Sherillyn Raga (ODI) |Halted economic transformation as a consequence of coronavirus: evidence and implications from employment data in the Philippines

The lockdown in the Philippines not only led to the loss of millions of jobs but also pushed those who remained employed towards lower-productivity agriculture and informal sector work. To preserve the existing skills necessary for economic transformation, the government and its partners need to make a conscious effort to ensure that those who have been laid off in high-productivity sectors such as manufacturing can return to previous or similar employment. Moving forward, it is continued public investment in higher-level education that will increase job security, ensuring the economy is more resilient in similar crises in the future.
This blog examines disaggregated sectoral employment data in the Philippines through the lens of economic transformation, which has implications for the Philippines’ medium- to long-term economic growth, and which may be of relevance to other low- and middle-income countries.

Sherillyn Raga (Senior Research Officer, ODI)

8 July 2020

The lockdown in the Philippines not only led to the loss of millions of jobs but also pushed those who remained employed towards lower-productivity agriculture and informal sector work. To preserve the existing skills necessary for economic transformation, the government and its partners need to make a conscious effort to ensure that those who have been laid off in high-productivity sectors such as manufacturing can return to previous or similar employment. Moving forward, it is continued public investment in higher-level education that will increase job security, ensuring the economy is more resilient in similar crises in the future.

As of April 2020, the unemployment rate in the Philippines was at a record high of 17.7%, accounting for 7.3 million Filipinos. Labour force participation among those aged 15 years and older had declined to a historic low of 55.6%, and average hours per week had dropped to 35 hours from 41.8 in April 2019. Among those employed, more than a third (38%) were not at work, and a third (32%) were in part-time employment. This negative impact on aggregate employment indicators highlights the consequences of the economic and labour market shutdown following the lockdown implemented from 13 March to 15 May 2020.

This blog examines disaggregated sectoral employment data in the Philippines through the lens of economic transformation, which has implications for the Philippines’ medium- to long-term economic growth, and which may be of relevance to other low- and middle-income countries. The IMF and World Bank Development Committee defines economic transformation as a ‘shifting from lower to higher productivity activities, within and across firms, from rural to urban areas, and from self- to wage-employment’. The impact of the coronavirus on the Philippines’ economic transformation is now evident in the shift in the employment share towards agriculture, the informal sector, less skilled occupations and rural employment.

The latest employment data from the Philippines show that a larger share of workers has been pushed towards agriculture and the informal sector. The agriculture sector’s share in total employment had increased by more than 4 percentage points to 26% in April 2020 from 22% in April 2019, while the shares of industry and services had declined by 2 percentage points, to 17% and 57%, respectively. Within the industry sector, the combined share of employment in manufacturing and construction in total employment had fallen by more than 2 percentage points, with 2.3 million fewer workers in these sectors during the month compared with pre-COVID-19 April 2019.

The share of relatively high-skilled professions has declined. While the lockdown has negatively affected the number of employees in all types of occupation, the share in total employment of those employed as managers, technicians,  associate professionals (e.g., bookkeepers, interior designers, medical  representatives, human resource and marketing assistants), plant and machine operators and assemblers, and services and sales workers has declined compared with April 2019. Meanwhile, the share of workers engaged in relatively low-productivity jobs such as elementary occupations and skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery work has increased by 1.5 and 2.6 percentage points, respectively.

Wage and salary workers in the private sector have been more affected during the lockdown. By class of worker, the share in total employment of jobs with a relatively stable income in the private sector had fallen by 2.4 percentage points to 47.9% in April 2020 from 50.2%, indicating a decline of 4.8 million workers in private establishments during the month compared with April 2019. Meanwhile, the share of wage workers in households and self-employed and unpaid family workers in total employment had gone up by 2 percentage points in April 2020 compared to same month last year.

Most of the unemployed during the lockdown are those without or with a low level of educational attainment, highlighting the need for upskilling to increase job security in times of crisis. The share in total unemployment during the lockdown in April of those with no educational grade completed or who have obtained only elementary and junior high school education had risen by 12 percentage points to 64% compared with April 2019. Notably, those who have obtained senior high school to graduate education have witnessed a fall in unemployment in terms of share and absolute number.

Unemployment has been more prevalent in rural areas during the pandemic, reflecting fragility of rural employment. The national unemployment rate as of April 2020 is 17.7%, but the rate is lower in Metro Manila (capital), at 12%, and higher outside the capital (average across regions), at 19%. In contrast, last April 2019, Metro Manila had a relatively higher share of unemployment (6.3%) than did the non-capital regions (4.8%).

The developments above suggest three policy implications:

First, in times of pandemic and imposed lockdown, private sector employees suffer the most and workers are pushed towards lower-productivity jobs and the informal sector. It is of the utmost urgency to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on the poorest segment of the country. However, it is likewise critical that the government, in cooperation with the private sector and potentially development banks, assist businesses to bounce back and ensure that those who have been laid off in high-productivity sectors who already possess the necessary job skills can return to previous or similar employment.

Second, while we are witnessing a shift in employment from a decreased share in high-skilled professions towards an increased share in relatively less skilled occupations, it seems that those with a higher level of education are less likely to be unemployed in pandemic crisis times. This emphasises the importance of continued public investment in higher education to increase job security at the individual level and to sustain the contribution of this (e.g. through continued income tax if more educated workers are retained even under a lockdown period) to national revenues, making the economy as a whole more resilient in similar crises in the future. This is especially relevant for the currently weak educational quality in the country, as indicated by its bottom ranking in terms of 15-year-old students’ reading comprehension and expenditure per student relative to other 79 countries.

Third, higher unemployment outside the capital reflects the twin problem of concentrated opportunities in the capital and low and/or fragile job opportunities outside Metro Manila. Urbanisation is generally associated with faster economic transformation as resources (labour and capital) move from lower-productivity farm to higher-productivity non-farm activities, as well as with agglomeration benefits. Thus, the government’s Balik Probinsya, Balik Pag-asa (‘Return to Provinces, Return Hope’) programme, which aims to decongest cities and encourage people to relocate to their provinces during this pandemic, may work against the country’s economic transformation, given that the provinces are largely agricultural and do not have the infrastructure, high-productivity sectors and job opportunities (yet) to absorb labour supply from the city.

Photo: Farmer scattering rice grains in a rice field in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Philippine. Danilo Pinzon / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Karishma Banga and Dirk Willem te Velde (ODI) | Seven ways to harness Cambodia’s digital sector in the recovery from COVID-19

Cambodia has one of the lowest numbers of coronavirus cases in the world but it is facing among the world’s highest economic losses in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The IMF expects incomes to contract by 1.6% in 2020 in the baseline scenario as a consequence of major disruptions in tourism, garments and construction. Some sectors are expected to fare better, such as information and communication technology (ICT) and e-commerce, but these industries need to be nurtured more actively and the opportunities need to be made more inclusive if they are to be a significant base for a prosperous and more inclusive recovery.

Karishma Banga (Research Fellow, ODI ) and Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)

7 July 2020

Cambodia has one of the lowest numbers of coronavirus cases in the world but it is facing among the world’s highest economic losses in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The IMF expects incomes to contract by 1.6% in 2020 in the baseline scenario as a consequence of major disruptions in tourism, garments and construction. Some sectors are expected to fare better, such as information and communication technology (ICT) and e-commerce, but these industries need to be nurtured more actively and the opportunities need to be made more inclusive if they are to be a significant base for a prosperous and more inclusive recovery.

The Royal Government of Cambodia is preparing a long-term policy framework for the digital economy. Over the past year, ODI and CDRI have supported this process (supported by the Australian government) using analysis, case studies, a background report, interviews and a set of roundtables, including with the government’s digital economy task force. A new study aims to inform this process by providing a range of policy suggestions for the policy framework, which has taken on increased significance in the context of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on Cambodia, through the channels of manufacturing and services. Emerging evidence highlights the negative economic impact of the pandemic on tourism, construction and business services, with fewer impacts on insurance, financial, telecoms and computer-related services. Revenue at Angkor Wat (a major source of tourism revenues) fell by an astonishing 99.5% at the start of the crisis. Within manufacturing, garment exports have been particularly hit, owing to falling demand from retailers in Europe and the US coupled with reduced access to inputs from China. The Garment Manufacturing Association in Cambodia has reported the suspension of operations by many garment factories. More than 150,000 workers were suspended in May without any clear indication on whether or when work would resume. The withdrawal of Cambodia from the Everything But Arms initiative may further affect Cambodian exports to the EU.

However, a range of services industries could help mitigate the impact of the economic crisis:

  1. Communication and audio-visual services, including digital animation: Cambodia has a small number of interesting high-quality providers of animation services.
  2. IT-enabled business process outsourcing (BPO) services: Cambodia’s IT industry is located in the BPO segment, offering services to international clients, such as in data processing, data analysis, document processing and non-voice call centres (e.g. chat services or IT support).
  3. Post and telecoms for e-commerce: Cambodia has the highest internet connectivity growth in the Asia-Pacific region and a very young population, which allowed most e-commerce ventures to reach a clientele of 15,000 consumers in 2017. E-commerce has enabled Cambodia to diversify its export basket of manufacturing products. Given cargo delays and border closures during the pandemic, it is important for Cambodia to leverage domestic platforms, such as Tinh Tinh. This may enable greater micro, small and medium-size enterprise (MSME) participation in e-commerce platforms, which has otherwise been low as a result of the high cost of membership and the commission charged on third-party platforms.

The government’s long-term strategy for the digital economy for the decades ahead needs to harness the digital economy and also target closing the digital divide by boosting an inclusive digital transformation in the wake of economic losses from COVID-19. Currently, there exists a multi-faceted digital divide in Cambodia; firms’ adoption of digital technologies is lower than comparator companies; business and financial services are more digitalised than other industries; internet access is mainly dominated by the 15-25 age group; and there exist specific gaps in the availability of digital skills. To leverage digital industries in the COVID-19 recovery, a report by ODI and CDRI lays the foundation (see summary here) for a seven-point plan for inclusive digital transformation:

1. Radically transform innovation in the manufacturing sector. In response to the crisis, there is a need to leverage digital technology and innovation to adapt existing local manufacturing capabilities in Cambodia towards much-needed medical equipment and personal protective equipment manufacturing for domestic consumption and export. The government needs to support manufacturers in changing current production lines towards production of essential goods to deal with the pandemic. A new incentives package (offering an ecosystem that encourages digital technology) can help attract technologically more intensive investment, encourage upgrading technology in factories and promote relevant skills, for example through an enhanced Skills Development Fund and targeted technical and vocational education and training placements. It could also embrace the concept of digital small and medium enterprise clusters.

2. Provide appropriate and good quality skills for the future. The pandemic is fuelling e-commerce growth in Cambodia, with the potential to create new employment opportunities. For instance, Grocerdel – an online start-up that delivers fresh farm produce in Phnom Penh – has seen its sales go up by over 165%, and has had to increase its staff intake by 50% to meet the spike in demand. Establishing and bringing new dynamism into the sector skills councils to embrace a digital economy would be a helpful, targeted measure. Skills development in the digital age requires supply-side policies on education and skills and demand-side policies on innovation and research and development, along with the facilitation of linkages between the supply and demand of skills through institutional intermediaries and complementary policies on technology transfer. There will also need to be more emphasis on education through digital means.

3. Nurture the digital start-up economy for an inclusive economy. The start-up economy in Cambodia is very dynamic but a challenge lies in seeking a better link between this and how it delivers for the poorest. Several organisations already support or invest in tech start-ups. New incentives by the government for collective action by start-ups could redirect some efforts to develop apps with relevant applications for the poorest. According to the Ministry of Commerce, the government has reduced the cost of registration by 40% to ease the burden of formalisation for start-ups (UNCTAD, 2020). The digital start-up economy will be essential to advancing Cambodia’s recovery from the fall-out of COVID-19.

4. Facilitate digital infrastructure development to enable the most vulnerable groups to take part in the digital economy. In response to the pandemic, businesses are increasingly shifting online, people are being asked to work from home and there has been a rise in e-commerce activities and digital work – all of which is placing pressure on existing digital infrastructure. Targeted policies are required for digital infrastructure development during the crisis. For instance, Cambodia has very low fixed-broadband penetration and low mobile broadband penetration compared with other Asian economies, and its market is currently dominated by low-quality residential broadband services. Targeted support is also required to ensure that those who lose out from new technologies in industries can take part elsewhere in the economy. This could take the form of rolling out digital infrastructure to those who need it most or raising digital literacy in vulnerable groupings.

China is an important player in Cambodia’s digital development plans; in March 2019, Cambodia signed an agreement with Chinese Huawei to develop 5G mobile network technology in the country. This was followed by an announcement in July of collaboration between Smart Axiata, Cambodia’s leading mobile telecommunications company, and Chinese Huawei in building the 5G network in Cambodia. Wuhan – the worst hit city in China by COVID-19 – is the world’s largest supplier of fibre optic cables. Therefore, development of digital infrastructure in Cambodia may itself be affected by the pandemic.

5. Ensure a public sector that leads by example. Digital leadership will be very important in the next few years as Cambodia manages its economic recovery after the pandemic. Managing the process towards a new framework for a digital economy in a coordinated way is essential. Currently, for instance, the government is finalising an e-commerce strategy for Cambodia with the support of the Enhanced Integrated Framework, involving various key ministries. Institutional strengthening inside the government around the digital economy, and securing a lead role of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, working with others such as the recently upgraded Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation (MISTI) will be vital. It is also important for the government to progress on e-governance and electronic services by accelerating efforts towards adopting its e-Government Master Plan 2017–2022. E-government services can make it easier for consumers to pay their bills online and reduce evasion, coupled with better monitoring of tax collection. This can ultimately lead to increased government revenue, which can be spent on support to the poor, particularly during the pandemic.

6. Digitalise trade facilitation and boost e-commerce. All trade-related agencies must adopt and deploy the ICT system to simplify and automate their trade-related procedures, which will contribute towards building Cambodia’s economic resilience against pandemics, climate change and other challenges. Currently, there is an absence of coordinating institutional mechanisms, though some efforts are being made to leverage the digital economy for trade facilitation. E-commerce can help mitigate some of the economic losses that Cambodia faces in traditional sectors owing to the pandemic but inclusive recovery from the crisis will require targeted efforts to increase participation of MSMEs in the digital economy. This can be done by increasing their access to domestic and international digital platforms, addressing challenges pertaining to information asymmetry between platforms and sellers, providing training in digital skills, facilitating digital payment uptake and addressing issues around transport, logistics and delivery.  

7. Revise and extend social protection mechanisms to the most vulnerable, who are most at risk of losing their jobs owing to the pandemic. It is key to note that digital technologies can help improve the viability and efficacy of policy solutions, including those facilitating the extension of social protection. In the longer term, digital technologies can support an increasingly harmonised social protection system, which can facilitate better coordination across IDPoor, the National Social Security Fund and other cash transfer and social assistance programmes.

In conclusion, the Royal Government of Cambodia can facilitate to use the digital sector to recover from COVID-19. By following the sevens steps above, it can facilitate an inclusive digital transformation that can foster a more inclusive and resilient future.

Photo: Use of digital technology as key tool to facilitate an inclusive digital transformation to recover from COVID-19. Roxana Bravo / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Jodie Keane (ODI)| Enhancing resilience within global value chains: the implications of COVID-19 for climate change adaptation and mitigation policies

The increase in global trade in recent decades, through the expansion of production networks and the integration of newly industrialised economies within global value chains (GVCs), has contributed to unprecedented reductions in poverty and historically unparalleled socioeconomic progress. However, severe environmental costs, and other losers within specific industries, have accompanied these socioeconomic gains. Even without consideration of climate change, the coronavirus crisis has laid bare the fragility of global supply chains and of the nature of relationships with suppliers in poorer countries. With a few lead firms (buyers and traders) typically controlling access to end markets, suppliers have reduced market power, which limits their capacity to adapt to demand shocks. Reduced inventory management as a result of just-in-time delivery has presented visceral limitations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jodie Keane (Senior Research Fellow, ODI)

20 May 2020

The increase in global trade in recent decades, through the expansion of production networks and the integration of newly industrialised economies within global value chains (GVCs), has contributed to unprecedented reductions in poverty and historically unparalleled socioeconomic progress. However, severe environmental costs, and other losers within specific industries, have accompanied these socioeconomic gains. Even without consideration of climate change, the coronavirus crisis has laid bare the fragility of global supply chains and of the nature of relationships with suppliers in poorer countries. With a few lead firms (buyers and traders) typically controlling access to end markets, suppliers have reduced market power, which limits their capacity to adapt to demand shocks. Reduced inventory management as a result of just-in-time delivery has presented visceral limitations during the coronavirus pandemic.

In view of the vulnerabilities exposed – such as shortages, the inability to source relevant equipment, imposed export restrictions and so on – many policy-makers are adapting trade policy to emphasise ‘resilience’. Within this debate, although diversification is a recognised means to reduce risks, it comes at a cost. Hence, inducing domestic production in selected sectors is now being advocated as a form of ‘strategic autonomy’; calls to regain industrial sovereignty are getting louder. The shortening of GVCs, either reducing the contribution of foreign value added or decreasing the number of stages of production, could accelerate if policy matches the rhetoric of policy-makers (e.g. subsidies to bring production back home).

As policy-makers seek to enhance resilience by reducing dependence on external suppliers, there are risks that poor countries will lose access to markets that provide vital footholds out of poverty. Coupled with the effects of climate change, the post-COVID-19 trade landscape could become even more challenging for poor countries to navigate. This blog discusses the implications of the COVID-19 crisis in relation to trade within GVCs given the looming climate change crisis, focusing on the following questions: How can resilience within GVCs be enhanced? What can we learn from the current disruption, to enhance the climate resilience of GVCs? What are the implications of the shortening of GVCs for climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts?  

Building resilience within GVCs: where do you start?

Diversification of supply sources requires deeper and wider production networks, including at the regional and domestic levels. Lead firms typically make decisions in this regard based on the nature of the technology involved, the ability to codify information and producer capabilities, as well as on issues such as contract enforcement capacity, comparative costs of production and so on. While some developed countries are seeking to reduce their dependence on a single source country, in view of the implications of COVID-19, developing country suppliers typically struggle with the power dynamics inherent within those GVCs driven by one or a few buyers. What has been alarmingly exposed during this global pandemic is just how fragile these relationships are: some of the poorest countries in the world have been battling with multinational firms to ensure contracts are fulfilled and payment is made for goods produced and already in transit.

Developed countries taking back control of stages of GVCs in order to enhance resilience may further accentuate these power asymmetries, which could increase the risks for developing country suppliers in view of future shocks, including climatic shocks. For many developing countries, enhancing resilience means not only confronting the severe economic vulnerabilities that arise as a result of a lack of export diversification and dependence on a few firms to access end markets, but also adapting now to an increasing susceptibility to environmental shocks.

Globally, it is now recognised that these shocks are increasing as temperatures rise. Overnight, productive structures can be, and have been, wiped out. Given weak infrastructure, the costs of trade are rising, which is negatively compounding efforts to diversify economically. These aspects of persistent economic vulnerability for least developed countries and small vulnerable economies will worsen unless efforts to ramp up Nationally Determined Contributions to emissions reductions are secured at the forthcoming COP26 – postponed to early 2021.

While diversifying and solidifying GVCs in some sectors, including strategic stockpiling where necessary, forms part of the move towards building resilience in the developed world, many developing country producers lack the economic clout to achieve similar objectives. Despite the stalemate at the WTO (as well as challenges in view of the recent resignation of the WTO DG), it is imperative that members charged with the obligation to secure open and resilient value chains consider how best to achieve this in an inclusive and sustainable way. Just as firms have disclosed their COVID-19 risks, now is the time to get real about climate risks.  

What are the implications of the shortening of GVCs for climate change policy?

Notwithstanding the economics of the debate, re-shoring of specific GVC activities by countries that are committed to the Paris Agreement must now be undertaken within a carbon budget. Emissions trading schemes were designed because undertaking emissions reductions and associated costs are cheaper in developing than in developed countries; it is also typically cheaper for production to take place in developing countries, and the recycling of comparative advantages provides a vital foothold out of poverty, if successfully managed.

The reasons for supply chains becoming more domestic rather than more regional – with an estimated ‘erosion’ in globalisation (i.e. a reduction in the average length of supply chains since 2012) of 52 km per year – may be either structural, related to the digital transformation or a result of production becoming closer to consumers. These trends can contribute to emissions reductions, for example through reduced transportation (using subsidised fuel). COVID-19 is surely accelerating trends towards the increased use of digital technology, which can assist in the reduction of carbon emissions. But until our sources of energy change dramatically towards more renewable forms, these trends could be a lose–lose for development and trade and carbon emissions reductions; more evidence is needed to assess the overall implications of movement towards shorter GVCs.

Concluding remarks

This year was meant to see achievement of a multilateral trade deal and enhanced commitments to limit anthropogenic climate change. Instead, we have experienced the steepest decline in both global trade and emissions of modern times. Decisions on trade and climate have been delayed while more immediate action has been sought on securing the finance to react to the global pandemic; major accomplishments have been achieved regarding international collaboration to develop a vaccine; some of the poorest in the world have secured debt forgiveness. Some WTO members have announced important increases in Aid for Trade resources to help poor countries adapt to the trade shocks unleashed.

But the provision of support to firms adapting to COVID-19 in the developed and developing world must heed the warnings regarding the next environmental crises. Firms will be forced by their shareholders and rating agencies to think about the resilience of their GVCs, as well as by governments and consumers to reduce associated carbon emissions. Support to firms should now entail provisions to enhance their environmental resilience. The current crisis has provided the global economy community with more opportunity to get the right frameworks in place ahead of COP26 and as we enter this last decade of action for the advancement of the 2030 Agenda.

Photo: Carbon emissions from factories. John Hogg/World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dirk Willem te Velde (ODI) | Using high frequency data to monitor the economic impacts of crises

Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)

18 May 2020

A multitude of trackers cover policy responses to COVID-19 but when it comes to up-to-date monitoring of actual social and economic impacts there appears to be a gap. Impact data are not collected systematically and in a comprehensive manner. Obtaining access to reliable, good quality statistical data for the poorest countries is a challenge; it is even more difficult to monitor economic data in real time or at high frequency and with a short time lag.

ODI has monitored a range of macroeconomic crises (e.g. the global financial crisis, the Eurozone crisis and crises related to oil prices and food price hikes) using economic data. This work provides lessons with regard to what high frequency data can be used to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 globally, and specifically those on the poorest countries.

The table below presents data sources in the following areas:

  • Commodity prices, food prices and hunger;
  • Global and bilateral trade, trade costs and mobility;
  • Capital markets, finance flows and fiscal and monetary statistics; and
  • Employment and production.

High frequency data are published daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. Some are available immediately; some come with a time lag of a few days or weeks; yet others take several months to become available. Some data include noise (rather than signal) and much variability; others are cleaned, adjusted for variability or more robust. Some data are publicly available (we focus mostly on these); others are available behind a paywall.

So far, data for commodity and food prices appear to be covered well, perhaps in part because the G20 has paid attention to monitoring these for several years. Trade data are also available but with a time lag. Data on capital markets and finance flows are available but patchy, and often behind paywalls for use by investors. High frequency data on employment and production tend to be weakest: they are not available for a few months and there are well-known challenges with such data.


Commodity prices, food prices and hunger
   Source and frequencyComments on useHyperlinks and examples
Commodity prices (global prices)Available immediately (e.g. FT for oil/copper prices; IMF/WB weekly/monthly averages with a short time lag (a few weeks)Variable reflecting many issues such as supply/demand and othersOil price (paywall)  


World Bank Price data (pink sheet)  

Food prices (domestic prices)FAO food prices, monthly (a week time lag)   IFPRI’s Food Price Monitor covers daily price data for domestic markets in India, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi   National statistics officesLocalised data patchyFAO food price index  

IFPRI dashboard
HungerWFP, number of people with insufficient food consumption, countries with very high levels of hunger, updated daily and weeklyLimited countries now (9 African now) but 16 more planned in coming weeks; it is a forecast. Weekly snapshots for 14 countriesWFP Food Hunger Map  

WFP daily report  

Weekly snapshots
COVID cases, deathsDaily across countriesAvailable widely, commonly used sources but difficult to compare across countriesJohns Hopkins
High frequency telephone interviews around social and food security impactsMonthly updates from May 2020. Cover topics including (i) knowledge of existence of and channels of transmission of COVID-19; (ii) knowledge of and compliance with preventive measures with specific emphasis on social distancing and self-isolation; (iii) prices and access to food and non-food necessities; (iv) employment; (v) food insecurity; and (6) subjective well-being – with a focus on understanding the dynamics of economic impactsOnce available will be very valuable, for Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda     LSMS high frequency phone surveys,
Global and bilateral trade, trade costs and mobility
   Source and frequencyComments on useHyperlinks and examples
Trade costs Baltic Exchange Dry Index Trading Economics, dailySpecific cost measure, does not cover many transport uses/modesTrading Economics
World tradeCPB world trade indicator, monthly, available with a one- to two-month time lag     IMF tracking of world trade using real-time shipping dataPartly a leading indicator, partly real data   Uses data for dry bulk, contain, vehicle, oil shipping dataCPB indicator described in FT      
IMF tracker
Bilateral tradeNational statistics office and ITC trade map (monthly data for major countries such as UK, EU, US, China and Japan available with a six-week time lag; annual data for low-income country source)   International data reported monthly with time lag (UN Comtrade)Trade data variable but long-runs are availableUK monthly trade stats  

German monthly data  

Mobility and entertainmentAircraft departures, bus and rail journeys; Google searches for entertainment, seated diners, retail footfall (updated daily)   Google Mobility data for retail, grocery, parks, transit, workplaces, residential visits (weekly)  Not easily available beyond reports       Google data for all countries on a weekly basisBank of England Monetary Policy Report Chart 2.26    

COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports
Capital markets, finance flows and monetary statistics
 Source and frequencyComments on useHyperlinks and examples
RemittancesCentral banks, monthly data, available with one to three months time lagCan vary much between monthsNigeria  

Stock market prices, exchange rates, bond yieldsAvailable daily and immediately, e.g. FT or central bank    Bond prices and bond spreads (yield difference countries and safe havens such as US/German bonds)Varied sources but often subscription is needed   FT/Bloomberg often report statistics/figuresFT (paywall)
Private capital flows to emerging marketsIIF monthly updates on portfolio flow but not FDI flows, available with one to two years of lag (committed FDI data more recent)Lacks country detailsIIF
Bank lending statisticsBIF international bank lending, quarterly, available with five-month time lag BIS
Monetary statistics (central bank)Central banks maintain monthly and quarterly data on the monetary base and broad money, credit aggregates (e.g. to the private sector) and foreign assets and liabilities. Includes claims by banks on governmentQuality data on a select number of variablesKenya
Debt interest paymentsMonthly/quarterly, central bank websites, lags can be six months Kenya (Table 13)  

Nigeria debt service in 2019  
Aid flowsOECD DAC   Humanitarian finance: COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response PlanDAC (and national) data are available with long time gaps (a year) but humanitarian finance data are updated weekly; announcements are availableOCHA  

ODI donor announcement tracker
Employment and production
 Source and frequencyComments on useHyperlinks and examples
EmploymentILOSTAT provides monthly and quarterly labour force statistics (with a time lag of at least two months)Up-to-date data are patchy with respect to country coverageILO COVID-19 and labour market statistics
ProductionNational accounts, quarterly, available with six-week time lag in developed countries, or a lag of three to five months in some poorer countries   UNIDO has recent data on industrial production, e.g. for the US, China, Russia, Korea, Vietnam, Argentina, Chile, PolandData available with long time lag, and industrial production data cover few countriesUNIDO on impact of COVID-19 on manufacturing  
Others (selected)
 Source and frequencyComments on useHyperlinks and examples
Data PortalsWorld Bank, updated in an ongoing manner   Several others exist   ODI’s tracker of trackers (tba) Datasets from the World Bank

  World Bank: COVID and trade  

UN Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

Photo: Changes in food prices as a result of Covid-19.  John Mackedon / World Bank . CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jodie Keane (ODI) | Securing a climate-compatible trade regime and supporting sustainable economic transformation

The world is facing major climate change challenges. A number of important international discussions and negotiations are planned for 2020 that relate to trade and the environment. These include discussions around the 12th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial and under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as deliberations by Commonwealth Heads of Government and Ministers as part of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The decisions taken, avoided, blocked or misconstrued in these fora will influence how the international support architecture that governs trade and the environment supports or hinders inclusive and sustainable economic transformation.

Jodie Keane (Senior Research Fellow, ODI)

19 March 2020

The world is facing major climate change challenges. A number of important international discussions and negotiations are planned for 2020 that relate to trade and the environment. These include discussions around the 12th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial and under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as deliberations by Commonwealth Heads of Government and Ministers as part of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The decisions taken, avoided, blocked or misconstrued in these fora will influence how the international support architecture that governs trade and the environment supports or hinders inclusive and sustainable economic transformation.


Existing structures of production, consumption and transportation must be radically transformed to avert a global rise in temperatures beyond 2°C by 2050, to affect how and what we trade within global value chains and their processes of production. The international support architecture must urgently support these processes in order to secure climate-compatible trade and development strategies for the advancement of environmentally sustainable structural economic transformation.

This blog explores the issues and sticking points regarding securing ‘climate-compatible trade and development’ in view of important discussions this year. It explores the issues regarding advancing sustainable structural economic transformation. It identifies sectors at risk and reasons for this. It outlines the imperative of securing climate-compatible trade and development strategies to boost export diversification. And it concludes with key policy issues for consideration in 2020.  

The international dynamics

The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by Heads of Government in 2015, call for the following:

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (Goal 13)

Double the least developed country share in global exports by 2020 (Target 17.11)

Increase Aid for Trade support for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework (Target 8.a)

Progress on these goals will be under increased scrutiny this year in view of major international events and given the ‘early harvest’ of some SDGs sought by 2020, including Target 17.11.   

The Agenda for forthcoming discussions at the 12th WTO Ministerial could include a statement on trade and the environment to signal high-level political commitment to a multilateral trading system that better supports environmental sustainability. However, while it is true that much goodwill must be garnered at the highest political levels, bolder actions on multiple fronts are urgently required in order to avert the current climate crisis.

On the carbon emissions front, Nationally Determined Contributions must be dramatically increased at COP26 in order to achieve the Paris Agreement and zero carbon by 2050. The implications of more ambitious measures – recognised by the UNFCCC framework as having trans-boundary effects through the trade mechanism – must be seriously taken up by WTO members, either collectively or through like-minded approaches (e.g. through open plurilateral negotiations). Bridging UNFCCC and WTO frameworks means viewing climate and trade not as foes but instead as very important and close friends.

The scale of the task ahead is formidable. Emissions reductions commitments need to quadruple to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Many developing country governments are unlikely to take on such commitments where these are considered diametrically opposed to their traditional trade and development objectives.  

Currently, levels of finance available through the Green Climate Fund fall well short of the total cost of implementation of climate action plans for 80 developing countries that have specified their financing needs (as part of the Paris Agreement) at an estimated $5.4 trillion – the order of magnitude of the total amount spent on energy subsidies every year in the world. 

There are continued questions around how new sources of climate finance, traditional official development assistance and Aid for Trade could and should work together in order to support developing country-led trade and development strategies that upgrade environmental, social and economic outcomes. This is despite all parties to the Paris Agreement – 183 countries as of November 2018 – being committed to ‘making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development’ (Article 2.1c); with continued silence as to how to reconcile the issues regarding how commitments will affect trade.   

How to secure climate change-compatible trade and development that boosts structural economic transformation? 

ODI’s SET programme defines economic transformation as a continuous process of: 

  • moving labour and other resources from lower- to higher-productivity sectors (structural change) and
  • raising within-sector productivity growth.

Climate change is directly linked to patterns of economic transformation and will increase the urgency with which labour must move from low-productivity agriculture into higher-productivity sectors. Opportunities to release labour and other resources from lower-productivity activities into others include horizontal and vertical economic diversification, defined as:

  • horizontal export diversification (extensive margin) into completely new export sectors
  • vertical diversification (intensive margin) out of primary into manufactured exports.

Adaptation to the physical effects of climate change and related regulatory effects will affect both of these strategies. New strategies at the country level need to be designed, to increase the resilience of existing productive structures, to move into new products and services related to global climate change mitigation efforts and to make full use of rights provided by the international trade regime. 

These strategies include relieving the current deadlock in liberalising trade in environmental goods and services; considering new lists based on science; bringing into the WTO discussions around accounting for carbon and related monitoring, reporting and verification frameworks within specific sectors; and securing an outcome on fisheries subsidies negotiations at the Ministerial, which could secure momentum to address fossil fuel subsidies. Momentum at the multilateral level is crucial. If the system cannot deliver, in this last decade of action to advance the 2030 Agenda, critical reflection is required on what new types of partnerships, coalitions and likeminded action groups are necessary. 

Sectors at risk from climate change

The risks of inaction are getting higher and certain patterns of economic transformation are becoming impossible. Sectors most at risk from both the physical and the regulatory changes involved in climate change are also those on which developing countries rely for economic and social development. The most vulnerable countries to climate change are typically those with the least diversified exports. These tend to be the lowest-income countries, since export diversification tends to rise with incomes. Entry into low-skilled manufacturing sectors (e.g. garments) through the expansion of the GVC mechanism over recent decades has provided one major pathway out of poverty, for millions. Now, border carbon adjustment measures pose very real risks to such conventional trade and industrial development strategies. 

Facilitative rather than punitive measures that encompass broader economic social and environmental upgrading strategies are urgently required. Some examples include:

  • Oil, gas, coal: matching with carbon capture and storage technologies
  • Energy-intensive trade goods: supporting renewable energy deployment through Aid for Trade; ensuring recognition of equivalent emissions reduction schemes
  • Tourism: supporting carbon offsetting markets and carbon accounting for destination countries; ensuring the aviation industry addresses its own carbon footprint
  • Agriculture: recognising the important role of good agricultural practices in carbon sequestration; ensuring the maritime industry addresses its own carbon footprint.   

Consultations on market-based approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon pricing schemes, carbon clubs and border carbon adjustment measures between private and public sector actors, are underway (e.g. led by International Chambers of Commerce). Getting lead firms on board is crucial to address arising risks and threats to conventional trade and development strategies. However, different strategies will be needed to ensure public policy frameworks can induce the shifts required in private sector behaviour. The top 15% of firms typically account for the lion’s share of international trade. It is important to understand how value chain governance can influence who bears the ultimate risks and costs of compliance through movement towards greener production and consumption standards. This requires consideration of how donors can best support environmental in tandem with social and economic upgrading and the effective design of carbon reductions-related standards.   

While the economics of climate change have changed dramatically in recent years through the availability of lower-cost technologies, in particular the reducing costs of solar energy (important considering that electricity accounts for around a quarter of carbon emissions), governments and private sector actors still need much more support in their mobilisation. This includes technical assistance on the ground related to project and risk assessment, not so dissimilar to the more general needs of trade-related infrastructure within the broader Aid for Trade framework; an enhanced environmental facility may be needed.

Concluding remarks

Trade is a key transmission channel of the effects of climate change, which will transcend borders. Effectively acting in response to crises (as the unfolding of the coronavirus now demonstrates) requires governments to act in concert; learn from each other; share information; sustain open trade; and support markets through financial stimuli. All of these actions can help address the climate change emergency; some of them can be initiated now in order to slow, and avert, the climate crisis and induce sustainable structural economic transformation. The numerous important international trade and environment fora this year can help put countries on an inclusive and sustainable economic transformation path.

Photo: Wind turbine farm in Tunisia.  Dana Smillie  / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Phyllis Papadavid and Sherillyn Raga (ODI) | The eco and West Africa’s economic transformation

West Africa started the decade with plans for the eco – its newest single currency. It was announced that, in 2020, the 74-year old CFA franc would be replaced in the 8 member states of West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).[1] This blog identifies three key risks for the eco and its links to prospects for economic transformation – those of devaluation, shocks and debt.

Phyllis Papadavid (Research Associate, ODI) and Sherillyn Raga (Senior Research Officer, ODI)

5 February 2020

West Africa started the decade with plans for the eco – its newest single currency. It was announced that, in 2020, the 74-year old CFA franc would be replaced in the 8 member states of West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). This blog identifies three key risks for the eco and its links to prospects for economic transformation – those of devaluation, shocks and debt.

The eco’s devaluation risk  

The eco will signal greater regional independence. France’s Board representation at the Central Bank of West Africa (BCEAO) will be withdrawn. And WAEMU members will no longer keep half of their reserves at the French Treasury. However, there will still be a crucial link to Europe, given the eco’s euro peg. To support West Africa’s economic transformation, the eco needs to be a stable store of value.

There are two probable sources of devaluation risk. The first is the likely market assessment that the eco is overvalued and at an uncompetitive level for WAEMU countries, given the euro’s trade-weighted value. To the extent that it is overvalued, there is a risk that the BCEAO would devalue from the level of the current CFA franc. This would provoke inflation. The 50% devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994 led to an average inflation spike of 28% in WAEMU countries.

A second source of devaluation could come from the BCEAO’s credibility being tested. This could stem from France’s loosened supervision; from the fact that a date has yet to be set for the eco’s introduction, preventing market positioning; or from opposition to the peg from the policy makers of the larger economies, such as Ghana. If fiscal discipline is also judged to be insufficient, this will pressure the eco and prompt BCEAO intervention.

Amid devaluation risk, the BCEAO has a balancing act to perform, which includes ensuring exchange rate stability and facilitating liquidity. Both are essential to sustained economic transformation. For example, the former will prevent losses to early-stage export manufacturing industry owing to excessive currency fluctuations. Equally, credit provision (in the form of access to finance and low borrowing costs) is crucial to support investment in new industry.

The eco’s vulnerability to shocks 

The BCEAO’s capacity may be limited by WAEMU economies’ vulnerability to shocks, particularly when it comes to commodity prices. Most of these countries are oil importers but commodity (mineral and agricultural) exporters. To take one example, an oil price decline would improve member countries’ trade positions. However, a persistent oil price decline, coinciding with lower global demand and commodity prices, would not augur well. The CFA franc typically shows sensitivity to these shocks (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The CFA franc tend to move with global commodity prices

Source: IMF data on exchange rates and commodity prices

WAEMU’s vulnerability to commodity price shocks could mean that reserves are tied up in a precautionary liquidity cushion. As things stand already, recent estimates suggest that, at 4.3 months, WAEMU economies’ import cover is below the 5.8 considered appropriate by the IMF. The case of Nigeria is illustrative. Despite its natural wealth, adverse price shocks coupled with a naira peg meant reserve depletion (and FX rationing) at the expense of Nigeria’s economic transformation and diversification away from oil.

Similarly, the BCEAO may have to defend the eco through selling foreign reserves via open market operations. As with many emerging market central banks, the BCEAO could also increase its policy rate or banks’ reserve requirements to mitigate depreciation. But there is an opportunity cost in holding up reserves that could have been employed in productive investment. Moreover, a tighter monetary stance, via higher reserve requirements, would curtail bank funding to the productive sector.  

A problematic pegged exchange rate regime with limited foreign reserves is a familiar one in the case of Papua New Guinea (PNG). PNG is an oil and commodity exporter and operates an Australian dollar currency peg. During the 2014 oil price decline, its reserves declined by 29% as it defended the kina. Eventual FX rationing limited financial transactions and firms’ production, particularly those that required imported inputs. There was minimal to no economic transformation: in 2014, the financial services and manufacturing industries contracted by 16% and 1%, respectively. 

The eco’s fiscal convergence risks 

Realising the vision of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for economic and monetary union has been a bumpy journey. In 2000, ECOWAS created a roadmap for a single currency by 2020. Although the first phase was to introduce the eco by 2015 in the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ), comprising The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and Liberia, this was abandoned owing to insufficient economic convergence. With the eco now due to launch in WEAMU economies in 2020, there is still a desire for its usage across ECOWAS – but convergence remains a problem.

Economic convergence will be key for the eco. And there is likely to be little of it. ECOWAS convergence criteria include a budget deficit limit of 3% of GDP, an inflation rate cap of 5%, a debt-to-GDP ratio of 70% and exchange rate fluctuation within a +/-10% band. As of December 2019, only Togo had met these. Inflation has not converged and is as high as 24% in Liberia. When it comes to fiscal convergence, not only have targets been missed (Figure 2) but also the IMF assessed The Gambia, Cabo Verde, Ghana and Sierra Leone as in debt distress in 2019.

Figure 2. Most ECOWAS countries do not meet the fiscal deficit criteria

Source: 2019 IMF Fiscal Monitor Report

Looking ahead

As Europe’s experience has shown, political partnership is important for monetary and economic union. ECOWAS leaders have expressed the belief that, as countries meet convergence targets, an ever wider union will emerge. However, in practice, there has been little real cohesion. WAMZ heads recently released a joint communiqué expressing concerns over WAEMU’s eco adoption. And the region’s two big economies are at odds: Nigeria indicated that it was not ready for an ‘ECOWAS eco’ in 2020, while Ghana is keen. An Extraordinary Summit of WAMZ heads of government will be held soon. A commitment to follow WAEMU and plan for eco adoption would be positive. Crucially, an ECOWAS central bank could promote the financial stability that is crucial for economic transformation. One way would be to reduce political influence from any country pursuing high-risk policy, such as excessive debt financing. A commitment to a stable (and eventually freely floating) regional eco, low inflation and fiscal discipline would improve investment ratings and promote investment inflows geared towards greater economic transformation.

Photo: CFA Francs from Benin. Arne Hoel / World Bank / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Arkebe Oqubay | Explaining Asia’s economic transformations.

Asia’s economic transformations hold crucial lessons for latecomer countries, including those in Africa. Deepak Nayyar’s latest book, Resurgent Asia, convincingly demonstrates the fundamental importance of technological development, learning and industrialisation in Asia’s transformational journey from developing to industrialised economies. The book also illustrates the essential role of the state as leader, catalyst and supporter of Asia’s transformation, albeit with different roles in different sectors, countries and development stages.

(based on blog published first by UNU-WIDER)

Arkebe Oqubay ( ODI Distiguished Fellow)

30 January 2020

Asia’s economic transformations hold crucial lessons for latecomer countries, including those in Africa. Deepak Nayyar’s latest book, Resurgent Asia, convincingly demonstrates the fundamental importance of technological development, learning and industrialisation in Asia’s transformational journey from developing to industrialised economies. The book also illustrates the essential role of the state as leader, catalyst and supporter of Asia’s transformation, albeit with different roles in different sectors, countries and development stages. Openness works well for industrialisation and transformation only when complemented by strategic actions and industrial policy.

A trilogy on Asia’s transformation

Deepak Nayyar — economist, thinker, leading scholar — has written yet another splendid book. Resurgent Asia: Diversity in Development, together with the excellent Asian Transformations: An Inquiry into the Development of Nations (2019), recently edited by Nayyar, and an earlier path-breaking book, Catch Up: Developing Countries in the World Economy (2013), form a trilogy of scholarly work on Asia. The significance of Resurgent Asia lies in its timing, coming as it does 50 years after the publication of Myrdal’s Asian Drama: An Enquiry into the Poverty of Nations (1968) – a seminal, if pessimistic, book on Asia’s prospects for development written after a decade of research.

Asia is undoubtedly the most dynamic region of our time. It has witnessed a phenomenal transformation, with profound implications for the global economy in the 21st century. According to Nayyar’s historical analysis, Asia accounted for more than two-thirds of total global manufacturing output in the mid-18th century but this had gone down to a meagre 7% in the late 19th century. Resurgent Asia is a bold and insightful analysis of the resurgence that has taken place over the last half century. The analysis is supported by a comparative review of sub-regions — East, Southeast, South and West Asia — and an in-depth enquiry into the diversity of development in 14 economies — China, South Korea and Taiwan in East Asia; Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam in Southeast Asia; Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in South Asia; and Turkey in West Asia — accounting for four-fifths of Asia’s population and income.

The book is written in a lucid and reader-friendly style. It analyses the economic and social transformation of the continent and the process of catch-up in Asia’s most dynamic economies (such as China and South Korea), highlighting the diverse paths they have taken in their development. Yet, despite such diversity, there are discernible patterns, pointing to substantive analytical lessons that emerge from the Asian development experience.

A multidimensional analytical approach

The richness of Resurgent Asia lies in the multidimensional analytical approaches through which the author unravels the continent’s transformation. The analysis is underpinned by (i) theoretical understanding, (ii) conceptual clarity, (iii) a historical perspective, (iv) empirical evidence at Asian, sub-regional and country levels, (v) consideration of the underlying drivers and (vi) critical issues in development. The book also looks forward, considering the future of Asia over the next quarter-century, without falling into the trap of prophesising.

The book emphasises two important messages – that there is no prescribed path or magic wand, or even an ‘Asian model’; and that latecomers travelling along their own paths have the opportunity to catch up. Unlike Myrdal’s Asian Drama, which epitomised the European perspective, Resurgent Asia is written from the Asian point of view. The political economy approach is based on ‘the premise that economic problems cannot be studied in isolation but must be situated in their wider historical, social, and political context’, without overlooking the role of government and politics, while amplifying the analysis of underlying economic and social factors.

The implications of Resurgent Asia

Key theoretical arguments examined in the book include the relationship between structural change and growth; the importance of synergies and complementarities of sectors for sustained growth and structural transformation; and the idea that the system is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. Nayyar adduces empirical evidence to show the vital role of industrial transformation and industrial policy, and questions the notion of international openness as the key driver of Asian transformation. He convincingly demonstrates the fundamental importance of technological development, learning and industrialisation in Asia’s transformational journey from developing to industrialised economies. Nayyar also illustrates the essential role of the state as leader, catalyst and supporter of Asia’s transformation — although the role varies across sectors, countries and development stages.

Resurgent Asia, through scrutiny of Myrdal’s work, explores the strong scholarly tradition of the development economists of the 1960s and 1970s. Although Myrdal emphasised an interdisciplinary approach, and the importance of political and historical perspectives, as well as understanding the values and subjectivity of the researcher, he was no doubt a victim of the European perspective. Resurgent Asia unequivocally exposes the error of hasty predictions or prophecies that scholars make based on observed trends, which invariably tend towards the pessimistic. Optimism is also an important lens (a ‘beam in the eye’) – rooted in the belief that the human race has a strong survival instinct and is a powerful force for transformation.

Lessons for Africa

Resurgent Asia also has significant relevance for Africa. First, it shows that countries can transform their development trajectory, bringing about fundamental socioeconomic transformation and economic catch-up within the space of one to two generations. Underdevelopment and poverty is not a destiny.

Second, the Asian experience shows that diversity in development paths is the rule rather than an exception. African countries should discover and pursue their own economic development paths, based on their own specific conditions and contexts, among which the legacy of colonial rule is significant.

Third, both the standard Afro-pessimism view advocated by influential scholars and the African-dummy research approach, which denies African diversity, are erroneous. Finally, African policy-makers and scholars should note that the state’s developmental role and industrial policies are essential to sustained growth and fundamental structural transformation. As for all latecomers, policy learning by government and technological learning by firms are key ingredients for economic catch-up.

Among the additional insights that Resurgent Asia brings are issues related to colonialism, openness and inclusiveness. First, the decline and fall of Asia was attributable to colonialism and imperialism. Unlike countries in Latin America and Africa, most Asian countries have a long history of well-structured states and cultures, which colonialism did not entirely destroy. The political independence that restored their economic autonomy and enabled them to pursue national development objectives has been an important underlying factor motivating their drive to catch up.

Second, economic openness has supported development in Asia when it has taken the form of strategic integration with, rather than passive insertion into, the world economy. Openness – a necessary but not sufficient condition – has been conducive to industrialisation only when combined with effective industrial policy.

Third, development outcomes in Asia have varied greatly across countries and between people. The massive reduction in absolute poverty might have been even greater had it not been for the rising economic inequality among people and across regions. Only development that is inclusive, that creates employment and reduces inequality, can lead to economic growth in Asia that will be sustainable over the next 25 years.

Latecomer advantage and ‘newness’

History shows that economic miracles occur in the least expected regions and countries: as the classical political economist Frederick List (1841) underlines, ‘no nation has been so misconstrued and misjudged as respects its future destiny and its national economy as the United States of North America, by theorists as well as by practical men’. The US political economist Thorstein Veblen (1915) reminds us ‘The German industrial system was some two-and-a-half or three centuries in arrears … Germans are new to this industrial system.’ Contrary to the conventional view, backwardness is not only a disadvantage but also an advantage. Gerschenkron (1952) highlights ‘the development of a backward country may, by the very nature of its backwardness, tend to differ fundamentally from that of an advanced country’, because the ‘relative backwardness’ (the degree of backwardness and industrial potential of each county) ‘diverges in terms of variations in the pace of the development or the rate of industrial growth, productive and organizational structures of industry, the application of institutional instruments, “spirit” or “ideology”’.

Resurgent Asia sets a high bar for new contemporary publications on Asia and broader development economics research. It is required reading for policy-makers, researchers and students, particularly in emerging and developing countries. Policy-makers will benefit from the lessons drawn, which take full account of the complexity of development endeavours. Researchers will appreciate Nayyar’s methodology, with its integration of economic theory, empirical evidence and policy analysis, always situated in historical perspective. This book is a most welcome contribution to development economics.

Photo: A city park in Tianjin, China. Yang Aijun / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Linda Calabrese (ODI)| Reflecting on the China-trade- industrialisation nexus in Uganda

Our recent analysis  on industrialisation in Uganda confirms that Museveni is right to focus more on attracting investors from China, but Uganda’s exports need to diversify more and need to go beyond primary products to China.

Linda Calabrese (Research Fellow, ODI)

16 January 2020

Our recent study on industrialisation in Uganda supports President Museveni’s focus on attracting investors from China, but Uganda needs to diversify its exports  beyond primary products.

During a recent meeting between Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and China’s high-ranking diplomat Yang Jiechi, President Museveni encouraged China to buy more agricultural goods from Africa. President Museveni has often encouraged African exports, especially in relation to China. In the past, he argued that Uganda imports too much from China, including goods that could be produced locally – and he encouraged African countries to produce and export more to China.

This is part of a broader narrative put forward by President Museveni, aiming to achieve an overall trade surplus with the rest of the world. The Government of Uganda has taken several steps in this direction, towards a development model hinting at import substitution, as the Buy Uganda Build Uganda policy attests.

The Government of Uganda wants Ugandan firms and entrepreneurs to produce locally and to use as many domestic inputs as possible. This means making shoes from Ugandan leather, or furniture from Ugandan wood, but also focussing on certain sectors, namely agroprocessing and extractives, based on domestically produced agricultural and mineral goods.

This has a rationale grounded in geography, as we discussed in our study on industrial development in Uganda. Uganda is a landlocked country, with high costs of transport that make imported goods quite expensive. Industrialising by using domestic goods would allow the country to save a lot of money in transport costs. However, this translates into an industrialisation model that is narrowly focussed on a few selected products, and excludes other pathways, such as global and regional value chains.

What role does China play in this story? This is two-fold one – as part of both the trade and industrialisation story.

On trade, China is the biggest source of Uganda’s imports, providing 15% of all imported merchandise in 2017 (followed by the UAE and Kenya). China exports to Uganda much more than Uganda exports to China. Uganda has consistently had a negative trade balance with China since at least the mid-1990s. While China exports a diversified mix of goods (electronic goods, garment,  footwear and machinery) to Uganda, 90% of Uganda’s exports to China are agricultural goods, comprised mostly of leather and skins.  

China provides duty-free, quota-free access to its market to least-developed countries such as Uganda. Most of the goods Uganda exports the most to the rest of the world which include coffee, tea and gold can therefore already be imported into China at 0% tariffs.

In terms of industrialisation, China is an important player in Uganda’s economic development. President Museveni repeatedly invited Chinese investors to come to Uganda, and these invitations were responded positively by investment in the country’s manufacturing sector, including the recent establishment of an electronics assembly plant near Kampala. In addition to China, investors from other emerging markets and from the rest of East Africa are also involved in the Uganda’s manufacturing.

Based on this, we can ask: is President Museveni’s call for a closer engagement with China the correct one?

Uganda should definitely aim to export more, but there are two caveats. The first one is about the trade surplus. For Uganda to have a trade surplus might not be necessary in the short term. Uganda receives remittances and aid from abroad, that help cover its import bills even if the exports fall short. Moreover, imports are very important for a country aiming to industrialise and therefore it may not be wise to try to reduce them at all costs.

Secondly, President Museveni called for more exports to China (and not just any country). Of course, exporting more would be better, but Uganda should not try to export the same agricultural products (as President Museveni seems to suggest). Instead, it should aim to diversify its export basket. Ugandan businesses should try toproduce and export a wider range of goods, including manufactured ones.

The goods that Uganda could realistically produce at this stage (garment, footwear, small electronics, packaging etc.) are already produced by China efficiently and at lower costs. Or they are too bulky (e.g. furniture and construction materials) to be shipped to China and remain competitive given the transport costs.

This is the situation faced by many developing countries, including those geographically closer to China (e.g. Cambodia). Despite having similar duty-free, quota-free access to China, the US and Europe, these countries mostly export to the latter. It is likely that Uganda would face a similar situation. Therefore, the best strategy for Uganda would be to aim to diversify its exported goods –  and not to mainly focus on China as an export market.

Then there is the issue of industrialisation. If we agree that Uganda should produce and export a wider range of goods, this is crucial. To expand its production, Uganda may need to import more machinery, equipment and materials. This call for more imports, rather than less – but it does not matter, if it is beneficial for exports to grow as well.

To promote industrialisation, we have seen that President Museveni is inviting investors from many countries, including explicit invitations to Chinese investors. Together with India, China is the main investor in the country. We do not have disaggregated data to confirm whether Chinese firms invest more than others in Uganda’s manufacturing sector. However, in the whole of Africa, we know that while the largest investors (US, UK and France) focus their investments on the extractive and financial sectors, Chinese companies invest heavily in extractives and construction, but also, to a smaller extent, in manufacturing. President Museveni decided appropriately to engage with investors from China. He could also extend the invite to other emerging markets and regional investors that can add value to and enhance Uganda’s produce and exports.

The Government of Uganda’s strategy to transform the economy, create jobs and improve livelihoods should focus on transforming production and raising exports, aiming for European and African markets, rather than only Chinese. Uganda would need to look beyond agribusiness and extractives, and consider whether the country can be a more active participant in global and regional value chain production. The Government of Uganda could increase its efforts in investment and local production promotion and aftercare, as well as in building better infrastructure to attract and work with other investors from China and India.


Photo: A marketplace in Kampala, Uganda. Arne Hoel / World Bank . CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Dirk Willem te Velde(ODI) |Industrialisation in a digital era

The Industrial Development Report 2020 (IDR 2020) by UNIDO, ‘Industrialization in a Digital Age’, is spot on when it points to the centrality of building more industrial or productive capacities, as this will help in engaging better with the digital economy. This builds on our past findings in Africa and supports our preliminary findings in Cambodia, where we recently held a consultation. It is also a message to take to Africa Industrialisation week in November 2019.
The plight of industrialisation is often overlooked when countries move to a digital economy. Some countries are wrongly advised that manufacturing is yesterday’s strategy. This new UNIDO IDR corrects that narrative.

Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)

11 November 2019

The Industrial Development Report 2020 (IDR 2020) by UNIDO, ‘Industrialization in a Digital Age’, is spot on when it points to the centrality of building more industrial or productive capacities, as this will help in engaging better with the digital economy. This builds on our past findings in Africa and supports our preliminary findings in Cambodia, where we recently held a consultation. It is also a message to take to Africa Industrialisation week in November 2019.

The plight of industrialisation is often overlooked when countries move to a digital economy. Some countries are wrongly advised that manufacturing is yesterday’s strategy. This new UNIDO IDR corrects that narrative.

The IDR 2020 points to several digital divides in production and use, between and within countries and across sectors. It sees ADP (advanced digital production) technologies operating as islands in a sea of firms without many capabilities. This will indeed be a key trend to watch for the future. Adair Turner posited in a lecture last year there would be very few high-productivity jobs by 2100, with lots of low-productivity jobs around them (‘hollowing-out’ of skills). This seems to be true within developed countries. Could the same concentration and specialisation happen between richer and poorer countries? Our findings on robots in Africa, such as that the share of world robots sales attributed to Africa is 10 times lower than its share in gross domestic product, point to digital divergence not convergence.

This represents a major risk to catch-up. Is catch-up a thing of the past without targeted corrective action? In his comments (at the back of the IDR2020), Rodrik argues that ADP technologies can enable faster catch-up, but without capabilities, skills and institutions they raise barriers to convergence by laggards.

Digitalisation is gathering pace differently across countries, with many differences across productive sectors too. The IDR 2020 points to the different levels of digital innovation across manufacturing, with the garments and food sectors lagging far behind electronics and automotives. The effects across major economic sectors are even larger. Our work in Cambodia and Kenya suggests that, while services apps like digital payment systems (such as Wing and Pi Pay in Cambodia) or transport apps (including tuk tuk apps) are taking hold rapidly, and agricultural apps are also gradually being implemented (BlocRice and Agribuddy), there are ongoing concerns around innovation in manufacturing.

Another digital divide is around impact. Not only do the digital laggards install and use less digital technology, but also the above ODI evidence suggests they get less out of it in terms of productivity (3% versus 11% manufacturing productivity impact for low- versus middle-income countries for the same 10% increase in internet penetration). Lack of complementary action and skills reduces the impact of digital technology. Again, such evidence points to the need for urgent corrective action. Our previous work has suggested a two-pronged approach of building industrial capabilities and preparing rapidly for the digital transformation. IDR 2020  presents three policies: framework conditions, creating demand and strengthening capabilities.

Digital transformation may not benefit all, or everyone to the same extent. Distributional effects matter. The IDR 2020 suggests ADP technologies are associated with net benefits. This is likely to be true. But it does not mean there are no losses/losers and we do need to think about the vulnerable groupings along the digitalisation path. We recently discussed (in a 4 November meeting in Phnom Penh) our draft report ‘Fostering an Inclusive Digitalisation in Cambodia’, which argues for five actions, taking into account the political economy of digital transformation: (i) transform manufacturing innovation; (ii) provide skills for the future; (iii) promote a digital start-up economy for an inclusive economy; (iv) protect the most vulnerable groups in the digital economy; and (v) promote a public sector that leads by example.  

All of this demands a lot from government and private sector actors. Unfortunately, this does not always appear to work out. During the launch of IDR 2020, I argued that for effective industrial policies, governments require leadership skills, coordinating capacities and iterative approaches. They also need to lead by example and embrace e-governance so that firms do not need to suffer uncertain conditions around taxes or licences. Not every country can become an Estonia in two decades’ time, but they can try to make advances. Cambodia has regrettably regressed on some UN digital governance indices.

Laggards (in terms of countries, sectors or firms) have a window of opportunity. Many countries missed the manufacturing boat when China industrialised, and they certainly do not now want to miss out on the benefits of digital transformation. It is better to have a less employment-rich manufacturing sector, but with spill over effects for jobs in other sectors, than to have no manufacturing sector at all. This is a crucial and urgent message for middle income countries such as Cambodia that already have a sizeable manufacturing workforce, as well as for those African countries that still need to build up manufacturing.

Photo: Cambodia’s garment industry.  Chhor Sokunthea / World Bank . CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sherillyn Raga (ODI) | Will the US-China Trade War Derail Economic Transformation Prospects in the Poorest Economies?

Sherillyn Raga (Senior Research Officer, ODI)
5 July 2019
Last weekend, the G20 Leaders discussed a range of important global economic issues from innovation to climate change, among many others. Of particular interest to many, however, was how the G20 Leaders might apply political pressure to halt the ongoing US-China trade tension, given its impact in and beyond G20 member countries. This blog examines how a prolonged trade war might spillover to non-G20 low and middle income countries through lower global demand, changes in bilateral trade patterns, possible dumping and changes in relative exchange rate positions, and hence prospects for economic transformation. To address the possible consequences of the trade war, regulators should consider calibrating targeted sectoral interventions and forward-looking policy toolkits, diversifying external trade and investment partners, and building fiscal and balance of payment space moving forward.

Sherillyn Raga (Senior Research Officer, ODI)

5 July 2019

Last weekend, the G20 Leaders discussed a range of important global economic issues from innovation to climate change, among many others. Of particular interest to many, however, was how the G20 Leaders might apply political pressure to halt the ongoing US-China trade tension, given its impact in and beyond G20 member countries. This blog examines how a prolonged trade war might spillover to non-G20 low and middle income countries through lower global demand, changes in bilateral trade patterns, possible dumping and changes in relative exchange rate positions, and hence prospects for economic transformation. To address the possible consequences of the trade war, regulators should consider calibrating targeted sectoral interventions and forward-looking policy toolkits, diversifying external trade and investment partners, and building fiscal and balance of payment space moving forward.

Trade war spillover channels: short-term risks, medium-term implications

While the G20 Leaders Declaration emphasises the importance of a “free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment”, the Leaders were unable to convince Presidents Trump and Xi to end their protracted trade dispute. Given the size of these two economies, persistent trade tensions will inevitably disrupt growth and prospects of economic transformation in the following ways.

Moderated global demand and activity

A worsening of the trade war and an increase in retaliatory tariffs will drive up prices of imports and goods with intermediate imported inputs, consequently lowering US and Chinese consumption. The US and China alone are responsible for 22% of global imports and contribute 40% to global GDP.  Lower US and Chinese consumer demand will thus drive down export production and investments abroad, reducing overall global income and activity. This is reflected by the deceleration in global economic growth which coincided with the imposition of US and then Chinese tariff increases in 2018, from 3.8% in the first half to 3.2% in the second half of 2018.

The IMF estimates that the current trade spat will cost 0.5% of global GDP in 2019. If the planned US-China tariffs are extended to all traded products from both countries, the IMF expects that global output will be further reduced by 0.3% in 2020. Continued weak global performance and outlook can disrupt the momentum in high-productivity exports, foreign direct investment and global value chain (GVC) firms, thereby affecting the process of economic transformation globally.

Change in bilateral trade patterns

While the global economy will lose out in net terms from the US-China trade war, Chart 1 shows some exporters are well placed to gain temporarily. For example, US imports from Vietnam rose by 40% year on year (yy) over the year to January – April 2019, while US imports from China fell by 13% during the same period, according to the Financial Times. In particular, as of the second quarter of 2019, processing of industrial products and manufacturing is Vietnam’s fastest growing sector at 9.15% growth yy, followed by services at 6.9%, and agriculture at 2.9%–an indication of how the trade war is accelerating the movement of Vietnamese resources to high productivity sectors. Overall, the ADB estimated that if the US-China trade war escalates further, Vietnam could potentially gain up to a cumulative of 2% of GDP in the next 3 years primarily because Vietnam exports many of the Chinese products affected by the US tariffs. Cambodia’s garment manufacturers were also assessed to gain from the trade war, and this may have contributed to the 32% yy growth in the value of Cambodian export goods in 2018. While statistics are pointing to gains for Cambodia and Vietnam, analysts suggest these gains may be short-lived because of domestic risks, such as Cambodia’s high labour costs, lack of business-supporting infrastructure and relatively lower productivity as well as the risks surrounding Vietnam’s real-estate boom and higher dependency on foreign capital.

Meanwhile, China’s imports from the US sharply moderated to 0.9% growth in 2018 from 14.2% growth in 2017. China’s tariffs targeted mostly US agricultural products such that trade diversion is evident in the 63% quarter on quarter growth of China’s largely soybean imports from Brazil in the last quarter of 2018. Even prior to the US-China trade war, Brazil was a top global soybean exporter. In anticipation of added demand from China, Reuters reports that Brazil’s soy plantations have expanded by 2 million hectares, while sugar cane land have shrunk by nearly 400,000 hectares. Brazil is consequently at risk of“de-industrialisation” as a result of shifting its resources to agriculture. Since this shift is focused heavily on soybeans, the absence of vertical and horizontal diversification could make the Brazilian economy vulnerable.

China’s export oversupply and dumping in developing countries

If the changing bilateral patterns have led to the sourcing of tariff-affected imports from sources other than China and US, then who will consume American agricultural exports and Chinese intermediate manufactured goods? In the US, soybean prices have become much cheaper and those that cannot be exported are mostly stored. The government has also earmarked US$12 billion to help its farmers weather the fall-out. But what about excess supply from China?

One possibility is to offer China’s excess exports to other markets at very competitive prices, including below the price at which these products could have been sold in the Chinese market (i.e., dumping). Supply of relatively cheaper imports not only increases a country’s trade deficit, but importantly, also pushes consumers away from relatively expensive domestic counterpart products. This depresses prices in the import-competing sector, creating a trigger to lay off employees or shut down operations if firms cannot absorb the impacts of competition. This is already happening in India, where an Indian Parliamentary report from July 2018 estimated that dumping of Chinese solar panels resulted in a loss of 200,000 jobs. The report also suggested that an increase in Chinese import shipments across various sectors has forced several micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to exit the market—a setback to India’s target of stimulating its manufacturing sector to at least 25% of GDP.

Exchange rates and risks of financial market contagion

The US has a trade deficit with China (i.e., US imports more than they export to China). At least by magnitude and in the medium-term, the decline in tariff-affected US imports from China will more than offset the loss in US export revenues due to China’s retaliatory tariffs. This will narrow the US trade deficit and induce dollar appreciation. A stronger dollar will strain payment of foreign-denominated debt, especially for countries that already have high levels of debt. As of May 2019, 6 out of the 7 LICs considered to be in high debt distress and 12 out of 25 LICs considered to be at  high risk of debt distress are in Africa.

Conversely, the Chinese Renminbi (RMB) is expected to weaken with the decline of export receipts from the US. This is reflected by movements in the real effective exchange rates in July 2018 when US and China first began to raise tariffs (Chart 2). A weaker RMB makes Chinese products more competitive compared to the rest of the world[1]. This puts pressure on other emerging market currencies to depreciate, especially value chain suppliers to China and Chinese competitors. Given the high exposure of East Asian countries to China and their relatively flexible exchange regimes, currencies in the region have been able to absorb the shock and closely followed the movement of RMB against the US dollar (Chart 3).

However, if tariffs are extended to all traded products between China and US, further depreciation in East Asian currencies will dampen investor appetite for emerging market assets in general. As investors reallocate their portfolios amidst trade uncertainties, fast-moving capital would first be withdrawn from investments in high-risk markets (mostly in LICs) and moved to safe havens. In the case of South Africa, the stock market index lost more than 3% and the Rand depreciated by 4% month-on-month in May 2018 following the US’ hike in tariffs for US$200bn worth of Chinese imports. If global business optimism continues to decline, capital may also flow out from government bonds and FDIs—investments that are critical for sustaining public services and creating jobs in many LICs.

How to address the effects of the US-China trade war in the poorest economies?

An effective, rules-based international trading system would prevent such trade disputes and unfair practices. But as the G20 Summit outcome suggests, even an economically powerful group such as the G20 leaders can barely put pressure on Presidents Trump and Xi to change their respective sovereign policies on trade. With no strong signal of an end to the trade war in sight, we suggest the following approaches for low and middle income countries:

Calibrate a targeted and forward-looking policy approach. While it is tempting for developing economies to weaken their currencies to counteract possible competition or dumping, caution is important. Apart from raising exports, a weak currency also drives up import prices, and this move can be inflationary for net-food importers, a grouping which includes many countries in Africa. Public policies should support productivity-enhancing exports and manufacturing sectors that are directly affected by the trade war. Such policies could include expanding credit lines or providing incentives to sustain operations and investments in technology and skills amidst the trade war. The use of forward-looking policy toolkits such as macroprudential regulations and capital flow management are targeted approaches that can also reduce specific vulnerabilities in the financial sector.

Diversify external partners. China is increasingly becoming a major trading partner, source of FDI, and creditor to governments in African and less developed Asian countries. For these countries, it is unsurprisingly hard to manoeuvre policy options economically and politically, for example, for Uganda to raise the issue of dumping against China. One solution is to balance sources of growth, capital and trade through other bilateral and regional partners. In the case of Africa, boosting partnerships with countries and groupings beyond the US and China, including the African Union/African Continental Free Trade Area and Commonwealth is a starting point.

Build buffers. Developing countries and LICs are structurally diverse and hence external shocks affect economies differently and through various channels. Moving forward, a very effective strategy to shield a country from the unintended consequences of non-economic disturbances is to have buffers (e.g., ample foreign reserves, healthy fiscal balance position) that provide space for monetary and fiscal policies to support high productivity domestic sectors and ensure economic transformation is not derailed by unfavourable external (and in the case of this trade war, also political) developments.

[1] This scenario is more probable at least in the short-term while traders from both sides are holding decisions (e.g., whether they will relocate, divert trade, or change preferences) and government do not intervene heavily in the foreign exchange market.

Photo: Flags of the G20 nations. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Dirk Willem te Velde (ODI) | Trade, technology and China: opportunities or threats for Cambodia’s economic transformation?

Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI) 24 April 2019 Unless Cambodia addresses a number of short- and long-term challenges related to the impact of trade, technology and China, future pathways for inclusive economic transformation are at risk. As we discuss at greater length in a new SET scoping note in co-ordination with CDRI and support by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Cambodia has been the sixth-fastest growing country in the world over the past two decades.However, Cambodia currently also faces major challenges to its hitherto successful growth model and these need a response. The challenges can be summarised as trade, technology and China.

Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)

24 April 2019

Unless Cambodia addresses a number of short- and long-term challenges related to the impact of trade, technology and China, future pathways for inclusive economic transformation are at risk. As we discuss at greater length in a new SET scoping note in co-ordination with CDRI and support by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Cambodia has been the sixth-fastest growing country in the world over the past two decades. It has reduced poverty and inequality significantly and it graduated to lower-middle-income country status in 2015. It has achieved remarkable growth in exports of garments, attracted record numbers of tourists, expanded agricultural land leading to significant exports of rice, benefited from high commodity prices and recently witnessed a construction boom. It has also shown signs of diversification into bicycles, footwear and, to some extent, maize, vegetables, sugar and palm oil. Special economic zones (SEZs) have played a crucial role in kickstarting manufacturing. However, Cambodia currently also faces major challenges to its hitherto successful growth model and these need a response. The challenges can be summarised as trade, technology and China. In the coming months, ODI and CDRI will examine the implications of digital technology for Cambodia’s future transformation in greater detail, building on our recent consultations.


Cambodia faces the removal of trade preferences in the coming year, if the EU decides to withdraw Everything But Arms preferences as a result of human rights considerations. Cambodia’s exports to the EU make up two fifths of total goods exports. Most-favoured nation tariffs in the EU are 12% on garments and between 8% and 17% for footwear, but so far Cambodia faces zero tariffs. Garments support 700,000–800,000 mostly female low-skilled jobs. Anything that affects the garment sector has direct implications for inclusive economic transformation.

Our interviews in Cambodia for the scoping paper suggest that preferences are perhaps not as important as previously considered, at least in the short run. If firms can absorb a change in minimum wages from $60 in 2010 to $182 per month currently, they may also be able to absorb the (smaller) changes in preferences. However, it is likely that a loss in preferences would lead to lower sectoral growth than would otherwise have been the case. Hence, Cambodia needs urgently to improve competitiveness by enhancing skills, improving infrastructure and streamlining regulation and licences (and in addition to improving its human rights record).

Digital technology

The digital economy is advancing rapidly globally, and low- and lower-middle-income countries will not be excluded. Cambodia aims to become a digital economy, although this may take some time. Rather than fearing the labour impact of digitalisation on labour-intensive SEZs and garment activity, Cambodia needs to harness the digital economy for its competitiveness. One core element in this is the importance of ensuring the appropriate skills are available (especially cognitive skills to undertake non-routine tasks).

Our discussions in Cambodia suggested there is no agreed policy framework within which to consider how Cambodia can prepare for a digital economy in a comprehensive way. Cambodia needs to consider the future of specific sectors and activities; who would be the main gainers and losers from this; how skills can be developed to prepare for a digital economy; and especially how the poorest can also benefit from digitalisation. Interviews with manufacturing firms suggest there is still little awareness of the changes that may come sooner rather than later.

Prime Minister Hun Sen recently held a speech at a Cambodia Development Resource Institute conference on digital transformation. He argued that actions to date include the development of the Cambodia Information and Communication Technology Masterplan 2020, the drafting of the Cambodia e-Government Master Plan, the establishment of a Data Management Centre and the promotion of a legal framework for the digital ecosystem. But there are also challenges, such as building infrastructure to support the digital sector; developing an e-payment system and logistics network; creating a digital platform and developing an ecosystem; and promoting government digitalisation, entrepreneurship, digital literacy and open data. The Supreme National Economic Council has established a working group to formulate a digital economy policy framework. Cambodia needs to act urgently to become more engaged in the digital economy.


Cambodia has turned to China in recent years for economic support. On the one hand, this can lead to significant benefits. China brings billions of dollars of investment to Cambodia (responsible for much more than half of foreign direct investment in recent years), catering to 2 million Chinese tourists in Cambodia; investing in hotels and casinos; investing in SEZs whose firms utilise low-cost labour and trade access in the EU and US; and offering a large market for Cambodia’s exports.

But such engagement increases dependencies and may fail to bring significant benefits for Cambodia’s economic transformation. For example, the firms in the Sihanoukville SEZ have few incentives to upgrade, and have few linkages with the local economy, posting questions related to transformation in the future. The casino economy may cater to Chinese tourists, but it is not clear how this helps transform Cambodia’s economy. Complementary policies (e.g. innovation policies, skills development, casino taxes) are crucial to ensure engagement with China supports economic transformation.

The SET programme will in the near future engage around Cambodia’s economic transformation, especially with respect to the opportunities and threats of the digital economy and the implications for policies.

Photo: The Special Economic Zone in Khan Posenchey, Phnom Penh. Chhor Sokunthea/World Bank. License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Neil Balchin, David Booth and Dirk Willem te Velde (ODI) | How economic transformation happens at the sector level

Neil Balchin (Research Fellow ODI, David Booth (Senior Research Associate, ODI) and Dirk Willem te Velde
(Principal Research Fellow, ODI) 9 April 2019 A new Gatsby Africa-ODI paper detailing sector transformation in eleven African and Asian cases shows how sector dynamics depend crucially on correct identification of the economic opportunities, conducive political-economic conditions at the sector level, credible commitments to investors, reasonably good provision of public goods, specific efforts to tackle investment coordination problems and taking advantage of a moment of unusual opportunity.

Neil Balchin (Former Research Fellow, ODI), David Booth (Senior Research Associate, ODI) and Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)

9 April 2019

A new Gatsby Africa-ODI paper detailing sector transformation in eleven African and Asian cases shows how sector dynamics depend crucially on:

      • Correct identification of the economic opportunities;
      • Conducive political-economic conditions at the sector level
      • Credible commitments to investors
      • Reasonably good provision of public goods
      • Specific efforts to tackle investment coordination problems; and
      • Taking advantage of a moment of unusual opportunity.

The paper examines six experiences of successful sector transformation: air transport and logistics services in Ethiopia; the automotive industry in South Africa; the revival of the cocoa sector in Ghana; the staple food revolution in Indonesia; garments in Bangladesh; and sector-based strategies in Mauritius. It also considers five cases where sectors did not transform or where a promising initial transformation was not sustained. These cases of relative failure are cashew nuts in Mozambique; pineapples in Ghana; maize subsidies in Malawi in the years 2005–2008; President Kikwete’s rice initiative in Tanzania; and Malaysia’s faltering manufacturing sector.

What did the research find about the factors behind sector transformation?

Correct identification of economic opportunities is a common feature in all the successful transformation examples, although on a variety of different grounds. These range from successful identification of market access advantages for Bangladeshi garments or opportunities to serve Asian markets through Ethiopian air transport services, to supply opportunities in South Africa presented by the global sourcing strategies of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). However, economic opportunity factors alone do not make it possible to distinguish successes from failures.

All successful cases exhibited positive political-economic relations, at least at the sector level. But the type of relationship varied across the successful transformation experiences, from centralised economic planning enabling state-led development of an airline in Ethiopia or exceptional democratic unity post-apartheid and an effective alignment of interests facilitated through dedicated sector-specific structures and support organisations around South Africa’s automotive industries, to the development of a consensus view across elites and the wider public and private sectors around a strategic direction for the Mauritian economy.

In the failed or disappointing experiences, these relations soured over time, or were weak or entirely absent. Political-economic causes of failure also took a variety of forms, but in almost all cases these were the most decisive factors, either directly or by weakening the public actions required to stimulate or support the investments. In Mozambique, there was a lack of consensus among different actors about necessary reforms in the cashew nut sector. In Ghana, there was little government interest in pineapple production, leaving pioneer investors in the sector to attempt, ultimately in vain, to address the growing infrastructure and learning requirements of remaining internationally competitive. Similarly, the maize sector in Malawi suffered from weakening political support for maize. In Malaysia, dissolving political conditions after the Asian financial crisis and the politics of ethnicity undermined attempts to improve manufacturing performance.

In several of the successful cases, favourable balances of political and economic interests supported transformation because they resulted in credible commitments to investors. In Ghana, this took the form of cross-party political support for the cocoa sector, and the key sectoral institution. In Mauritius, high-level political backing for a consensus view on the desired future direction of the economy was important. In Ethiopia, state investments in air transport were backed by a long-term policy vision designed by a regime that is relatively secure. In South Africa, multi-year policy visions provided a credible platform for long-term planning in the automotive sector. Technically proficient planning and macroeconomic management provided a predictable investment environment for staple agriculture in Indonesia. In Bangladesh, credible commitments came externally in the form of clear international commitments providing market access for Bangladeshi garments.

In failures, such commitments were typically uncertain, undermining investor confidence. For example, the government’s credibility in the case of cashews in Mozambique was undermined by poor communication, the perception that the policy reforms were World Bank-driven and the knowledge that processing could be profitable only with government protection. In Tanzania, the power of food-importing businesses undermined the credibility of the presidential rice initiative and the East African Community’s tariff rules. Political changes in Malaysia removed support for export processing zones and undermined the credibility of investment incentives.

The success cases often included reasonably good provision of public goods. This ranged from coordinated public infrastructure investments in Ethiopia or investments in the construction of automotive industrial parks and targeted transport infrastructure in South Africa to major investments in rural public works in Indonesia and improved telecommunications and power in Bangladesh and Mauritius. In Ghana, the development of quality control systems helped maintain the international price advantage of domestically produced cocoa.

The absence of adequate public goods provision, or related support, was almost always one of the proximate causes in the cases of relative failure. For instance, poor rural roads and weak extension services affected the maize sector in Malawi, while failure on the part of district governments to maintain medium-size irrigation works hampered the presidential rice initiative in Tanzania.

In the successful cases, specific efforts were made to tackle investment coordination problems. In Ethiopia, there was coordination and sequencing of investment in public infrastructure alongside the airline’s own capital investment in key areas such as cargo and maintenance facilities. The South African government devised well-coordinated policies – including import duty credits and productive asset allowances – for subsidising investment in exporting cars. The Indonesian government had a well-staffed national planning agency, which handled the coordination issues surrounding the uptake of improved rice and the utilisation of oil revenues in an effective way. There was some coordination among garment firms in Bangladesh, for example to capture spillovers from firm-level learning and establish strong links between education institutes and the private sector.

In failures, unsolved coordination problems had deleterious effects. For instance, little effort was made to coordinate investments to boost raw cashew nut production after export liberalisation in Mozambique. In Ghana, there was a lack of coordinated investment in post-harvest handling and other infrastructure to support pineapple production.

In certain success cases, support was provided to investors, and sometimes directed to specific first-mover firms. For example, tax incentives available to all investors and tariffs helped attract OEMs to South Africa, and similar incentives had the effect of attracting foreign investors to export zones in Malaysia. Support was provided to first-mover firms in Bangladesh’s garment sector, while support was provided to whole sectors through targeted support for innovation in Mauritius.

In the failure cases, support was often provided and then withdrawn. In Mozambique, the government removed export restrictions without investing in firm capabilities. In Malawi, subsidies were not sustained long enough, or supported with sufficient complementary measures, to pull off a profitability breakthrough.

The evidence in these cases shows that interventions at sector level, coordinated around a targeted set of activities, in a politically smart way, and set in a competitive framework can be an important driver of economic transformation. Targeting specific sectors that have strong basic conditions for competitiveness and where political economy factors are not going to be strongly detrimental is critical. The development of specific competitive sectors has been key to dynamic growth periods and hence to long-term transformation, even in countries where wider aspects of economic governance have not improved. This implies it is possible to develop dynamic, competitive sectors even when broader conditions in the economy are unfavourable. This insight has implications for actors looking to support economic transformation.

The factors set out above operate primarily as transmission mechanisms, meaning it is the function rather than the form of support at sector level that matters most. They are crucial mechanisms by means of which a favourable or unfavourable political-economic configuration influences the transformation outcome. In other words, once an economic opportunity has been identified, the political economy really matters.

And, finally, what matters about the political economy may be a temporary configuration, a moment of unusual opportunity – and it is also likely to be sector-specific. Transformation breakthroughs can and do occur in systemic contexts that are generally unfavourable. This places a premium on the ability to identify moments and sectors of opportunity in a timely fashion. Given the high level of uncertainty that must accompany such judgements, this also points to the importance of having the flexibility to recognise initial errors and change course when necessary.

Photo: Young Bangladeshi women being trained at the Savar Export Processing Zone Bangladesh 2016. Dominic Chavez/World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Karishma Banga (ODI) | Making Firms Work Series | Using digital technology to become globally competitive: Funkidz

Karishma Banga, ODI
18 December 2018
Funkidz, a one-of-a-kind Kenyan small or medium enterprise (SME), has successfully managed to leverage digital technologies to increase its global competitiveness. Founded by a female entrepreneur, Wanjiru Waweru-Waithaka, Funkidz manufactures furniture for children locally. It has successfully embraced digital technology to innovate, diversify and survive in a challenging market place.

Karishma Banga (Senior Research Officer, ODI)

18 December 2018

This blog is part of our ‘Making Firms Work’ series. Read other blogs in the series: on Tanzanian textile manufacturer A to ZNepali ICT firm CloudFactory, Kenyan garment firm Hela and Midal in Mozambique. 

Funkidz, a one-of-a-kind Kenyan small or medium enterprise (SME), has successfully managed to leverage digital technologies to increase its global competitiveness. Founded by a female entrepreneur, Wanjiru Waweru-Waithaka, Funkidz manufactures furniture for children locally. It has successfully embraced digital technology to innovate, diversify and survive in a challenging market place.

Information and communication technology (ICT) is already regarded as a key development pillar in Kenya, and efforts are currently being focused on leveraging the digital economy to expand manufacturing, as one of the ‘pillars’ of the Kenyan government’s Big Four agenda. However, there is still a significant digital divide in access to digital technologies in Kenya compared with other developing economies, as well as a digital divide in use of such technologies within the country’s manufacturing sector. While digitalisation brings with it certain challenges, it also presents new opportunities for economic growth and employment creation. It is crucial for African countries to identify these opportunities and to capitalise on them in order to not be left behind.

The window of opportunity in Kenya’s furniture manufacturing industry

Given the relatively low levels of digitalisation in Kenya, compared with developing countries in Asia, there may still be a window of opportunity for the nation to move into sectors less affected by technology and global changes. But how long will this window of opportunity remain open? With regard to the furniture sector in Kenya, operating a robot becomes cheaper than Kenyan (formal) labour in 2034. Moreover, operating a robot in the US furniture industry becomes cheaper than Kenyan labour in 2033. This indicates that the window of opportunity in the Kenyan furniture sector is around 15–16 years, following which there may be increased automation within the sector, or possible re-shoring of furniture manufacturing to developed economies. This will affect both growth and employment in the sector.

It is also worth noting that the furniture sector is a relatively low-skilled, labour-intensive tradable sector with relatively high robot density. In other sectors with higher robot density, such as automobiles and electronics, the window of opportunity is likely to be shorter; in other sectors, such as garments, it is likely to be longer, given issues related to economic and technological feasibility.

Funkidz: Harnessing digital technologies to become globally competitive

What makes Funkidz different from other furniture SMEs in Kenya is that it has invested heavily in technology, particularly in Computer Numerical Control, or CNC, machinery – that is, the automation of machine tools by means of computers. In modern CNC systems, there are two technologies at play: first, the mechanical dimensions of the furniture parts are defined using computer-aided design (CAD) software; and second, they are translated into manufacturing instructions using computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).

The CNC technology Funkidz has installed, along with large digital printers, enables the multiplication of furniture designs, with exact specifications and high quality. As a result, the beds, desks, cots, etc. manufactured have similar characteristics to what you would find at Ikea – those of good-quality furniture that is flat and packable. The firm’s new range of furniture is in fact completely packable, easier to transport and multifunctional. The company also offers flexibility in price via different customisation options. For example, a bed can be purchased either unpainted or painted, with choices of different prints depending on the customer’s preferences.

Funkidz has also recently launched an augmented reality app – one of the very few in Kenya – that will allow customers to log in from their phone, browse the firm’s e-catalogue for furniture and use 3D modelling and scanning to virtually place it in their house. It is also possible to change the colour of the furniture and its position for a better user experience.

Leveraging digital technologies has allowed Funkidz to increase its global competitiveness by lowering the cost of furniture manufacturing and enabling exact specification mass production that has generated economies of scale. In a span of about five years, the firm has expanded beyond the domestic market of Kenya and is now exporting to Rwanda and Uganda, and since more recently, to the UK.

Finding innovative solutions to manufacturing challenges

One of the biggest constraints the firm faces is lack of relevant skills in the workforce to operate the machinery fitted with digital technologies such as CNC systems. There is a dearth in Kenya, and in Africa in general, of the technicians needed to operate computer-controlled machines, making it necessary to hire expensive engineers to do the job. There is thus a need to retrain workers in new skills and to upgrade education. A subsidiary of Funkidz, known as Funkidz Tech, has partnered with Safaricom to design its own curriculum that provides training on how to make furniture with different specifications and dimensions, and also provides training in CNC numerical cutters.

‘Urban mining’ in furniture production.

While power supply is not the biggest constraint for the firm (the factory receives 3-phase power at rural electrification rates for light industries), rising timber prices, as well as financial and market access, present important challenges to its operations. There is a ban on logging in operation in Kenya at present, which has increased the price of wood drastically; a wooden plank now costs 96 shillings a foot compared with 42 shillings before. To address this problem, the firm has embraced innovative thinking and research and development, and is now making use of ‘urban mining’ – that is, recycling and reusing waste from cities. It has started acquiring pallet wood, one of the easiest and cheapest types of wood waste to recycle, which then undergoes nail removal, finishing and sanding within the firm. Electronic waste such as batteries, electrical circuits, computer hardware, etc. is being used as design components in table tops, showpieces and lamps. Imported second hand clothing, known in Swahili as “Mitumba”, is being used as cushion covers for furniture.

The way forward

To ensure the Kenyan manufacturing sector is able to leverage digital technologies to boost manufacturing and job creation, both the public and the private sector will need to make continuous joint efforts. Targeted policies and effective public–private collaborations are needed to:

  1. reduce the cost of raw materials
  2. increase access to and affordability of internet and ICT hardware such as routers, sensors, computers, etc. for manufacturing firms
  3. retrain the workforce to increase its employability but also to ensure retention of labour once trained
  4. increase absorptive capacity of the workforce to understand, adopt and adapt digital technologies to meet local challenges and needs and
  5. promote advancements in firm-level capabilities and innovation.

Photo: Use of CNC machinery to cut wood, FunKidz factory, Kenya, 2018. Karishma Banga, all rights reserved. 

Phyllis Papadavid (ODI) | Kenya needs to gear up its macroeconomy to boost its manufacturing sector

Phyllis Papadavid (Senior Research Fellow – Team Leader of International Macroeconomics, ODI) 

19 July 2018

Kenya needs to gear up its macroeconomy to boost its manufacturing sector

Kenya has a compelling story to tell when it comes to its economic diversification. The country has sizeable agriculture and services sectors, which account for a respective 32% and 45% of total value added in the economy, according to the World Bank. And, with the introduction of its Early Oil Pilot Scheme, it is also now an oil-exporting economy, drawing production from its Turkana region.

At the same time, having been identified as a priority sector under the government’s Big 4 Agenda, manufacturing, and the textiles and apparels (T&A) sub-sector in particular, could be a game-changer for economic transformation and job creation – if close attention is paid to the country’s macroeconomic environment.

The time for diversification is opportune, given the current challenging environment for resource-based economies, owing in part to the commodity price downturn since mid-2014: inward foreign direct investment (FDI) into Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) declined from $53bn in 2016 to $41bn in 2017. For example, Nigeria’s economy in particular continued to be depressed, with FDI down 21% in 2017 relative to 2016. By contrast, the more diversified economies of East Africa have shown more resilience of late. At $3.5bn in 2017, FDI inflows in Ethiopia continue to be nearly double the level seen in 2014 (Figure 1), and the country is the second largest recipient of investment inflows in Africa, owing in part to its apparel sector.

Figure 1: FDI inflows in selected SSA economies ($mn)







Source: UNCTAD World Investment Report Annex Tables

A conducive macroeconomic environment is key for diversification

Kenya is already the largest exporter of apparels under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, according to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), which makes the sector a key one for the future. The country has seen phenomenal growth: US imports of Kenyan apparel products increased 675% between 2000 and 2017. Exports to the US market are also crucial for the sector, given the dominance of textiles compared with other industries. Pursuing further expansion in this largely labour-intensive sector could help reduce Kenya’s youth unemployment rate, which, at 26%, is one of the highest in SSA. Such investment could also catalyse Kenya’s growth at a time when the textiles, clothing and leather sector has doubled its global share of greenfield FDI projects, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

Kenya’s success in diversifying depends in part on its cultivating a conducive macroeconomic environment – and there are three important pathways to follow in this regard (in addition to paying attention to a range of other factors explained in last year’s KAM-ODI booklet):

Three pathways to boost diversification into Kenyan textiles

Complementary industries

Kenya’s information and communication technologies (ICT) sector has seen significant growth, with innovations such as M-Pesa leading its domestic financial services development. In 2017, the economy saw a 71% increase in FDI as a result of inflows into ICT. This owed in part to its investment climate and particularly the construction of Konza Technology City, which has attracted major corporations such as Microsoft and Oracle. Despite this, a digital divide persists: although almost 90% of Kenyan manufacturing firms have computers and internet, only 50% have a web presence, only 40% have an IT policy and only 27% use the internet to sell online.[1] Increased use of ICT will enable both large T&A companies and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to participate in digital supply chains and function more efficiently.

Meanwhile, when it comes to investment inflows, Kenya can leverage its growing domestic retail sector, and domestic growth in consumer demand, to spur local and international investment. This could be important at a time when the return to FDI has halved in SSA, from roughly 12.3% in 2012 to 6.3% in 2017. Additionally, wages for Kenya’s garment workers are cited as much costlier than those in, for example, Ethiopia. This is notwithstanding Kenya’s labour productivity significantly outstripping Ethiopia’s, when looking at the experience of Hela Garment factories in both countries. Expected retail demand growth could mean that Kenya attracts market-seeking FDI, to serve the domestic market, which would offset any weakness in FDI that targets cheap inputs.

Finally, Kenya’s logistics sector, in transporting and warehousing goods, stands to benefit its T&A sector. In particular, upgrading its railway and transport sector closer to international standards will facilitate greater commerce; Kenya’s logistics ‘giant’, Siginon Group, cites this as an obstacle. Together with Kenya’s industrial and technology parks, this will continue to contribute to Kenya becoming a ‘logistics hub’ and creating more logistics companies through clustering. The emergent knowledge economy will have knock-on effects on T&A, as a result of better support to knowledge uptake by Kenya’s industry. This should be founded on wider partnerships, to include universities. The experience of other success stories suggests that successful economic clustering depends on – among other things – the inclusion of research institutes for enhanced innovation and sophistication of local companies.

A reduction in the shilling’s real effective exchange rate

Kenya does not fare well in terms of currency developments. Having a fairly priced trade-weighted exchange rate is important to source affordable imports – which Kenya’s T&A manufacturers have consistently cited as a key cost. In particular, for the larger companies, the high cost of imported material is significant. Although the shilling continues to depreciate against the US dollar – a key export market for Kenya – the real effective exchange rate (REER) is historically high, raising questions around Kenya’s competitiveness. Its REER has appreciated by 27% since 2014, putting it roughly 34% above its long-term average and suggesting overvaluation against its trading partners’ currencies (Figure 2).[2]

Figure 2: Kenyan shilling real effective exchange rate






Source: World Bank World Development Indicators, Bloomberg.

Broader access to finance

Elevated overhead costs in the sector and lack of collateral have also restrained access to finance. High interest rates and the short time horizons available for loans are key obstacles, according to KAM. Equally, Kenya’s current interest rate cap has disincentivised banks to lend to SMEs and to small manufacturers, in that they cannot obtain a high enough return to match perceived risk associated with SMEs. The Central Bank of Kenya reports that banks reduced credit provision to the private sector following the cap, with few expectations of a re-acceleration. A silver lining is that domestic banks, rather than foreign banks, are increasingly driving SME lending.

Targeted programmes, such as those of Equity Bank, instituting the Maridadi Business credit facility of between Sh5,000 and Sh100mn for Kenya’s T&A SMEs, fashion designers and tailors, have been encouraging. The facility’s aim of targeting businesses and entrepreneurs along the entire value chain has been lauded as a particularly strong feature, given Kenya’s need to import fabrics. The higher risk profile of smaller SMEs has led other domestic banks to pair with public institutions, such as the International Finance Corporation, to lend to SMEs. Kenya’s second largest bank – the Co-op Bank – has received a $105mn loan for Kenya’s micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

Kenya’s macroeconomic challenges and opportunities need to be squared with the government’s ambitious plans in its Big 4 Agenda – which include employing 50,000 young adults and women in the T&A sector, increasing revenue exponentially from the textile industry from Sh3.5bn to Sh2tr and creating 500,000 cotton jobs and 100,000 new clothes jobs by 2022. In order to achieve this, the domestic macroeconomic environment will have to be recalibrated to foster increased competitiveness, more affordable access to finance and continued attention to incentivising diversified investment inflows.

[1] Banga, K. and te Velde, D.W. (2018) ‘Digitalisation and the future of manufacturing in Africa’. London: ODI, SET Programme.

[2] Kenyan REER overvaluation is calculated as the percentage deviation of the current REER from its average since 2000. The REER is calculated using the World Bank World Development Indicator database and Bloomberg data.



Photo credit: Brian Snelson via Flickr

Dirk Willem te Velde (ODI) | Sports balls, disruptive change and opportunities for manufacturing production

Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)

15 June 2018

The production of footballs, tennis balls, table tennis balls, golf balls and baseballs is highly concentrated in a few countries. However, much production is frequently subject to disruptive change, which involves opportunities – and challenges – in relation to attracting manufacturing production. Understanding how change happens and how it is managed is crucial for those wanting to transform their economy. This blog discusses geographical location in the production of balls, the influence of disruptive change on this and the lessons it offers for managing transformation.

Concentration of production

The 2018 Football World Cup started in Russia this week but not everyone will know that all footballs used at the World Cup have been produced in the city of Sialkot, near the border between Pakistan and India. One Pakistani company, Forward Sports, is the core provider of footballs to this World Cup, producing some 700,000 balls per month and employing 3,000 workers, of whom 900 are women.

Sialkot gained an international brand name in the 1980s when it produced the Tango Ball for the Football World Cup in 1982. Major international brands such as Adidas, Nike, Puma, Umbro, Diadora and others have sourced their supply of footballs from this export-oriented cluster. Pakistan currently earns an annual $1bn from sports goods exports, which includes $350mn–$500mn from footballs, or 10% of Pakistani exports, creating some 200,000 jobs. Around 60-70% of the world’s hand-stitched footballs, or between 40mn and 60mn per year, are made here.

Such significant concentration has also been a factor in the production of table tennis balls for more than a century. Halex used to be the world’s biggest manufacturer, with almost every single table tennis ball in the world made in Highams Park in London.

A similar level of concentration applies to the production of tennis balls. Slazenger Dunlop, a leading UK manufacturer, produces 300mn tennis balls per year, worth nearly £200mn (a fifth of its turnover). Previously produced in the UK, the tennis balls for the Wimbledon tournament have since 2002 come from the special economic zone in Bataan in the Philippines. Before the finished product reaches the UK, inputs come from the US (clay), Greece (silica), Malaysia (rubber), New Zealand (wool) and the UK (felt), with processing taking place in Bataan. A ball travels 50,000 miles, through 11 countries.

A differential picture is thrown up by the production of golf balls and baseballs for US consumption. Some 1.2bn golf balls are produced each year in what is a capital-intensive process, mainly in the US. Companies such as Spalding and Titleist have traditionally dominated production, which has involved significant research activities and creation of patents. Some 40% of the production of golf balls for the US is carried out in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Baseballs, on the other hand, have remained labour-intensive. Rawlings has had an exclusive contract to supply the major leagues with baseballs since 1977. A plant in Costa Rica produces 2.2mn balls a year, worth around $35mn.

Production of sports balls is highly concentrated and it is difficult, but not impossible for poor countries to enter this market.

Managing disruptive change

Disruptive change has had a major impact on the manufacturing of balls. Allegations of child labour and then a change in regulations requiring a move from hand-stitched to machine-stitched footballs have had major implications. The share of Pakistan in football production dropped significantly between 2006 and 2010 (see chart below) in part because orders from Nike to Sialkot were dropped, with the Football World Cup in 2010 sourcing Adidas Jabulani footballs from China. Only after the manufacturers invested in equipment and skills and introduced machine-stitched footballs did Sialkot regain its status as supplier for the 2014 World Cup and again for the 2018 World Cup. The cluster is supported by private infrastructure (e.g. airports) and streamlined border procedures.

Disruptive change in the production of footballs

Note: Share in value of world exports of inflatable balls (950662), which includes mainly footballs.
Source: ITC Trade Map

Changes in the production of raw materials led to the end of table tennis ball production in London. Celluloid balls replaced rubber and cork ones in 1900, but by the 1990s celluloid was being produced only to make table tennis balls. It rapidly became an obsolete material when it was replaced by plastic in most applications except for the production of table tennis balls. Demand for the material decreased and celluloid production ceased in Europe as it became too costly. This left only two Chinese factories producing celluloid, solely for table tennis balls, a material which remained flammable and difficult to transport. In 2014, producers began working with the International Table Tennis Federation to move towards production of plastic balls. This is now dominated by two plastic tennis ball producers in China and one in Germany and in Japan, fighting for official recognition.

Political changes led to the production of baseballs moving from Haiti to Costa Rica. Rawlings came to Costa Rica after a 1986 coup deposed the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Production is still based on hand-stitching, despite efforts as early as 1949 to move to machine-stitching. Production of Wimbledon tennis balls took place in Barnsley for a hundred years until 2002 when the factory moved its equipment to the Philippines because of cost-efficiency reasons.

All this shows that changes can be disruptive (whether for regulatory or economic reasons), relocating all or most of production to other countries. This observation opens up opportunities for other countries that have so far not yet benefitted.


Disruptive change happens and poses major challenges for manufacturing but countries can seize the opportunities by being prepared and working in a targeted way. Pakistan lost market share through a policy change (a change in standards) but then regained the contract to produce World Cup footballs through innovation, supported further by investment in skills and equipment and targeted (privately operated) infrastructure. China used an opportunity presented by a change in the raw material base of table tennis balls, again working with standard setting bodies. Political instability led to the relocation of baseball production from one low-wage location to another (Costa Rica). Some processes, such as the production of golf balls, have remained capital-intensive, located in developed countries (US); meanwhile, baseballs have not caught up yet with mechanisation. But, as disruptive change continues, geographical concentration in the manufacturing of balls may again change considerably in the future (consider e.g. the effects of a change in UK trade policy, or a change in international regulation of say baseballs), offering opportunities for some, challenges for others– and policy and regulation matters for this.

Photo credit: File photo, Ary News

Neil Balchin (ODI) | Making Firms Work Series | Midal and clustering around megaprojects in Mozambique

Neil Balchin (Research Fellow, ODI)

11 June 2018

This blog is part of our ‘Making Firms Work’ series. Read other blogs in the series: on Tanzanian textile manufacturer A to Z, Nepali ICT firm CloudFactory and Kenyan garment firm Hela.

The presence of Midal shows that clustering around megaprojects can help build manufacturing in Mozambique, but very specific factors – including, in this case, Mozal’s decision to sell molten aluminium locally – can play a key role in determining success. Examples such as Midal, with its direct linkages to Mozal (the largest company in Mozambique and one of the country’s most prominent megaprojects), show how megaprojects can support economic transformation and job creation in Mozambique. Transforming the economy will be critical for Mozambique to address short-term macroeconomic challenges and create much-needed jobs in a sustainable way.

The product of an initial $65 million investment, Midal Cables International Limited is a local subsidiary of Midal Cables Limited, a multinational headquartered in Bahrain with a production footprint spanning Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Australia (and now Mozambique). After signing a deal with Mozal in 2013, Midal commenced production in Mozambique in December 2014 and began exporting in January 2015. The company’s 14,500 m2 plant is situated adjacent to Mozal in Beluluane Industrial Park, a duty-free zone in Matola, about 25 km north-west of downtown Maputo.

Midal produces aluminium rods, wire and conductors primarily for export to Europe (Spain and Italy) and Africa (including Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania). The company’s current annual total production capacity is in the order of 50,000 metric tonnes. Around 98% of this is exported, with only a small volume going to the domestic market. On average, Midal produces 4,200 metric tonnes of aluminium rods each year, mostly for export to Africa and Europe. The wires and conductors the firm produces are primarily exported to other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to support electricity transmission and distribution, with a strong focus on rural electrification.

Midal’s presence is important for economic transformation in Mozambique. It is the first firm operating in the country to add value to the aluminium produced by the Mozal smelter and represents an important step towards higher value-added industrial production. Examples such as this show how private firms can support economic transformation; and in some sectors these contributions can be enhanced through effective public–private collaboration.

More of this is needed to help spur diversification into higher-productivity industrial activity and manufacturing. Despite strong growth of 5–7% annually over the past decade, little progress has been made in altering the structure of the economy and accelerating job creation. Manufacturing still has a peripheral role in the economy, absorbing just 0.6% of the labour force and accounting for less than 10% of total gross value added (down from 29.7% in 1975).

A recent survey shows that, while there are some positive signs of the persistence of Mozambican manufacturing firms, growth among these firms has been limited and some have shrunk over the past five years (particularly those operating in the textiles, wood, metal, machinery, furniture and other manufacturing sectors). Many manufacturers have closed in the face of an increasingly challenging business climate aggravated by political conflict and a subsequent economic crisis. A significant share of the remaining firms are unprofitable, particularly in Tete and Nampula provinces. Very few Mozambican manufacturers are exporting – just 19 out of 520 firms (or less than 4%) surveyed in 2017. Job losses have also been significant, with more than 5,000 shed across the surveyed companies between 2009 and 2017.

Even amid this turmoil, Midal has managed to grow a manufacturing base and create jobs. The firm currently employs 142 people directly in Mozambique, and it is estimated to generate employment indirectly for more than 1,000 people as service contractors. Creating more jobs is critically important given that Mozambique faces a looming jobs crisis and an ongoing debt crisis. Approximately 420,000 young people enter the labour market each year and formal employment needs to grow substantially if they are to be absorbed into jobs. Generating new employment on this scale will require a different focus towards economic transformation. SET’s Making Firms Work series showcases firms that are generating large-scale transformational jobs in Kenya, Tanzania and Nepal.

Midal, with its linkages to Mozal, offers a model for manufacturing development that can potentially be upscaled and replicated, but it is important to understand the details behind these inter-firm relationships.

A set of four specific circumstances encouraged Midal to establish operations in Mozambique. First, geographical proximity to Mozal’s aluminium smelter – the largest of its kind in Africa – promised ready access to a key input: good quality molten aluminium.

Second, the Midal Group was attracted by strong regional growth in Africa. Locating in Mozambique provided further advantages in terms of supplying major electricity transmission projects within the country and elsewhere across the SADC.

Third, the prospect of exporting duty-free to certain African countries as well as the US (under the African Growth and Opportunity Act) and the EU (through the Everything But Arms initiative) provided further motivation.

Finally, Mozambique also offered electricity and gas (although the reliability of the supply remains an issue), an important factor given the firm’s energy-intensive production processes.

However, since Midal began operations, other aspects of the business environment have proven problematic. Midal believed that proximity and access to Maputo Port would mean it would be able to export cheaply. However, the firm’s initial cost assumptions were overly optimistic and logistics costs associated with the use of Maputo Port remain very high. These costs are said to surge to $800 per container once customs and other expenses have been factored in. The alternative option, using the port in Durban, is equally costly owing to the need to transport products over more than 600 km to get to the port.

Despite these challenges, Midal’s presence in Mozambique is a compelling example of what can be done to grow the country’s manufacturing base. It shows how clustering around megaprojects can help develop local linkages and downstream activity as long as specific business and pricing factors are supportive. This suggests an important role for government, not least in setting up a conducive framework for megaprojects and for locally based upstream or downstream firms to interact effectively with such megaprojects.


This blog has been adapted from a previous version.

Photo credit: Midal cables


Sonia Hoque (ODI) | Women and economic transformation: It’s a win-win if #SheTransforms

Sonia Hoque  (Programme & Operations Manager, ODI)

7 June 2018

It’s no secret that women are key to unlocking the full potential of economies across the developing world. They are not a ‘marginalised group’ (they make up half of the population), but nor should it be assumed they benefit evenly from increased opportunities through economic transformation. Women spend more on their children’s health and education, and bring numerous benefits to employers and business owners. Proposed policies/programmes designed to drive economic transformation should embed a gender lens to enhance women’s access to new jobs and ensure they are not left behind.

Why women are key to economic transformation

Advancing women’s equality could add an estimated $28 trillion to global gross domestic product by 2025, and numerous studies have shown that increasing the numbers of women participating in the labour force has a positive impact on business owners as well as women themselves. For this reason, women’s economic empowerment has always been at the forefront of development debates. For example, the recent SheTrades initiative, led by the International Trade Centre, seeks to connect women entrepreneurs to markets. Women could also contribute to, and benefit from, economic transformation, which occurs when resources (including human resources) shift to more productive uses, which improves the quality of growth and helps sustain job creation.

Discussions on ‘inclusive transformation’ look at the impact of such transformation on women, youth, disabled persons, minority groups, etc. However, women should not be seen just as a marginalised group that needs to be targeted in economic transformation planning simply because of moral drivers (a desire to provide equal opportunities to and empower such groups). Including women makes economic sense. Efforts to increase their participation in the labour force are paying off across some developing countries, and increasing the number of women employees has proved highly productive (think of Bangladesh garments, where approximately 60% of the 3.5m workers are female). Designing policies that support and/or better enable women to take the opportunities brought about by economic transformation is crucial for continued growth, prosperity and broad-based job creation.

Will women get lost in economic transformation?

In a 2016 SET paper, Louise Fox (now USAID’s Chief Economist) explored important questions about the role of gender in economic transformation, emphasising that economic change always brings winners and losers. Economic transformation is defined as the process where resources, including labour, shift from low-productivity activities such as agriculture to higher-productivity ones such as manufacturing and services (productivity improvements within sectors are also counted). Importantly, evidence suggests that, where women can access productive jobs, wage employment in modern enterprises provides higher and more secure income. Louise Fox explores which sectors benefit women’s economic opportunities, and argues the need for complementary policies to increase equality of opportunities when they arise – as it cannot be assumed women will benefit the same way as men.

Increasing the role of women in manufacturing and services sector jobs: a change of mindset

Policies can help bring women into wage employment but some barriers are hard to dismantle. For example, expectations that women will be the primary carers for children, the elderly and the home are still prevalent in many low-income countries. Pressure to stick to traditional roles in what is called the ‘care economy’ mean that women tend to have fewer hours available for waged work. This was also apparent during interviews for a previous SET study on inclusive jobs in Nepal; several (male) firm owners stated that women ‘preferred’ to do care and housework and did not want/have time to work outside.

However, one tourism firm shared a different view: ‘Around 50% of our staff are female. Although they are usually not skilled when they start working here, they are more focused and hard-working.’ This was echoed by the director of A to Z, a major factory in Tanzania that produces light manufacturing goods including garments, household plastics and bednets: ‘We have found that female workers produce higher quality outputs. Their work ethic is better, and they work more efficiently. They are also better at training new people working in the factories.’ This touches on an important finding in a study led by Christopher Woodruff – that training women had supported them to develop managerial skills and increased their chances of promotion in garment factories in Bangladesh.

Studies have shown that increases in income controlled by women lead to greater spending on items that bring more benefits to children. Women invest more in children’s human capital, which has dynamic positive effects on economic growth and future employment prospects. A to Z also supports mothers in particular, as they encourage generations of families working in the factory and see their children as potentially loyal future employees. ‘We like to see families working in the factories and give extra benefits to them for their loyalty, so having mothers working here is a good thing. We also see that those women spend more of their income on their children.

#SheTransforms – Aadila in Tanzania

Aadila grew up on her father’s farm in a rural district near Arusha, Tanzania. With little education beyond primary school level, she had few prospects for work and spent her adolescent years working on the farm with her family.

When local factory A to Z advertised that they were hiring workers in a range of roles, she took the chance to apply. Given her lack of formal education or other skills, she was offered the role of cleaner. With hard work, she worked her way up through a number of roles within A to Z factories, including sewing machine operator, stitcher and office administrator. She is now working in the factory head office in a garment merchandise role, earning 10 times as much as when she was a cleaner and comfortably supporting her family with the additional income.

Although this is an exceptional story, Aadila is not alone as a woman to have gained economic benefits from taking an opportunity to work in a factory. A to Z state that around 90% of their female workers come from rural backgrounds, and embody not only the real-life economic transformation process as they move to more productive employment but also the ability to transform their lives as Aadila has done.

Source: Author interview with A to Z

A to Z is a manufacturing firm with a clear social responsibility approach, but women working in manufacturing firms in other contexts also have spillovers. Heath and Mobarak (2014) examined the Bangladesh garment industry and found spillover benefits to women’s villages – an increase in the age of marriage and first childbirth, health gains and education levels of children.

It’s a win-win if #SheTransfoms

By acknowledging the potential gains at both the individual and the wider societal level that women bring by participating in the labour force, policy-makers have the chance to bring new opportunities to women. While it does not make sense for governments to target industries for development based on whether they tend to employ males or females, policy-makers can ensure programmes and investments are gender-sensitive. This includes making sure females have access to the education and training opportunities needed to compete for new opportunities. Having more women in the marketplace has a positive impact on businesses, which benefit from a larger productive workforce, more competition and, as a result, more choices between better products in all sectors. As mentioned, women spend more of their income on education and health for their children, which can be beneficial for society in the long term. Policy-makers and development partners with the goal of economic transformation should not assume women will benefit evenly from increased opportunities, or see them as a marginalised group. Rather, they are a key force, and any proposed policies/programmes designed to drive economic transformation should contain a gender lens – the cost of not doing so will undoubtedly be higher in the long term.

Sonia Hoque is the Programme & Operations Manager of the Supporting Economic Transformation programme at ODI.

Photo credit: Visual News Associates / World Bank via Flickr



Karishma Banga (ODI) | A globally competitive, locally relevant Africa: managing the new oil, currency and commodities of the digital era

Karishma Banga (Senior Research Officer, ODI)

5 June 2018

An African digital industrial strategy is needed to consolidate a common stance on data governance and control; build digital trust in African countries for regional e-commerce; re-equip workers with suitable skills; and protect digital labour against exploitation.

Africa in the digital era

In March 2018, 44 countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), as an important step towards increasing market integration, infrastructure development and industrialisation. It is, however, increasingly important to look at regional trade through a ‘digital lens’. Digitalisation presents important opportunities to boost the historically low intra-Africa trade but also important challenges.

Not only is there a digital gap between African countries and others but also Africa benefits less from digital technologies, once installed (Banga and te Velde, 2018). There are many reasons for this – poor internet access, limited information on e-commerce platforms, lack of e-payment services and cost-effective logistics, lower purchasing power, unreliable power supply and basic infrastructure, poorer ICT infrastructure and skills and an inconducive legal and fiscal framework. Africa thus lags behind in the digital era as a result of a poorer ‘systems infrastructure’.

To leverage the benefits of digitalisation, African countries need to ‘think globally’ but ‘act locally’. Growth in e-commerce has remained low compared with in other regions, and mainly serves foreign demand. If this continues to be the trend, AfCFTA will not be able to deliver on the continent’s much-needed economic transformation. Countries need to address issues pertaining to and develop collective actions on 1) governing data- the ‘new oil’; 2) building consumers’ digital trust – the ‘new currency’ and 3) protecting digital labour – the ‘new commodity’ in the digital economy.

Collective actions on data governance

In recent years, Big Data has emerged as a key aspect of the digital economy, as essential as oil is to the industrial economy. Mined freely from developing countries, it is converted into ‘digital intelligence’ in developed countries, further feeding the power of giant e-commerce platforms- such as Amazon and eBay (and also Alibaba in China). Earlier, these platforms operated on a ‘lean economy’ model – they owned data but not any actual physical assets. However, such models are not sustainable in the long run, and these e-commerce platforms are slowly transforming into ‘intelligent infrastructures’. For example, Amazon has started buying planes and Alibaba is investing in physical stores.

While international rules on e-commerce can help foster trade in the digital era, there has been resistance to some of the recent proposals developed countries have made to the World Trade Organization, on the grounds that these threaten to further increase the control of powerful monopolies. Several common provisions in such proposals aim to create an even more digital and borderless economy. These include:

  • liberalisation or removal of tariffs on digital goods and services and removal of preferential treatment for domestic companies or products and services
  • free cross-border flow of data, which can prohibit countries from ensuring their data remains within their borders (in this case, data is governed not by the country that owns it but by the laws of the country where it is held)
  • removal of localisation laws that require foreign providers to set up in host countries and
  • removal of compulsions on technology transfers – for instance through sharing of source code – from foreign providers to host countries.

Such rules may be detrimental to job creation and infant industries in African economies, and risk deepening the digital divide across countries. They threaten to increase ‘platform capitalism’, making it even more important for African countries to ensure data-sharing arrangements that will increase their competitiveness globally.

African sellers can sell on third-party international e-commerce platforms, but 75% of the time Amazon will push its own product first, and there is also a hefty commission charge in getting on these platforms, sometimes as high as 45%. Domestic or regional ownership of e-commerce platforms is thus important. African countries must take a continental approach and put in place regional strategies ensuring ‘collective rights to collective data’, with AfCFTA as an effective platform to consolidate a common stance on e-commerce rules.

This can also make AfCFTA significantly more effective in boosting regional integration, as it will help countries attain commodity diversificationa long-standing challenge in intra-Africa trade. At present, intra-Africa trade remains  at only about 10%, mainly because of the higher costs of trading within Africa, which means primary products dominate such trade: the share of manufacturing in fact declined from 18% in 2005 to 15% between 2010 and 2015 (AFDB, 2017). If most African countries continue to export raw materials, and not processed goods, regional demand for their products will remain low. Having deindustrialised prematurely, and in the context of the increasing extractive nature of powerful monopolies in developed economies, Africa faces key development challenges related to export diversification and commodity dependence.

In this regard, important lessons can be learnt from Asia. Here, online trade has not only reduced the costs of trading and coordination but also led to successful diversification of exports in some least developed countries. Research by the International Trade Centre looks at demand for e-commerce products on Alibaba in five Asian LDCs – Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Nepal – and finds that products in which these countries have comparative advantage, such as textiles and agriculture, feature prominently in online trade, but that new products are also emerging . For example, in Bangladesh, apparel and clothing dominate offline trade (accounting for 86% of total exports), but online demand is much lower (47%), and the country has diversified into agriculture, food and beverages and consumer electronic products. In Cambodia, e-commerce has enabled diversification into higher value-added segments; fresh mangoes and cashew nuts have replaced cereals as top-demanded agricultural products in online trade.

Collective actions on building digital trust

Domestically or regionally owned e-commerce platforms are not enough; for successful regional integration through e-commerce, African countries also need to boost demand for products sold through online trade. African e-commerce platforms such as Jumia and KiliMall have gained popularity, but the consumer ‘digital trust’ remains a crucial factor constraining growth. For example, privacy concerns in Kenya grew by 19% from 2014 to 2016, which may in part explain why there is still a 40–50% gap between the proportion of Kenyans with access to the internet and that using it for e-commerce.

As transactions become increasingly digital, affecting several aspects of people’s lives, so does the importance of digital trust. Tufts University ascribes four dimensions to digital trust: 1) the trustworthiness of each country’s digital environment, 2) the quality of users’ experiences, 3) attitudes towards key institutions and organisations and 4) people’s behaviour when they interact with the digital world. Countries where digitalisation is highly evolved, or evolving rapidly, typically have strong government/policy support. Again in Kenya, the government is taking steps to build digital trust: government services are increasingly being digitalised to familiarise consumers with using the internet for making payments in a ‘cash-less’ culture. Policy challenges remain context-specific, but all African countries need to develop laws on data protection and privacy.

Collective actions on re-skilling labour and protecting digital labour

If Africa takes no collective actions to address the issues of the digital economy, labour will continue to face a two-pronged threat. Job losses in  manufacturing are likely to increase as tasks are re-shored to the advanced developed economies. Meanwhile, there may be a further fall in the bargaining power of African workers engaged in digital labour platforms.

The possible decline in jobs can, to some extent, be offset if Africa can leverage digitalisation to increase regional integration. As intra-Africa trade increases, so will the demand for skills, since such trade has a higher skill and technology content than does Africa’s trade with others (UNCTAD, 2017). Successfully selling to regional markets through e-commerce platforms will thus require investment in skilling the workforce. This not only can make labour more productive directly but also may increase the impact of internet penetration on labour productivity (Banga and te Velde, 2018). For e-commerce in particular, labour needs to be re-skilled with an ‘e-commerce skills set’, which includes ICT and digital skills but also skills pertaining to strategy, sales and advertising, project management and social media. Collective actions on reorienting curricula in African institutions around STEM subjects and TVET can be effective, along with integrating local knowledge of the private sector within curricula.

In terms of digital labour – labour performing digital tasks that are outsourced online – demand comes mainly from wealthy countries, with workers across the world competing. This distributed supply and concentrated demand have led to a significant increase in competition, and poorer or unfair work. Digital labour is increasingly being treated as a commodity, with online work being re-outsourced under worse conditions. African countries have no compensating mechanisms in place, and thus need to promote unions and social protection for digital labour, and through this workers’ collective bargaining power.


Photo credit: © Arne Hoel / The World Bank. Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Alberto Lemma (ODI) | Making Firms Work Series | Harnessing the power of digital technology in Nepal: CloudFactory

This blog is part of our ‘Making Firms Work’ series. Read other blogs in the series: on textile manufacturer A to Z and Kenyan garment firm Hela. 

Alberto Lemma (Research Fellow, ODI)

4 May 2018

CloudFactory is a remarkable example of a multinational digital firm. Operating from Nepal, it has 2,000 well-paid jobs worldwide, with around 1,300 workers in Nepal itself. This firm shows how digital technology can provide a lifeline and a link to the global economy for some of the most remote places in the world if they have appropriate skills and internet access.

Growing digitalisation is an opportunity for Nepal

Digitalisation is playing and will continue to play a crucial role in Nepal’s economic transformation process. As a landlocked and resource-limited country, Nepal’s economic activities are constrained by limited transport links with India to export its manufactured goods. However, digital goods and services do not have such limitations.

Development of a digital economy requires a stable and fast-enough connection to the internet, a workforce that can speak global languages (e.g. English, etc.) and appropriate skills. Nepal already has these ingredients, which, combined in the right way, can help promote a high-value services sector in the country.

This will not only provide benefits in terms of jobs and exports but also promote productivity across other sectors. For example, a recent SET study on digitalisation and the future of manufacturing highlights the need for developing countries to invest in digitalisation to help their manufacturing sectors improve productivity. If they fail to do this, they will be left behind and face a growing global digital divide, making it harder for them to promote sectors that are increasingly dependent on digital processes.

CloudFactory: harnessing the potential of digital technology

Some Nepalese firms are already taking part in this process. A remarkable example is CloudFactory, an information and communication technology business process outsourcing (ICT-BPO) company that provides services to enterprises worldwide. CloudFactory uses a cloud-based platform (hence its name) to allocate various tasks that firms around the world require to teams of workers based in Nepal and Kenya.

Software developer Mark Sears founded the company in 2008, training young Nepali computer engineers and developing web applications for start-up companies around the world. As the company grew, it seized the opportunity to create a platform to connect the technical routine data-oriented work that various companies demanded with the untapped pools of human capital that Nepal had in supply.

Human resources are crucial. The workforce strategy is based on the traditional assembly lines Ford introduced more than 100 years ago. Rather than having a few highly skilled workers completing one large complex task, the task is broken down into several simple reproducible steps that low-skilled workers can work on. Essentially, CloudFactory has created a virtual assembly line where workers can contribute to tasks that used to be limited to individuals with advanced programming degrees. Each day, CloudFactory employees process over 1,000,000 tasks. These include:

  • Document transcriptions, whereby physical documents such as receipts, business cards and financial statements are scanned and sent to workers to turn into digital files;
  • Recognition work – that is, helping software automatically recognise faces, printed words and inputs for algorithms to improve automatic chat-bots; and
  • Commercial data aggregation and analysis, such as financial report analysis and real estate information aggregation and analysis.

CloudFactory shows great promise for Nepal for several reasons.

The first is the fact that it now employs over 2,000 workers, who are paid, at the least, two and half times the local minimum wage rate. Although these are contract-based staff (hence not permanent employees), the sheer number of them has already made CloudFactory a success story in terms of employment creation in high-value and high-productivity services in Nepal. This is the kind of employment that Nepal needs if it is to grow into a middle-income country, as discussed in a previous SET study on skills in Nepal, which pointed to ICT as a key driver of economic transformation in the country.

Second, the firm plans to expand to open more offices across the country. The fact that its employees could be spread out across the country, requiring only simple infrastructure such as a computer and an internet connection, will eliminate the geographic barriers that limit access to employment for workers in disadvantaged (or resource-constrained) areas. This is very significant for a country with mountainous and remote areas like Nepal. Employing people in remote areas can help stimulate the local economy without putting pressure on larger urban centres such as Kathmandu. Workers also have the freedom to choose their work hours through flexible scheduling that allows them to devote time to other areas of their life, such as education and family. Upskilling is also an important part of the employment process. In 2015, the company provided 837 hours of training to its employees, reporting that 27% of the workforce gained new technical skills and 47% new management skills.

Finally, CloudFactory has become an international organisation. The firm does not operate just in Nepal. In 2013, it expanded its operations to Kenya, with plans to cover other locations too. The company also has a sales office in the US and a new corporate office in the UK. This expansion, five years after it first opened in Nepal, shows that developing country ICT-BPOs can evolve into successful global production networks based on the human resources rather than the physical attributes of the country. These networks benefit Nepal as they foster greater trade flows between countries, further boosting growth and improving the economic resilience of Nepal as it expands into a more diversified export basket.

How Nepal’s ICT sector can be developed 

The ICT sector faces a serious challenge retaining staff in Nepal, with high constant turnover rates, fuelled by employee migration, limiting the capacity of Nepalese ICT firms like CloudFactory to grow. If Nepal is serious about its commitment to the ICT sector, as the Government of Nepal’s Investment Board states, it needs to look at some policy shifts to help local ICT firms further integrate into the global market. While some great strides have been taken to fortify the country’s ICT infrastructure, considering investments in local data centres could help increase data security and access speeds for local firms and improve security perceptions for international investors.

At the policy level, three key moves could help the sector evolve. Reforms to capital account systems could incentivise international investors to set up regional ICT-BPO hubs in Nepal and, at the same time, help local firms strengthen links to the global economy by facilitating international transactions. Allowing more talent into the country can, conversely to logic, help keep workers in the Nepalese market. Some key skills are still in short supply in the Nepalese ICT sector (marketing, high-level managerial skills, etc.); allowing local ICT firms to recruit from abroad can only help strengthen them, promoting firm growth, better wages and the retention of local workers. Finally, the promotion of healthy state–business relations could prove invaluable for the sector. If businesses can promote their growth and employment potential and highlight the challenges they face to the Nepalese government, through business associations such as the Computer Association of Nepal, issues could be rapidly addressed and opportunities harnessed to ensure the ICT sector, like tourism, becomes a pillar of exports for the country.


Photo credit: A Nepalese young man works on a computer in a small photo lab in Kathmandu on May 2, 2011. © ILO/ Pradip Shakya.

Dirk Willem te Velde (ODI) | Making Firms Work Series | Kenya’s window of opportunity in manufacturing is open: Hela garments

This blog is part of our ‘Making Firms Work’ series. Read other blogs in the series: on textile manufacturer A to Z and Nepalese ICT firm CloudFactory.

Dirk Willem te Velde (SET Programme Director, ODI)

10 April 2018

Over the past two decades, many low-income countries have faced major challenges in developing their manufacturing sector. In much of Africa, the share of the sector in gross domestic product has declined or barely changed in the past two decades (although there are also some examples of success, and in absolute terms manufacturing production doubled in a decade). The value of preferential market access has been under erosion, and jobless industrialisation is increasingly a reality.

However, UK-owned Hela Clothing located in the Athi River Export Processing Zone (EPZ) (close to Nairobi) shows us that it is still possible to establish a major labour-intensive factory in Kenya. They have exported $40 million (equivalent to around 10% of Kenya’s garments exports) within one year and have already created 4,000 jobs directly. We ask- what are the factors behind this success, what the current challenges are and what lies ahead?

Hela in Kenya: Beyond low labour costs and preferential market access

UK-owned firm Hela Clothing is headquartered in Sri Lanka with an annual turnover of $250 million. With demand outstripping the production capacity of their facilities in Sri Lanka and factories upgrading in Sri Lanka, Hela decided to set up subsidiaries in Mexico (to be physically close to the US, where many buyers are located), and also in Ethiopia and Kenya, to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) whilst using labour that is cheaper than in Sri Lanka.

In Kenya, the factory was set up inside a ready-made shed. It has grown remarkably fast, reaching a turnover of around $40 million over the past year. It is likely to meet close to $60 million in the coming year. To keep up with this growth, the factory needs to double its workforce to 8,000. In comparison, the factory in Ethiopia has a turnover of $2 million and employs fewer than 1,000 workers – even though wages are much lower in Ethiopia.

The factory in Athi River is about much more than using low labour costs in the context of preferential market access in the US. Even though wages in the Kenyan subsidiary (somewhat less than $150 a month) are more than double those in Hela’s Ethiopian subsidiary in Hawassa (a little over $50 a month), labour productivity in Kenya is also much higher (efficiency is even higher than in Sri Lanka), product variety is greater and absenteeism is lower, as are ancillary staff-related costs.

In addition, the Athi River factory offers meals for its workers, a crèche for young children of the workers and a development programme for local managers. The number of expats has decreased from 60 to 40 (currently around 1% of staff) since operations started. Hela is regarded as a showcase firm in the Athi River EPZ (opened by Kenya’s cabinet secretary) and works with UK-funded programmes. The firm has also built up excellent relationships with its clients, striking deals with world-class buyers in the US such as PVH, which includes the brands Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Speedo, and Vanity Fair.

Challenges for labour-intensive manufacturing as the window of opportunity closes

The example of Hela Clothing is all the more remarkable given that two factors exist that are likely to make it more challenging to embark on labour- and export-intensive industrialisation strategies in the future.

First, the value of preferential access will be eroded. AGOA (under which most of Hela’s garments are exported) is a US unilateral scheme that is expected to run only until 2026. Multilateral trade liberalisation is further reducing the value of the preferences Kenya enjoys, (though all countries may face a protectionist backlash in the future).

Second, recent SET research shows that the digital economy will begin to affect African manufacturing directly or indirectly. Digitalisation, automation, 3D printing and robots will change the nature of production in developed and developing countries. Robots can now undertake some tasks, and responses to rising wages in countries such as China include automation, not just relocation of manufacturing production to low-income countries. At present, capital costs required to invest heavily in digital technology are relatively high compared with labour costs, but this may not continue beyond a further 15 years for some tasks in certain sectors. Some of the automated cutting machines in the AtoZ factory in Arusha already look more modern than the cutting procedures in the Hela firm.

This suggests it is crucial for Kenya to build up industrial capabilities in the coming decade, while it still can. The existence of readily available labour and trade preferences needs to be complemented by high-quality but cheap access to energy, more and better developed economic zones and low transport costs. In addition, developing quality services (e.g. insurance, accounting, logistics) to support Kenya’s manufacturing hub, is critical.

Lessons learned and ways forward

Given its excellent client relationships and building of social capital with key sourcing companies such as PVH, Hela is looking to expand. For example, Vanity Fair (whose orders are currently responsible for just a few production lines in the factory) would like Hela to create a separate factory with a bigger crèche.

Making firms work well requires actively helping to solve problems that individual investors face. For example, a general expansion of production requires finance. Public and private actors will need to work together to fill the finance gap. So far, commercial banks in African countries have shown little understanding of ways to finance the garment industry (e.g. through letters of credit) – we can compare with this the facilitator role played by banks in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and in Asian garments more generally. The government of Kenya has begun to focus on this, but in the meantime there is an opportunity for development finance institutions (DFIs) such as CDC, Proparco and DEG to provide tailored access to capital. DFIs could set up an East African industrial fund for this purpose.

The relationship between Hela and public agencies is encouraging, suggesting foreign investors with patience and diligence to develop strong networks can expect a return. The firm worked with the Export Zones Processing Authority on importing and exporting licensing, and with the Government of Kenya to obtain affordable access to electricity. Hela is also working with willing partners such as the UK Government (both the Trade and Development Departments) and donor-funded agencies, such as TradeMark East Africa. Together they are working with Hela as an industry-lead to support the Government of Kenya in policy development, reducing trade costs, and identifying new manufacturing locations. For example, a combination of hard and soft infrastructure improvements to Mombasa port are making the area more attractive for export-intensive manufacturing firms.

The UK’s support for Hela and tackling constraints it faces is a good example of the UK’s new trade and investment for development offer. Beyond thinking about the trade, investment, migration and other non-aid policies described in a previous SET blog, UK support is at the centre of the overlapping circles between developing country objectives (developing the manufacturing sector is currently a core priority of Kenya’s president) and UK foreign, and commercial, interests. Working with firms to support peer learning to magnify the results across a sector is also an important way of working which has come out of major DFID-funded research programmes such as DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme, PEDL, IZA and Tilburg University.

Fostering clusters through development of EPZs and SEZs at appropriate locations could help to increase the impact on Kenya. Hela estimates it imports around 60% (e.g. fabrics) of its turnover, mainly through Mombasa port (although some fabrics may soon come from Arusha), and exports close to 100% of its products, indicating that 60% of Kenya’s export revenues actually go to other countries. Trade costs are therefore an important factor, and the firm is currently searching for additional factory locations around Mombasa so it can reduce these further. The company adds 40% of the value through cutting, stitching, embroidery, washing, putting on buttons, labelling and packaging. Some of its imported products (e.g. belts for Speedo swimming trunks) and services (e.g. business services) could be generated in factories or service providers that could set up in the same zone as Hela, fostering clustering and agglomeration effects. Country-wide, Athi River and Mombasa are not the only possible locations for such clusters. Recently, a Dubai-based firm said it plans to build a garments factory employing 10,000 jobs in Naivasha using locally available geothermal energy. Local firms could supply to and learn from lead firms, thereby increasing value addition in Kenya.

Despite the challenges, firms like Hela Clothing and AtoZ (see the first SET Making Firms Work blog) show that productive, socially responsible, competitive manufacturing firms can thrive and create thousands of jobs in African countries. More firms such as these are needed to take advantage of the window of opportunity that still exists in African manufacturing. In addition to highlighting the challenges of job creation in manufacturing in the future (and helping prepare for a services and digital economy), all actors need to rally behind Kenya’s recently launched Big Four Agenda, which includes an emphasis on manufacturing. Together with the Kenyan Association of Manufactures we developed a 10-point plan to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP from 10% currently, to 15% in five years, and double manufacturing employment. There is also an opportunity for donors to support such efforts, including by developing UK’s post-Brexit trade and investment for development offer in developing countries. Elsewhere, we have estimated that East Africa needs to create 7,000 additional jobs each day until 2030 simply to keep up with demographic developments. That is one Hela each day!


Photo credit: Adan Mohamed via Kenyatalk

Stephen Gelb (ODI) | Five priorities to tackle the 7,000 jobs a day challenge in East Africa

Stephen Gelb (Principal Research Fellow – Team Leader, private sector development, ODI)

6 April 2018

Seven thousand new jobs a day for fifteen years!!

This is the daunting challenge East Africa faces if it is to meet the need for work for its young, fast-growing population. In the six countries of the East African Community (EAC) – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – an estimated 3.9 million people will be added to the working-age population between 2015 and 2030. This means that 2.6 million jobs must be created in that time. That’s 7000 per day across the region. That number of jobs can’t and won’t be created unless the goods these new workers produce can be sold. And this in turn needs dramatically expanded markets – especially through the creation of a single market across all of East Africa.

SET has assisted the East African Business Council (EABC) – the apex body of business associations in the region – to highlight five policy priorities for governments in the region to boost trade and investment within the EAC and so help meet this jobs challenge. We produced a joint brochure at the EABC’s High Level Conference held in Nairobi on 23 March 2018, to mark the organisation’s 20th anniversary.

The five priorities we identified are as follows:

  • Eliminate non-tariff barriers (NTBs) especially to reduce delays (e.g. at border posts and weighing stations) and to lower the costs of transporting goods within the region. ODI research shows transport and logistics barriers cost between 1.7% and 2.8% of gross domestic product in East Africa.
  • Reform the EAC’s common external tariff (CET) to support industrialisation, especially by ensuring tariffs are levied appropriately through correctly classifying intermediate inputs for production, rather than as final products.
  • Improve regional infrastructure in transport and energy to lower costs and improve quality, supporting profitability for goods producers. Improvements at Mombasa port show what is possible.
  • Liberalise services trade within the EAC to lower business services costs to business users, which has been shown to increase their efficiency.
  • Promote local (intra-EAC) sourcing of productive inputs, to expand markets and encourage investment.

Above: Lilian Awinja and Dr Stephen Gelb

In her report to the event, EABC Executive Director Lilian Awinja discussed progress on the five priorities. There has been improvement on removing NTBs, she said, through better harmonisation of standards, lowered border-crossing times and costs and cooperation by tax authorities. But on CET reform and services trade liberalisation, progress has been much slower. Ms Awinja called for stepped-up dialogue between the private sector and governments.

And on local sourcing, the one priority that businesses can actively implement in their own operations, she endorsed the ban on second-hand clothing imports agreed to (at least initially) by all six regional governments, and issued a call for Fridays to become ‘Wear East Africa’ day, to promote the region’s garment industry. She herself was resplendent in an outfit made from indigenous fabric, as were almost all the women present – a majority in the crowded room at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.

She was speaking alongside the event’s opening panel: six men, all wearing Western suits and ties, whom she instructed to immediately purchase a locally made shirt from one of the many market stalls just outside. We weren’t able to discover how many of the men obeyed her call. But Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the Ugandan Prime Minister, who was on the panel, quickly endorsed the idea, saying that President Museveni wanted people to ‘wear East African’ every day, not only on Fridays. The idea of ‘indigenous Friday’ – a step beyond ‘casual Friday’ – felt like something that could just catch on. Of course, local sourcing needs to go beyond the clothing industry to support rapid industrialisation in the region, but ‘indigenous Friday’ may be a start.

Other speakers at the High Level Conference also underlined the five priorities, with addressing NTBs and improving infrastructure probably receiving the most mentions. In her remarks, Patricia Scotland, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, discussed trade facilitation, but underlined that, to put the ‘wealth’ back into ‘commonwealth’, developing ‘human capital’, particularly women, was critical. This linked in interesting ways to another speaker’s comment about the benefits of intra-African trade by means of informal cross-border exchange, much of it by women traders of course.

Above: Patricia Scotland presenting at EABC 23 March Anniversary 

The ground-breaking meeting in Rwanda just two days earlier, at which 47 African countries signed the Kigali Declaration launching the African Consolidated Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), loomed large over the EABC celebration. Most speakers underlined the opportunities the pan-African market of a billion people offers to accelerate economic integration and increase trade and investment flows within Africa. Prime Minister Rugunda suggested the AfCFTA could renew – in a modern way – an earlier tradition whereby Africans exchanged gifts as neighbours; now they would be helping each other compete with the world in African markets and beyond.

But, as so often in African integration matters, speakers also worried about the gap between ‘talking the talk’ and ‘walking the walk’, and Prime Minister Rugunda enjoined both political and business leaders to live up to commitments signed at multilateral meetings. Many speakers, including Adan Mohammed, Cabinet Secretary (Minister) of the Kenyan Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, and Manu Chandaria, one of Kenya’s most prominent business figures, appealed to businesses to end the practice of privately lobbying their own governments for exemptions from policies that businesses had collectively agreed at regional or continental level. Suggesting this was a major reason for the persistence of NTBs, they both argued passionately for solidarity and for promoting the public interest over that of individual businesses. The same level of passion is needed if the region is to meet its 7,000 jobs a day challenge.

Max Mendez-Parra (ODI) | The African Continental Free Trade Area and economic transformation

Max Mendez-Parra  (Senior Research Fellow, ODI)

22 March 2018

African leaders gathered this week in Kigali to sign the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This is a key step in African efforts to eliminate barriers to trade among countries of the continent and will provide the foundations for smarter and deeper continental integration and implementation of the AU 2063 agenda.

Africa has followed a long road in its endeavours to promote regional integration, with mixed success. For example, the East African Community now constitutes the most successful model of integration on the continent, but other regional economic communities (RECs) have experienced more nuanced outcomes – and the EAC also had its challenges in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, economic partnership agreements (EPAs) between African groups of countries and the EU have been a challenge to the African regional integration process, as EPAs cut across Africa and African regions.

The road to full implementation of the AfCTFA will be very long. Stage 1 of the negotiations seeks to establish a free trade area within Africa by liberalising nearly 90% of the goods within the continent. For some countries (e.g. Nigeria), reaching such a level of liberalisation constitutes a major effort. The agreement includes a services chapter, aimed at liberalising continental trade in services. This stage of the agreement will enter into force once 15 countries ratify it. It is unclear how long this process may take.

The second stage of the negotiations will aim to address deep integration issues such as investment and competition policies. Later on, there will be the possibility of forming a customs union, but at the moment a decision on this is not possible.

The AfCFTA is set within the aim of the AU and its member states to transform the economic structure of African countries and increase intra-African trade. Economic transformation and the creation of jobs is the most important economic development need in Africa today. Trade and trade facilitation is a key component of economic transformation strategies. Within economic transformation, the development and improvement of the manufacturing sector remains key, and trade can contribute to it. The AfCFTA could contribute to this goal by promoting regional value chains making use of expanded market access in the region.

The AfCFTA should be the basis for a wider and more comprehensive integration strategy. The AfCFTA is likely to be expanded to include additional trade and other cooperation provisions. In particular, the AfCFTA should be used to boost investment in the region to promote infrastructure development and, more importantly, the development of private sector capabilities. Such investment (as in the case of trade) should not be limited to intra-African opportunities; there should also be an effort to bring in capitals and capabilities from the rest of the world.

The AfCFTA on its own is not sufficient to guarantee the transformation process; two complementary factors are also crucial. First, African countries need to improve physical and digital connections among themselves. Without soft and hard infrastructure connecting African countries physically (and virtually), the AfCFTA will not be enough to generate needed trade.

Second, it is unlikely that the AfCFTA at this stage will generate substantial and effective market liberalisation immediately, as much of this has already been achieved through the multiple RECs. It may bring down existing high tariffs between countries that, given distance and lack of connectivity, will not trade even under low tariffs.

Third, Africa needs a substantive boost of investment in its productive capacities that the AfCFTA per se is not expected to bring. African countries need to develop their productive capacities to meet demand from other African countries.

Meanwhile, industrial strategies need to be developed at the national, regional and continental levels. There is a major risk that the AfCFTA will eliminate intra-continental barriers while raising trade barriers with third countries. This strategy, followed by Latin America in the 1960s, has proven extremely costly and inefficient in generating the needed economic transformation. This may harm consumers’ welfare as well as affecting the productivity and competitiveness of African firms. Trade liberalisation is welcomed even at a regional level; however, it needs to be harnessed within a wider and deeper strategy of integration of Africa into the world economy.

In this sense, we should not overestimate the benefits of the AfCFTA and we should not underplay the challenges. The AfCFTA should be a first step in a wider integration and industrialisation strategy. Trade must be considered a tool rather than as an end in itself. The end is to increase trade (regardless of the partner) and to transform African economies to create jobs and raise living standards sustainably. The AfCFTA is not the single most important of the policies that African countries will need to deploy to transform their economies – but it is an extremely welcome one.

In addition, the agreement should aim to promote economic transformation as well as African trade. In this sense, the aim to increase intra-African trade may be misleading, as what African needs is more trade regardless of the partner. Aiming to increase intra-African trade may lead to distortions that will make many sectors inefficient and not competitive.

All this calls to raise awareness of the work that is needed to make a success of the AfCFTA and avoid certain undesirable outcomes. The agreement requires not only more elements of deep integration but also addressing of many of the multiple barriers that affect trade and economic transformation (beyond trade policies at the border). The AfCFTA must thus be welcomed and celebrated as long as the continent is ready to take the necessary steps to make of it a tool to put Africa into the world economy.

Maximiliano Mendez-Parra is a Senior Research Fellow at ODI.

Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters 

Sonia Hoque (ODI) | Making Firms Work Series | How to create African factory jobs responsibly: from A to Z

This blog is the first in our ‘Making Firms Work’ series. Read the second, on Kenyan garment firm Hela, here.

Sonia Hoque  (Programme & Operations Manager, ODI)

1 March 2018

A to Z Textile Mills Ltd (A to Z) is a remarkable example of how African manufacturing can flourish. A locally owned, diversified, vertically integrated firm with over 7,000 employees, it produces and supplies a large volume and range of goods to domestic markets, and exports internationally. The firm also takes substantial social and environmental responsibility. A to Z has its own recycling plant, housing, childcare and daily meals for its predominantly female workforce, and demonstrates how large manufacturing firms can make a significant development impact.

Can Africa industrialise and move out of poverty?

SET findings from Myanmar show the great potential of the garments industry to create ‘good’ jobs. This stands in opposition to the results of an experiment by Christopher Blattman and Stefan Dercon, which found factory jobs were not an ‘escalator out of poverty’ (as many economists claim). This age-old debate in the development field reflects ideological differences between practitioners and even policy-makers: despite evidence to the contrary, many people are still not convinced that industrialisation and factory/manufacturing jobs really improve the lives of poor and low-skilled workers, arguing that they make them vulnerable to exploitation by capitalist manufacturers. Advocates of this view usually support entrepreneurial (and informal) income-generating activities or improving agriculture as the key to poverty alleviation and development. Blattman and Dercon’s conclusions seemingly supported this view, claiming that difficulties facing factory workers were a result of bad management and the absence of policies providing social protection.

One major factory in Tanzania however, is demonstrating that with vision, careful planning and a socially responsible approach to manufacturing, it is possible to address many problems associated with factory jobs to a large extent. A to Z is a family-owned and -operated company that produces light manufacturing goods including garments, household plastics and long-lasting insecticide-treated bednets. The company stands out for its considered approach to the environment and to its workers’ well-being, and for striving to manufacture goods that not only are in demand but also have a long-term impact on improving and even saving lives. For these reasons, the factory has caught the attention of many high-profile figures (Bono, Will Smith and George W. Bush, to name a few), who have visited to see how a large manufacturing company can have direct and indirect development impacts on some of the poorest people in the world.

An overview of A to Z today

A true start-up success story, A to Z began with a single Indian entrepreneur and a sewing machine in the 1960s, expanding over 50 years to become a group of various companies that export goods to countries including the US, Canada, Japan and South Africa. A to Z operates in two separate locations in Arusha, imports via Mombasa and sells domestically, and to countries in the region (e.g. cement bags to Burundi – a great example of regional value chains).

It is also one of the largest vertically integrated manufacturing plants in East Africa, and the owners pride themselves on ‘innovative manufacturing’, which in this context is not only about improving productivity and using new technology but also about producing goods that contribute to saving lives and minimising negative impacts on the environment. Careful planning by the owners has led to a cluster effect within the factory grounds. This increases productivity, and almost all of the goods and services needed to produce their wide range of products are found on-site.

The factory employs over 7,000 people and takes responsibility for their workers – ensuring safe and comfortable working conditions and providing housing for eligible workers, safe transport for those travelling in, daily meals, classroom training to build skills and even a free on-site clinic, where nurses are available to carry out check-ups for the workers. With women representing over 65% of the workforce, the owners are aware of the responsibilities and challenges facing young mothers, and there is a free on-site crèche for workers with small children.

Creating socially and environmentally responsible transformational jobs

It can be argued that non-wage benefits like the ones mentioned above are becoming increasingly common in factories in low-income countries, particularly in foreign companies, which are under pressure to show they are socially responsible when setting up operations (CSR). For example, British-owned Hela Clothing (another major player in East Africa) provides free meals and a crèche in its Athi River plant, and Hawassa Industrial Park in Ethiopia employs high numbers of women and has a scheme to provide housing where it is needed. On the other hand, workers’ well-being can be linked to productivity – so taking care of them is a win-win.

What makes A to Z remarkable, however, is not only its contribution to Tanzanian economic transformation through the provision of large numbers of ‘good’ productive jobs but also the other socially beneficial aspects of its business model:

  • Producing insecticide-treated bednets and agricultural storage bags: These specialist products help protect against malaria and reduce post-harvest losses. Many donors have supported production and development, including the US Agency for International Development, the UK Department for International Development and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
  • An on-site recycling plant: This processes waste into plastic pellets, which are then reused in their own production. Rain water is also collected, and waste water is treated and reused.
  • Research and development (R&D): Innovative manufacturing methods, which use science and technology to create products with positive development outcomes, are enhanced by the on-site Africa Technical Research Centre (built by A to Z in partnership with Sumitomo Chemicals), which is a recognised partner in the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) network.

Challenges of being a development-focused manufacturing company 

Unsurprisingly, being a socially and environmentally responsible producer does not come easy. Increasing competition in the region, rising prices of raw materials and transport and other non-tariff barriers all push up the costs of importing inputs, and are putting pressure on the firm’s profitability. Despite this, A to Z reinvests up to 100% of its profits back into the business, to improve productivity using the latest machinery and to fund R&D.

From a wider industry perspective, issues related to recent changes in VAT policies (from zero-rated to exempt status) have directly and severely affected cashflow, and made job losses inevitable. Such unplanned policy changes (which do not appear within the national second Five-Year Development Plan for industrialisation and human development) can have unintended harmful effects on manufacturers that are creating exactly the kinds of jobs needed for successful economic transformation.

A to Z shows us that the private sector can support development goals through manufacturing jobs

A to Z’s operations are in line with many of the SDGs, and a tour of the factory feels like a real-life portrayal of the SDGs in action. By offering large numbers of jobs to young female workers, providing social protection, undertaking environmental impact-reducing activities and numerous community initiatives, the company is showing that industrialists do not always take the purely profit-driven approach that non-industrialists fear will harm workers and the environment in low-income countries. A to Z has acknowledged that industrialisation and manufacturing jobs alone are not enough to address poverty, and has taken steps to maximise positive development impacts in Tanzania, while producing goods that are in demand and create highly productive jobs. One example is its use of laser fabric-cutting machinery that requires 17 people to operate. Although it replaces approximately 25 manual cutters, the machine increases the hourly output rate, quality and volume of cut fabric, and in turn creates more demand for labour downstream (e.g. for stitching stage). This example challenges the growing fear of ‘jobless growth’ in Africa as a result of digitalisation.

Overall, although A to Z is not a typical case of an African or a foreign manufacturing firm, it is an extraordinary example that challenges some of the negative views surrounding industrialisation-led development. As concluded by Calabrese and Gelb (2017), industrialisation is not a choice – the response to the challenges of industrialisation is not to forego it but to do it faster and better. A to Z shows us that socially responsible industrialists do exist, and public (policy) actions to support their growth are essential for productive job creation, and transformation, in developing countries.


Sonia Hoque is the Programme & Operations Manager of the Supporting Economic Transformation programme at ODI.

Photo credit (all rights reserved): A to Z, SET Programme, Overseas Development Institute ©

Dirk Willem te Velde (ODI) | Economic transformation and job creation: trends to watch in 2018

Dirk Willem te Velde (SET Programme Director, ODI)

4 January 2018

Job creation has taken centre stage globally as an issue over the past few years. Failure to create jobs in the inland US was key to the presidential victory of Donald Trump, job losses in northern England contributed to the Brexit referendum outcome in 2016 and new promises related to job creation for the young helped lead to electoral outcomes in Ghana in 2016 and Liberia in 2017. Related to this, countries, regions and social groupings need to adjust and transform themselves continuously or risk political upheaval, social unrest and ‘being left behind’. The year 2018 offers a range of global and national opportunities to improve prospects for job creation.

Harnessing the opportunities of technical change

Globalisation and technical change are creating both challenges and opportunities. The debate here is not new. Tinbergen wrote in the 1970s about a race between technology and education. Widening inequality in the 1990s in developed and emerging markets was blamed on trade, foreign investment, skill-biased technology and institutional weakening. In 2018, the reality is that there is not enough technical change or productivity growth in the poorest countries, especially the sort of change that will enhance the job opportunities of the poorest.

We will be asking whether and how technology and manufacturing feature in ever-changing development strategies in low-income countries to create jobs and transform economies. With the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET), we are exploring which efforts are effective in promoting manufacturing, which is sorely needed in such countries. We will also continue our work on services. A major question, for countries around the world, is whether groups are prepared to use global value chains, import and export opportunities and new technologies for job creation.

Pursuing smart globalisation

Recent political outcomes in the US and the UK remind us we need to tackle the distributional impacts of (any) economic change at the same time as the economic change occurs. Rodrik recently reiterated the economic origins of populist forces and that detailed economic analysis can help us understand resistance to some types of trade deals. Moreover, the failure of recent WTO negotiations to agree anything substantial suggests we need to work more at a plurilateral level. Smart globalisation means (i) advancing globalisation when it matters (and in developing countries both the static and the dynamic effects of trade are still really important) and (ii) globalising only when complementary policies are in place to address those that may gain the least.

A changed global governance

With the US showing little interest in climate discussions, the WTO and the UN, many are looking to China to provide the global public goods the world needs. We noted this trend in 2014. If anything, a period of increasing governance gaps (a hegemon in retreat with others not yet stepping up) is unrolling faster than anticipated. In 2018, we will be looking how cities, the private sector and the world minus-1 will be progressing on climate change discussions, plurilateral trade negotiations and other forms of global cooperation. Trade, investment and migration may see their greatest chance of progress through bilateral and regional deals. Africa’s continental free trade agreement, to be concluded in 2018, may provide impetus for greater cooperation on Africa’s trade, investment and transformation.

Country trends to watch in 2018

ODI’s work often operates at the interface between new development challenges and country realities. In 2018, we will continue to work with local institutions such as ESRF, REPOA, SAWTEE, ACET, UNECA and EAC to provide national governments with the analysis and practical policy suggestions that can turn rhetoric around transformation into evidence-based policies to create jobs.

After Kenya’s second attempt at elections in October 2017, in which the opposition did not take part, will the two sides join hands to develop the economy, creating jobs and manufacturing activity? SET’s 10 policy priorities developed with the Kenyan Association of Manufacturing need a push towards implementation. A serious look at special economic zones (SEZs) fits into this thinking.

After Nepal’s elections at the end of 2017, the new communist government needs to live up to its promises on job creation. SET will follow up on its recent research and use a manufacturing event to promote the creation of quality jobs that aim to dampen the emigration of young and skilled workers.

We will continue to examine Ethiopia’s evolution from an agriculture-led development model towards an industrialisation-led model. The implementation of SEZs such as Hawassa Industrial Park shows progress can be made. Such lessons need to be shared more widely across Africa.

Recent elections in Liberia and upcoming elections in Sierra Leone provide an opportunity for these countries to show they are now fully on the path of inclusive growth, after a difficult period hit by disease. We are supporting Liberia to attract investment, including by organisations such as CDC.

Zimbabwe’s removal of President Mugabe offers some hope for 2018, but, as SET’s roadmap for economic transformation suggests, nothing is easy. Nonetheless, smart interventions have the potential to generate some limited progress.

Tanzania is continuing to grow but there are questions marks on its models of industrialisation. Its share of manufacturing in GDP has been below 10% for a long time, and has declined further in recent years. The question now is how to implement the second five-year development plan (halfway in and with a focus on industrialisation), and in particular how to pursue practical industrialisation models that will not fall into the traps of either laissez-faire or state ownership.

Mozambique is still some way behind Tanzania. Manufacturing’s share of total employment is below 1%. Will the government be able to seize the considerable opportunities for transformation and job creation in 2018? Can it employ positive public action to use a range of mega deals for local industrialisation?

Opportunities for global cooperation in 2018

A range of global opportunities could support job creation in poorer countries in 2018.

Both the G20 and the G7 are prioritising the future of work on their agendas. This will provide impetus for international organisations to bring together their knowledge on the topic and suggest ways forward. Outreach by the G20 towards poorer countries, especially around the G20 compact with Africa, should be continued under the Argentinian presidency.

The IMF and World Bank aim to support economic transformation and job creation globally. They have contributed to a core objective on economic transformation and job creation (one of five) in IDA18; we now need to see how this will be operationalised from 2018 onwards.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the UK in April 2018 will be the largest gathering of heads of government the UK has ever hosted. While UK trade with the Commonwealth is obviously no substitute for weakening economic ties with the EU, the summit is a key opportunity to strengthen trade and investment ties among the Commonwealth, which consists of more than 50 small and large, developed and developing, landlocked and coastal countries. The APPG–ODI inquiry on the Commonwealth and trade, of which I am a member, will report at the beginning of this year.

Brexit itself requires new thinking around the UK’s future trade relations with developing countries. ODI provided a number of insights in this regard in 2017. Whatever the outcomes of the negotiations, the increased importance given to trade, investment and economic development more generally in development debates is a silver lining.

The UK’s development debate may be polarised as a result of the suggestion that, because we do not like to see UK aid tied only to UK interests (which is also not allowed by law), we should not be thinking about UK interests in development at all, and instead that the UK should provide aid grants to health and education (sometimes irrespective of country priorities). However, for countries to transition out of aid, non-grant aid instruments are needed too (e.g. equity and loans through CDC); for countries to develop and pay for their own health and education needs, real economic transformation, trade, investment and private sector development are needed; and countries often like to see more UK trade and investment, not less. Ensuring further integration among aid, trade and investment to support development will be a key UK development policy trend to watch in 2018.


Photo credit: Simon Davis/DFID, 2013. License: CC BY 2.0.

Leah Worrall (ODI) | Reducing fishery subsidies to support trade and transformation: where next?

Leah Worrall (Senior Research Officer, ODI)

22 December 2017

There was optimism at the start of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) 11th Ministerial Conference (MC 11) that an agreement on fisheries subsidies would be reached. In the aftermath, Member States’ failure to conclude such an agreement represents a heavy burden, as this was once described as the ‘low hanging fruit’ for the negotiations.

Under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), countries agreed to the elimination by 2020 of fisheries subsidies contributing to overfishing, overcapacity and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing (SDG 14.6). In order to allow countries sufficient time to implement this, the need to reach agreement during MC 11 – or by 2018 at the latest – was acknowledged. The Buenos Aires Ministerial Decision instead notes the need to adopt a fisheries agreement by the time of the Ministerial Conference in 2019.

Subsidies are harmful, from an economic transformation perspective. Capacity-enhancing subsidies reduce global fishing efficiency, with inefficient fishers replacing efficient ones, whilst also enabling fishery production that would otherwise not be economically viable. The global increased production is particularly negative for countries that rely on fisheries for livelihoods, trade and value addition.

Subsidy disciplines

In a recent paper, we argue for the disciplining of fisheries subsidies as a first step in protecting the global commons of fisheries and reducing trade distortions. Developing countries capture more fish than developed nations (52 million tonnes compared with 25 million tonnes in 2015), but developed countries add more value (commodity exports reached $68.9 billion in developing countries and $70.2 billion in developed countries in 2013). Developing countries provide more fisheries subsidies in absolute terms, but only just (2003 data). Publicly available global data on fisheries subsidies are severely out of date, however.

Reduced fishing capacity – as a result of the elimination of capacity-enhancing fisheries subsidies – could be somewhat compensated for by restructuring – which can be described as shifting fishing capacity from inefficient firms (dependent on subsidies) to efficient firms (less dependent on subsidies).

Action in the following two areas could have a disproportionately positive impact in reducing global fisheries capture:

  1. Eliminating subsidies to IUU fishing. The benefit here would arise largely from the enforcement mechanism required to implement such disciplines, and could eliminate up to a quarter of global catches (according to UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates).
  2. Eliminating fuel subsidies. Fuel subsidies support the rise of distant water fleets, in turn leading to overcapacity. Their elimination would have a strong capacity-reducing effect in fuel subsidy-dependent fishing fleets, as a function of the distant travelled by vessels.

Special and differentiated treatment

Countries are asking for special and differentiated treatment (SDT) provisions in a fisheries subsidies agreement at the WTO – for least developed countries (LDCs) or developing countries, more generally. These include Indonesia, Europe, the ACP Group, the Latin American bloc[1], the New Zealand, Iceland and Pakistan bloc, and China. The SDT provisions in Member State proposals range from exemptions to technical support and extended implementation timelines.

As developing countries may be responsible for a significant proportion of fisheries subsidies, there is a need to focus any SDT provisions on LDCs and other small and vulnerable states. As we note in our recent paper, such subsidies in LDCs may not be efficient and encourage the development of inefficient firms.

Other carve-outs for developing countries may also be warranted. For example, the small-scale fishing sector currently receives only 10% of capacity-enhancing subsidies globally.

Future agreement

If agreement cannot be reached at the WTO – or outside – there remains little hope of meeting the SDG 14.6 target. The WTO and its Member States have rallied to achieve multilateral agreement in the face of increasing doubts before; the 2015 Nairobi Package is one example.

Opportunities remain to pursue fisheries subsidies at the WTO and include the following:

  • The Ministerial Decision on fisheries subsidies aims to reach an agreement by 2019, leaving two years to agree the text. Member States should seek a broad-ranging agreement prohibiting subsidies to IUU fishing, overcapacity and overfishing. Multiple avenues remain, including modelling the text on the Agriculture Agreement (and its green, amber and red boxes). Strong SDT flexibilities may be necessary for buy-in. Some broad flexibilities could be awarded to developing countries on implementation timelines, given the short timescales available. Stronger SDT provisions could be introduced for LDCs, such as in the form of technical and financial capacity support, or exemptions where necessary. This approach could follow that of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, for example.
  • WTO plurilateral negotiations on fisheries subsidies could be launched, drawing on lessons learnt through the Environmental Goods Agreement negotiations (with agreement yet to be reached). This would be a forum for the major players, including major opponents of fisheries subsidy disciplines, to reach consensus. The plurilateral group could include Europe, emerging and developed Asian economies (e.g. China, South Korea, Japan and others) and the US, among others. The aim would be for other WTO Member States to join the plurilateral agreement over time.
  • The Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM) could be used to discipline fisheries subsidies through disputes. The US proposal on fishery subsidies recommends improvements in notifications of fisheries subsidies to the WTO under SCM Article 25.3. Fisheries-related cases brought to the WTO’s Appellate Body before include the US-Shrimp and Dolphin-Tuna[2] But challenges remain in adopting this approach. The willingness of Member States to bring cases on fisheries subsidies may be low. The WTO’s Appellate Body has a poor track record of ruling in favour of environmental concerns.[3] The SCM itself does not have the environmental exemption present in other agreements, such as that included in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Article XX. The US is meanwhile blocking the appointment (or re-appointment) of judges to the Appellate Body, with negative implications for the long-term functioning of the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism.

Regardless, Member States should continue to pursue all these avenues to discipline fisheries subsidies. This is pertinent not only to reviving trust in the WTO but also to achieving the SDGs. The WTO’s Negotiating Group on Rules (NGR) should endeavour to reach consensus on fisheries subsidy disciplines. These negotiations will likely touch upon political sticking points. For example, whereas Europe seeks to exclude fuel subsidies from the agreement, the US seeks to include these. This will require consensus-building by the NGR and compromise by Member States.

In the meantime, countries should pursue unilateral action in disciplining fisheries subsidies – and eliminating subsidies to IUU fishing could be an important first step.

[1] Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

[2] These contested restrictions on fishing methods for shrimp and tuna species, using the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and Technical Barriers on Trade agreements.

[3] This owes in particular to the difficulty in proving environmental measures do not constitute ‘arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries’ (GATT Article XX). The few successful cases on environmental/health grounds include France–Canada asbestos, Brazil re-treaded tyres and the Canada renewable energy case.

Photo credit: Fisheries by Giulian Frisoni via Flickr

Karishma Banga (ODI) | The digital industrial revolution: will African countries sink or swim?

Karishma Banga (Senior Research Officer, ODI)
The digital economy is here, and is rapidly growing, ushering in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Though definitions have evolved over time, it is broadly agreed that the digital economy describes a worldwide network of economic and social activities enabled by digital technologies, including mobile and communication networks, ‘Cloud Computing’, Artificial Intelligence, ‘Machine Learning’, ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘Big Data’. Such new and cutting-edge technologies have led to creation of ‘smart machines’, such as driverless vehicles and cognitive robots, as well as widespread adoption of ‘smart platforms’ like Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alibaba. Digitalisation of the economy, through the increasing use of digital technologies, is changing the global landscape of manufacturing, presenting both challenges and opportunities in less-developed countries.  Often an alarmist approach is taken while discussing the future of manufacturing-led development in African economies, which have traditionally used manufacturing as a first step towards economic transformation and employment generation.

Karishma Banga (Senior Research Officer, ODI)

13 November 2017

The digital economy is here, and is rapidly growing, ushering in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Though definitions have evolved over time, it is broadly agreed that the digital economy describes a worldwide network of economic and social activities enabled by digital technologies, including mobile and communication networks, ‘Cloud Computing’, Artificial Intelligence, ‘Machine Learning’, ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘Big Data’. Such new and cutting-edge technologies have led to creation of ‘smart machines’, such as driverless vehicles and cognitive robots, as well as widespread adoption of ‘smart platforms’ like Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alibaba.

Digitalisation of the economy, through the increasing use of digital technologies, is changing the global landscape of manufacturing, presenting both challenges and opportunities in less-developed countries.  Often an alarmist approach is taken while discussing the future of manufacturing-led development in African economies, which have traditionally used manufacturing as a first step towards economic transformation and employment generation. However, considering that many African countries are yet to industrialise, digitalisation may not directly impact them to the same extent as their developed counterparts. At the same time, it is important to not underestimate the power of technology to bring about disruptive change. It is essential for African countries to not only boost manufacturing but also adapt to the changing nature of manufacturing and prepare for the digital future.

How big is the digital divide?

Internet penetration – that is, the share of population with access to the internet – is often used as a proxy for digitalisation, based on the assumption that internet is the basic and necessary condition to digitalise. Internet penetration has grown by 5% in developed countries, compared to 15-20% in developing countries (World Economic Forum, 2015), and some sub-Saharan African economies have witnessed remarkable growth in internet penetration, particularly Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. Yet developed countries still dominate the internet economy, with a staggering 78% share overall. In fact, the internet economy’s contribution to GDP in developed countries (3.4%) is more than three times the internet economy’s contribution to GDP in African countries. Moreover, of those countries with less than 10% internet penetration, most are African. These statistics suggest that the capability of African economies to be competitive in digitalised trade is low.

Globally, there is vast disparity in country shares in e-commerce across developed and developing countries: just six countries – China, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US – occupy 85% of cross-border e-commerce trade, of which all except China are developed nations. Developing economies are also lagging behind in deployment of ‘Smart Machines’- devices with machine-to-machine and/or cognitive computing technologies. Data from the International Federation of Robotics shows that in 2015, around 75% of robot sales were concentrated in just five markets: China, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the US. Africa’s share in global robot sales has in fact fallen since 2013, reaching just 0.2% in 2014 – a figure that is almost ten times lower than Africa’s share in global GDP.

Challenges for developing countries

In the race to digitalise, many developing countries (with the exception of China) are clearly falling behind. This is likely due to prohibitive costs of capital in these countries and low ‘digital-readiness’ in terms of infrastructure and skills. Many African countries are still struggling to industrialise, and in some cases lack even basic infrastructure – for instance, a reliable power supply, roads, ports and telecommunication – showing the need to primarily invest in these areas.

While this suggests that the direct impact of the growing digital economy on African countries may be limited, digitalisation can indirectly impact them by affecting global competition and changing the criteria of what constitutes an attractive manufacturing location. The emerging digital technologies may lower the costs of coordination and trading, thereby strengthening global value chains and enabling smaller firms to access international markets. But there are also risks of manufacturing activities being re-shored back to the developed world, as was the case with Phillips shavers and Adidas shoes. Moreover, goods in the digital economy are much more advanced and may require good infrastructure, research and development, and skilled labour at all points along the global value chain, leading to concentration of manufacturing in developed countries, and pressure on wages in less developed economies.

A central concern in the debate on digitalisation is that of a ‘jobless future’. The International Federation of Robotics estimates that that more than 2.5 million robots will be at work by 2019, indicating a 12% growth in deployment of robots between 2016 and 2019. McKinsey’s 2017 report estimates high percentages of jobs in African countries that will be automated away– 52% in Kenya, 46% in Nigeria and 50% in Ethiopia. However, recent case studies suggest that low- and middle-income economies need not be alarmed (Dutz et al., forthcoming); if we break down occupations into tasks, with distinct levels of automatability, then the share of jobs that can be automated away falls to 2-8%, as per Ahmed and Chen’s (2017) estimates. That said, these estimates do not account for the ‘potential’ jobs that may be lost by never being created, and the sizeable number of informal jobs in many developing and less developed countries.

Adapting to the changing nature of manufacturing

  1. Boost manufacturing

Using the window of opportunity in less-automated sectors

The impact of technology depends on the type of technology employed, and varies across countries and sectors. There are some sub-sectors in which technological change has been slow until now – such as food, beverage and tobacco products, basic metals, wood and wood products, paper and paper products, and other non-metallic minerals. These sectors present opportunities for LDCs to undertake local production and regional trade.

Using a dual-track approach to industrialisation

Countries should look to develop agro-processing and attract investment in higher value-added export-based manufacturing activities. A move towards services can also serve as an alternate path to development. Beyond improving the investment climate, effective policies include improving firm capabilities, innovations systems and direct financing opportunities.

  1. Digitalise manufacturing

Become digitally-ready

Emerging SET analysis on the future of manufacturing in Sub-Saharan African countries suggests that both technological progress and digitalisation increases labour productivity. But, while the impact of technological progress is higher in low-income and Sub-Saharan African countries, rendering support to convergence, the impact of digitalisation is lower in these economies. Moreover, the impact of technological progress on productivity increases as a country digitalises, but this impact is also lower for low-income countries and Sub-Saharan African countries. These findings may indicate a significant difference between low-income countries and high-income countries in ‘digital-readiness’; the ability to absorb and utilise digitalisation. Further results confirm that the impact of both technological progress and digitalisation increases as the work-force becomes more skilled, highlighting the importance of becoming digitally-ready by investing in skills development.

Skills for the future

Data is key to examining the sectors into which the labour force should move in the next few years. Previously, skill development strategies focused on moving from agriculture to manufacturing in less developed countries, and from manufacturing to services in more developed economies. On the future of work, Richard Baldwin (Professor, Graduate Institute) discusses that with the rise of digitalisation and consequently ‘tele-migrants’ and robots, soft-skills such as managerial skills, team-building skills and teaching will become more important.  Although the pace of change in adoption of 3D printers has been relatively slow, as 3D printers become more affordable, design capabilities will become important. This can create important opportunities for developing economies to leverage their design and creative skills in the growing digital economy. Spread of 3D printers to developing economies can also lead to de-centralisation of manufacturing and customised production on demand.

With rise and expansion of the ‘digital labour-force’, work may become increasingly precarious. To ensure that workers are not treated as digital commodities, it is important to re-orient social protection in the digital economy to follow people, rather than companies.


Photo credit: Andrea Moroni via Flickr. License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

Neil Balchin (ODI) | Mozambique needs to act now to avert a jobs crisis

Neil Balchin (Research Fellow, ODI)

16 October 2017

Many countries in Africa are facing a looming jobs crisis. According to the African Development Bank, only one-fifth of the 12 million young people entering African labour markets each year are able to find waged employment. Rapidly expanding working-age populations on the continent only intensify competition for paid work. The International Monetary Fund reckons that by 2035 sub-Saharan Africa will boast more working-age people than all of the world’s other regions combined.

While the promise of a demographic dividend spurred by a burgeoning working-age population can help drive higher growth and accelerate development, it also creates major challenges in terms of sustainable job creation. At their current pace of growth, most African economies are simply not creating enough jobs to absorb their expanding workforces. Researchers at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change suggest the jobs deficit in Africa could reach 50 million by 2040.

The challenges in Mozambique are similar, though also specific. Despite registering annual growth in the range of 5-7% in real terms over the past decade, Mozambique has not developed structurally or created sufficient quality jobs for inclusive growth. The unemployment rate stands at 27%; among those who are employed, only 6% work in the formal sector and only 3% are active in the private sector. An estimated 420,000 young people enter the labour market in Mozambique each year, adding to the urgency to develop a coherent strategy to address the challenging macroeconomic situation, transform the economy and create more jobs.

Mozambique needs to act now.

In search of a suitable development model

A recent SET study argues an important initial step would be to select, and implement, a suitable development model to promote economic transformation and create jobs. Four possible models could be considered.

Mozambique could look to capitalise on its comparative advantage in land and focus on boosting agricultural productivity and developing agro-processing capacity – with strong backward linkages and multiplier effects to agriculture. This may help Mozambique graduate to other sectors in the future, while growth in agricultural productivity could have strong poverty-reducing effects in the short to medium term.

Alternatively, Mozambique could focus on diversifying away from its current dependence on natural resources, and look to utilise the revenues that come from exploiting these resources to transform the economy. This approach has been effective in Indonesia, which has successfully diversified its natural resource-based economy into manufacturing and services.

Diversification into manufacturing, with a focus on export-oriented manufacturing, could drive Mozambique’s transformation. Experiences in Korea, Mauritius, Singapore and Vietnam show how harnessing trade and openness in manufacturing can drive industrialisation and create much-needed employment. The manufacturing sectors in Ethiopia and Rwanda have experienced rapid growth and thus serve as more recent examples of what is possible in Mozambique.

A cross-country study by SET in 2016 indicated Mozambique was among the most promising African countries in terms of attracting foreign direct investment into export-based manufacturing. Mozambique boasts a number of comparative advantages – including access to a relatively large pool of labour, a long coastline and significant ports, close proximity to regional markets and duty- and quota-free access into the US for a range of manufactured goods – that could support an export-led manufacturing model. Despite these advantages, the recent performance of Mozambican manufacturing has been weak and the sector still has a largely peripheral role within the economy – accounting for just 0.6% of total employment and contributing less than 10% to total gross value added in 2015 (down from nearly 30% in 1975).

The window of opportunity for Mozambique to follow a transformation model based on developing capacity in labour-intensive manufacturing may be closing quickly as manufacturing becomes increasingly capital- and technology-intensive and less employment-intensive, and as developed countries begin to insource. Again, Mozambique will need to act quickly.

Finally, Mozambique could look to services to promote economic transformation and create jobs. Such an approach would need to focus on improving services productivity and moving into high-productivity services sectors in order to avoid agglomeration in low-skill, low-productivity urban and informal services.

The best way forward may lie in a combination of these models. Our SET study suggests Mozambique could follow a combination of agro-processing-based transformation, diversification away from natural resources (in the style of Indonesia) and diversification into manufacturing (as in Mauritius and, more recently, Ethiopia). Underlying all these strategies is a targeted push towards industrialisation.

How to make it happen

We recently engaged with senior policy-makers in Mozambique on how to make this happen. This included discussions with the minister of economy and finance and the deputy minister of industry and commerce. Our discussions emphasised the need for senior policy-makers to work closely with the private sector to develop a shared vision for Mozambique’s economic transformation, grounded in a strong drive for sustainable job creation. Once delineated, this shared vision will need to be built up in a nation-building project.

Developing capacity for implementation will also be key. At present, significant institutional challenges, ranging from inefficiencies in the use of funds to a lack of coordination and integration of development planning, make policy-making and implementation in Mozambique very difficult. There is thus work to be done to build the required institutional capabilities to make Mozambique’s transformation vision a reality. But there is a window of opportunity right now for working with certain ministries and agencies to support implementation around an economic transformation and job creation agenda. Mozambique’s development partners could play a useful role in aiding this process by engaging in institutional support for key ministries and agencies, which may include the National Directorate for Economic and Financial Studies within the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the newly established Agency for Investment and Export Promotion.

More can be done at other levels too. Ongoing SET research is examining how to improve the outcomes of future investment negotiations for megaprojects to make it possible to harness these to stimulate backward and forward linkages from multinational corporations to local small and medium enterprises. Promoting local content and local linkages to large and megaprojects can help facilitate economic transformation and job creation in Mozambique.

More of this sort of analysis, particularly at the firm level, would help policy-makers better understand the constraints to job creation in Mozambique. Estimates suggest the Mozambican private sector creates only around 18,000 new jobs each year. More needs to be done to facilitate the creation of sufficient new jobs for inclusive growth.

The Government of Mozambique’s existing policies – including the recently announced Industrial Policy and Strategy 2016-2025, the National Employment Policy and the current Five-Year Plan – are insufficient on their own to kick-start manufacturing and higher-value added activities in other sectors, transform the economy and create jobs. Mozambique needs to act now to develop a shared vision and strategy for transforming the economy, focused on boosting the quality of economic growth (so it is less skewed and more inclusive), generating sustained increases in productive employment and facilitating a long-term, sustainable and inclusive reduction in poverty.

Photo credit: John Hogg / World Bank. License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Judith Tyson (ODI) | Three priorities for post-Brexit UK policy on private investment in low-income countries

Judith Tyson (Research Fellow, ODI)
In 2017, the UK government put economic growth at the core of its development policy by publishing its first ever economic development strategy. Concurrently, there was greater focus on the post-Brexit agenda of international opportunities for UK trade and investment. A key part of this agenda is increasing UK trade and investment in low-income countries (LICs) with the dual goal of creating positive development impact and greater opportunities for UK companies. To be able to achieve this dual goal, which represents an opportunity for both the UK and LICs, recent ODI work on private finance suggests there are three key areas of focus in the short term.

Judith Tyson (Research Fellow, ODI)

13 October 2017

In 2017, the UK government put economic growth at the core of its development policy by publishing its first ever economic development strategy. Concurrently, there was greater focus on the post-Brexit agenda of international opportunities for UK trade and investment.

A key part of this agenda is increasing UK trade and investment in low-income countries (LICs) with the dual goal of creating positive development impact and greater opportunities for UK companies.

To be able to achieve this dual goal, which represents an opportunity for both the UK and LICs, recent ODI work on private finance suggests there are three key areas of focus in the short term.

1. Infrastructure as the top priority

Poor infrastructure is a critical constraint to investment in many LICs. This can include expensive and under-supplied electricity and underdeveloped transport, with a lack of paved roads and poor-quality sea and air ports.

Investors often see poor infrastructure as the major issue that undermines their investment appetite. While some can overcome infrastructure constraints through special economic zones, many investors simply must have basic infrastructure in place before they will invest. Working with governments and other donors to establish basic infrastructure must thus be a key priority.

In the UK, CDC Group, the country’s development finance institution, already has a dedicated infrastructure team and, with a new injection of £3.5 billion of capital from the development budget over the coming years, it has the scale to make the required investments.

There is also an opportunity for UK financial firms to participate in infrastructure investment, thus increasing its potential scale. In particular, UK insurers and pension funds could be key investors, given their demand for the asset class (especially in combination with risk mitigation from donors), and the UK’s financial sector can provide the financial services to intermediate investment in the sector.

2. DFID support to a broader range of UK businesses

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has, to date, focused on locally-owned, small- and medium-sized firms. While this approach can deliver useful development impacts, it is less likely to enable UK firms to participate in developing economies or to establish the larger-scale firms needed for LICs to enhance productivity—a key aspect of economic transformation.

Working more closely with UK firms to invest in LICs has the potential to increase development outcomes—such as employment creation and economic deepening and diversification—and provide opportunities for UK firms.

There are two specific aspects of engagement with firms that could be refocused on.

First, large UK companies have established businesses in LICs, most commonly in extractives, agricultural processing, financing and consumer products. Such companies are often among the largest in LICs and provide significant formal employment, tax revenues and benefits to employees (such as housing, healthcare and education).

In some LICs, these businesses also overcome infrastructure and other constraints by building dedicated power and transport infrastructure, and through close relationships with governments. Such strategies have facilitated the development of large-scale businesses in difficult environments for private sector development.

Greater coordination between such firms, DFID and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) could help both maximise the development impact of existing sites and enable the establishment of new ‘greenfield’ sites in LICs where such firms do not currently invest.

Second, LICs need ‘green’ technology transfer to support economic development. For example, there is a need for green power and transport networks.

UK firms are world leaders in such technologies, including in solar- and wind-power generation and battery technologies. However, many such high-tech firms are also medium-sized and lack the finance and capacity to expand their businesses into LICs.

Currently, the Department for International Trade (DIT) offers support for export growth for UK companies. However, for LICs, this support is restricted. For example, the maximum financing available is often small and is subject to restrictive criteria, such as irrevocable letters of credit.

A partnership between DFID and DIT to loosen these criteria and expand the maximum financing for developmentally-important investments by UK companies in LICs is needed. This could include using official development assistance (ODA) to subsidise DIT export finance and insurance, as long as it is not tied aid, and that it is aimed at promoting development.

It could also include DFID using its expertise to advise and partner with UK firms to invest in the difficult business environments in evidence in LICs in ways that also maximise their development impact. The recently announced Invest Africa initiative might offer scope for this.

3. New forums for intra-government coordination are needed

There are many opportunities for ‘win-win’ outcomes for UK firms and LICs. There have already been some excellent UK initiatives to support these; for example, DIT have enhanced investment insurance and increased export finance for South Africa. Such support should be extended to LICs.

In addition, because of the difficult investment environments in LICs, there is also a need for greater alignment and closer coordination between UK government departments (including DFID, FCO and DIT). This should include both high-level coordination on strategy and lower-level processes to drive the ‘nitty-gritty’ required for matchmaking, execution of individual projects and in-country support, as well as ODA-based support to enhance the development impact of UK firms.

Such closer alignment across departments promises to deliver results that are greater than the sum of their parts, for both the UK and for LICs.

Photo credit: Arne Hoel / World Bank. License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Dirk Willem te Velde (ODI) | Fostering a debate around practical industrialisation models in Tanzania

Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)
ODI recently hosted two book launches, on the importance of industrialisation in Africa and on Tanzania’s future industrialisation. These books, one by Justin Lin and the other by Ali Mufuruki and three fellow Tanzanian authors, reiterate the importance of stimulating a debate around industrialisation in Tanzania.

Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)

9 October 2017

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) recently hosted two book launches, on the importance of industrialisation in Africa and on Tanzania’s future industrialisation. These books, one by Justin Lin and the other by Ali Mufuruki and three fellow Tanzanian authors, reiterate the importance of stimulating a debate around industrialisation in Tanzania.

The need for active but pragmatic approaches to economic development

Justin Lin, former Chief Economist at the World Bank, recently published Beating the odds: jump-starting developing economies (a book co-authored with Celestin Monga, the Chief Economist at the African Development Bank), which discusses how poor countries can master the art of performing economic miracles, with the implication that, regardless of any poor preconditions, any country can develop as long as it does the right thing. This right thing is not necessarily to follow prescriptions such as those on a “good governance” agenda, or to concede that poor preconditions block any chance of progress, but rather to focus on appropriate industries and support structural transformation by overcoming market and government failures and engaging in a process of technological upgrading and learning.

The discussion points to the need for strategic industrial policies and sector approaches that are rooted in the specifics of a country. It supports the development of special economic zones (SEZs), investment in infrastructure and foreign competition, as well as emphasising the importance of political leadership. Pragmatic approaches are key. For example, China learnt to focus on SEZs by looking at experiences in Ireland (Shannon) and Singapore in the 1980s.

The strategic yet pragmatic approach has worked in Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Vietnam. Do we see this pragmatic view in Tanzania?

The need for a strong developmental and experimental state in Tanzania

Tanzania’s industrialisation journey 2016-2056: From an agrarian to a modern industrialised state in forty years is an excellent book that will be relevant in supporting a pragmatic debate on industrialisation in Tanzania. The book, written by Ali Mufuruki, Rahim Mawji, Gilam Kasiga and Moremi Marwa, deals with similar issues to Justin Lin’s book but is focused specifically on Tanzania and has come from a very different background. Mufuruki is a renowned Tanzanian business leader, in his position as head of Infosys, a successful information and communication technology company.

The book contains a number of excellent proposals for the future of industrialisation in Tanzania. The key message is that the country needs a strong developmental state, which, for example, actively plans and coordinates improvements to infrastructure and education and develops SEZs and new technology.

Tanzania does not currently have a strong centralised agency that facilitates line ministries to execute plans, as seems to be the case in Ethiopia. Such an agency is essential, for example if the state wants to provide strong signals to the private sector. Mufuruki’s book puts faith in the Planning Commission, with which the SET programme has been working: ‘If our nation is a corporation, this agency is the Office of the CEO.’ The final paragraph of the book suggests we back the Commission but also warns that we need to monitor progress.

Monitoring will indeed be important. Taking into account the complex political economy in Tanzania, we cannot expect everything to happen perfectly at once. So it is refreshing to read Mufuruki’s advice:

‘Therefore starting small and experimenting would enable us to fail fast, learn quickly, and change things around rapidly and as necessary, and after fine-tuning the model over a period of time, we can then scale with higher quality across the nation instead of instantly scaling across the nation perhaps at a lower quality given limited implementation and financial capabilities, being unable to fine-tune and manage efficiently when facing challenges, and thereby ending up with a mess of a national industrialisation programme.’

The advice relates well to what we spoke about during the African Transformation Forum. SET has also written extensively about the need to experiment. The general emphasis in the book on nation-building around the economic transformation project is welcome, but there is also a danger that Tanzania will think only one model can work and, as a consequence, will fail to embrace a pragmatic approach.

Contours of the Government of Tanzania’s approach to industrialisation

Through the Planning Commission, the Government of Tanzania (GoT) has developed two important documents – a second Five Year Development Plan (FYDP II) and an accompanying implementation strategy – to guide the country’s ongoing push towards industrialisation. These are good first steps. However, in order to meet its objectives, Tanzania urgently needs to hold a debate on the practicalities of industrialisation, to monitor how well the objectives are being achieved and to undertake learning and corrective actions where needed.

GoT launched the FYDP II, called Nurturing industrialisation for economic transformation and human development, in 2016. It is a sound document. Based in part on background work by think tanks such as REPOA and ODI, it has a dual focus on growth and transformation, and poverty reduction. The Plan emphasises interventions to promote industrialisation, including establishing SEZs/export processing zones and industrial parks, strengthening research and development, promoting local content, developing capacity and undertaking a number of flagship infrastructure projects (incl. for example railway projects).

Over the course of the past year, GoT has also been discussing an implementation strategy for the FYDP II. This is a promising new step, especially in comparison with progress made under the FYDP I. It prioritises three value chains (cotton to textiles, leather to leather products and pharmaceuticals) on the basis of their employment creation prospects; the opportunities they present to create local value chains with downstream value-added processing; and their potential to supply rapidly expanding markets. It also prioritises SEZs and industrial parks to support industrial production and export-led industrialisation and to boost Tanzania’s competitiveness and urban development management. Attempts have been made to include private sector input in devising the strategy – the ESRF and ODI organised a public consultation to include private sector voices such as the CEO Roundtable.

In search of appropriate industrialisation models

While these government documents express a new level of ambition, they need to be backed by a realistic approach to implementation. Unfortunately, Tanzania is still struggling to find an appropriate model in this regard. Despite earlier plans to grow the contribution of manufacturing to gross domestic product, this share has continued to decline in recent years.

Experience tells us that implementation of an industrialisation plan can be achieved neither through a laissez-faire approach nor by means of complete public control and command. Instead, Tanzania’s industrialisation objectives require actors to work together and coalesce around a number of industrial policy functions. Effective state–business relations are crucial to making industrialisation a reality because most manufacturing investment and jobs are realised sustainably by the (local) private sector. Government can facilitate, regulate and coordinate, actively as is the case in Ethiopia and Rwanda, but should not take control of production or engage in loss-making production. The state needs to lead but should also experiment, learn and adjust. In this regard, the books by Justin Lin and Ali Mufuruki can help Tanzania navigate the next decade of support for industrialisation.


Photo credit: Mitchell Maher / International Food Policy Institute (CC license)

Dirk Willem te Velde (ODI) | Supporting Kenya’s industrialisation: Mombasa port, SEZs and targeted development cooperation

Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)
The SET programme has highlighted Kenya’s lagging industrialisation, characterised by falling manufacturing to GDP ratios in the past few decades. Nonetheless, there is a real opportunity in the coming few years to get it right, doubling manufacturing output and creating 300,000 manufacturing jobs in the country. This will require implementation of a range of appropriate policies.

Dirk Willem te Velde (Principal Research Fellow, ODI)

29 September 2017

The SET programme has highlighted Kenya’s lagging industrialisation, characterised by falling manufacturing to GDP ratios in the past few decades. Nonetheless, there is a real opportunity in the coming few years to get it right, doubling manufacturing output and creating 300,000 manufacturing jobs in the country. This will require implementation of a range of appropriate policies.

The SET programme worked with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, in consultation with others, to propose 10 policy priorities, ranging from target investment climate reforms to improved skills, better financing and quality infrastructure. After a successful engagement strategy, political parties signed up to these policies during a meeting in July 2017, and they are expected to carry this initiative forward to the upcoming election.

One specific constraint is the lack of quality transport infrastructure in terms of roads and ports underpinning the transport corridor between Mombasa, Nairobi, Eldoret, Kampala and Kigali. Of course, any concerns should not ignore the considerable progress that has already been made.

For example, with support from the UK DFID-funded (other donors also contribute) programme TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), the port of Mombasa is becoming more efficient and relying more on electronic systems. I myself witnessed the offloading of a DFID-funded crane, which will make the port more efficient and greener. A more efficient port has contributed to an 12% increase in cargo in the first half of 2017 (compared to the same period the previous year).

In the past, CDC, the UK’s development finance institution, invested in Grain Bulk Handlers Ltd through Actis, but it exited this in 2016, citing success including exceeded performance measures.

Supported by TMEA, the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) is using a dashboard of performance indicators that show, for example, that average port days went from 4 in 2012 to 2.9 in 2016. The average transport costs for a 20ft container from Mombasa reduced by a third from $2.9/km in 2011 to $2/km in 2015.

More can be done to reduce transport costs for a 20ft container to meet the middle-income country average of $1/km and help Kenya industrialise. China has funded the new standard gauge railway, which will start operating freight trains later this year, with possible knock-on effects for capacity and costs along the Nairobi–Mombasa corridor. Japan is financing a road, opening up the area to the south of Mombasa. There are also plans for an expressway between Mombasa and Nairobi (to be constructed in six years by Bechtel with support from UK export finance and with the aim of reducing road travel time from 10 to 4 hours).

There are also planned investments in the port itself. The European Investment Bank with others is considering a $200 million loan to modernise berths, and Japan will be lending $350 million for a second phase around the second container terminal. Much port finance has been leveraged through the efforts of TMEA (which has an office in the port), which has coordinated donors through a donor conference and a resulting port charter. The charter brought together a range of relevant public and private associations and involved a number of performance contracts in the government of Kenya.

A real opportunity (and at the same time a challenge) is to develop export supply capacity to make full use of the lower trading costs. TMEA and the KPA have plans to develop the Dongo Kundul Special Economic Zone around Mombasa to do just this. Increased investment in productive capacity, especially in agro-processing, but also garments and metal engineering, will create jobs, turn Mombasa into an export port and put Kenya on a more transformational footing. The new road infrastructure and increased port efficiency should make export firms more competitive. The KPA has already reserved land for the zone, but coordinating its construction and financing will be a challenge.

There is a further opportunity for UK development cooperation instruments to help. Such assistance could build on successes already achieved, with the UK also benefiting from cheaper imports (directly or indirectly through other countries) and potentially more exports and investment. This is one example how the UK (through aid, development finance and export finance) can lock together the aims of infrastructure development, industrialisation and job creation in Kenya with benefits for the UK and elsewhere.

Photo credit: Kenya Ports Authority (