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World Economic Forum Releases Global Enabling Trade Index 2016; Caribbean countries continue to lag

Photo source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation released the 2016 edition of the Enabling Trade Report today November 30, 2016. Singapore topped the ranking for the 5th time in a row and was in the top 3 for 5 of the 7 pillars.

For Latin America and the Caribbean, Chile was the top economy and led in all but 2 pillars. With a rank of 21st out of 136 economies, Chile was also the highest ranked emerging economy on the index. According to the WEF, the two main findings from this edition of the index were (1) a large part of the world is still excluded from globalization, and (2) some of the world’s largest economies offer limited market access. Another major finding is that the ASEAN market has become more accessible than European Union (EU) and the United States markets.

Caribbean countries’ performance 

Only three Caribbean economies were included on this year’s index: Dominican Republic (78), Jamaica (89) and Trinidad & Tobago (106).

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic ranked 78 out of 136 economies in 2016, compared to 77 out of 134 in 2014 and has not as yet ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. The Dominican Republic’s best performance was on Pillar 4: Availability and Quality of Transport Infrastructure where it ranked 54th. Its worst was on Pillar 6: Availability and Use of ICTs where it ranked 95th.

The most problematic factors identified for importing were tariffs/non-tariff barriers, burdensome import procedures, high cost or delays caused by domestic transportation, corruption at the border and high cost or delays caused by international transportation. The most problematic factors identified for exporting were difficulties in meeting quality and quantity requirements of buyers, identifying potential markets and buyers, high cost or delays caused by domestic transport, access to trade finance and inappropriate production technology and skills.

Jamaica

Jamaica ranked 89 out of 136 economies in 2016, compared to 88 out of 134 economies in 2014 and has ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Jamaica’s best performance was on Pillar 2: Foreign Market Access where it ranked 34th. Its worst was on Pillar 5: Availability and Quality of Transport Services where it ranked 108th.

The most problematic factors identified for importing were burdensome import procedures, tariffs/non-tariff barriers, corruption at the border, crime and theft, and domestic technical requirements and standards. The most problematic factors identified for exporting were identifying potential markets and buyers, difficulties in meeting quality and quantity requirements of buyers, access to imported inputs at competitive prices, access to trade finance and inappropriate production technology and skills.

Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago ranked 106 out of 136 in 2016, sliding from 93 out of 134 in 2014 and ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Trinidad & Tobago’s best performance was on Pillar 6: Availability and Use of ICTs where it ranked 57th. Its worst performance was on Pillar 7: Operating Environment where it ranked 119th.

The most problematic factors identified for importing were: burdensome import procedures, tariffs/nontariff barriers, corruption at the border, crime and theft and high cost/delays caused by international transportation. The most problematic factors for exporting were: identifying potential markets and buyers, access to trade finance, difficulties in meeting quality and quantity requirements of buyers, access to imported inputs at competitive prices and technical requirements and standards abroad.

About the Index

The Enabling Trade Index ranks economies according to “their capacity to facilitate the flow of goods over borders and their destination”.The index is useful as countries seek to implement the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement concluded in 2013 at the Bali Ministerial. It helps countries to see where they are excelling and where there is a room for improvement. It is therefore disappointing that more Caribbean countries are unable to be ranked.

On this year’s index, one hundred and thirty-six (136) economies, accounting for 98 percent of world GDP and 98.3 percent of world merchandise trade, were ranked on seven pillars: domestic market, foreign market, efficiency, transparency and border, availability and quality of transportation infrastructure, availability and quality of transport services, availability and use of ICTs and operating environment.

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.

 

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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.

Davos 2016: Proposals for Strengthening the Global Trade and Investment System

Alicia Nicholls

A new report by the E15 Initiative entitled “Strengthening the Global Trade and Investment System in the 21st Century” was launched at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2016 held January 20-23 in Davos, Switzerland. The new report proposes a set of reforms with the aim of strengthening the global trade and investment system in the 21st century. Small vulnerable economies (SVEs) like those in the Caribbean stand to benefit from many of the proposals if endorsed by the international community.

According to details on the website of the E15 Initiative, the E15 Initiative report is a product of the E15 Initiative  jointly undertaken by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the World Economic Forum, in conjunction with 16 partnering institutions and 375 international experts over the past two years.

The E15 Initiative report is timely as it comes at a time of slowing global trade. Global trade is now growing at less than the rate of global GDP, which is not the norm, and last year the WTO revised downward its global trade growth projections for this year. The report also comes on the heels of the failure of WTO members at the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya in December to agree on the continuation of the Doha Development Agenda, as well as in the midst of an ever-growing “spaghetti bowl” of regional trade agreements, which includes the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and several other mega-regional trade agreements currently under negotiation.

The E15 Initiative report has 16 chapters of practical recommendations organised in thematic groups. The reforms proposed are not limited to the WTO’s architecture but include proposals on wider global trade and investment cooperation. As an example, in light of the concerns about fragmentation, one of the proposals is for the establishment of a Regional Trade Agreement Exchange. The report is accompanied by a Synthesis Report which “summarizes and interprets the significance of the proposals for progress on many of the international community’s most important shared imperatives”.

Proposals of Interest to the Caribbean SVEs

The report’s recommendations touch on several issues which are of particular concern to SVEs, including the availability of correspondent-banking relationships. The loss of correspondent banking due to de-risking practices by banks in metropolitan countries is an issue of significant import to Caribbean SVEs as it has implications for remittances sending/receiving and the transaction of business with the rest of the world.

Another recommendation which benefits services-based economies of the region is the proposed development of a comprehensive WTO Framework for Trade Facilitation in Services, while the proposed establishment of an Agreement on Access to Basic Science and Technology is also noteworthy. Other proposals touch on food security, fisheries subsidies and illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, trade solutions to climate change, proposals on ensuring trade rules are equitable and predictable and on modernising the coherence of the investment agreements framework.

For further information on the report, please see the website of the E15 Initiative. The full E15 Initiative 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. The Author is in no way affiliated with the ICTSD, WEF, the E15 Initiative or the report mentioned. You can read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.