28 August 2010

Agriculture in the East Asia Miracle (Asian Tigers)

From "The East Asian Miracle: Economic Growth and Public Policy" (World Bank Report, 1993):


East Asia has a remarkable record of high and sustained economic growth. From 1965 to 1990 the twenty-three economies of East Asia grew faster than all other regions of the world. Most of this achievement is attributable to seemingly miraculous growth in just eight economies: Japan; the "Four Tigers" – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore; and the three newly industrialising economies (NIEs) of South East Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. These eight High Performing Asian economies (HPAEs) are the subject of this study.

Dynamic Agricultural Sectors

Typically, as an economy develops, agriculture's share of the economy declines. The six HPAEs with substantial agricultural sectors – Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan – have been making this transition more rapidly than other developing economies. But the decline in the relative importance of agriculture in the HPAEs is not because agriculture has lacked dynamism. Across developing regions, agriculture's share of output and employment has declined most and fastest where agricultural output and productivity have grown the most. From 1965 to 1988, growth in both agricultural output and agricultural productivity was higher in East Asia than in other regions. Many factors contributed to the success of agriculture in these economies. Land reform (notably in Korea and Taiwan), agricultural extension services, reasonably good infrastructure (especially in the former Japanese colonies), and heavy investments in rural areas (notably in Indonesia) all helped.

East Asian governments have actively supported agricultural research and extension services to speed diffusion of Green Revolution technologies. Their substantial investments in irrigation and other rural infrastructure hastened adoption of high-yielding varieties, new crops, and the use of manufactured inputs, such as fertiliser and equipment, to cultivate them. In Taiwan, during the 1950s, 45% of the growth of agriculture was due to rising productivity, much of which resulted from government programs.

Information on the allocation of public investment between rural and urban regions is limited, and it is difficult to make good comparisons among economies, but available data suggest that the HPAEs have allocated a larger share of their public investment to rural areas than did other low- and middle-income economies. Of critical importance in this respect has been the build-up of infrastructure – roads, bridges, transportation, electricity, water and sanitation. There has been a more even balance between rural and urban public investment in sanitation and water facilities in Indonesia, Korea and Thailand than in other developing economies. The data on rural electrification also suggest that the HPAEs with rural sectors have, on average, more effectively provided electricity to rural areas. Since the early 1980s, electricity has been universally available in the rural areas of Korea and Taiwan. Malaysia and Thailand have made great strides in rural electrification. Indonesia has not done as well, but even there the relative disparity between the urban and rural sectors is smaller than the disparity in economies with approximately the same per capita income (Bolivia and Liberia) or the same population (Brazil).

Equally important, however, were the typically low levels of direct and indirect taxation on agriculture in East Asia. During the past three decades, dozens of governments in other regions, eager to promote industrial growth, have funneled surpluses from agriculture to industry through taxes, food price controls, and pro-industry allocations of public investment. Less overtly, governments have favoured manufacturers, and hurt agriculture, by overvaluing currencies and protecting domestic industries that manufacture agricultural inputs and the goods purchased by rural households. The exchange rate that results from restrictions on manufactured imports reduces the domestic currency proceeds of agricultural exports. Industrial protection acts as a hidden tax on agriculture, raising the price of agricultural inputs to subsidise industry. Direct interventions include export taxes and price controls, while indirect interventions also take account of industrial protection policies and real exchange rate overvaluation. Both Korea and Malaysia have substantially lower taxation of the agricultural sector than the comparators, and in Korea the agricultural sector receives positive protection. Thailand's taxation of the agricultural sector was similar to South Asian levels in the 1960s and 1970s but fell in the 1980s while taxation in South Asia was rising.

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