By Kirby Bryan
For sustainable economic growth, developing countries must have the capacity to functionally interact with the global market. Much of the onus for building that capacity rests on a domestic commitment to reforms compatible with global trade. Many emerging markets have lofty aspirations that are unachievable given the current state of affairs, but are determined to rectify the situation. Access to foreign markets can cement reform efforts aimed at improving the local economy and sustaining economic growth.
In late February, the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) released a report from their Congressional Task Force on Trade Capacity Building (TCB) on “Opportunities in Strengthening Trade Assistance.” While the report focuses primarily on US efforts to improve the effectiveness and relevance of its TCB programs, it signals a shift in international engagement and understanding of the role trade plays on the growth of a developing economy.
The shift is also indicative of a growing global development trend toward incorporating the voice of the recipient country from the beginning stages of negotiations through agreement ratification. What is interesting about the current TCB discussions is the recognition by major players in the development world of including the knowledge and expertise of the private sector. Ultimately, it is the private sector in the developing and developed countries that will bear the fruits of economic growth and trade.
In early November, the World Bank published its annual “Doing Business Report,” which assesses government regulations that support or constrain business activity across 189 countries. This year, Afghanistan again ranked near the bottom, down one spot from last year, in the 183rd position. The full report on Afghanistan can be found here.
There is no disputing that Afghanistan is a difficult place to do business, yet as has been noted in the past on the CIPE blog, there are inherent limitations to what the Doing Business rankings measure. We frequently point out that these indicators reflect the “laws on the books,” or the formal economic environment, but do not address the so-called implementation gap between those laws and practice. There have been cases in which countries introduce reforms specifically to move up the rankings, but surveys of entrepreneurs reveal that business continues “as usual,” as these new laws do not work in reality, either because of a lack of political will or low public administration capacity. In addition, political stability and democratic legitimacy are not captured in the Doing Business rankings. Egypt was a “top reformer” prior to 2010, but the events in Tahrir Square were to a great extent fueled by economic woes.
In order to get a more comprehensive view of a country’s economic environment, it is useful to consider public opinion and understand attitudes towards state institutions and processes. In the case of Afghanistan, the Asia Foundation’s annual Survey of the Afghan People is one such tool. This year’s report is especially meaningful given the country’s post-election mood, and its implications for public confidence in the country’s economic environment.
Afghanistan’s image in the news media is often shaped by negative stories focused on security and political challenges. What is often not highlighted are a number of successes, achieved over the past several years, in shaping the country’s economic policy and democratic governance. These reforms have improved the business enabling environment and made a positive difference in the lives of small business owners whose livelihoods depend on a predictable and efficient regulatory environment.
More than 400 business leaders, including 30 women, met in in Karzai Hall in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on June 4 to discuss ways of improving the business environment Nangarhar Province. Organized by CIPE and led by the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry‘s Nangarhar chapter and a coalition of 12 local business associations, the participants discussed the barriers and challenges to doing business in the province and identified policy solutions to support business growth.
The event is part of a CIPE supported Provincial Business Agenda (PBA) program. The PBA is a grassroots effort to bring the local business community together to develop a list of policy priorities to improve the business climate in the province.
Since 2005, CIPE has been working with the business community in Afghanistan to build their capacity to work with the government to improve the business environment in Afghanistan. CIPE has helped business associations identify the challenges and barriers to business, develop practical policy solutions, and effectively communicate the policies to government officials.
A major step for the business community was the launch of the CIPE-supported Afghanistan National Business Agenda (NBA) in 2011. The NBA is a grassroots program to build consensus among the business community of the most urgent policy priorities. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) led a coalition of 11 business associations in conducting public forums in five major cities with over 1,300 business people to gather input on improving the business environment. Based on the input from these forums, the coalition produced a report outlining the business community’s reform agenda.
Since the launch of the NBA in 2011, CIPE has supported the NBA coalition in advocating for the implementation of the policy reforms. The advocacy campaigns have been highly successful, increasing land and infrastructure for businesses, reducing and simplifying taxes and licenses, reducing corruption, and improving government services.
The 2014 Afghanistan presidential elections presented a great opportunity for a renewed efforts by the business community to advance their reform priorities. ACCI, in partnership with Harakat, organized a National Business Forum on February 27 to once again bring the business community together to unify behind a common agenda.
By Huzaifa Shabbir Hussain and Hammad Siddiqui
As neighbors, Pakistan and Afghanistan have a number of commonalities. Both are predominantly Muslim countries and share similar values, culture, and civilization — as well as a long history of trade through both formal and informal channels. The signing of a new transit trade agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010 has been termed as a major diplomatic accomplishment for both countries given the current geo-political environment. However, problems persist, especially in terms ensuring stability and growth in cross border trade and investment.
To help deal with these challenges, members of the business community from both countries formed the Pakistan and Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce & Industry in February 2012, with support from the British High Commission (BHC) and CIPE.
The core objective of the chamber is to facilitate peace prospects and strengthen economic and trade ties between the two countries. Since its establishment, PAJCCI has been aggressively pursuing its goal to ensure linkages between the business communities on both sides of the border.
The exchange of delegations, B2B and matchmaking sessions, circulation of trade and business opportunities, and annual conference have become vital avenues for enhancing bilateral ties between the two countries. The platform has also provided an opportunity to raise the voice of business community on both sides of the border, encouraging government officials to make changes that enhance cross-border trade and investment.
To improve local governance in Afghanistan, CIPE conducts training seminars for the Provincial Councils in Afghanistan on democratic governance and market economics, including topics like advocacy, corruption, and the informal economy. Using the knowledge gained from the seminars, many of the Provincial Councils have taken on issues affecting their communities.
CIPE recently discussed the efforts of the Kunar Provincial Council with Chairperson Haji Mia Hassan. After discussing corruption issues with local government officials, the Kunar Provincial Council filed corruption cases against several officials with the prosecutor’s office, including the director of the Customs Department and the Director of Haj and Endowments.