Fri, Jul 24, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Will Asia lead the global recovery?

The financial crisis underlines the need for Asian economies to steer away from export-oriented policies, develop domestic demand and strengthen regulatory oversight

By Jong-Wha Lee

While the rest of the world struggles, developing Asia is shifting from recession to recovery.

The latest economic indicators from the world’s advanced economies remain mixed. There are some signs of stabilization — industrial output and consumer spending are, for example, falling much more slowly than they were. But stabilization does not mean imminent recovery. The pace of the deterioration may be slowing, but a decline is still a decline. Unemployment is still on the rise. Consumer and business confidence has not recovered. It is clear that the recession has yet to bottom out in the US and Europe.

By contrast, signs are much more favorable in Asia. Markets, which are typically the first indicators of recovery, are rebounding much more sharply here. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 11 percent in the second quarter, Japan’s Nikkei 225 jumped 23 percent. Equity markets in China rose 25 percent, India 53 percent and Vietnam 60 percent.

Asia’s real economy is also doing much better. Industrial production in South Korea, Singapore and Thailand has been rising in recent months. And while most economies in Asia have suffered their worst performance since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, we believe they have hit bottom.

ADB forecasts that GDP growth for emerging East Asia will still be 3 percent this year. While that’s a significant reduction from the 6.1 percent growth last year, it is growth nonetheless — and much better than other regions of the world.

Will Asia lead the global recovery? Quite possibly. We expect a V-shaped recovery — growth in the region is likely to rise to about 6 percent next year. However, this is still two percentage points below the 8 percent average growth between 2003 and 2007. The reason is while we expect government stimulus to boost domestic demand, we doubt the external demand that drove exports during the years prior to the latest crisis will return any time soon. We now see the US economy contracting 3 percent this year, while the economies in Europe and Japan will likely shrink 4.3 percent and 5.8 percent respectively.

China is leading the recovery in Asia. Aggressive government spending — more than 7 percent of GDP this year, and 8 percent next year — could fuel domestic growth. That, in turn, should help other Asian economies recover as they fill Chinese demand for their goods.

China is the biggest offshore buyer of South Korean products and the second largest for Japan, snapping up about a quarter of South Korean exports and one-sixth of Japan’s. About 12 percent of total exports from the five largest Southeast Asian economies — Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — go to China.

But that won’t be enough to restore developing Asia to the growth levels seen in recent years. For that to begin to happen, consumers in the world’s major economies also need to start buying Asian goods again. The US, Japan and Europe remain major markets for Asian exporters. Intra-Asian trade has grown rapidly in recent years but remains largely based on parts and components rather than final goods. Asians still do not buy finished products made in their own backyard.

In fact, economic growth in the US, Japan and Europe influences East Asia’s regional output at least as much as China’s does. Beijing’s ability to sustain more than 8 percent economic growth is also reliant on a global recovery to provide external demand for its exports. Economic growth that relies on stimulus is not sustainable. Clearly, China or Asia alone cannot be the region’s sole engine of growth. Developing Asia needs two engines — China and, just as important, the major advanced economies.

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