“You can’t hold back time,” goes the saying (and the song). Indeed, the Laws of Nature dictate that people and societies get older and older, whether we like it or not.
But let me pose a question: are aging societies doomed to experience stagnation or a decline in living standards? Some might believe so, but I would argue that it is possible to address the realities of changing demographics that come from aging – through bold adaptive action!
Esta semana, la ciudad de Río de Janeiro se convertirá en un escenario mundial al recibir a decenas de miles de personas que asistirán a la Conferencia de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Desarrollo Sostenible.
Sustainable development was once thought of as primarily a concern for the poorer, so-called “developing” countries. Today, with industrial civilization spreading across the entire world, devouring ever more resources and emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, economists believe wealthy countries too are in a sense still “developing” ones. Life on Earth will not survive in its current form if lifestyle of the northern countries remains as it is and extends across the planet.
Sri Lanka experienced strong growth at the end of its 26-year conflict. This was to be expected as post-war reconstruction tends to bring new hope and energy to a country.
And Sri Lanka has done well—5 percent growth is nothing to scoff at.
However, Sri Lanka needs to create an environment that fosters private-sector growth and creates more and better jobs. To that end, the country should address these 6 pressing challenges:
1. The easy economic wins are almost exhausted
For a long time, the public-sector has been pouring funds into everything from infrastructure to healthcare. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s public sector is facing serious budget constraints. The island’s tax to growth domestic product (GDP) ratio is one of the lowest in the world, falling from 24.2% in 1978 to 10.1% in 2014. Sri Lanka should look for more sustainable sources of growth. As in many other countries, the answer lies with the private sector.
2. Sri Lanka has isolated itself from global and regional value chains
Over the past decades, Sri Lanka has lost its trade competitiveness. As illustrated in the graph below, Sri Lanka outperformed Vietnam in the early 1990s on how much of its trade contributed to its growth domestic product. Vietnam has now overtaken Sri Lanka where trade has been harmed by high tariffs and para-tariffs and trade interventions on agriculture.
Sri Lanka’s private sector is ailing. Sri Lankan companies are entrepreneurial and the country’s young people are smart, inquisitive, and dynamic. Yet, this does not translate into a vibrant private sector. Instead, public enterprises are the ones carrying the whole weight of development in this country.
The question is, why is the private sector not shouldering its burden of growth?
From the chart above, you can see how difficult it is to set up and operate a business in Sri Lanka. From paying taxes to enforcing contracts to registering property, entrepreneurs have the deck stacked against them.
Trading across borders is particularly challenging for Sri Lankan businesses. Trade facilitation is inadequate to the point of stunting growth and linkages to regional value chains. The chart explains just why Sri Lanka is considered one of the hardest countries in the world to run a trading business. Compare it to Singapore–you could even import a live tiger there without a problem.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has become a hotspot of unsustainable water use, with more than half of current water withdrawals in some countries exceeding the amount naturally available. This could have serious long-term consequences for the region’s growth and stability. Solutions for narrowing the gap between the supply of and demand for water are an urgent priority.
As the Fourth Arab Water Forum gets underway next week in Cairo, Egypt, much is at stake in the region’s water management. Armed conflict and massive numbers of refugees have put tremendous additional stress on land and water resources in MENA as well as on infrastructure in communities receiving the refugees. In Jordan alone, according to the country’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation, climate change and the refugee crisis have reduced water availability per person to 140 cubic meters, far below the globally recognized threshold of 500 cubic meters for severe water scarcity.
These recent developments compound the impact of decades of rapid population growth, urbanization and agricultural intensification. A recent World Bank report notes that more than 60% of the region’s population is concentrated in places affected by high or very high surface water stress, compared to a global average of about 35%. The report further warns that climate-related water scarcity is expected to cause economic losses estimated at 6-14% of GDP by 2050 – the highest in the world.
As governments search for solutions, two trends in particular could present game-changing opportunities to bolster water security. As captured in two recent reports by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the viability of these solutions will depend on how governments and societies respond to them.
A few weeks ago, the World Bank’s migration and remittances team released its latest forecast of global remittance flows, indicating that even fewer migrants from developing East Asian and Pacific countries may be sending home money this year than they predicted in an earlier report. Remittances flowing to countries in the region are now forecast to fall by 5.7-8.8 percent in 2009, according to the report (pdf). Revised 2008 data show China, the Philippines and Vietnam are in the top 10 recipients of remittances among developing countries.
Interestingly, despite indicating falling remittance flows to the East Asia and Pacific region, the outlook states that South and East Asian countries have been relatively strong. There is, of course, a risk of a further slowing down. For example, remittance money flowing to the Philippines appears to still be growing this year. But such positive flows went from 14 percent year-on-year growth in 2007-08 to just 3 percent growth so far in 2009, according to the report.
The report’s authors write that there may be key risks that further threatening global remittance flows to developing countries – including a longer-than-projected financial crisis threatening jobs and income for immigrants in developed countries. However, they write, recovery may come by next year: “We expect that remittance flows to developing countries could decline by 7-10 percent in 2009, with a possible recovery in 2010 and 2011.”
What’s the significance of remittances? One notable example came from blogger Eric Le Borgne last April. Eric pointed out that remittances are a key factor to the economic health of the Philippines, as well as the country’s resilience so far during the global financial crisis.
Some people think innovation is only about gadgets, high-tech industries, and laboratories. But this is only the tip of the iceberg! The truth is that there are many types of innovation that can have a transformational impact on everyday people’s lives.
That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.
Deepening regional integration requires sufficient policy-relevant analytical work on the costs and benefits of both intra-regional trade and investment. An effective cross-border network of young professionals can contribute to fresh thinking on emerging economic cooperation issues in South Asia.
Against this background, the World Bank Group sponsored a competitive request for proposals. Awardees from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, after being actively mentored by seasoned World Bank staff over a period of two years, convened in Washington DC to present their new and exciting research. Research areas included regional value chains, production sharing and the impact assessment of alternative preferential trade agreements in the region.
Young Economists offer fresh thoughts on economic cooperation in South Asia
Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Surendar Singh, Policy Analyst, Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS International) presented their research: Of Streams and Tides, India-Bangladesh Value Chains in Textiles and Clothing (T&C). They focus on how to tackle three main trade barriers for T&C: a) high tariffs for selected, but important goods for the industries of both countries; b) inefficient customs procedures and c) divergent criteria for rules of origin classification.
Sreerupa Sengupta, Ph.D. Scholar at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi discussed Trade Cooperation and Production Sharing in South Asia – An Indian Perspective. Reviewing the pattern of Indian exports and imports in the last twenty years, her research focuses on comparing the Global Value Chain (GVC) participation rate of India with East Asian and ASEAN economies. Barriers to higher participation include a) lack of openness in the FDI sector; b) lack of adequate port infrastructure, and long port dwell times; and c) lack of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).
Aamir Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad presented his work on Economy Wide Impact of Regional Integration in South Asia - Options for Pakistan. His research analyzes the reasons for Pakistan not being able to take full advantage of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, and finds that the granting of ASEAN-type concessions to Pakistan in its FTA with China would be more beneficial than the current FTA arrangement. The work also draws lessons for FTAs that are currently being negotiated by South Asian countries.
We are witnessing a pivotal moment in a decades-long effort to combat climate change. Last year in Paris, world leaders came together for the first time to commit to keeping global warming below 2°C. With the Paris Agreement in force and negotiators at COP22 in Marrakesh teasing out the details of implementing the Agreement, countries are developing their action plans (or Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Part of this is looking at how carbon assets could be traded across borders.