Mongolia needs more selective infrastructure investments that target key value chains in order to drive growth, lower costs, and boost the competitiveness of the country’s economy, according to a new World Bank report released today.
The report, Infrastructure for Connectivity and Economic Diversification, analyzes Mongolia’s infrastructure needs and investment priorities in the context of the country’s geospatial characteristics, fiscal challenges, and the government’s economic diversification agenda. It focuses on five key value chains that are likely to generate the greatest demand for infrastructure services: the livestock industry, value added mining, tourism, renewable energy, and digital services.The focus on these selected value chains does not imply, however, that other sectors should be neglected; it means that these areas are likely to generate the scale of demand for infrastructure services to shape national investment decisions.
“Infrastructure is the backbone of Mongolia’s economy, yet a ‘build and they will come’ approach would limit economic returns on investments. Instead, infrastructure investments should be prioritized to unlock new drivers of growth,” said Andrei Mikhnev, World Bank Country Manager for Mongolia. “In addition to the mining sector, which has so far been the predominant driver of economic growth, priority should be given to unleashing growth potential in the livestock, tourism, digital services, and the renewable energy sectors.”
Mongolia’s population is small relative to the country’s size, limiting the range of economic activities in which it has a comparative advantage. The report finds that targeted investments in meat and iron beneficiation infrastructure have the highest potential to accelerate growth and reduce the country’s logistics cost, which stands at a high of 30 percent of GDP.
To improve the meat value chain, the report suggests establishing a network of strategic hubs in Ulaanbaatar and eight provinces with the highest concentration of meat and milk production. Priority should be given to upgrading key parts of the 4,300 kilometers of roads connecting these strategic hubs. Concentrating services in these hubs would reduce waste, ensure unbroken cold storage chains, and add value through ancillary services.
The report argues that improving urban mobility in the capital city will be crucial to promoting tourism and other services. Improvements in urban mobility should focus on construction, maintenance, and operations of Ulaanbaatar’s 1,190-kilometer road network.
As the country enjoys a strong backbone of digital infrastructure, the report suggests that priority in this area should be given to strengthening gaps in internet capacity and access, improving last-mile connectivity, and expanding 4G connectivity in rural areas.
In the mining sector, selective infrastructure investments can unlock the latent potential of several mineral value chains. For instance, supplying power to the mines, which currently only get 44 percent of their power supply from the grid, with the remainder coming from auto-generation or imports. This offers a major opportunity for a large revenue base of creditworthy, long-term power customers.
Similarly, privately financed mining projects could contribute to building shared railway infrastructure that is open to multiple uses and users, according to the report. Given limitations in public budget for infrastructure, Mongolia must leverage more private financing for developing needed infrastructure by improving the regulatory framework and investment climate. Efforts should be prioritized on turning the concessions list of projects into a market-facing credible list of well-prepared projects, which would help the government redirect its focus to priority projects and pique investor interest.
Finally, efforts must be made to develop Mongolia’s institutional infrastructure for the selection, planning, and implementation of infrastructure projects. The report recommends establishing a central unit to better manage highly fragmented investments and lack of coordination among agencies.