Many of the World Bank Group’s client countries face a difficult challenge – and the White House recently put this issue at the top of the agenda, too: How can policymakers increase competition to support continued growth of the economy? In a global low-growth environment, developing and advanced economies alike are looking for new ways to boost productivity and innovation. A global panel of Ministers agreed at a recent Spring Meetings event that market competition is pivotal in finding a solution.
When firms collude to fix prices or divide markets, thus harming consumers and reducing competitiveness in their sector and the broader economy, independent competition authorities can fine and therefore deter such illegal conduct. When governments set up rules that reinforce the market power of a dominant firm or that allow such illegal conduct, then competition authorities can rarely demand that those rules be changed – even though the effects on prices, service quality or the availability of products can be just as severe. If champions of competition seek to promote more pro-competition government interventions in markets, they must rely on competition advocacy.
Last Thursday in Singapore, Klaus Tilmes, Director of the Trade and Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice of the World Bank Group, and Andreas Mundt, Chair of the International Competition Network (ICN), presented awards to the winners of the 2015-2016 Competition Advocacy Contest – a joint WBG and ICN initiative – at the ICN Annual Conference.
A new World Bank Group publication, launched by T&C on April 15, showcases the results of the 2014-2015 Competition Advocacy Contest, sharing the lessons that have been learned about effective advocacy and discussing innovative ways of adapting to new competition challenges. Previous rounds of the contest have shown how the notable impact of competition advocacy can change mindsets.
Our newest publication highlights the tools that competition authorities have developed to overcome the practical challenges, political-economy constraints and emerging trends that affect competition advocacy.
The World Bank and Rabobank Foundation are teaming up to strengthen financial cooperatives in rural areas to improve financial services for smallholder farmers and agricultural SMEs.
Financial services in rural areas are scarce and expensive. Servicing smallholder farmers spread across wide geographical areas isn’t attractive to mainstream financial institutions as their transactions are small, their cash flows seasonal and returns on investments can be risky due to potential crop failures or weather calamities.
To get access to savings and credit, rural households and farms often establish cooperative financial institutions (CFIs). While CFIs have a strong local presence and knowledge, they often have weak institutional capacity and governance, lack access to information technology, and suffer from political interference. Also, the laws regulating CFIs are often inadequate and supervision is weak, all of which hampers CFIs’ ability to deliver financial services. Often, CFIs don’t fall under the purview of the main financial sector regulator and supervisor, but of other entities that don’t always have the required capacity and expertise.
Tell people you work in Juba – capital of South Sudan and now the newest member of the East African Community – and more often than not they won’t know where to find it on a map. Those of us who know are often met with doubtful stares when we talk about enhancing trade and competitiveness in a country that is struggling to emerge from decades of grueling civil war, not to mention a 98 percent illiteracy rate, inadequate capacity, a maternal mortality rate of 254 for every 100,000 births and a 250 out of 1,000 infant mortality rate.
Fact is, Juba is situated in the heart of Africa, where such challenges, and the daunting figures that go along with them, exist. But look deeper and you see commitment, potential, and signs of the World Bank Group’s positive impact. In short, you see opportunity.
I recently attended an SME Conference in Jordan around SME Finance and Employment – extremely important issues in a troubled region. All participants agree that much more needs to be done to address the lack of jobs in the region and to increase financial access at all levels, to individuals, households and small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).
despite being a middle income region.
Only 4% of unbanked adults in the Middle East say that they don’t have an account because they don't need one. In other words, it is clear there is widespread unmet demand for financial services.
A person living in the Middle East is less likely to have a bank account than is a low-income person living in Africa or South Asia, and significantly less likely than a person living in Latin America, Eastern Europe or East Asia from comparable middle income country or region. This poses a dilemma – why?
At the Global Parliamentary Conference 2016, the perspectives of parliamentarians from 70 countries energized the debate before the Bank's and the Fund's Spring Meetings. From left to right, on the Preston Auditorium stage: Jeremy Lefroy, a Member of Parliament in the U.K., who served as the conference chairman; IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde; and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
Did you happen to miss the Davos conference over the winter? I feel your pain: Somehow, for the umpteenth year in a row, my ticket to the World Economic Forum in Davos must have gotten lost by the Postal Service, too.
Not to worry, however: Twice a year, in April and October, Washington’s motto might as well be “Davos Every Day” – as the great and the good of globalization gather for the formal meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund.
The Bretton Woods siblings are just-now recovering from their semiannual tsunami of scholarship and diplomacy, with still-dazed staff members sorting through their accumulated post-Meetings mountains of newly published policy monographs, economic analyses and deepthink datapoints. This spring’s sprint focused, as is customary, on the speeches, statements and seminars with the Bank’s and the Fund’s scholars, along with the insights of the institutions’ core constituents: the Finance Ministers and central-bank governors who oversee their countries’ daily economic policymaking.
But there was an additional governance-focused feature at this spring's gathering: Meetings-goers also gained the valuable perspective of the almost 200 lawmakers and observers from 70 countries who convened in Washington, for just the second time, for the annual Global Parliamentary Conference. The gathering was held under the auspices of the Bank- and Fund-sponsored Parliamentary Network, which is now chaired by Jeremy Lefroy, a member of the U.K.’s House of Commons representing Stafford.
Hearing the viewpoints among the lawmakers, just before the executive-branch officials began the Spring Meetings formalities, provided Washingtonians a chance to take the pulse of an additional cohort of opinion leaders whose work is indispensable in delivering effective governance. The conference first brought the parliamentarians to Washington in 2015 – and now the Parliamentary Network is aiming to make Washington the venue for their conference every year.
Linking the lawmakers’ conference with the meetings in Washington will provide a valuable opportunity for the parliamentarians to hear more about the latest research findings of the Bank and the Fund. Moreover, it will help the Bank’s and the Fund’s headquarters staffs in Washington hear, more directly, about the policy priorities and development ideas of the leaders who frame their countries’ laws – some of whom may someday, in their turn, become the Ministers and policymakers who lead their countries’ executive-branch agencies.
Questions like those – focusing on the private sector as the principal driver of growth, with deft public policy as an indispensable catalyst – inspired a dialogue among some of the developing world’s most experienced policymakers at a major forum, “Powering Up Growth: Ideas for Beating the Slowdown,” during the recent Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund. All four government Ministers on the panel – from both commodity-exporting and -importing countries – voiced a sense of urgency, describing their efforts to attract private investment to spur job creation, amid a global economy that seems destined for prolonged weakness.
Before the policymakers ascended the Preston Auditorium stage, sobering updates had arrived from the Bank and the Fund: The Bank’s latest forecast for global growth has been lowered from 2.9 percent to 2.5 percent – with the caveat that this latest forecast is subject to further downside risks. That downward revision is in parallel with the Fund’s similar projection, which sees global growth this year in the neighborhood of just 3 percent.
Policymakers worldwide are eager to explore any option to try to lay the foundation for an eventual return to a long-term economic expansion. It was clear that the panelists in the “Powering Up Growth” event – which was convened by Jan Walliser, the Vice President for the Bank Group’s practice group on Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions (EFI) and organized by the Global Practice for Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management (MFM) – were focused on long-term structural changes that can energize the private sector’s ability to drive growth.
The panelists – from Bolivia, Pakistan, Angola and Ukraine – represented countries from different regions and at various levels of economic development, but they shared a determination to jump-start growth through reforms that will strengthen the private sector’s long-term confidence. The Ministers, at times, seemed to envision opportunities, not just for short-term structural adjustment of their priorities or medium-term structural reform of their policy farmeworks, but for far-reaching structural transformation of their economies and societies.
“The only way to achieve the sustainable development goals is to use more public capital strategically for unlocking private investment, particularly for infrastructure,” says Amadou Hott, CEO of the Senegalese Fund for Strategic Investments.
The Senegalese Strategic Investments Fund (FONSIS, for its acronym in French) is part of a rapidly expanding network of state-sponsored strategic investment funds (SIFs) now emerging in countries at all income levels. The World Bank Group and its partner, the Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility, work with FONSIS in an advisory role, and FONSIS provides input to the Bank’s research on SIFs. In the World Bank Group’s recently issued Climate Change Action Plan, SIFs feature as one of the tools to crowd in private capital to climate mitigation and adaptation projects.
Mr. Hott was in Washington last week for the Spring Meetings, and we caught up with him during a break in his schedule. Mr. Hott represents a new generation of African financial sector professionals and leaders, who have returned to opportunities at home after earning degrees at leading global universities and gaining extensive experience on Wall Street, in the City of London, and in other global financial centers. He was also nominated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
Q. FONSIS has been doing some very interesting projects. Could you tell us about some of your signature investments?
One project that I think is innovative is our building and commercial operation of the POLIMED (Pôles d’Infrastructures Médicales) diagnostic center within the public hospital of M’Bour, a coastal city 70 kilometers from Dakar. The hospital itself couldn’t afford to buy the required advanced technological equipment, and we were asked to build and run the diagnostic center as a commercial operation, with the public doctors and technicians of the hospital providing the medical services to keep down patient fees. Since operations started at the end of December 2015, more than 4,000 patients have been diagnosed, and the financial results are looking good so far. We intend to replicate this model all over the country to upgrade our medical infrastructure.
Another interesting project is the 30 megawatt, €41 million, solar energy power plant Santhiou Mékhé, and a 9 km transmission line to the grid. We closed that deal this past February. We were approached by the project’s initial developer, and our role was to structure the financial side of the project, help finalize the power purchase agreement with the off-taker, reach out to potential investors, and negotiate the debt and equity contributions. We also put down about €1.0 million of our own capital as a cornerstone investor, to give the project credibility at the initial stage. We expect the plant to be producing electricity in late 2016. I think we’ve achieved a good result: about €40 of external equity and debt co-investment for every euro that we ourselves invested. In general, we aim to achieve a multiplier of around 10 on our own invested capital, but we achieved an exceptionally high multiplier in this case, as we managed to secure a debt/equity ratio of 80/20.
Two billion people worldwide still lack access to formal and regulated financial services. In 2015, the Bank Group with private and public sector partners committed to promoting financial inclusion and achieving Universal Financial Access by 2020. We've invited our partners to reflect on why they've joined the UFA2020 initiative and how they're contributing toward this goal. This contribution comes from the Pakistan Microfinance Network. #FinAccess2020
Photo Credit: Muhammad Kaleem, Courtesy of the Farmers Friend Organization (FFO)
Kaneez Fatima is a 50 year-old entrepreneur living in Sheikhupura, a city situated 40 km northwest of Lahore, Pakistan. Years before when her husband passed away, she had no idea to find the means for raising a family of six and her future seemed bleak. In her childhood she had acquired the skill of stitching footballs, and she thought about setting up her own workshop. But as a woman in a male dominated market, in an already challenging entrepreneurial environment, she faced what seemed to be an uphill challenge.
Sadly, Kaneez is not alone. World Bank Group Findex data estimates that Pakistan is home to 100 million unbanked people, or 5.2% of the world’ unbanked population, and the ‘Access to Finance Survey 2015’ commissioned by the State Bank of Pakistan states that only 23% of adults use formal financial services offered by formal financial intermediaries with only 16% of Pakistani adults have an account with a formal financial institution.
Now there’s a guy who really puts the full-scale dismal into “the dismal science” of economics – spurring optimists to quickly seek out more hopeful visions of the future.
Those seeking a glimmer of hope about the economic future were well-advised to keep their expectations low as they awaited the gloomy analysis by Prof. Robert J. Gordon, the esteemed economic historian from Northwestern University, who spoke at the World Bank Group’s Macrofiscal Seminar Series on March 31. As anticipated, Gordon’s expertly documented but relentlessly downbeat scenario, based on his latest book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” persuasively made the case for a future of chronically sluggish growth in the world’s advanced economies.
Gordon’s chilling projections combine some of the darkest aspects of Lawrence Summers’ worries about “secular stagnation,” Christine Lagarde’s lamentations of a “New Mediocre” and private-sector leaders’ struggle to strategize for the “New Normal.” Gordon’s bleak thesis foresees “little growth” – although, significantly, not zero growth – as the developed world’s weary economies endure perhaps decades of drift.
Policymakers in the world’s largest economies are surely exasperated by the painstaking crawl out of the global financial crisis – yet they don’t have much positive news to look forward to, asserts Gordon. With “declining potential productivity growth” compounding the impact of declining population growth and a declining labor-force participation rate, there’s probably no technological deus ex machina that can soon propel the world’s advanced economies toward restored prosperity.
That viewpoint defies the techno-utopian visions that have been so eagerly peddled to anxious Western voters, who can only dream of a return to brisk late-1990s-style growth. Quipped the Macrofiscal seminar’s discussant, Deepak Mishra: Gordon “has made a career of busting the technology hype.”
Yet Gordon’s logic need not trigger total despair among the Bank’s poverty-fighting professionals and their counterparts at other development institutions. Gordon emphasized that his analysis is about the American economy, and, to some extent, about the mature economies of Western Europe. His book’s foreboding predictions, he said, do not extend to developing economies, which enjoy “great potential for growth.”
For can-do pragmatists who strive for stronger growth and sustained progress in developing economies, there’s a ready antidote to Gordon-style macroeconomic gloom. By happenstance, immediately after Gordon delivered his grim analysis in the Bank’s J Building auditorium, optimists seeking inspiration needed only to cross the street to the Bank’s Main Complex to hear an energetic appeal for greater hands-on activism.
With an update on the movement for Community-Led Development (CLD), a seminar sponsored by the Bank’s Community-Driven Development Global Solutions Group learned of the promise that CLD offers for inspiring inclusive, sustainable solutions that enlist citizens’ engagement and build community-level confidence in strong governance standards.
Moving from macro to micro – dispelling the dread of inexorable global forces and embracing positive citizen-centric action – the CLD leaders leapfrogged Gordon’s macro-level angst to highlight micro-level opportunity.