Trade, poverty, and social protection in developing countries
How do shifts in trade affect social protections for the poor?
Although the fraction of the world's population considered the “extreme” poor has fallen by over one-half over the past quarter century, many of those lifted above the global poverty line remain vulnerable to shocks that could place them back into poverty. These are the groups that require social protection to stabilize their incomes.
Among the shocks to which the absolute poor have been exposed are those created by trade liberalization, particularly of the agricultural sector. The resulting risks, uncertainties, and threats to social stability from this type of trade require that the poor be provided with some forms of adjustment assistance. We examine the effects of trade components on several dimensions of social protection in developing countries, including spending, coverage, and adequacy over the past two decades.
We find that, contrary to previous studies, disaggregating trade may be a key to determining which international market variables drive expansion of social protection. Disaggregating trade balances in agricultural vs. manufactured goods reveals that net food and agricultural exporters provide better social protection than countries that report agricultural trade deficits. Meanwhile, countries with manufacturing trade surpluses tend to experience reduced social protection coverage.
We reason that governments of net agricultural exporters face incentives to invest in social programs that extend eligibility to the rural poor. Manufacturing export-driven economies, on the other hand, are likely participants in global production chains that limit the capacity of the public sector to extend social protection.