This brief is based on research studying jurisdictional competition between countries and its influence on the inflow of foreign direct investments (FDI). The study compares jurisdictional competition among the developing Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries with competition among developed EU countries. As instruments of jurisdictional competition for FDI, we consider governments’ efforts to improve the rule of law, corporate governance, and tax policies. The results suggest the presence of proactive jurisdictional competition via the quality of corporate governance regulation both in the CEE and the EU countries. The CEE states also attract FDI by competing in tax policies.
The determinants of FDI inflows have been examined in numerous studies. A substantial number of them consider the influence of institutions, which are defined as particular organizational entities, procedural devices, and regulatory frameworks (IMF, 2003).
The quality of institutions is a particularly important FDI determinant for less-developed countries because the poor institutional quality and weak law enforcement increase the costs of running a business, create barriers for financial market efficiency, and increase the probability of foreign assets expropriation (Blonigen, 2005).
However, governments interested in attracting FDI to boost job creation, new technologies, and tax revenues to their countries are not only concerned about the internal institutional environment. They are also competing with other countries in attracting foreign investments, engaging in what is often referred to as “jurisdictional competition”. In a broad sense, this can be thought of as governments’ efforts to outcompete one another in offering foreign companies more favorable institutional and fiscal conditions for capital placements.
This brief summarizes the results of a study on the jurisdictional competition for FDI among the developing CEE and among developed EU countries (Mazol and Mazol, 2021). The research explores the precondition for proactive jurisdictional competition between economies for FDI – namely, how the economic and institutional environment within a country impacts the inflow of FDI both domestically and to its neighboring states, – by using a spatial econometric approach. The brief emphasizes the difference in the FDI policy responses implemented by developing CEE and developed EU countries.
Data and Methodology
In our econometric analysis, we use the FDI inward stock (i.e., the value of capital and reserves in the economy attributable to a parent enterprise resident in a different economy) as the dependent variable. The explanatory variables indicating jurisdictional competition include quality of corporate governance, rule of law, political stability, and tax policy. We employ balanced panel datasets for 26 developing CEE countries and 15 developed EU countries for the period 2006-2018. The dataset is derived from the World Bank and UNCTAD databases.
The analysis is based on a panel spatial Durbin error model (SDEM) with fixed effects (LeSage, 2014). Parameter estimates in the SDEM contain a range of information on the relationships between spatial units (in our case, countries). A change in a single observation associated with any given explanatory variable will affect the spatial unit itself (a direct effect) and potentially affect all other spatial units indirectly (a spillover effect) (Elhorst, 2014). The spatial spillover effect is viewed here as the impact of the change in the institutional or economic factor in one country on the performance of other economies (LeSage & Pace, 2009).
In our case, the direct effect is the effect on the FDI in country i of the changes in the studied instrument of jurisdictional competition in country i. The spillover effect is the change in FDI in country j following a change in the studied instrument of jurisdictional competition in country i.
The results of our estimation are suggestive of a proactive jurisdictional competition in taxes among the CEE countries and in corporate governance quality both among the CEE and EU countries. Analyses of other factors (i.e., political stability and rule of law) show no significant interrelation between policy measures implemented by neighboring countries in order to attract FDI.
The precondition for the presence of proactive jurisdictional competition in a particular factor is to have statistical significance in both its direct and spillover effects (Elhorst and Freret, 2009). Such findings may indicate that policy measures in one economy trigger a policy response in a neighboring economy, which, in turn, influences the level of FDI in both countries.
Table 1. Estimation results of SDEM models – direct effects
Our results for the direct and indirect response to a tax policy in CEE countries illustrate this logic. Decreasing tax_rateincreases FDI to the CEE economy enacting this change (see Table 1), as well as to its neighboring countries (see Table 2). This finding is consistent with jurisdictional competition in taxes. That is, a reduction in domestic tax_rate may entail a decrease in the tax rate of a neighboring economy, resulting in a subsequent increase in FDI. (To explicitly confirm the suggested channel, further tax policy analysis would be needed). Interestingly, our results suggest that jurisdictional competition in taxes is only present among CEE economies, but not among EU countries.
In turn, an increase in corp_governance, a measure of corporate governance quality, increases FDI in neighboring countries both in the EU and in the CEE region (see Table 2). A possible interpretation is that an increase in corp_governance in one country may entail an increase in corp_governance in its neighboring economies, resulting in a subsequent increase in FDI. This result suggests proactive competition via corporate governance policy both among the EU countries and the CEE countries.
However, the direct effect differs between the regions. In the EU, an increase in corp_governance increases FDI to the EU economy in question, in line with common wisdom (see Table 1). At the same time, in the CEE region, an increase in corp_governance is followed by a decrease in FDI to that country.
Table 2. Estimation results of SDEM models – spillover effects
One potential explanation for the negative direct effect of corporate governance quality on FDI in the CEE economies is that improved corporate governance practices can block certain types of FDI, leaving behind foreign investors with a lower “threshold for corruption”. This may decrease FDI to the CEE country in question. However, once the jurisdictional competition results in an improvement of corporate governance across the region, it ultimately has a positive spillover effect.
The above explanation is in line with the theory of regulatory capture (Stigler, 1971), which suggests that the decisions made by public officials might be shaped and sometimes distorted by the efforts of rent-seeking interest groups to increase their influence.
Finally, the estimates do not indicate that the other studied institutional factors, rule of law and political stability, are applied as instruments of jurisdictional competition as neither groups of countries show significant spillover effects. The results, however, show that these factors influence the FDI inflow via the direct effect. More specifically, an increase in political_stability positively influences the FDI inflow to the economies in question, both in CEE and the EU, while rule_of_law is positive and significant only for the CEE countries. If investors are not as responsive to changes in rule_of_law when the initial level is high, the fact that EU countries typically have a higher rule_of_law value compared to CEE countries might explain why this estimate is insignificant for the EU countries.
This brief, first, presents new evidence on the relationship between different economic and institutional factors and FDI using a spatial econometric approach; second, it analyzes the possible existence of jurisdictional competition among developing CEE countries and developed EU countries as well as its effect on FDI.
The results suggest proactive jurisdictional competition in FDI determinants such as corporate governance quality and tax rates. CEE countries competing with one another use both these instruments of jurisdictional competition, while EU countries compete only via corporate governance quality. Furthermore, foreign investors are not sensitive to the quality of rule of law in the EU countries, while this instrument is more important for the FDI inflow to CEE economies.
Our results stress that officials responsible for the FDI policy implementation should pay more attention to the policies undertaken by neighboring governments as such external policies can make their own strategies to attract FDI to their economy less effective.
- Blanton, S., and R. Blanton. (2007). What Attracts Foreign Investors? An Examination of Human Rights and Foreign Direct Investment. The Journal of Politics, 69(1), 143-155.
- Blonigen, B. (2005). A Review of the Empirical Literature on FDI Determinants. Atlantic Economic Journal, 33(4), 383-403.
- Elhorst, J. (2014). Spatial Econometrics from Cross-Sectional Data to Spatial Panels. Berlin: Springer.
- Elhorst, J., and S. Freret. (2009). Evidence of Political Yardstick Competition in France Using a Two-Regime Spatial Durbin Model with Fixed Effects December. Journal of Regional Science, 49(5), 931-951.
- IMF (2003). World Economic Outlook 2003. International Monetary Fund: Washington DC.
- LeSage, J. (2014). What Regional Scientists Need to Know About Spatial Econometrics? Working Paper, Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos.
- LeSage, J., and R. Pace. (2009). Introduction to Spatial Econometrics. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group.
- Mazol, A., and S. Mazol. (2021). Competition of Jurisdictions for FDI: Does Developing and Developed Countries Response Different to Economic Challenges? BEROC Working Paper Series, WP no. 73.
- Stigler, G. (1971). The Theory of Economic Regulation. Bell Journal of Economic and Management Science, 2, 3-21.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
This brief summarizes the results of an annual study on the development of the investment climate in Latvia from the viewpoint of key foreign investors – companies that have made the decision to invest in the country and have been operating here for a considerable time period. The study was initiated in 2015 and aims to assess investors’ evaluation of the government policy initiatives to improve the investment climate in Latvia. It also aims to provide an in-depth exploration of the main challenges for and concerns of the foreign investors, both by identifying problems and offering solutions. The study draws on a survey/ mini case studies of the key foreign investors in Latvia. Our findings suggest that in recent years, some progress has been achieved on a number of dimensions that are crucial for the competitiveness of the investment climate in Latvia, such as the political efforts by the government of Latvia to improve the investment climate, the overall attitude to foreign investors, and labour efficiency. At the same time, foreign investors see little, if any, improvement with regards to other key areas, such as the availability of labour, the quality of education, the court system, corruption and the shadow economy.
The study on the development of the investment climate in Latvia from the viewpoint of key foreign investors in Latvia was first launched in 2015 by the Foreign Investors’ Council in Latvia (FICIL) in cooperation with the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga). This study aims to foster evidence-based policy decisions and promote a favourable investment climate in Latvia by:
- (i) Assessing how foreign investors evaluate the government’s efforts and current policy initiatives aimed towards improving the investment climate in Latvia, and
- (ii) Providing an in-depth exploration of the main challenges and concerns for the foreign investors, both by identifying problems and offering solutions.
The study draws on a survey/mini case studies of the key foreign investors in Latvia. The first 2015 wave of the survey covered 28 key foreign investors in Latvia. Our panel has gradually expanded over time, reaching 47 participating companies in 2019. From September to early November 2019, we interviewed 47 senior executives representing companies that are key investors in Latvia. Altogether, these companies (including their subsidiaries) contribute to 23% of Latvia’s total tax revenue from foreign investors, 9% of the total profit and employ 11% of the total workforce employed by foreign investors in Latvia, where by foreign investors we mean companies with above a 145 000 EUR turnover and 50% foreign capital (data form Lursoft, 2018).
All interviews were conducted by FICIL board members. The guidelines for the interviews consist of the following key parts:
- (i) Assessment of whether, according to foreign investors, the investment attractiveness of Latvia has improved during the past 12 months;
- (ii) Assessment of the work of Latvian policy-makers in improving the investment climate during 2019;
- (iii) Evaluation of progress in the major areas of concern identified by foreign investors in Latvia in 2015, including demography, access to labour, level of education and science, quality of business legislation, quality of the tax system, support from the government and communication with policy-makers, unethical or illegal behaviour on the part of entrepreneurs, unfair competition, uncertainty, the court system and the healthcare system in Latvia.
Furthermore, in the 2019 study we included questions related to some of the key issues discussed between foreign investors and policymakers during 2019, including the tax system, the stability of the financial sector and the quality of higher education and science in Latvia.
Investment Attractiveness of Latvia: Key Concerns of Foreign Investors in Latvia
The results of the 2019 study suggest that, even though the assessment of foreign investors with regards to the investment attractiveness of Latvia and the work of policy-makers to improve the investment climate in Latvia is still at the average level, it shows some positive tendencies. Namely, on a scale from 1 to 5, where ‘1’ means that there are no improvements at all, ‘3’ some positive improvements and ‘5’ significant improvements, the development of the investment climate in 2019 was evaluated as ‘2.6’ (‘2.5’ in 2018 and 2017). Furthermore, when asked to score the policy-makers’ efforts to improve the investment climate in Latvia, using a scale of 1-5, where ‘1’ and ‘2’ were fail and ‘5’ was excellent, investors responded with an average of ‘2.9’ in both the 2017 and 2018 studies, whereas in 2019, the score improved to ‘3.1’.
Foreign investors were also asked to evaluate whether there has been any progress within the key areas of concern as identified in 2015. The results of the most recent study suggest that the demographic situation, which in the long term reflects both the availability of labour and market size, is still among the key challenges for the foreign investors. Namely, on the scale from 1-5 (where an indicator value of 1 means that Latvia is not competitive and 5 means that Latvia is very competitive in this dimension), investors assessed the demographic situation of Latvia with only ‘1.5’ in 2019. Furthermore, as many as 35 (out of 47) foreign investors stated that they had not seen any progress in this area over the past 12 months. This lack of progress is, perhaps, not very surprising as demographic changes may take substantial time.
Another two key areas where investors would like to see more progress are the quality of education and science and the availability of labour. On a 5-point scale, the quality of education and science was evaluated with ‘2.7’ in 2019 (‘3.0’ in 2018, ‘3.1’ in 2017) and 30 out of the 47 investors interviewed have seen no progress in the development of education and science in Latvia over the past 12 months. The availability of labour was evaluated with ‘2.8’ in 2019 (‘2.7’ in 2018 and 2017); investors scored the availability of blue-collar labour with ‘2.4’ in 2019 (‘2.3’ in 2018, ‘2.5’ in 2017) and the availability of labour at management level with ‘3.1’ (‘3.0’ in 2018, ‘2.9’ in 2017). The majority, i.e. 39 of 47 investors have also seen no progress with regards to the access to labour during the past 12 months. In this context, however, it should be emphasised that the efficiency of labour is increasing in Latvia, according to foreign investors: in 2018, it was assessed with ‘2.9’, yet, in 2019, investors evaluated the efficiency of labour in Latvia with ‘3.4’ out of ‘5’.
The quality of health and social security as well as the quality of business legislation are yet another two indicators of the competitiveness of the investment climate in Latvia that have been evaluated around the average level of ‘3’. Further, 33 of 47 investors have seen no progress with regards to improvement of the healthcare system in Latvia over the past 12 months.
While the overall standard of living is evaluated rather positively at ‘3.8’ in 2019, there is still not much improvement in this indicator as compared to the previous three years. One encouraging result of the 2019 study is that according to foreign investors, the attitude towards foreign investors is gradually improving in Latvia: from ‘3.2’ and ‘3.1’ in 2016 and 2017 to ‘3.6’ in 2018 and reaching ‘3.7’ in 2019.
The foreign investors in Latvia who took part in the 2019 study also expressed an expert opinion with regards to whether there has been any progress during the previous 12 months in the other areas of concern. In this light, the perception of uncertainty should be highlighted. As many as 25 (out of 47 investors) have seen no progress in this area, 16 have seen partial progress and 6 stated that there has been progress in reducing uncertainty. The court system of Latvia is another area where many foreign investors have seen no progress, i.e. 22 said ‘no progress’, 23: ‘partial progress’ and only 1 that there has been progress in the development of the court system in Latvia.
Specific Issues: Tax System, Stability of the Financial System and Quality of Higher Education and Science
In the 2019 study, we also initiated an in-depth exploration related to three key issues of concern extensively discussed between foreign investors and Latvia’s government during the FICIL High Council 2019 spring meeting, and throughout the year 2019 in general. These are: (i) the tax system, (ii) the stability of the financial system, and (iii) the quality of higher education and science. Foreign investors were asked to comment on the current situation and progress over the past years, as well as to provide suggestions to the policymakers in order to improve the situation in the particular area.
(i) Tax system:
The most recent tax reform was implemented in 2018, and the newly elected government has announced that the next reform will take place in 2021. Therefore, this year we asked investors to evaluate the results of the previous tax reform in Latvia. We also asked investors to comment on whether the recent tax reform has brought any benefits to their company and the overall economy of Latvia. On average, foreign investors scored the results of the previous tax reform in Latvia with ‘3.1’, i.e. slightly above the average.
Overall, at least one part of the foreign investors who took part in the 2019 studies highlighted that the previous tax reform was a step ‘in the right direction’. In particular, the zero-rate on reinvested profit was highlighted by a large number of investors as a very positive improvement. In some cases, investors also praised the progressivity of labour tax rates. However, a number of foreign investors highlighted that the tax system has actually become more complex after the reform. Investors also expressed suggestions for further steps to improve the tax system in Latvia, and these are as follows:
Avoid uncertainty. Stability and predictability of the tax system is what the majority of the foreign investors wish to see. In essence, this means fewer changes to the tax system.
Simplify and explain. Investors highlight that paying taxes should be a “simple task” and easy to understand. According to the viewpoints of foreign investors, there is also the potential for improvement with regards to how the responsible organisations, such as the State Revenue Service, communicate changes in the tax system to the private sector.
(Continue) the shift from taxing labour to consumption. Some of the investors that took part in the 2019 studies see that the process has been initiated by the previous tax reform and recommend continuing in this direction.
(ii) Stability of the financial sector in Latvia.
On average, foreign investors evaluated the progress with regards to the effectiveness of combating economic and financial crime with 3.2, i.e. above average. We then asked foreign investors whether they have felt any negative effects on their companies with regards to the situations in the financial sector over the past 2 years. We received some positive opinions, yet the negative ones prevailed. Namely, foreign investors highlighted the reputation risks of Latvia that often impact upon the operation of their companies and create challenges when working with foreign banks.
(iii) Quality of university education and science in Latvia.
Here, foreign investors were asked to reflect upon whether they were aware of any activities that policymakers carried out during the past year to improve the situation. On a positive note, a number of investors mentioned the recent development of the University of Latvia and Riga Technical University’s campuses. Some investors also highlighted that the reform to change the governance model of higher education institutions, initiated by the Ministry of Education and Science, was a good step towards improving the quality of higher education and science in Latvia. However, we also received a number of negative opinions, such as “Nothing has been accomplished, just talking”.
When asked “What changes would you suggest to improve the quality of education and science in Latvia and why? How would this help the business environment, e.g. companies such as yours?”, foreign investors emphasised the following:
Higher education (and science) is too local, fragmented and outdated. In essence, investors pointed out that there are simply too many higher education institutions in Latvia, that they work with outdated methods and are afraid (with no good reason) to open up internationally – also by attracting top quality foreign staff.
Change the governance of higher education institutions in Latvia is another strong request from foreign investors in Latvia. Many investors believe that changes in the financing model should also follow.
Improved connection between education and science and the world of business was yet another important aspect which was highlighted during the 2019 interviews, and also strongly emphasised in the previous studies.
Further Investment Plans and Message to the Prime Minister
When asked whether they plan to increase their investments in Latvia, as many as 64% of the investors interviewed answered with ‘yes’ (in the 2018 study, 55% interviewed answered with ‘yes’), 25% said ‘no’ (35% in the 2018 study) and 11% answered that ‘it depends on the circumstances’ (10% in the 2018 study) or that they have not yet decided.
Finally, we invited foreign investors to send a message to the Prime Minister of Latvia: one paragraph on what should be done to improve the business climate in Latvia, from the viewpoint of a foreign investor. These messages closely parallel the other findings of the 2019 study, stressing a number of key concerns that foreign investors are still facing in Latvia: the situation with regards to demography, quality of education and science, availability of labour, challenges with corruption and the shadow economy as well as needs for improvements in the health care sector amongst others.
The findings of the 2019 study on the view of the key foreign investors of the investment climate in Latvia suggest that in recent years, some progress has been achieved on a number of dimensions, such as political effort to improve the investment climate, attitude towards foreign investors, and labour efficiency. At the same time, foreign investors see little, if any, improvement with regards to other key areas, such as the availability of labour, the quality of education, the court system, corruption and the shadow economy.
Our findings highlight the need to continue policy-makers’ efforts to improve the investment climate in Latvia and provide policymakers with better grounds for making informed policy decisions with respect to the entrepreneurship climate in Latvia. We also hope that our study will further facilitate constructive communication between foreign investors and the government of Latvia.
- Lursoft (2018). Official company statistics of Latvia, 2018.
- FICIL Sentiment Index (2019), https://www.sseriga.edu/centres/csb/sentiment-index
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
On the 24th of October, SITE held the first of its series of Energy Talks, replacing what for one decade had been known as SITE Energy Day. For this first edition, SITE invited Thomas Sterner, Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Gothenburg to give a presentation under the headline of “Technological Development, Geopolitical and Environmental Issues in our Energy Future”. To comment on the presentation, Leonid Neganov, Minister of Energy of Moscow Region, and Karl Hallding, Senior Research Fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), had been invited. This policy brief reports on the important subjects presented by our guests as well as the discussion that took place during the event.
From climate change concerns to climate change targets
Thomas Sterner began his presentation by addressing the well-known issue of climate change, a constantly current topic.
Different versions of Figure 1 (below) have been used extensively by those discussing climate change over the last decades, most notably by the previous US President Al Gore in his 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. It shows the concentration of CO2 (carbon-dioxide) in the atmosphere over the past 400,000 years. There is wide agreement within the scientific community that the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxides, have led to the shifting weather patterns and increased temperature over the past century (NASA, 2017).
Figure 1. Level of CO2 in the Atmosphere
Predicting the impact of these emissions is far from an exact science: the temperature increases are likely to be unevenly spread across the world as shown in Figure 2. Some areas are likely to be particularly afflicted, especially coastal lowlands susceptible to flooding and semi-arid areas where droughts can become more likely. Unless current emission levels start to decrease, we are likely to observe severe results of climate change within 20 years, such as displacement and increased migration in the wake of extreme weather (NIC, 2016). For instance, adverse health effects in China, or decreasing productivity in South-East Asia, have already become apparent due to current increased temperatures (Kan, 2011; Kjellstrom, 2016).
Figure 2. Predicted Temperature Increase
To tackle this issue and its negative economic impacts, many policy makers have agreed to replace fossil fuels with renewables. Renewables is the collective term of energy sources that have a neutral or negative net-effect of GHG emissions and are extracted through resources that are continuously replenished, e.g. solar, wind and hydro power, and biomass energy.
As the issue of climate change is a global one, the transition to renewables needs to be global too. International climate agreements have hence long been the accepted norm to approach climate change issues. The Paris Agreement is currently the guiding principle, in spite of the announcement of the Trump administration to withdraw the United States. Though instrumental in creating a momentum in the transition to lower levels of GHG emissions, it comes with many flaws. Its goal of a maximum average temperature increase of 2°C might be considered radical given current levels. However, the policy instruments that the target depends on – the Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs) – shift the responsibility to individual nations and remove the global responsibility. As Thomas Sterner pointed out, the first three words of this acronym remove indeed any binding force, and elementary game theory tells us that it will be hard, not to say unlikely, for all signatories to remain cooperative in achieving the target of 2°C.
Investing in renewables: from political choice to competitive choice
As stated above, investing in renewables is a necessary condition to achieve climate change targets. Indeed, there are some countries that have pushed the development of renewables with the aim to reduce the fossil fuel dependency to a minimum level in a very near future (see Figure 3). However, most of these investments are currently driven by political will. A natural question is whether renewables technologies can be competitive.
It is a fact that costs of renewables have been severely decreased in the last decade (Timmons et al., 2014). However, as Thomas Sterner mentioned, the cost of renewables and of fossil fuels are still very place and time specific and depends on the scale. Investments in renewables are growing and solar and wind power have both seen production capacities increasing markedly yearly over the last years (GWEC, 2016; IEA, 2017a). However, coming from an initial low level, it will take some time before we will be able to rely on them.
Even with massive investments and decreasing generation costs, the intermittent nature of most renewable energies will still impede the competitiveness of renewables. Solar and wind power are the technologies where most of the development has been centred (Frankfurt School-UNEP Centre/BNEF, 2017). They are highly weather dependent and electricity production from these sources cannot be secured all of the time. This makes countries dependent on backup technologies. In some countries, the obvious answers to these challenges have been hydro and nuclear power. Both technologies have their respective drawbacks though.
Figure 3. World’s Top 10 Investors in Renewable Energy in 2016
Hydro power requires a geography that allows for dams, which in turn change the nature markedly around them and may not be available during drought periods. Nuclear energy has surrounding safety aspects that most recently came to light with the 2011 Fukushima Daaiichi nuclear disaster, leading Germany to decide to shut down all of its 17 reactors by 2022 (25 % of the country’s electricity production). Moreover, it may also be technically difficult to have nuclear as a backup technology given the associated ramping and start-up constraints.
Two further remarks on the intermittency problem can be made. First, this problem is likely to become more severe when policymakers push for large-scale electrification (c.f. EU Energy Roadmap established in 2011). For example, the full electrification of transport or heating sector will drive up the demand for and consumption of electricity. As this happens, the need for something to secure constant energy access will increase.
Second, only the development of technologies that allow electricity storage could solve this issue permanently. However, the current technological progress regarding batteries’ capacity cannot yet offer the solution (J. Dizard, 2017).
Oil price, a reference price
Another important aspect stressed by Thomas Sterner was to take into account the significant role of fossil fuel prices. Although identifying an optimal oil price for a fossil-free future is not a straightforward procedure, as discussed during the event.
The high price of oil during the late 00s and early 10s stimulated the development of alternative technologies. As awareness of climate change and its effects increased among policy makers and the general public, there was a momentum to push for the development of renewables.
As investments in renewables went up, so did investments in another less green technology: hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In the 10 years between 2005 and 2015, the United States alone saw the extraction of shale gas and oil to increase six-fold. (EIA, 2016) In part to maintain a market share, OPEC countries exceeded their own set production limits and oil prices tumbled from around $100 per barrel to around $50 (Economist, 2014).
With roughly three years behind us of somewhat stable and low oil prices, the question is what the implications of this are. It makes it more difficult to phase out fossil fuels as demand for them goes up, depressing efforts put into the research and deployment of renewables. Energy efficiency also becomes less important, driving up waste and stopping investments in energy conservation.
On the other hand, with low oil prices, investments in the fossil-fuels industry are also less likely to take place. Keeping resources in the ground becomes more palatable as profit margins are pushed down. This, in turn, is likely to have a positive effect on environment by decreasing the level of GHG emissions.
The invited guests, Leonid Neganov and Karl Hallding spoke more in depth about two central countries that contribute in shaping global environmental policy.
The local conditions, Russia and China examples
As the world’s fourth largest supplier of primary energy and the largest supplier of natural gas to the EU (IEA, 2017b), Russia presents an interesting case to observe as a country supplying fossil fuels. Leonid Neganov, Minister of Energy of Moscow Region, commented on the current policy direction of the country. He explained that non-renewable, GHG emitting energy sources make up a majority, roughly 60% of the Russian energy balance. The rest is provided by more or less equal shares of nuclear and hydro power. New renewable technologies make up a miniscule share of an estimate 0.2% of the current total.
According to Neganov, in the coming 20 years, we should not expect to see too much of a change. Though total output is expected to increase, the share of GHG-neutral energy will remain more or less constant, though the share of renewables are set to increase to 3% according to the current drafts of Russian energy policy. A more pronounced transition to other energy sources are more likely in a longer perspective towards 2050, even though circumstances may naturally change over the coming decades.
Other available information also points to that Russia has decided to tackle the shift in consumption of its major market in Europe by widening its geographic reach. Massive infrastructure investments, such as the Altai and TurkStream gas pipelines, will enable Russia to more easily reach markets that are currently beyond any practical reach.
With the Altai pipeline, Russia will be able to provide China with natural gas at a much greater level than before. China being by far the largest producer of coal sees an opportunity to shift away from the consumption of a resource that during winters causes its major cities to periodically become enveloped in clouds of smog and at the same time also decrease its GHG emissions. The environmental benefits of natural gas as opposed to coal should not be exaggerated though. Thomas Sterner pointed out that methane, the main compound of natural gas, is a considerably more potent GHG than CO2. A total leakage of an estimated 1% negates the environmental benefits, he said.
Karl Hallding, Senior Research Fellow at SEI, particularly stressed the need to look at China. It is the supplier of half of the world’s coal, extraction levels remain high. (BP, 2017) Domestic consumption is decreasing but consumption of Chinese coal is, however, more likely to shift geographic location rather than to be left in the ground, said Hallding. Through massive infrastructure investments, such as the New Silk Road, and in energy production in Sub-Saharan Africa, China spreads its influence (IEA, 2016). By exporting emissions, the impact at the global level will not change.
- Allmendinger, Waldron, 2007. “Global Climate Change” http://www.geo.cornell.edu/eas/energy/the_challenges/global_climate_change.html (2017-10-27)
- BP, 2017. “BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2017”, http://www.bp.com/statisticalreview, (2017-10-26).
- Dizard John, 2017. “Batteries are not atom bombs, integerated circuits or penicillin”, July.
- Economist, 2014. “Sheiks v shale”, Leader in the Economist, 2014-12-04. https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21635472-economics-oil-have-changed-some-businesses-will-go-bust-market-will-be (2017-10-27).
- Energy Information Administration. 2016. “Shale gas and tight oil plays production in the U.S. from 1999 to 2015”. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/183740/shale-gas-production-in-the-united-states-since-1999/, (2017-10-27).
- EU Commission, “Supplier countries” https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/imports-and-secure-supplies/supplier-countries, (2017-10-27)
- EU Commission, 2011. Energy Roadmap 2050,
- Frankfurt School-UNEP Centre/BNEF, 2017. “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017” https://europa.eu/capacity4dev/unep/documents/global-trends-renewable-energy-investment-2017, (2017-10-27).
- GWEC, 2016. “Global Wind Report”, http://gwec.net/global-figures/graphs/, (2017-10-27).
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Over the last couple of years, the growth rate of potential Belarus’ GDP declined. The government intends to revive economic growth by the policy of ‘modernization’, in practice pinned down to a drastic increase in the volume of capital investment, including by the means of directed lending. As the pre-crisis macroeconomic imbalances are at least partially cured, the government seems to be eager to apply a familiar policy tool. However, the empirical analysis of the effects of directed lending on total factor productivity and economic growth casts serious doubts on the efficiency of this policy tool.
Over the last couple of years, the growth rate of potential Belarus’ GDP declined. This conclusion is robust as suggested by the application of competing methodologies to assess potential GDP. For instance, the statistical filters, including the HP-filter, the Kalman filter, and the production function approach, produce different levels of potential growth, but generate similar growth rate dynamics, particularly the downward trend. From this perspective, the tendency for high and sustainable GDP growth in Belarus is increasingly compromised.
Economic authorities seem to be aware of that fact. For instance, the Ministry of Economy stresses the need to create a new, ‘highly productive’ sector in the national economy as the new engine of growth. An ambitious plan involves expanding the size of this sector to contribute to about half of the GDP growth rate, aimed at 12 per cent per annum by 2015. The creation of this ‘highly productive sector’ falls into recent policy initiative, called ‘modernization’. Under this banner, the government plans to renovate the capital stocks (primarily machinery, equipment, and transport vehicles) of a large number of state-owned enterprises. In a nutshell, this strategy may be seen as a way to facilitate technical progress embodied in capital.
What is necessary, according to the government, is to make a spurt in capital investments, often on a case-by-case basis. The government has a pool of enterprises to be modernized. The majority of them are unable to modernize themselves – i.e. radically increase capital investments – due to the lack of internal funds and poor access to external finance. Accordingly, directed lending is considered to be a useful policy instrument of modernization. In 2013, the Development Bank plans to considerably increase its credit portfolio (by about USD 0.5 billion) by financing projects at subsidized interest rates under the ‘modernization’ program. Recently, the government compiled a list of 67 agricultural enterprises liable to have an access to cheap loans for modernization purposes from the Development Bank. In addition, state-owned banks will continue the provision of policy loans that can be considered as directed ones.
With directed loans, we mean those loans that are typically granted to selected borrowers at interest rates lower than the market interest rates. In Belarus, directed lending has been an important policy tool over the last decade. Selective credit programs have been applied to prevent underinvestment and to stimulate output growth.
According to the estimations of Fitch Ratings (2010), almost a half of the outstanding loans in the Belarusian economy by the end of 2009, were directed ones. The IMF provided a slightly smaller, but still substantial figure of 46.2 percent (IMF, 2010). According to our own calculations, by 2011, the volume of directed loans amounted to about 40 percent of the total volume of outstanding loans. These loans have been made abundant in agriculture and housing construction sectors and, to a lesser extent, in manufacturing. This massive presence of selective credit in the national economy can be seen as a large factor contributing to the currency crisis of March 2011.
Accordingly, after the crisis, and following the necessity to ‘clear up’ the assets of the national banking system, the share of directed lending was reduced. We estimate that in 2012, the ratio of directed loans in total loans dropped to roughly 30 percent. However, the recent rhetoric of the development of ‘highly productive’ sectors and modernization is indicative of the intention to find new life for this old cloth. Directed lending is expected to revitalize enfeebling growth. In 2012, real GDP growth amounted to 1.5 percent against the background of the initial government plan of 8.5 percent.
Under selective credit programs, banks have been partially deprived of their autonomy to make decisions over the provision of credit. Thus, banks’ intermediation role has been circumscribed by the authorities. In theory, directed loans may spur capital accumulation as beneficiaries of these loans have access to cheap loans and thus invest and – arguably – produce more. In Belarus, there has also been an additional incentive, i.e. the necessity to substitute depreciating and outdated capital stock, inherited from the Soviet past. At the same time, political interference into the process of credit provision suggests that loans may be allocated to lower-yielding projects, and thus dampen growth rates of factor productivity and GDP (Fry, 1995). In addition, non-favored companies – typically from the private sector – face higher interest rates as their state-owned counterparts receive substantial discounts for their use of capital.
So far, these soft budget constraints in the financial system have allowed favored companies to receive loans up to three times cheaper, if judged by the level of real effective interest rates. Although private companies tend to be more efficient than state-owned enterprises in terms of factor returns and profitability, higher interest rates may reduce the volume of outstanding market loans. Furthermore, increases in the volume of cheap residential loans, which do not contribute directly to enhancement of productive capacity of the economy, may dampen the returns on investment further.
Governments have traditionally relied on selective credit programs by stressing positive externalities and spillovers for the economy as a whole (DeLong and Summers, 1991). Commercial banks care about private returns, while governments seek to maximize social returns by financing firms, which are capable of generating positive externalities. Unfettered operations of credit allocation mechanisms minimize allocation inefficiency and induce banks to minimize the costs of financial intermediation, thereby making credit more accessible.
How do these competing forces meet in Belarus and what are the effects of their joint working? In answering those questions, we have conducted an empirical analysis of the effects of directed lending on total factor productivity dynamics. The latter is considered to be a good proxy to observe the impact of selective credit programs on the efficiency of actor use.
The results of our econometric analysis show that over the period concerned, 2000–2012, the expansion of directed lending in Belarus has negatively affected total factor productivity dynamics and, subsequently, negatively contributed to the rates of GDP growth. A positive impact on growth, stemming from additional capital accumulation might nevertheless occur, but with a substantial lag. This likely positive impact is associated with the ability of banks to increase the volume of market loans alongside with the rising volume of directed loans. The option has been made possible only due to massive liquidity injections by the government and mainly the National Bank of Belarus. However, such injections are problematic to maintain over the medium to the long run as they have severe inflationary repercussions for the economy.
The effects of individual components of directed lending are mainly the same. In particular, loans for residential construction, provided to households in need, negatively affect total factor productivity. Moreover, it is through housing loans the adverse effects of directed lending upon factor productivity are mainly realized. The interest rate spread – between preferential interest rate and market interest rate – amplifies these negative relationships. Lower preferential rates result in larger losses in total factor productivity. Loans to agricultural firms have similar impact, although it has to be emphasized that the overall impact on total factor productivity approaches zero (not negative, as in the case of housing loans).
We also find that for Belarus, an increase in the total volume of directed loans leads to an increase in the volume of market loans. Both the National Bank and, to a lesser extent, the government, strive to minimize risks in the national banking system, which provide loans with smaller returns and/or non-performing policy loans. Similar challenges have been observed in China, where the Central Bank has been forced to recapitalize domestic banks to support economic growth after the global financial crisis of 2008. In 2007–2008, Chinese growth of 8–10 percent was driven by new lending averaging 30–40 percent of GDP, of which up to a quarter of the loans might have been non-performing, amounting to losses of 6–10 percent of GDP (Das, 2012).
In Belarus, the recapitalization policy, apart from its inflationary consequences, has other important effects. In particular, it prevents a dangerous trade-off between directed loans and market loans to resurface, whereby the former crowds out the latter as banks are unable to expand their portfolios due to the liquidity constraints.
Therefore, unless the expansion of directed loans would be checked, adverse effects of selective credit programs on productivity and growth would not evaporate, with negative consequences for the whole economy. Regarding policy recommendations, we claim that there is a need to fundamentally revise directed lending policies or to even minimize it to the extremes by allowing standard market mechanism for credit allocation to prevail in the national economy. Furthermore, we argue that directed lending, even after some cosmetic changes in the system design made in 2012, is not an efficient tool for economic growth promotion.
Tentative results of growth accounting made at the level of selected important industries suggest that the downward growth dynamics is associated with weak total factor productivity growth, i.e. disembodied technical progress. Improvement of total factor productivity seems to have the biggest potential for revival of economic growth. Therefore, the use of directed lending, as a policy instrument that hampers total factor productivity dynamics, may undermine prospects for long-term economic growth in Belarus.
- Das, S. (2012). “All Feasts Must Come to an End– China’s Economic Outlook”, Euro Intelligence, 11 March, viewed 12 April 2012.
- DeLong, J.B. and L.H. Summers, (1991). “Equipment Investment and Economic Growth”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 106, 2, pp. 445–502.
- Fitch Ratings, (2010). “Directed Lending: On the Up or on the Way Out?”, Belarusian Banking Sector, May.
- Fry, M.J. (1995). Money, Interest, and Banking in Economic Development (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London).
- IMF (2010), “Republic of Belarus: Fourth Review under the Stand-By Arrangement”, IMF Country Report 10/89, viewed 15 July 2012.