Phase 1 (Workshop 1 - Public organisations and new approaches to building markets in Asia)

Public organisations, such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), the Asian Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), are playing important roles in building markets in Asia through both their sovereign and private funding for development. In the literature on ‘building markets’, a process is described whereby the influence of market forces is extended to certain sectors and locales in combination with the promotion of specific institutional orders perceived to be crucial in order to derive the benefits accorded to markets. Such a process includes opening up new geographical spaces to commercial activity while simultaneously establishing particular regulatory and other institutions, such as those designed to govern newly hybridised public-private utilities or facilitate the development of social and human capital. Running concomitantly with these new institutional structures are new political processes of participation and consultation which are intimately tied to establishing and managing the sought after institutional arrays of market societies.

While scholars have done much to elucidate this market building project at a theoretical level (e.g. Jayasuriya 2000; Gill 2000; Hout 2003, Cammack 2004; Porter and Craig 2006; Carroll 2010), there is a considerable dearth of research that looks at the market building project on the ground – especially in Asia. This gap is unfortunate for both the refinement of theoretical approaches that can better detail both what the market building project actually is (as opposed to what organisations describe in documents and on their websites) and, further, what this project means for domestic populations. The gap also means that more can be done to understand the impact of domestic populations upon the market building project. Given that the organisations involved in the project are public organisations mandated to promote development and reduce poverty, expending considerable tax payer resources on the basis of improving the lot of the globally marginalised, few issues of public policy in action could matter more.

Crucially, the market building project that public organisations promote is substantively related to mitigating risk – often through establishing particular institutional arrangements (contractual, legislative, non-legal codified etc.) and/or by enrolling other social actors (such as civil society) and engaging in corporate social responsibility-type activities. Subsequently financing from said organisations often comes with important prerequisites to be met in this regard. These can range from adjustments to foreign investment laws to the endorsement by states and the private sector of particular environmental and social safeguards that specify important monitoring roles for non-governmental organisations. They might also demand that private consortiums receiving funds initiate community development programmes. Such prerequisites and the activity that they facilitate can have significant implications for both state and society, forming an important push to re-craft and further hybridise public-private/state-society relations.

The logic underpinning this project is one that is first and foremost tasked towards mitigating risk for mobilising capital in the interests of facilitating private sector expansion. Yet early investigations of the market-building project suggest that risk is not evenly distributed by many of the activities that are now staples within development. In this regard, the negative outcomes associated with institution building/project implementation are regularly attributed by policy makers to an inability to build the ‘right institutions’ and the role of ‘vested interests’ and regulatory capture in such situations. For example, while the IFC and the IMF can insist that the receipt of funds for development of an oil field requires that a country establish an oil fund to ensure prudent use of revenues, in practice the desired function of such a fund may never eventuate due to particular political forces. This said, that the conditions are met up front (i.e. the fund is formally established and put into motion) means that a mega-project can proceed with public financing. And even if, as the IFC often insists with its projects, monitoring NGOs are contracted in the interests of keeping a state and private sector operators accountable, too often the results are less than impressive – with pernicious elites able to capture benefits to the exclusion of populations and private entities shirking responsibilities. This suggests that markets aren’t actually ‘built’ – in the lingo commonly deployed by the World Bank in relation to institutions – they are contested. This implies significant work for academics and policy makers alike.

Given that the market building project is the approach used by the world’s premier public organisations to promote development and reduce poverty globally, and given also that at least some of the assumptions underpinning the project appear problematic, the Public Organisations and New Approaches to Building Markets in Asia research workshop, to be held in Singapore in April 2011 asks three core research questions of its participants: 1) What are the roles of international public organisations in constituting markets in Asia? 2) What impact do such roles have on different actors? 3) How do particular actors impact upon the efforts of international organisations? The workshop includes contributions from established researchers and PhD candidates that apply these research questions to a variety of actors/sectors within Asia, including extractive industries, water and energy. At a minimum, all the papers will analyse the operation and impact of public policy (as applied by international public organisations). Further, in addition to satisfying this initial condition, there is the potential for contributors to take a normative/prescriptive/advocacy bent in their papers – though this is not essential.

This workshop for phase 1 is designed to lead to several significant publications. The first core output is envisaged to be an edited volume (discussions are already well under way with Palgrave-MacMillan for a three volume New Approaches mini-series) and/or a special issue of a tier one journal. This said, the project’s contributions are likely to be well-received (for publication and citation) in a broad array of highly regarded journals that have been the basis for establishing networks of scholars with enviable reputations in relation to understanding the function and operation of public policy in Asia.

Workshop Information: