These days, I steer clear of debates about estimating the impact of trade agreements. Any public policy conversation that rapidly devolves into whose unrealistic assumptions are better seems like a debate better had behind closed doors at econ seminars and ComicCon. I’ll stick to the text of the agreement, which I can simply read in a single PDF file, thank you very much.
However, Simon Lester highlights an interesting aspect of a recent Peterson Institute study on the TPP. The study attempts to estimate how many non-trade barriers (i.e. regulations and other government actions) might be “actionable” under the agreement. The authors then project increases in FDI that might be triggered by removal of these regulations.
Like Simon, I read the original Peterson report. Like Simon, I don’t understand the non-trade barrier aspect of it.
According to researchers at Tufts University, who analyzed the previous Peterson report on TPP…
The results obtained by Petri, Plummer and Zhai ( 2012) depend strongly on the projected increase in foreign direct investment, estimated to generate , on average, 33 percent of the TPP ’s total income gains…
Given the difficulty of predicting FDI flows, the authors estimate the FDI effect through two series of assumptions . First, the potential increase in FDI stocks is estimated through a parameter that expresses the impact of changes in the World Bank Doing Business rank. The parameter is the same for all participating countries, implying the same increase in stock of FDI for any country that climbs a given number of ranks. Once the parameter is estimated, it is used to calculate the potential change in FDI stocks. It is assumed that signing the TPP will put all countries above the ninetieth percentile of the ranking , and that all FDI stocks will increase by at least 50 percent of the difference between the predicted level and their current level. Secondly, the “actual” FDI increase is calculated from the potential increase , assuming that the TPP investment provisions eliminate a maximum of two – thirds of investment barriers and that each country achieve s this , depending on the number of FDI provisions it accepts. This procedure is used to justify the assumption that FDI will play a major role in making the TPP economically successful…
I don’t know if a similar procedure is used in the more recent Peterson report, and it’s difficult to compare since the methodology appendices the Tufts crew refer to are not freely available online. (And the Tufts study doesn’t provide page citations, so you can’t reverse engineer through Google Books.)
In any case, the point about the World Bank Doing Business rankings caught me eye, and comes perilously close to my current research interests on investment.
It turns out that the link between changes in World Bank’s rankings and FDI are anything but clear. World Bank economist Dinuk Jayasuriya found the following:
for the average country, [marginal] improvement in the official Doing Business Rankings is likely to increase FDI into a country… Nevertheless, there appears to be no evidence to suggest large improvements in Doing Business Rankings… attract significantly greater FDI inflows. When focusing on developing countries in isolation, the relationship is insignificant.
In other words, in estimates that included rich countries, minor increases in DB rankings helped things. But when rich countries are taken out of the sample, there’s no benefit to moving up the ranking ladder. And countries don’t appear to get more FDI when they make a lot of improvements rather than just a little.
Similarly, a more recent study by Adrian Corcoran and Robert Gillanders concluded:
Regulation has been found to matter for local investment and entrepreneurship and
in this paper we have sought to empirically assess the proposition that better
business regulatory environments, as defined by the World Bank’s Ease of Doing
Business measure, will attract more foreign direct investment. Using data on a large
proportion of the world’s countries we found evidence that this was true on average.
Going deeper, we found that most of this effect can be explained solely by how easy
it is to trade across borders, with other components of doing business having little or
no effect. We also found that the effect was not present in the world’s poorest, and
therefore most eager for FDI, region, Sub-Saharan Africa. Neither was it present for
Again, there are heterogeneous effects depending on what region of the world you are in. And the regulations related outright to trade were more important than those indirectly related, i.e. purely domestic regulations that might affect longer term FDI.
I’m thankfully not a macro or trade modeler – see minutes 5 in this video for Adam Posen’s take on the difference (and minutes 1:40-1:50 for an impromptu debate between Tufts and Peterson folks).
But an emerging literature suggests we don’t yet know much about how FDI is affected by policy changes that are inherently difficult to put into numbers.