Category Archives: Development Economics

Mozambique’s monopsony market goes nuts

The primary sector is seen as integral to assisting developing countries grow and raise their standard of living. For the Mozambican economy the cashew industry is an example of this – more than 40% of Mozambican farmers grow and sell cashew, and the processing sector provides formal employment to more than 8,000 individuals. Mozambique is currently the second largest producer in East and Southern Africa and has links with premium export markets, including the United States and Europe.

In the 1960’s the cashew nut industry in Mozambique was in good shape supplying over 50% of global supply and processed most of these domestically and thereby adding employment. However, with a civil war and the instruction from the World Bank in the 1990’s to remove controls and cut taxes on the exports of raw nuts, trading firms shipped out cashews and processed them overseas with significant job losses. But an about turn by the government in 2001 has seen:

  • an export tax of 18-22% for raw nuts
  • a 0% tax for processed kernels.
  • a ban on exports during the first few months of the harvest

16 factories employing 17,000 people, which process about half the cashews sold.

However by having less competition amongst processors – a little like a monopsony market – farmers selling raw cashew nuts are finding that the price of their crop is being reduced by the smaller number of processors. Most cashew nut farmers are smallholders and the government seems to be oblivious to the 1.3m families for the sake of protecting processing jobs.

Monopsony – one buyer many sellers – other examples include:
– large supermarkets, who can dictate terms to smaller suppliers.
– buyers of labour in the labour market.

There is a dilemma for developing countries as when a primary industry starts to expand into the secondary stage of processing, government protection can hurt nut-growers. Just like the coffee industry farmers are at the mercy of a small number of middlemen in this case the processors monopsony power.

Source: Mozambique’s nut factories have made a cracking comeback –
The Economist 12th September 2019

Climate change = higher interest rates for developing countries

A significant number of developing countries are located in and around the equator which also means that they are more exposed to the extremes of climate change. As the world gets hotter these countries will suffer the most which makes their ability to advance their standard of living even harder. Temperatures in tropical climates will become far more variable and soil near the equator will dry up reducing its ability to dampen temperature swings e.g. Amazon rainforest, Congo, Indonesia etc.

The additional cost to poor countries in avoiding the damage caused by climate change is estimated to be between US$140bn – US$300bn each year on measures such as costal defences, strengthening buildings etc. This is according to the UN Environment Programme which assumes that global temperatures will be only 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century – unlikely according to The Economist. Not only are these countries suffering from climate change‑related drought, which will lead to a consequent drop in agricultural production and rise in food insecurity, but it also means higher interest payments than similar countries that are less exposed to climate change.

Climate Change = Higher risk of default = Higher Interest Payments

The V20 countries
The Vulnerable Twenty (V20) Group of Ministers of Finance of the Climate Vulnerable Forum is a dedicated cooperation initiative of economies systemically vulnerable to climate change. The call to create the V20 originated from the Climate Vulnerable Forum’s Costa Rica Action Plan (2013-2015) in a major effort to strengthen economic and financial responses to climate change. Originally 20 countries it has now expanded to 48 and the membership is mostly from poor countries that make up less than 5% of global GDP. They include the following:

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Fiji, The Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Haïti, Honduras, Kenya, Kiribati, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Palau, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Senegal, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Viet Nam and Yemen.

Research has estimated that V20 countries pay 1.2% higher than comparable countries which raises the V20’s borrowing costs by about 10% which is equivalent to an extra US$4bn each year in interest payments. It has also been estimated that of corporate debt a significant amount is held by countries who are the most at risk of climate change. This equates to 3% of total debt in more than 60,000 firms in 80 countries. These high risk countries were charged 0.83% higher interest on loans which equates to roughly a 10% premium. Therefore credit rating agencies are including climate change in their risk models and what makes it worse for developing countries is that they tend to be primary based economies which are the most susceptible to climate change. Moody’s, the credit rating agency, has suggested that of the 37 countries that are most vulnerable, farming accounts for 44% of employment on average.

For developing countries to counter the impacts of climate change sovereign parametric insurance has been prevalent. This insurance is pooled amongst countries in close proximity and makes the premium more affordable. This insurance relies on risk modeling rather than on-the-ground damage assessments to estimate the cost of disasters. Parametric insurance policies pay out automatically when certain pre-agreed conditions, such as wind speed, rainfall or modeled economic losses, meet or exceed a given threshold. Examples of areas where countries have pooled insurance are:

  • Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility
  • African Risk Capacity
  • Pacific Catastrophe Risk Insurance Company
  • Southeast Asia Disaster Risk Insurance Facility – under development

Like any insurance although it might be under used it does mean that countries can access money to recover and rebuild their economies – ideally with greater resilience.

Source: The Economist – ‘Costing the earth’ – 17th August 2019

Ethics and Profits – what about the coffee growers?

No business, however great or strong or wealthy it may be at present, can exist on unethical means, or in total disregards to its social concern, for very long. Resorting to unethical behaviour or disregarding social welfare is like calling for its own doom. Thus business needs, in its own interest, to remain ethical and socially responsible. As V.B. Dys in “The Social Relevance of Business ” had stated-

“As a Statement of purpose, maximising of profit is not only unsatisfying, it is not even accurate. A more realistic statement has to be more complicated. The corporation is a creation of society whose purpose is the production and distribution of needed if the whole is to be accurate: you cannot drop one element without doing violence to facts.”

Business needs to remain ethical for its own good. Unethical actions and decisions may yield results only in the very short run. For the long existence and sustained profitability of the firm, business is required to conduct itself ethically and to run activities on ethical lines. Doing so would lay a strong foundation for the business for continued and sustained existence. All over the world, again and again, it has been demonstrated that it is only ethical organisations that have continued to survive and grow, whereas unethical ones have shown results only as flash in the pan, quickly growing and even more quickly dying and forgotten.

Business needs to function as responsible corporate citizens of the country. It is that organ of the society that creates wealth for the country. Hence, business can play a very significant role in the modernisation and development of the country, if it chooses to do so. But this will first require it to come out from its narrow mentality and even narrower goals and motives. However behavioural economists have found that many business people don’t behave in this type of profit-maximising manner in times of crisis – e.g a water shortage means businesses could charge more. If they do, consumers remember and retaliate down the road.

Ethical Consumers

As consumers start to develop a preference for ethical brands, e.g.. Fair Trade Coffee, create a market for such coffee. Firms are therefore pressured to shift toward supplying what consumers want. This is even the case if the firm’s management don’t care how or where the coffee is sourced. Changing consumer preferences force firms to change their ways. Even at higher prices consumers are often willing to pay a premium for ‘ethical’ products or the products of socially responsible firms. Being more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean the company will go out of business if consumers have a preference for ethical products. Higher-priced ethical firms remain highly successful under these circumstances. Instead of being protected by tariffs or subsidies, they’re protected by the preference of consumers.

Coffee supply chain.
However a recent article in the FT outlined the desperate state for coffee growers. The price of high quality arabica beans is trading just above $1 in the New York Commodity Exchange – this is half the value it was 5 years ago. This was due to Brazilian producers flooding the market. Although coffee prices in the cafes have increased the farmers are not the ones to benefit. The image below shows that the grower only gets 1p from the $2.50 and the coffee itself only accounts 10p.

There is a supply chain that takes ‘clips the ticket’ on the way through (see image) but the majority of the cost is associated with rent, wages and tax. The video Black Gold (a bit old now but has some good economics) looks at the growing industry in Ethiopia where they have some of the finest coffee beans in the world. Farmers there have been ripping up coffee plants and replacing it with ‘chat’ – a drug which is banned in the West – which fetches a much higher price.

Globalisation for Africa

By end of the century 40% of the world’s population is projected to be living in Africa and still globalisation seems to have a limited impact on its people. In order to make Africa more inclusive policies will have to focus on accelerating regional integration, bridging gaps in labor skills and digital infrastructure, and creating a mechanism to own and regulate Africa’s digital data. Although the first industrial revolution resulted in a significant increase in international trade Africa has been a poor benefactor and this has led to the “great divergence” in income levels between the Global North and South. In the 1980s, the Brandt Line was developed as a way of showing the how the world was geographically split into relatively richer and poorer nations. According to this model:

  • Richer countries are almost all located in the Northern Hemisphere, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand.
  • Poorer countries are mostly located in tropical regions and in the Southern Hemisphere.

With the advances in technology over the last two decades Asian countries like China, Taiwan and South Korea have been able to narrow the gap with developed nations mainly because of the emergence of complex global value chains. However although Africa might have benefitted from the commodities market developed economies can now produce goods more cheaply and African countries have found it difficult to develop local industries that create jobs.

Unsurprisingly the economic disparity between Africa and richer countries has widened in recent decades, with the ratio of African incomes to those in advanced economies falling from 12% in the early 1980s to 8% today. In order to reverse this trend and enable Africa to benefit more from globalisation, the region’s policymakers should accelerate their efforts in three areas.

Policies to promote growth in Africa:

  1. Governments should promote further regional integration to make Africa economically stronger and more effective at advancing its agenda internationally. Progress so far is very encouraging.
  2. Africa must improve its digital infrastructure and technology-related skills to avoid being further marginalised. Moreover, the low-cost, low-skill labour on which Africa has traditionally relied is becoming less of a competitive advantage, given the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  3. Africa must create a system for owning and regulating its digital data. In the modern era, capital has displaced land as the most important asset and determinant of wealth.

By 2030, the continent will be home to almost 90% of the world’s poorest people. Unless globalisation works better for Africa than it has in the past, its promise of shared prosperity will remain unfulfilled.

Source: Project Syndicate – Making Globalization Work for Africa May 30, 2019 Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala , Brahima Coulibaly

China and the Easterlin Paradox

I have blogged before on the Easterlin Paradox and was interested to read about the relationship between economic growth and happiness. In the mid 1970s Richard Easterlin drew attention to studies that showed that, although successive generations are usually more affluent that their parents or grandparents, people seemed to be no happier with their lives. It is an interesting paradox to study when you are writing about measuring economic welfare and the standard of living.

What is the Easterlin Paradox?

  1. Within a society, rich people tend to be much happier than poor people.
  2. But, rich societies tend not to be happier than poor societies (or not by much).
  3. As countries get richer, they do not get happier. Easterlin argued that life satisfaction does rise with average incomes but only up to a point. One of Easterlin’s conclusions was that relative income can weigh heavily on people’s minds.

GDP growth is generally held as the most reliable predictor of a country’s level of happiness but in China GDP has increased 5 fold over the last 20 years but the level of well-being is less that in 1990. The levels of well-being bottomed out in the period of 2000-2005 and although have recovered they are not a level to that of 1990 – levels of happiness were high for then a poor country. This was similar to Russia before its transition where high levels of subjective well-being were reported.

Growth not a reliable indicator of happiness in China

Chinese level of happiness was highest in the 1990’s In the days of the “iron rice bowl system” – Chinese term used to refer to an occupation with guaranteed job security, as well as steady income and benefits. So it transpires that GDP growth in China was highest when happiness levels were falling. In fact, none of the six predictors used in the World Happiness Reports prove to be reliable predictors in China as there was little or no correlation between happiness and the six predictors- see below:

  1. GDP per capita,
  2. healthy years of life expectancy,
  3. social support (defined as having somebody to rely on in times of trouble),
  4. trust (defined as perceived absence of corruption in government and business),
  5. perceived freedom to make life deci-sions,
  6. generosity (defined as giving to charity)

The two main factors explaining China’s trajectory in happiness levels are unemployment and the social safety net. Unemployment rose sharply after 1990, reaching its peak in 2000–2005—the trough of China’s happiness—and has since declined moderately, as happiness levels have risen moderately. The level of unemployment is mirrored by the relative coverage of the social safety net over the same time period.

It seems that the restructuring of state-owned enterprises (SOE) has had the most profound effect on the happiness of Chinese people. This mirrors developments in Eastern European countries. In addition to unemployment rates and the social safety net, education and age are also important factors in determining Chinese people’s happiness over the period. Levels of education and of happiness are indeed linked; not only does a college education provide access to better job opportunities, but it also makes one more adaptable to changing circumstances.

Source:
Chinese Discourses on Happiness (2018) Edited by Gerda Wielander and Derek Hird

China’s ghost cities – there needs to be another plan

Below is a very good report from 60 Minutes Australia that gives you an update on China’s ghost cities. Roughly 22 percent of China’s urban housing stock is unoccupied, according to Professor Gan Li, who runs the main nationwide study. That adds up to more than 50 million empty homes, he said. One solution that the government could use is property or vacancy taxes to try to counter the issue, but neither appears imminent and some researchers, including Gan, say what actually counts as vacant could be tricky to determine.

For so long China has relied on major infrastructure projects including building cities to drive growth figures in their economy. Historically China’s economic model was based on export-led growth, massive government injections into the economy and access to cheap money. This is not sustainable and although you can keep blowing up bridges and build cities that nobody lives in at some point it becomes unsustainable. Furthermore since the global financial crisis economies have increased protectionist policies to look after their own economy and this has been followed with by the potential trade war with the USA. Therefore the Chinese government need to refocus the growth of the economy on domestic consumption rather than building things – Gross Fixed Capital Formation. So much more C than I in the GDP Expenditure equation. EG:

GDP = C↑+ I↓+ G + (X-M)

Chile looks to cherries for transition away from copper

As with a lot of developing countries (and developed countries for that matter) there tends to be a reliance on a particular resource which can be to the detriment of its economy. Invariably if an economy is going to become more resilient it must be able to diversify into other areas that generate growth.

Traditionally Chile has relied on copper which accounts for over 50% of its export value but if it is going to become more developed it must start to rely on other goods or services. In November 2017 a free trade agreement (FTA) between Chile and China was signed and this was the catalyst for the cherry industry to flourish. Garces Fruit, just south of the capital Santiago, has become the world’s biggest producer of cherries and the development of the industry has been due to a combination of the government and the private sector. Cherries in China are viewed as a symbol of prosperity and marketed as something closer to a luxury product rather than ordinary fruit. With the harvest in Chile around the Chinese new year they make a perfect gift. However the benefits of the primary sector began in the 1990’s, with rising exports of wine, salmon and grapes but farmers are now tearing out vines and replacing them with cherries which are more profitable. Even though the cherry industry requires a lot of labour, which Chileans are not keen on doing, between 2015 and 2017 700,000 immigrants, mainly from Haiti and Venezuela, averted a labour shortage.

Chile Cherry export destination – 2017

Cherries remain the most planted fruit in Chile along with walnuts and hazelnuts due to its high profits and increasing demand from China. However, prices in China decreased with large supplies exported to that market (demand), but China still pays higher prices than the price other country destinations offer to Chilean exporters. China is the top market for Chilean cherries. Chile exported 156,497 MT or 85 percent to that market in 2017 (see graph above), a 109 percent increase over MY2016/17. Chilean cherry export season starts in November and end in February and it focuses its market promotion and export campaigns in China. It is expected that Chilean exports to China will increase to that market since demand for Chilean fruits keeps increasing, and Chilean exporters get higher prices in China for their fruits than in other destinations.

Sources:

The Economist – January 19th 2019 – Bello Adam Smith in Chile

USDA – Chile Report Stone Fruit – 8th October 2018.

Human Development Report – 2018 – gaps reflect unequal opportunity

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite index focusing on three basic dimensions of human development:

  • the ability to lead a long and healthy life, measured by life expectancy at birth;
  • the ability to acquire knowledge, measured by mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling; and
  • the ability to achieve a decent standard of living, measured by gross national income per capita.

To measure human development more comprehensively, the Human Development Report presents four other composite indices.

  • The Inequality-adjusted HDI discounts the HDI according to the extent of inequality.
  • The Gender Development Index compares female and male HDI values.
  • The Gender Inequality Index highlights women’s empowerment.
  • And the Multidimensional Poverty Index measures non income dimensions of poverty.

The 2018 Update presents HDI values for 189 countries and territories with the most recent data for 2017. The main points are:

59 are in the very high human development group,
53 in the high,
39 in the medium
38 in the low.

In 2010, 49 countries were in the low human development group.

The top five countries in the global HDI ranking are:

Norway (0.953),
Switzerland (0.944),
Australia (0.939),
Ireland (0.938) and
Germany (0.936)

New Zealand comes in at 16 with 0.917

The bottom five are:
Burundi (0.417),
Chad (0.404),
South Sudan (0.388),
the Central African Republic (0.367)
Niger (0.354).

The largest increases in HDI rank between 2012 and 2017 were for Ireland, which moved up 13 places, and for Botswana, the Dominican Republic and Turkey, which each moved up 8. The largest declines were for the Syrian Arab Republic (down 27), Libya (26) and Yemen (20) .

Why is Inequality a problem for development?
A recent Oxfam International report showed that:

“8 men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity”
“82 percent of all global wealth in the last year went to the top 1 percent, while the bottom half of humanity saw no increase at all”

Deep imbalances in people’s opportunities and choices stem from inequalities in:
income  – education – health  – voice – access to technology – exposure to shocks.

Human development gaps reflect unequal opportunity in access to education, health, employment, credit and natural resources due to gender, group identity, income disparities and location. Inequality is not only normatively wrong; it is also dangerous as:

  • It can fuel extremism and undermine support for inclusive and sustainable development.
  • It can lead to adverse consequences for social cohesion and the quality of institutions and policies, which in turn can slow human development progress.

The global level inequality in income contributes the most to overall inequality, followed by education and life expectancy. Countries in the very high human development group lose less from inequality than countries in lower groups

Source: Human Development Indices and Indicators 2018 – Statistical Update

World Economic Centre of Gravity – 2018

Danny Quah of the London School of Economics (LSE) wrote a paper in 2011 describing the dynamics of the global economy’s centre of gravity. By economic centre of gravity he refers to the average location of the planet’s economic activity measured by GDP generated across nearly 700 identifiable locations on the Earth’s surface.

The graphic below from The Economist shows an updated WECG. In 1AD China and India were the world’s largest economies. European industrialisation and America’s rise drew the economic centre of gravity into the Atlantic. However Japan’s economic boom made it the second largest economy in teh world pulling the centre north. As China has regained economic leadership, the centre is now retracing its footsteps towards the east. Extrapolating growth in the 700 locations is projected by 2025 to locate between India and China.

It is interesting to note how the WECG seems to move horizontally so does this suggest that the north-south divide will remain invariant? In looking at the actual data in Quah’s research, it shows that latitude declines from 66 degrees North to 44 degrees North by 2049. This might seem to imply that the south, like the east, is actually gaining considerable relative economic strength. Policy formulation for the entire global economy, and global governance more generally, will no longer be the domain of the last century’s rich countries but instead will require more inclusive engagement of the east. Many global policy questions will remain the same, e.g. promoting growth in the world economy, but others might change in character, e.g. appropriate political and military intervention. If you are interested in Quah’s paper you can download it by clicking here.

Sources:

The Global Economy’s Shifting Centre of Gravity by Danny Quah. 2011

The Economist – The Chinese Century – October 27th 2018

Why dearer oil impacts developing economies more.

It wasn’t long ago that $100 for a barrel of oil was the norm but with the advent of the shale market the production increased which depressed prices. It was felt that the flexibility of large scale shale production from the USA could act as a stabiliser to global oil prices.

Oil shocks – supply or demand?

Oil shocks are not all the same. They tend to be associated with supply issues caused by conflict or OPEC reducing daily production targets. In the case of an increase in global growth there is the demand side for oil which increases the price. However this doesn’t have a great effect as in such cases the rising cost of imported oil is offset by the increasing export revenue. However today’s increase has a bit of both:

Demand – global consumption has increased as the advanced economies recover after the GFC especially China
Supply – supply constraints in Venezuela from the economic crisis. Also tighter American sanctions on Iran and OPEC producers are not increasing supply with the higher price.

Higher oil prices do squeeze household budgets and therefore reduce demand. Lower prices are expected to act as a stimulus to consumer spending but it can also have negative effects on the petroleum industries.

Emerging economies the impact of higher oil prices

Oil importing emerging economies are badly impacted by higher oil prices:

  • Terms of trade deteriorate as the price of their imports rise relative to their exports
  • Exports pay for fewer imports = importers’ current-account deficits widen.
  • Normally this leads to a depreciation a a country’s currency which makes exports cheaper and imports more expensive.

However this is not the case today. World trade is slowing and with it manufacturing orders therefore higher oil prices make the current account worse which in turn depreciates the exchange rate. For emerging economies who have borrowed from other countries or organisations a weaker exchange rate intensifies the burden of dollar-denominated debt. Companies in emerging economies have borrowed large amounts of money being spurred on by very low interest rates but they earn income in the domestic currency but owe in dollars – a weaker exchange rate means they have to spend more of their local currency to pay off their debt. Therefore indebted borrowers feel the financial squeeze and may reduce investment and layoff workers.

Another problem for emerging economies, as well as higher oil prices, is that central banks are looking to tighten monetary policy (interest rates) with the chance of higher inflation.

Source: The Economist – Crude Awaking – September 29th 2018