Tue, Nov 11, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Poll finds mild optimism on economic prospects


Asians are guardedly optimistic about the region's economic prospects in the months ahead after braving a year of war, disease, bombings and other setbacks, a poll showed yesterday.

"There is no sense of euphoria yet," according to The Straits Times Asia Poll, which queried 204 lawmakers, senior government officials, think-tank experts and CEOs in 11 cities.

The optimism about the region in the next six months is laced with concerns that the upswing is the result of fiscal and financial incentives, among them tax breaks and easier credit, given by governments to kick-start growth.

However the continuing boom in the Chinese economy and the upswing in the US have triggered hope, the poll said.

In Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines where elections are due soon, economists and country watchers are worried governments are opting for soft reforms or letting them take a back seat as they keep an eye on voters.

Singaporeans, Thais, Malaysians and Chinese are most optimistic about better prospects within six months, the poll found.

Those queried in SARS-hit Taiwan seemed most optimistic about a better life in the year ahead. Otherwise only a quarter expect a significant change in their lifestyle.

A top Taiwan economic think tank last week said it has trimmed its 2003 GDP growth forecast to 3.51 percent from the previous estimate of 3.53 percent due to the SARS outbreak.

The economy should post a sequential improvement over the remainder of the year on the back of a gradually recovering global economy and the government's stimulus measures, the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research said.

"Corruption, political reforms and the need to cut red tape are woes across the region," the poll said.

At the top of their wish lists, Asians want governments to deregulate, stimulate competition, let go of their hold on state-owned institutions and reform taxes.

In Southeast Asia, many realize the region's economies need to redirect their resources and find new niches, given the emergence of China and India.

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