How Low-Income Countries Can Diversify and Grow


By Chris Papageorgiou, Lisa Kolovich, and Sean Nolan 

(Version in Español)

Low-income countries have spent a lot of time thinking about how they can achieve faster growth, and we have done some research to help them. We found that pursuing export diversification is a gateway to higher growth for these economies. Using a newly constructed diversification toolkit, our empirical analysis shows that both the range and quality of the goods a country produces has a direct impact on growth 

Country trends 

Low-income countries have historically depended on a narrow range of primary products and few export markets for the bulk of their export earnings.

But export diversification is associated with higher per capita incomes, lower output volatility, and higher economic stability—relationships that can be tracked using our new publically available  dataset, which gives researchers and policymakers access to measures of export diversification and product quality for 178 countries from 1962-2010.

We have looked at two measures of export diversification and their impact on economic growth.  One measure captures diversification into new product lines, the other development of a more balanced mix of existing products.  Analysis using these measures shows that export diversification in low-income countries is indeed among the most effective drivers of economic growth.

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For Africa, Good Policies Bring Good Prospects


Antoinette SayehBy Antoinette M. Sayeh

(Version in Français)

Once again, the latest review of growth prospects for sub-Saharan Africa shows that the region’s economy is in strong health. Growth in the region is set to pick up to 5½ percent in 2014 compared to 4.9 percent last year (see Chart 1). My view is that this growth momentum will continue over the medium term if countries rise to new challenges and manage their economies as dexterously as they have over the past decade or so.

So what explains this continued strong growth performance? Apart from good macroeconomic policies in the region, the growth has been underpinned by investment in infrastructure, mining, and strong agricultural output. And favorable global tailwinds—high demand for commodities and low interest rates—have played a major supporting role.

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India’s Investment Slowdown: The High Cost of Economic Policy Uncertainty


By Rahul Anand and Volodymyr Tulin

India, after witnessing spectacular growth averaging above 9 percent over the past decade, has started to slow in the last few years. The slump in infrastructure and corporate investment has been the single biggest contributor to India’s recent growth slowdown.

India’s investment growth, averaging above 12 percent during the last decade fell to less than one percent in the last two years. What is especially worrisome is that more and more investment projects are getting delayed and shelved, while the pipeline of new projects has become exceptionally thin.

This slowdown has sparked an intense public debate about its causes. Some commentators, including representatives of the business community, argue that high interest rates, which raise financing costs, are the major culprit, dampening investment.  Others maintain that interest rates are only partly responsible for the current weak levels of investment, suggesting that a host of other factors, particularly on the supply side, are at play.

Our new Working Paper seeks to shed some light on the reasons behind this investment malaise. Using a novel index of economic policy uncertainty—an innovation in our analysis—we find that heightened uncertainty regarding the future course of broader economic policies and deteriorating business confidence have played a significant role in the recent investment slowdown. 

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A New Frontier for Kenya and Africa


MD's Updated Headshot By Christine Lagarde

For yet a third year I have kept my tradition of starting the New Year with a visit to Sub-Saharan Africa—a region that truly offers great promise! As the world economy has remained focused on the crisis of the advanced economies, Africa has quietly forged ahead with strong growth led by a vibrant private sector and surging foreign investment. Over the past decade Sub-Saharan Africa has posted growth averaging 5.6 percent a year.

The countries of East Africa have done especially well. So what better place to begin my travels this year than in Kenya, which has emerged as one of the region’s “frontier economies”—countries whose recent performance is propelling them toward middle-income status.

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Less Red Tape, More Credit: How the Private Sector Can Flourish in the Middle East


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Versions in عربي)

To almost all economists it is clear that the private sector is critically important in creating jobs and achieving strong growth. The public sector is already overburdened in most countries. But what is not clear is how to support the private sector for it to play this important role.

To shed some light on how to facilitate strong job creation and growth by the private sector in the Middle East and North Africa, we held a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December 2013, jointly with the Council of Saudi Chambers and the International Finance Corporation.

As the date of the conference approached, registrations kept increasing, and by the time we opened the conference, the registration numbers had skyrocketed to more than 800! I can think of no better sign of the importance of this topic for the people in this region.

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The Time is Nigh: How Reforms Can Bring Back Productivity Growth in Emerging Markets


By  Era Dabla-Norris and Kalpana Kochar

(Version in Español)

The era of remarkable growth in many emerging market economies fueled by cheap money and high commodity prices may very well be coming to an end.

The slowdown reflects not just inadequate global demand, but also structural factors that are rendering previous growth engines less effective, and the fact that economic “good times” reduced the incentives to implement further reforms to enhance productivity. With the end of the period of favorable global financing and trade conditions, the time is nigh for governments to make strong efforts to increase productivity—the essential foundation of sustainable growth and rising living standards. Continue reading

Fiscal Policy in Latin America: Prudence Today Means Prosperity Tomorrow


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Versions Español and Português)

Public finances in most Latin American countries strengthened significantly before the global financial crisis. Since 2009, countries have generally increased public deficits, drawing down on their fiscal coffers.

These expansionary policies continue and are yet to be reversed. With further pressures likely to build over the period ahead—as economic growth has slowed, commodity prices have softened, and external funding costs are bound to rise—now is the right time to rethink fiscal policies across the region.

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Myanmar: Awakening to Countless Possibilities


MD's Updated HeadshotBy Christine Lagarde

Having visited Cambodia and Korea on this whirlwind tour of the region, I touched down in my third and last country—Myanmar.

What a place! It is rare to find such a combination of enchanting beauty, warm hospitality, and an unstoppable drive to succeed. Myanmar is undergoing a great awakening to the world and all that it has to offer. And it is engaging on multiple fronts. For example, it has recently taken over the chairmanship of ASEAN, and when I arrived I found the country in the midst of hosting the South East Asian games.

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Unleashing Brazil’s Growth


By Martin Kaufman and Mercedes García-Escribano

(Version in Español and Português)

Since the early 2000s, Brazil’s economy has grown at a robust clip, with growth in 2010 reaching 7.5 percent—its strongest in a quarter of a century. A key pillar of its hard-won economic success has been sound economic policies and the adoption of far-reaching social programs, which resulted in a substantial decline in poverty.

In the last couple of years Brazil’s growth slowed down. Although other emerging market economies experienced a similar slowdown, the growth outturns in Brazil were particularly disappointing. And the measures taken to stimulate the economy did not produce a sustained recovery. This is because unleashing sustained growth in Brazil requires measures geared not at stimulating domestic demand but at changing the composition of demand towards investment and at increasing productivity.

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Cloudy With a Chance of Rain—Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Version in Español & Português)

For many Latin American and Caribbean economies, clouds have appeared on the economic horizon. As the global growth momentum shifts from the emerging to the advanced economies, the strength of domestic economic policies will be crucial for how countries can cope with the combination of lower commodity prices and tighter external financing conditions.

Lower commodity prices have already started to affect the region’s commodity exporters. Even though prices remain high by historical standards, countries can no longer count on the tailwind from ever-improving terms of trade, which had propelled economic activity over the past decade.

Meanwhile, longer-term U.S. interest rates have started to rise, with knock-on effects for emerging markets. Across all of the financially integrated economies of Latin America, bond yields have increased, equity prices have fallen, and currencies have depreciated since May, when the U.S. Fed first mentioned the possibility of tapering its bond purchases later this year. Financial conditions remain fairly benign for now, but the strong tailwind from ultra-low external financing costs may also be gone for good.

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