Tag Archives: 2016

BRICS Summit 2016: Five Key Trade Takeaways

Alicia Nicholls

The BRICS grouping, comprising of the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, held its 8th Summit in Goa, India under the theme “Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions” October, 15-16, 2016. India currently holds the chairmanship of the five-nation grouping.

Here are the main trade takeaways from the Summit:

  1. Support for the WTO-based Multilateral Trading System

The BRICS leaders have reiterated their support for the rules-based multilateral trading system and the World Trade Organisation’s centrality. Leaders noted the increased spaghetti bowl of bilateral, regional and plurilateral trade agreements and advocated that these agreements should be complementary to the multilateral trading system. According to the Goa Declaration, BRICS leaders also encouraged parties to ” align their work in consolidating the multilateral trading system under the WTO in accordance with the principles of transparency, inclusiveness, and compatibility with the WTO rules.”

2. Continued support of Doha Development Agenda

Contrary to the G20 Statement where the Doha Development Agenda was essentially scrubbed from the trade vocabulary, BRICS leaders reiterated their support for advancing negotiations in the DDA, reflecting the sharply divided opinion on the future of Doha  which was demonstrated in the Nairobi Ministerial Statement. They also emphasised the importance of implementing the decisions taken at the Bali and Nairobi Ministerial Conferences and urged all WTO members to work together to ensure a strong development oriented outcome for MC11 and beyond.

3. Promoting BRICS Economic Cooperation

The BRICS leaders praised progress made so far on the implementation of the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership and emphasised the importance of the BRICS Roadmap for Trade, Economic and Investment Cooperation until 2020.

4. Improving intra-BRICS Customs Cooperation

The BRICS leaders commended the establishment of the Customs Cooperation Committee of BRICS and the signing of the Regulations on Customs Cooperation Committee of the BRICS in line with the undertaking in the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership to strengthen interaction among Customs Administrations.

5. Double intra-BRICS trade by 2020

In his plenary address, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on fellow BRICS leaders to double the value of intra-BRICS trade to $500 billion by  2020. According to Prime Minister Modi, intra-BRICS trade was $250 billion in 2015. He further noted that this target would require “businesses and industry in all five countries to scale up their engagement” and “for governments to facilitate this process to the fullest”.

The full text of the Goa Statement may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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Evaluating Barbados’ WEF GCI Competitiveness Scorecard: Is Top of the Regional Class Good Enough?

Alicia Nicholls

Barbados made its grand reappearance on the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 2016-2017 after data shortages precluded its 2014-2015 inclusion. According to the WEF’s scorecard, the region’s star pupil topped its Latin American and Caribbean peers in the following subjects: infrastructure, labour market efficiency and technological readiness.

Barbados is a 166 sq  miles (431 sq km) island nation with a population of about 280,000, a GDP of US4.4 billion and a GDP per capita of US$15,773, which puts us in the high income non-OECD range according to the World Bank. On the surface Barbados’ scorecard is commendable, particularly for a small island developing state (SIDS) whose recovery from the 2008/2009 global economic and financial crisis has been slow and protracted. Personally for me as a Barbadian I am proud of the achievements my country has made since our independence from the UK just shy of 50 years ago.

But before we uncork the champagne, several things should give us pause. First, Barbados’ current rank of 72nd out of 138 economies marks a precipitous drop from its ranking in the GCI 2012-2013 where it was ranked 44th place out of 144 economies. Second, contrast this slide with the performance of another small island developing state (SIDS), Mauritius, which was ranked 54th in GCI 2012-2013 and has risen slowly but surely up the ranks to reach 45th place out of 138 economies in GCI 2016-2017. Third, only three other Caribbean economies were included on the index this year. While Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago lost ground, the other two Caribbean economies, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, improved their rankings. Fourth, Barbados’ performance on eleven of the twelve pillars has been on a downward slope since 2012-2013.

The Good

Barbados’ top scores were in higher education and training, and infrastructure, where it ranked 29th and 30th respectively. For example, it ranks 6th in fixed-telephone lines /100 population and 25th in overall quality of infrastructure.  These have for a long time been among the island’s competitive advantages despite its small size. However, while the gross tertiary education enrolment rate is 36%, this is likely to decline given the removal of tuition-free tertiary education in 2014.

Barbados also ranks 31st in technological readiness which is the only one of the twelve pillars on which the island’s performance remains on an upward trajectory. It ranks a commendable 10th in internet bandwidth kb/s/user. Unlike the other three Caribbean economies included, corruption was not seen as a major problem in Barbados.

The Bad

The GCI is a useful tool for policy makers to benchmark their economy’s current against its historical performance across over 100 competitiveness indicators. Factors which, according to the WEF GCI, affect doing business in Barbados are: poor work ethic in the national labour force, inefficient government bureaucracy, tax rates, restrictive labour regulations and access to financing.

Not surprisingly, market size and the macroeconomic environment are the island’s Achilles heel and are a drag on the island’s competitiveness. The Central Bank of Barbados reports economic growth of 1.3% for the first half of 2016 but the island’s fiscal deficit and public debt remain unsustainably high. The island’s economic fragility is reflected in the low rankings on indicators such as government budget balance as % of GDP (122nd), gross national savings (127th) and government debt (127th). The island is rated 72 out of 100 for country credit rating, reflecting the successive downgrades since 2009 and could decline as the downgrades continue. Under the market size pillar, the country ranked 135th out of 136 on GDP (PPP).

The Way Forward

The GCI is an important scorecard showing the areas in which an economy is doing well, and those in which remedial attention is needed. Barbados remains a preferred jurisdiction in the Caribbean for doing business and the report shows that the island has clear competitive advantages in some areas that policymakers and the private sector should continue to build on and leverage in our investment promotions.

However, I believe that while Barbados remains top of the class in the Caribbean, the island’s continued slippage in the rankings, including in areas which are our competitive advantage, is a concern. I dare say that top of the class in this case is not good enough. Discerning investors consult several indices, including the GCI, when considering potential investment locations. Barbados’ previous A-class performance on these indices was one of its selling points and this would carry less weight if the island continues to decline in its rankings.

A useful feature of the GCI is that it allows for benchmarking against other economies and is a good tool for identifying best practices. Singapore, a small island developing state, currently ranks second place overall on the index and there may be some areas in which Barbados can learn from the reforms they have made. Besides Singapore, we can examine another top 50-rated SIDS, Mauritius, to see what best practices we can consider. We may also be able to learn from the Dominican Republic and Jamaica which, while ranked below us, saw improvements in their rankings.We have strong rankings in our technological and infrastructure capacity. Let us build on these strengths by improving the incorporation of ICTs for improving the ease of doing business and reducing some of the inefficiencies.

Perhaps the best utility of the GCI is that it provides empirical evidence for identifying policy priorities as countries craft and evaluate their national competitiveness policies. As any eager pupil would, Barbados should take these findings to heart. Several competitiveness reforms have been on-going aimed at tackling some of the weaknesses which the GCI 2016 has again brought to light. For example, the $50 million fund for SMEs announced in the August budget should assist SMEs’ access to finance. The island also received a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank for competitiveness improvement called the Barbados Competitiveness Programme. These are good strides. However, if Barbados wants an A-grade and to be truly at the top of the global class, the island needs to quicken and deepen the pace of its competitiveness reforms, strengthening those things it is good at, working on those which it is not, while also putting mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of their performance.

Nonetheless, the responsibility for ensuring long-term and sustainable competitiveness does not rest with government alone but requires strong collaboration, honest dialogue and feedback among all national stakeholders, including for instance, through the social partnership.

Private sector involvement is key for ensuring Barbados’ obtains a score card each year. A few years ago, I was part of the survey team which administered the WEF Executive Opinion Survey in Barbados, the main instrument used for gathering the data utilised in a whole suite of WEF reports, including the Global Competitiveness Report. While in each instance our team was able to meet our quota, the biggest challenge we found was the unwillingness of some business executives either to participate in the survey, or to complete it satisfactorily and in a timely manner. If insufficient businesses complete the survey, the country will not be included in the index. To encourage greater private sector participation in the survey, I suggest there be closer collaboration between the country partner institute and the various private sector bodies in the country.

 Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Ranking Caribbean Countries’ Competitiveness: WEF Global Competitiveness Index 2016-2017

business-561388_960_720Alicia Nicholls

A few days ago, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017. Two things immediately struck me as I perused the list of 138 economies which made the GCI 2016. The first was that because of data shortages only 4 Caribbean countries (Barbados, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Trinidad & Tobago in order of rank) were included in this year’s index. The second was that all four of these economies were in the bottom 50 per cent of the survey sample, with the highest ranked (Barbados) at only 72nd place.

The WEF in its Global Competitiveness Report defines competitiveness as “the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of an economy which in turn sets the level of prosperity that the country can achieve”.The GCI’s 114 indicators are grouped into 12 pillars which are further grouped into 3 sub-indices.  Collectively they measure an economy’s performance on a variety of concepts which impact on productivity and prosperity. Some of these include basic requirements such as institutions, infrastructure and macroeconomic environment to more sophisticated indicators dealing with business sophistication and innovation.

In the preface to this year’s report, the World Economic Forum team highlighted that “many of the competitiveness challenges we see today stem from the aftermath of the financial crisis”.  Productivity and GDP growth in advanced economies and increasingly emerging economies remain subdued. This equally applies to Caribbean countries whose small open economies enhanced their vulnerability to the effects of global financial and economic crisis of 2008, and face many competitiveness disadvantages inherent in their smallness. However, not all of the region’s competitiveness challenges are structural and many are within our power to address.

Caribbean Countries’ WEF GCI Performance 2016-2017

So how did the region fare on the GCI this time around?  Barbados, whose economic recovery remains fragile, topped the CARIFORUM rankings with a rank of 72. Due to data shortages, the island had not been included in the 2015-2016 index but has dropped several places since its rank of 55 out of 144 economies on the 2014-2015 index.

Barbados commendably tops the Latin America and Caribbean region in infrastructure, labour market efficiency and technology. However, the island’s most problematic factors for doing business are as follows: poor work ethic in national labour force, inefficient government bureaucracy, tax rates, restrictive labour regulations and access to financing. Unlike the other three Caribbean economies included, corruption was not seen as a major problem in Barbados.

Trinidad & Tobago, which is currently in recession, has also lost ground, ranking 94 out of 138 economies in 2016-2017, compared to 89 out 140 in 2015-2016. The top 5 problem areas for Trinidad & Tobago for doing business were poor work ethic in national labour force, corruption, inefficient government bureaucracy, crime and theft and foreign currency regulations. But there is a silver lining. The WEF GCI identifies three stages of development: Stage 1 (Factor-driven), Stage 2 (Efficiency-driven) and Stage 3 (Innovation-driven). Trinidad was the only Caribbean country listed as a stage 3 economy (innovation-driven). Barbados was ranked as transitioning between stages 2 and 3. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic were classified as stage 2.

Some more good news is that Jamaica saw forward movement on the index, moving to 75 out of 138 in 2016-2017 from 86 out of 140 in 2015-2016, as well as the Dominican Republic which ranked 92 out of 138 countries in 2016-2017 compared to 98 out of 140 countries in 2015-2016. The Dominican Republic’s reforms were mentioned in the report.

Importance of Country Competitiveness Indices

The WEF GCI is the most comprehensive benchmark of national competitiveness of economies worldwide. This year’s index comprised 98% of the global economy. It is, therefore, quite disappointing that not only does no Caribbean country currently rank among the top 50, but that so few Caribbean countries are included in the 2016-2017 index compared to previous indices as a result of data shortages.

These rankings are important for several reasons.The GCI is a useful tool for policy makers not only  for benchmarking the economy’s current performance  across over 100 competitiveness indicators against its historical performance, but also against other economies in the same bracket. As such, it provides good empirical evidence for setting policy priorities and interventions as national competitiveness strategies are crafted and refined.

Secondly, and importantly for small economies which depend significantly on foreign direct investment inflows, the WEF GCI is one of several indices, along with the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, which discerning investors consult when considering potential investment locations. For this reason, it is not uncommon for investment promotion agencies to reference their country’s favourable performance on these indices when marketing to prospective investors.

The Way Forward

It is axiomatic for any economy that  competitiveness should not only be long-term but sustainable. What the current WEF GCI makes clear is that economies in the Caribbean region have a lot of room for improvement, particularly in these problem areas: inefficient government bureaucracy, work ethic in the national labor force and corruption. Improving our competitiveness, however, is not a government responsibility alone. It requires continued strategic and enhanced  public-private sector collaboration and partnership.

Governments, the private sector and other stakeholders including trade unions and other civil society actors, therefore, need to closely examine the causes and solutions for these problematic areas. For example, what are the factors which contribute to the perception of “poor work ethic”? What country-level and firm-level productivity enhancing reforms are working and which need revising or implementing? What can we do improve the vexing issue of “inefficient government bureaucracy”? This year’s Global Competitiveness Report focused heavily on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What role can ICTs play in improving our weak areas?

We can also take lessons from those economies which consistently rank as the most competitive economies and those which saw tremendous improvement. The top five economies in this year’s GCI were in order of ranking: Switzerland, Singapore, United States, Netherlands and Germany. What best practices can we learn from these countries? How about those countries like India, which made the biggest leap of any country in this year’s index by climbing 16 places? Or Mauritius, a SIDS, ranks 45th , having climbed two places? Even our own Jamaica and the Dominican Republic which saw improved rankings may hold valuable lessons.

Businesses also need to play their part. It is unacceptable that the region is so poorly represented on the GCI year after year. A few years ago, I was part of the survey team which administered the WEF  Executive Opinion Survey in Barbados, the main instrument used for gathering the data utilised in a whole suite of WEF reports, including the Global Competitiveness Report. While in each instance our team was able to meet our quota, one of the challenges we found was the unwillingness of some business executives either to participate in the survey, or to complete it properly and in a timely manner. This is after repeated attempts to impress upon them the importance of the data collected in the survey for judging Barbados’ competitiveness and to ensuring Barbados was ranked on this important index. If insufficient businesses answer the survey, the country will not be included in the index. To encourage greater private sector participation in the survey in each country, I suggest there be closer collaboration between the country partner institutes and the various private sector bodies in the countries.

The full WEF GCI 2016-2017 Report may be accessed here.

 Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

WTO Public Forum 2016 focuses on “Inclusive Trade”

Alicia Nicholls

How can we make trade and trade rules more inclusive for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and women in business? This was the central theme with which government representatives, NGOs, civil society organizations, business leaders, academics, students and ordinary citizens from around the world grappled at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Public Forum held September 27-29, 2016. The flagship outreach event in the WTO’s calendar, the 2016 Public Forum attracted a record 2,000 registrants according to WTO Director General, Roberto Azevedo in his opening remarks on the first day of the event.

This year’s main theme “Inclusive Trade” is timely given the current global trade and economic climate marked by slowing global trade and economic growth, rising anti-trade sentiment in advanced economies and a strong populist backlash against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

On the first day of the event, the WTO Secretariat launched its flagship trade policy publication, the World Trade Report 2016. Themed “Levelling the Trading Field for SMEs“, the Report explores SMEs’ participation in global trade, obstacles to their participation and cooperative approaches to promoting SME participation in global trade. Among the Report’s findings are that “trade participation of SMEs in developing countries is low, with exports accounting for 7.6 per cent of manufacturing sales, compared to 14.1 per cent for larger firms”.

In his opening remarks Director-General Azevedo noted that the backlash against trade and globalisation is not unique during periods of low growth, but cautioned that “history also shows the dramatic consequences that this kind of sentiment can have”. He explained that while trade was an important anti-poverty tool there needs to be acknowledgement that the benefits of trade “don’t reach as many people as they should and we should act … not by attacking trade, but by making it work better.”

Throughout the three-day event, a number of sessions and workshops were held exploring various themes, including e-commerce and bridging the global digital divide, SME access to trade finance, the sustainable development goals (SDGs), regional trade agreements (RTAs), sustainable investment, inter alia.

Audio recordings of the various sessions are available on the WTO’s website here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

G20 Leaders’ Hangzhou Summit: Trade and Investment Takeaways

“Our growth, to be strong, must be reinforced by inclusive, robust and sustainable trade and investment growth.”  –G20 Leaders’ Communiqué 2016

Alicia Nicholls

Against the backdrop of an uneven global economic recovery, subpar global trade and investment growth, trade disputes and the recently held Brexit referendum vote in the UK, trade and investment were top of mind for world leaders at the just-concluded Eleventh Group of 20 (G20) Summit held on September 4-5, 2016  in Hangzhou, China.

The G20 is the premier international forum for cooperation on global economic governance and its members account for 86 percent of global GDP and 78 percent of global trade. China currently holds the G20 presidency.

With the goal of providing political leadership to ensure “inclusive, robust and sustainable trade and investment growth”, G20 leaders endorsed the decisions taken by G20 trade ministers at their Trade Ministers Summit held in Shanghai in July this year. Among the key outcomes of that July meeting were the Terms of Reference of the new G20 Trade and Investment Working Group, the G20 Strategy for Global Trade Growth and the G20 Guiding Principles for Global Investment Policymaking.

Key Trade and Investment-Related Aspects of the G20 Leaders’ Communiqué

Below are some of the key trade and investment-related takeaways from the G20 Leaders’ Communiqué:

  • Reiteration of G20 leaders’ recognition that strong growth must be reinforced by “inclusive, robust and sustainable trade and investment growth”;
  • Commitment to strengthening G20 trade and investment cooperation;
  • Commitment to a “rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system” with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) playing a central role;
  • Commitment to continuing the post-Nairobi work. It is instructive that the Doha Round was not mentioned, confirming that the Doha Development Round is effectively dead despite disagreement among WTO members on the round’s future in the communique to the WTO Nairobi Ministerial held December 2015;
  • G20 leaders also reiterated their support for the inclusion of new issues into the WTO negotiating agenda, another area on which WTO members saw strong divergences of opinion in the aftermath of the Nairobi Ministerial. The G20 leaders  noted that “a range of issues may be of common interest and importance to today’s economy, and thus may be legitimate issues for discussions in the WTO, including those addressed in regional trade arrangements (RTAs) and by the B20″;

  • Commitment to ensure their regional agreements and bilaterals complement the multilateral trading system;
  • Commitment to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement by the end of 2016;
  • Indicated their support for the importance of the role that WTO-consistent plurilateral trade agreements “with broad participation” can play in complementing global liberalization initiatives and mentioned the Environmental Goods Agreement as an example;
  • Reiteration of their opposition to protectionism on trade and investment “in all forms” and reiterated the commitments to standstill and rollback protectionist measures till the end of 2018 and to support the work of the WTO, UNCTAD and Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) in monitoring protectionism;
  • In recognition of the rising anti-globalisation and anti-trade sentiment in many western countries, G20 leaders “emphasize[d] that the benefits of trade and open markets must be communicated to the wider public more effectively and accompanied by appropriate domestic policies to ensure that benefits are widely distributed”;
  • Endorsed the G20 Strategy for Global Trade Growth, as well as the G20 Guiding Principles for Global Investment Policymaking which “will help foster an open, transparent and conducive global policy environment for investment”. These were decided at the G20 Trade Ministers Meeting held in July;
  • Indicated their support of policies encouraging firms of all sizes (particularly women and youth entrepreneurs, women-led firms and SMEs) to take full advantage of global value chains (GVCs);
  • Although China was not specifically identified, G20 leaders noted that global steel oversupply was a global issue requiring a collective response and increased information-sharing. They called for the formulation of a Global Forum on steel excess capacity to be facilitated by the OECD with the active participation of G20 members and interested OECD members.

For the tax-related aspects of the communiqué by FRANHENDY Attorneys, please visit  here.

The full communiqué may be read here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

WTO launches its new World Trade Statistical Review

Alicia Nicholls

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) launched its new annual flagship statistical publication, the World Trade Statistical Review yesterday. According to the WTO’s press release, this new report replaces the WTO’s previous annual statistical publication, International Trade Statistics, which was published each October. The new report will be published online in July each year and a printed report will be available from September.

In his foreword to the report, Director-General of the WTO, Roberto Azevedo notes that “[t]he new structure of the publication allows for more comprehensive information about trade and trade policy developments to be provided, and in a more timely way.”

In addition to statistical compilations, this current report includes a discussion on trends in global trade over the past 10 years, discussions on merchandise trade and commercial services, global and regional trading patterns. An addition is the detailed analysis of developing countries’ participation in global trade, including Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Among its findings are that the value of both global merchandise and commercial services trade are nearly two-times greater in 2015 than in 2005 but declined in 2015 compared to 2014. Although developing country merchandise trade declined in 2015, their commercial services exports saw a robust increase. The report also mentions the increase in the overall stockpile of restrictive measures, including trade remedies, introduced by WTO members in 2015.

The WTO’s press release may be viewed here.

The full report may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

US President Obama lands in Cuba; US hotel to open in Cuba

Alicia Nicholls

According to a CNN news report, United States President Barack Obama landed in Cuba on Sunday. President Obama’s three-day visit to Cuba marks the first time in more than eighty years that a sitting US president has stepped foot on Cuban soil. The US president, who is accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha, was greeted upon arrival by top Cuban officials.

In related news US hotel chain Starwood has reached an agreement to open the first US hotel in Cuba since the embargo. According to this BBC report, Starwood will renovate and operate three hotels in Havana.

Rapprochement

President Obama’s visit is the latest in a series of steps taken by his administration since December 2014 towards normalising relations between the US and Cuba. These steps have involved the progressive removal of some travel and trade restrictions and include:

  • Allowing individual travel by US citizens to Cuba for educational “people to people” purposes, although a general travel ban remains in effect
  • Approval of a ferry service between the US and Cuba
  • Allowing US bank accounts for Cuban nationals
  • Re-opening of US embassy in Havana
  • Lifting of restrictions on export financing
  • Agreement to resume commercial air links between the US and Cuba. Several US airlines have already signed up.

A full list of the restrictions eased are available in a press release issued by the US Treasury and Commerce Departments.

However, despite the President’s calls for congress to lift the decades-old embargo, it remains.

More will be posted as the story develops.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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