Many countries, like Sri Lanka, are trying to diversify their economies but often lack the capabilities to lead diversification programs. One of these capabilities relates to targeting new sectors to promote and pursue through a diversification policy: countries know they are ‘doomed to choose’ sectors to target,1 but lack effective capabilities to do the targeting. This paper narrates a recent (and ongoing) initiative to establish this kind of capability in Sri Lanka. The initiative adopted a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) process, where a team of Sri Lankan officials worked with Harvard Center for International Development (CID) facilitators to build capabilities. The paper tells the story of this process, providing documented evidence of the progress over time and describing the thinking behind the PDIA process. It shows how a reliable targeting mechanism can emerge in a reasonably limited period, when a committed team of public officials are effectively authorized and engaged. The paper will be of particular interest to those thinking about targeting for diversification and to those interested in processes (like PDIA) which are focused on building state capability and fostering policy implementation in public contexts.
1 The term here comes from Hausmann, R. and Rodrik, D. 2006. Doomed to Choose: Industrial Policy as Predicament. Draft.
Sri Lanka has an excessively complex tariff structure that distorts the structure of the economy in important ways. It is a priority for the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to rationalize the system in order to facilitate a transition to greater economic diversification, stronger export growth, and the emergence of new, higher paying jobs. Sri Lanka’s New Trade Policy makes this tariff rationalization a priority. It also recognizes that tariff rationalization should go hand in hand with new trade adjustment assistance measures to support the adjustment of firms and of people. The New Trade Policy outlines the basic contours of tariff rationalization and trade adjustment assistance measures but does not provide a detailed roadmap.
This discussion paper was prepared at the invitation of the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade (MoDSIT) as part of the Center for International Development’s research project on sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Sri Lanka. The aim of the paper is to study policy tools that the GoSL could use to structure trade adjustment assistance in the context of tariff rationalization. In order to accomplish this aim, we begin by outlining the type of tariff rationalization that needs to take place in order to address key constraints to growth in a way that is sensitive to both government revenue needs and political economy considerations. We stress that tariff rationalization must be approached in a holistic way that treats the various tariffs and para-tariffs as interrelated, rather than an approach that attempts to address one part of the system at a time. A holistic approach would provide many degrees of freedom to solve the underlying problems in the system while increasing revenues and potentially generating strong public support. Critically, a holistic approach would allow for a single tariff rationalization plan to be phased in over a period of years in a predictable way, whereas attempts to rationalize the system one part at a time would lead to extreme uncertainty.
With the principles of smart tariff rationalization in place, we draw upon international lessons and Sri Lanka’s own institutional capabilities to recommend a two-tiered approach to helping industries and workers adjust. In each case, the first tier represents low-cost measures that can begin in the short term to help industries and workers, regardless of whether they will be negatively impacted by tariff rationalization, while the second tier of assistance applies only to trade-affected industries and workers and can be developed in the medium term. For industries, Tier 1 support involves the use of an innovative process of public-private problem solving of industry-specific constraints, and Tier 2 support involves the use of special safeguard measures to provide an objective and transparent process for determining which industries require longer phase out periods for tariff reductions versus the tariff rationalization plan. For workers, Tier 1 support involves improved access labor market information and training opportunities through the development of regional (or local) job centers. Tier 2 support provides government funding for training and job placement services. We conclude that this package of trade adjustment assistance measures could be used to complement a holistic tariff rationalization plan. But we caution that attempts to rush the implementation of these measures without careful design and communication could deeply undermine the potential for the reforms to work in solving underlying economic problems.
In August 2017, CID began focused work with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), specifically with their Agriculture Sector Modernization Project(ASMP) team. MPI requested Harvard assistance in the analysis of constraints and opportunities in the agriculture and fisheries sector, specifically in non-plantation, export-oriented activities. As a first step, CID worked with MPI research officers to compare the more than twenty agricultural and fishery subsectors being considered under the ASMP. These subsectors were analyzed across over 53 quantitative and qualitative variables, measuring market demand, feasibility, current strength, and poverty considerations. The analysis ultimately identified spices (especially pepper), aquaculture (especially shrimp) and plantains and bananas as especially promising subsectors for future research and ASMP activities. More broadly, the analysis identified the basic market and feasibility considerations that can provide a starting point for value chain analyses and public-private strategic planning. This presentation was prepared jointly by MPI project officers and CID Growth Lab researchers in order to inform MPI initiatives, both within the ASMP and beyond.
Insufficient export diversification is a binding constraint to economic growth in Sri Lanka
- The Harvard CID growth diagnostic found that with wages in traditional export sectors now below average Sri Lankan wages, new higher-wage export industries are required
Overseas Sri Lankans (OSL) have the potential to create new export industries in Sri Lanka
- Diasporas were involved in the export-led development of India, Taiwan, and China by bringing industry knowhow and market connections to their home countries
- There are large, well-educated OSL communities living in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia that have the industry knowhow to assist in export-led growth in Sri Lanka
OSL can have the biggest impact on diversifying exports if they return to start firms in new export industries rather than working with firms while based overseas
- OSL can play a useful role connecting the existent Sri Lankan IT export sector to overseas markets, but they cannot start firms in new export industries from abroad
- If OSL return to start firms they can “seed” a new export industry that grows organically through the diffusion of knowhow
- The pharmaceutical sector is an example of an industry with high potential to be “seeded” by returning OSL entrepreneurs
Preliminary policy recommendations focus on removing barriers and catalyzing latent motivations to facilitate OSL return entrepreneurship:
- The Department for Immigration and Emigration should continue to ease border processes for OSL through dual citizenship and the OSL lifetime resident visa
- The Board of Investment should orient part of its “one-stop-shop” to dealing specifically with OSL issues
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should utilize its diplomatic network to engage potential OSL entrepreneurs to catalyze latent motivations to return
*This is an edited version of a Policy Analysis written in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Public Administration in International Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University