Pakistan

Fresh thinking on economic cooperation in South Asia

Fresh thinking on economic cooperation in South Asia

Young Economists sharing the stage with Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist and Coordinator, Regional Integration (Left to Right: Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir & Surendar Singh/ Bangladesh) Photo By: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank


That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.

Deepening regional integration requires sufficient policy-relevant analytical work on the costs and benefits of both intra-regional trade and investment. An effective cross-border network of young professionals can contribute to fresh thinking on emerging economic cooperation issues in South Asia.

Against this background, the World Bank Group sponsored a competitive request for proposals.  Awardees from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, after being actively mentored by seasoned World Bank staff over a period of two years, convened in Washington DC to present their new and exciting research. Research areas included regional value chains, production sharing and the impact assessment of alternative preferential trade agreements in the region.

Young Economists offer fresh thoughts on economic cooperation in South Asia

Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Surendar Singh, Policy Analyst, Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS International) presented their research: Of Streams and Tides, India-Bangladesh Value Chains in Textiles and Clothing (T&C). They focus on how to tackle three main trade barriers for T&C: a) high tariffs for selected, but important goods for the industries of both countries; b) inefficient customs procedures and c) divergent criteria for rules of origin classification.

Sreerupa Sengupta, Ph.D. Scholar at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi discussed Trade Cooperation and Production Sharing in South Asia – An Indian Perspective. Reviewing the pattern of Indian exports and imports in the last twenty years, her research focuses on comparing the Global Value Chain (GVC) participation rate of India with East Asian and ASEAN economies. Barriers to higher participation include a) lack of openness in the FDI sector; b) lack of adequate port infrastructure, and long port dwell times; and c) lack of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).

Aamir Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad presented his work on Economy Wide Impact of Regional Integration in South Asia – Options for Pakistan. His research analyzes the reasons for Pakistan not being able to take full advantage of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, and finds that the granting of ASEAN-type concessions to Pakistan in its FTA with China would be more beneficial than the current FTA arrangement. The work also draws lessons for FTAs that are currently being negotiated by South Asian countries.

by · Monday, 11 September 2017 · Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan
Protecting Poor Thai Families from Economic Hardship

Protecting Poor Thai Families from Economic Hardship

An elderly man waits for medicine at a hospital counter in Thailand. Photo: Trinn Suwannapha/World Bank

Thailand recently announced that it will put into action a national social assistance program for poor families. Such a program can help reduce poverty significantly. It would also move Thailand into the growing ranks of middle-income countries, such as China, Malaysia, Brazil, Turkey and the Philippines, that provide the poor with a ‘safety net’.

This week, the cabinet approved a package worth around 42 billion baht to finance cash allowances for the poorest and other subsidies for almost 12 million low-income families. For many poor families in Thailand, regular social assistance means their children being able to finish school or not going to bed hungry. For farmers, regular social assistance can help cushion the impact of natural disasters such as floods and droughts, which can wipe away a lifetime of savings.

Global evidence suggests that regular cash transfers can enable poor families to meet basic needs such as food, healthcare and education, and that they continue to work just as hard. Such studies have addressed concerns in many countries that cash transfers are mere handouts that encourage complacency. They have shown instead that a helping hand improves nutritional and educational outcomes, and the capacity of individuals and communities to cope with shocks, ultimately resulting in lower poverty and inequality.

But, according to the recently published World Bank Thailand Systematic Country Diagnostic, accurate targeting is key. An effective and efficient social assistance program consistently and reliably identifies those who need support the most.

Here is where challenges set in. With work in the informal sector so prevalent in Thailand, verifying household incomes can be difficult. Experience from other countries can help.  

Where self-declared income may not be reliable, other information such as land and vehicle ownership status, educational levels of adults, and presence of household members with disabilities can be useful. Different countries screen these non-income indicators in different ways. Some simply tally the other welfare indicators for each family, while others do a more complex calculation of how important each factor is in predicting if a family is poor. Whatever the approach, countries often supplement such information with community-based validation to take advantage of local knowledge. Thailand is using such an approach, with information on employment status, property ownership and savings to help determine who is low income.

Developing countries also use “social registries” to cross-check indicators of household welfare. These data platforms allow cross-checking of household welfare indicators, ranging from land and car ownership to social security participation, and are used by multiple public programs as a common source of information.

The most comprehensive social registries include not only program beneficiaries, but the larger population. Pakistan includes around 90 percent of its population in its social registry. The Philippines and Chile respectively include 75 percent in their databases. Turkey cross-checks against approximately 28 public databases to confirm the accuracy of information about a family.

Multiple agencies refer to the social registries to determine eligibility for their programs. In many countries, the registries serve many initiatives: some 80 programs in Chile, over 50 in Philippines, and approximately 30 in Colombia, Pakistan and Brazil.

Thailand is now taking steps to establish its own social registry, beginning with the database of low-income families and consolidating dozens of welfare schemes. As the government embarks on this journey, it is already helped by an important foundation: the national ID system. Last year, the national ID system helped the government to eliminate over 650,000 ineligible beneficiaries who were already benefiting from agriculture schemes or who held cash and property that disqualified them from being considered poor. The system is also building on the government’s e-payment system to improve efficiency and convenience.

This is an exciting time for Thailand, as it seeks to establish a social protection system that is more suited to the needs and expectations of an upper middle-income country. The task is not a straightforward one. There will be competing pressures for public resources, challenges in program design and delivery, and new needs for cross-agency coordination.

But that step in the right direction has been taken. Thailand has enabled the building of a social protection system that can better serve all its citizens, and help the country towards its goal of further reducing poverty.

A version of this blog appeared in the Bangkok Post.

by · Thursday, 31 August 2017 · China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Turkey

WATCH | US State Dept: PH ranks with Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan in terrorism incidence

Abella elaborated that terrorist in the country was not solely an issue of theology, but is also rooted in poverty: “We recognize that poverty in Mindanao …

by · Thursday, 20 July 2017 · Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Philippines

WATCH | US State Dept: PH ranks with Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan in terrorism incidence

Abella elaborated that terrorist in the country was not solely an issue of theology, but is also rooted in poverty: “We recognize that poverty in Mindanao …

by · Thursday, 20 July 2017 · Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Philippines

Palace: Poverty in Mindanao spawns terrorism

Of the 104 countries that were attacked by terrorists, 55 percent of these took place in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

by · Thursday, 20 July 2017 · Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Philippines
World Bank guarantees help Pakistan get cheaper, longer term loans from international market

World Bank guarantees help Pakistan get cheaper, longer term loans from international market

Photo Credit: Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA)

Compared to their investment needs, developing countries have very limited concessional financing available to them. International commercial banks are constrained in terms of the size and tenors of credits to Emerging Markets and Developing Economies. A key challenge therefore, is to channel large savings and capital into productive investments in developing countries, partly by ‘de-risking’ investments and borrowings.  Pakistan is at the forefront of these efforts, recently making use of two World Bank guarantees to access over 1 billion US dollars in two international commercial loan financings.

A $420 million IBRD Policy Based Guarantee (PBG) was approved by the World Bank Board alongside a $500 million IDA credit in June 2016. The PBG guarantee partially takes over the risk of a commercial bank’s loan to a government. The PBG and the IDA credit supported a program of reforms including the adoption of a new and more inclusive poverty line, efforts to broaden the tax base, enhanced transparency of State Owned Enterprises, improved debt management and a significant overhaul of the regulatory framework of the financial sector.  Improved access to international financing through the PBG will reduce the government’s dependence on domestic financing and free up resources for private sector investment. The guarantee also signals the World Bank’s confidence in Pakistan’s economic reforms program – a signal that is particularly important after the successful completion of the IMF program. The government used the US$420 million PBG to partly guarantee a 10-year US$700 million loan, extending tenor significantly and achieving cost savings.  

by · Wednesday, 19 July 2017 · Pakistan
When Afghan refugees come home

When Afghan refugees come home

When it comes to conflict and displacement, we often think about the refugees forced to flee their homes. Equally affected, however, are the ones making their way home after a trying time in exile—the returnees.

In South Asia, Afghanistan is a country experiencing a huge influx of returnees, many from Pakistan and Iran. In 2016 alone, the country welcomed 600,000 returnees. UNHCR predicts another 500,000 to 700,000 returnees by the end of 2017.

On top of that, conflict-driven displacement continues in Afghanistan. In a country of over 30 million people, there is an estimated 1-2 million of displaced population (UN-OCHA, UNHCR, IOM).

One can only imagine how much pressure the displacement crisis is putting on the cities and communities hosting refugees and returnees—starting with the challenge of providing basic services such as water and housing, let alone jobs and security.


In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Lead Social Development Specialist Janmejay Singh will unpack the challenge and share how innovative community-driven approaches are helping to support returnees in conflict-affected Afghanistan—through Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project and other World Bank-supported activities.

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by · Monday, 17 July 2017 · Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan
When Afghan refugees come home

When Afghan refugees come home

When it comes to conflict and displacement, we often think about the refugees forced to flee their homes. Equally affected, however, are the ones making their way home after a trying time in exile—the returnees.

In South Asia, Afghanistan is a country experiencing a huge influx of returnees, many from Pakistan and Iran. In 2016 alone, the country welcomed 600,000 returnees. UNHCR predicts another 500,000 to 700,000 returnees by the end of 2017.

On top of that, conflict-driven displacement continues in Afghanistan. In a country of over 30 million people, there is an estimated 1-2 million of displaced population (UN-OCHA, UNHCR, IOM).

One can only imagine how much pressure the displacement crisis is putting on the cities and communities hosting refugees and returnees—starting with the challenge of providing basic services such as water and housing, let alone jobs and security.


In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Lead Social Development Specialist Janmejay Singh will unpack the challenge and share how innovative community-driven approaches are helping to support returnees in conflict-affected Afghanistan—through Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project and other World Bank-supported activities.

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by · Monday, 17 July 2017 · Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan
When Afghan refugees come home

When Afghan refugees come home

When it comes to conflict and displacement, we often think about the refugees forced to flee their homes. Equally affected, however, are the ones making their way home after a trying time in exile—the returnees.

In South Asia, Afghanistan is a country experiencing a huge influx of returnees, many from Pakistan and Iran. In 2016 alone, the country welcomed 600,000 returnees. UNHCR predicts another 500,000 to 700,000 returnees by the end of 2017.

On top of that, conflict-driven displacement continues in Afghanistan. In a country of over 30 million people, there is an estimated 1-2 million of displaced population (UN-OCHA, UNHCR, IOM).

One can only imagine how much pressure the displacement crisis is putting on the cities and communities hosting refugees and returnees—starting with the challenge of providing basic services such as water and housing, let alone jobs and security.


In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Lead Social Development Specialist Janmejay Singh will unpack the challenge and share how innovative community-driven approaches are helping to support returnees in conflict-affected Afghanistan—through Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project and other World Bank-supported activities.

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by · Monday, 17 July 2017 · Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan
A roadmap to reintegrate displaced and refugee Afghans

A roadmap to reintegrate displaced and refugee Afghans

A displaced family has taken shelter in a ruined house on the outskirts of Kabul. Photo: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank


As the world marks World Refugee Day on June 20, we must remember that it is not only the refugee crisis that is hampering development efforts in many countries. There is also a silent emerging crisis of people driven from their homes to another part of their own country, people known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is a growing issue that several countries are facing, with enormous social and political pressures to address.

In Afghanistan, there are an estimated 1.2 million people who are internally displaced because of insecurity or are being forced to leave their homes due to natural disasters. This is in addition to the nearly 6 million people who have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, making one in five Afghans a returnee. In 2016, more than 620,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan alone.

The massive influx of returnees and IDPs is placing tremendous pressure on Afghanistan’s already fragile social and economic infrastructure and is a threat to regional stability.

When I first took up my position as Country Director of the World Bank for Afghanistan, I was struck by the plight of returnees and IDPs and by how hard-pressed the Afghan government was in dealing with them. During my first days in office, back in November 2016, I visited a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) center on the outskirts of Kabul. The center serves as the first entry point for returnees where they can receive assistance—including cash—and attend awareness and safety sessions to help them better integrate in their new communities.  

by · Tuesday, 20 June 2017 · Afghanistan, Pakistan