 percent of export growth, on average, during the surge in developing countries.
The impact of political instability and economic mismanagement on trade performance cannot be easily reversed, as a study of Zimbabwe shows. Over the last decade, traditional surpluses in agricultural products, industrial raw materials, and tourism have either diminished or disappeared turning Zimbabwe into a net importer of agricultural products. Macroeconomic stability was restored in 2009 after more than a decade of inflation and hyperinflation. But it is taking time for economic reform to revive even the exports that are in line with Zimbabwe’s endowments of natural resources, human capital, and natural environment.
Services reform may also be an effective form of industrial policy
There is increasing evidence that services liberalization is a major potential source of gains in economic performance. Firm-level data from the Czech Republic, show a positive relationship between services sector reform and the performance of domestic firms in downstream manufacturing sectors. Allowing foreign entry into services industries appears to be the key channel, and foreign acquisitions of Czech services providers result in profound changes in the labor productivity and sales of acquired firms. Similarly, a study for Chile shows that forward linkages from foreign direct investment (FDI) in services explain 7 percent of the observed increase in manufacturing users’ total factor productivity. FDI is shown to foster innovation activities in manufacturing and offers opportunities for laggard firms to catch up with industry leaders. It has been estimated that a large part of the gains for Russia from WTO accession will be due to the liberalization of barriers against multinational service providers. As most barriers to foreign investment today are not in goods but in services sectors, the findings of these studies may strengthen the argument for additional reform in this area.
New data are improving understanding of the patterns of migration and its impact on development
A new database of bilateral migrant stocks spanning 1960–2000, and drawing upon data from over 1,000 national censuses and population registers, presents a comprehensive picture of bilateral global migration. The global migrant stock increased from 92 million in 1960 to 165 million in 2000. Migration between developing countries dominates but migration from developing to developed countries is growing faster. The United States is the most important migrant destination in the world, home to one-fifth of the world’s migrants and the top destination for migrants from some 60 sending countries. Migration to Western Europe has come largely from elsewhere in Europe. The oil-rich Persian Gulf countries emerge as important destinations for migrants from the Middle East and North Africa and South and Southeast Asia. Migration flows are shaped by a combination of self-selection and out-selection mechanisms and existing diasporas are among the most important determinant of migration patterns.
In terms of the development impact of migration, brain drain has long been a common concern for migrant-sending countries, particularly for small countries where high-skilled emigration rates are highest. Detailed surveys were conducted to track academic high-achievers from five countries to wherever they moved. The results show that there are high levels of emigration and of return migration among the highly skilled and the income gains and remittances are large.
Striking differences exist among highly educated immigrants in the United States, even after controlling for age, experience, and level of education. Educated immigrants from Latin American and Eastern Europe are more likely to end up in unskilled jobs than those from Asia and industrial countries. “Under-placed” migrants suffer primarily from low (or poorly transferable) skills and many problems might be reduced with better sharing of information on labor market conditions and recognition of workers’ qualifications.
Seasonal migration programs are widely used around the world, and are increasingly seen as offering a potential “triple-win”—benefiting the migrant, sending country, and receiving country. New Zealand’s Recognized Seasonal Employer program was launched in 2007 with an explicit focus on development in the Pacific alongside the aim of benefiting employers at home. A multi-year prospective evaluation measured the impact of participation in this program on households and communities in Tonga and Vanuatu and found positive development impacts. It has increased income and consumption of households, allowed purchase of more durable goods, and increased the subjective standard of living and child schooling in Tonga.
The importance of ethnic networks for international trade has been recognized, but their impact on foreign direct investment (FDI) has not. The presence of migrants can stimulate FDI by promoting information flows across international borders and by serving as a contract enforcement mechanism. New research reveals that U.S. FDI abroad is positively correlated with the presence of migrants from the host country, especially those with tertiary education. Another study on Albania also finds that past household migration experience exerts a positive impact on the probability of owning a non-farm business; however, while one additional year in Greece increases the probability of household business ownership by roughly 6 percent, a similar experience in Italy or farther destinations raises the probability by over 25 percent.
Diaspora bonds can be a powerful financial instrument for mobilizing savings of emigrants to finance specific public and private sector projects, as well as to help improve the debt profile of their home countries. There are risks associated with debt denominated in foreign currency and consideration must be given to prudential risk management before taking on additional debt. Building on extensive analytical work, pilot programs are proposed for funding infrastructure, education and community development projects via diaspora bonds.
Immigrants in Rome or Paris are more visible to the public eye than the Italian or French engineers in Silicon Valley. Nevertheless, public fears that immigration worsens income distribution may be misplaced, especially in European countries. A new dataset on migration flows by education levels for the period 1990–2000, reveals that both emigrants and immigrants are more skilled than non-migrants. Therefore, immigration generally improved the income distribution of European countries while emigration worsened it by increasing the wage gap between the high- and low-skilled natives.
Whither international cooperation?
The Doha Development Agenda (DDA) is in limbo. A new book helps a Doha-weary world make informed choices as it faces a difficult “trilemma”: to implement all or part of the draft agreements as they stand today; to modify them substantially; or to dump Doha and start afresh. Current Doha proposals—even after allowing for flexibilities such as for sensitive and special products—would cut applied tariffs on agricultural and non-agricultural (NAMA) goods by around 20 percent; in agriculture, abolish export subsidies and sharply reduce maximum levels of domestic support, especially in the European Union and the United States: and by cutting bound tariffs (an average of 27 percent in agricultural and 46 percent in non-agricultural goods) reduce the scope for future protection.
The difficulties involved in completing the Doha Development Agenda raise important questions about whether fundamental reform of the WTO system is required, both in terms of how the traditional agenda is negotiated and what new issues need to be addressed. For example, less ambitious tariff-cutting formulae in goods may generate less pressure for exceptions; addressing export restrictions in agriculture may make import liberalization easier; and greater regulatory cooperation in services may facilitate market access negotiations. Furthermore, a negotiating agenda that speaks to 21st Century concerns could include issues such as food and energy security, currency undervaluation and climate change-related trade issues, and involve greater cooperation between international organizations.
Even as multilateral negotiations are stalled, new regional initiatives are emerging. Some are concerned that Free Trade Areas (FTAs) reduce the trade opportunities of non-members. A study of 10 Latin American countries finds that preferential tariff reduction actually leads to reductions in all external tariffs. External liberalization is greater if preferential access is granted to important suppliers. These “complementarity effects” of preferential liberalization do not arise in customs unions, suggesting an important reason to prefer FTAs over Customs Unions.
While Latin American countries have primarily used formal regional trade treaties as the main channel of integration, East Asian countries have been “integrating via markets” before negotiating formal agreements. One interpretation of the relative effectiveness of the East Asian approach is that regional trade agreements often serve multiple constituents, and integrating via markets empowers the outward-looking economic interests.
As climate change negotiations enter a post-Durban phase, new research examines the trade consequences of mitigation actions. While manufacturing output and exports in low-carbon intensity countries such as Brazil are unlikely to be adversely affected, in high-carbon intensity countries, such as China and India, even a modest agreement could significantly depress manufacturing output and exports. If industrial countries impose border taxes on imports from countries with lower carbon prices, their impact would depend on their design. A tariff based on the carbon content of imports would have serious consequences for trading partners; for example, China’s manufacturing exports would decline by one-fifth and those of all low- and middle-income countries by 8 percent. In contrast, a tariff based on the carbon content in domestic production would broadly address the competitiveness concerns of producers in high-income countries and less seriously damage developing country trade.
Aaditya Mattoo, Research Manager, Development Research Group, Development Economics Vice Presidency, World Bank (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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