As mentioned in my last post, I was in Asia just a few weeks ago, and one (favorite) destination was Beijing.
Getting a clear view on where China’s economy is heading is not easy at the moment, as evidenced by large variations in GDP growth forecasts. One of the confusing developments is that while exports have continued to do badly recently, the domestic economy has exceeded most observers’ expectations by a wide margin.
Working in recent weeks on the World Bank’s new China Quarterly Update, released today, we have been trying to determine how the economy has been doing on balance, what the prospects are, and what this means for economic policy. In this blog, I will summarize our understanding of recent developments and prospects, leaving the upshot for economic policies for a later discussion (keep reading after the jump).
I apologize for the lack of recent posts, but I have been traveling in the region and then getting over a cold, so I’m finally back in action. One of the stops during the trip last month was to Jakarta to participate in our internal Economist’s Forum. This forum was very interesting and included sessions with the Indonesian Minister of Finance, as well as the
This somewhat provocative question was the title of a conference hosted by Oxford and Standard Charter this week in London. My answer was: "No, not tomorrow; but yes, eventually – especially if China continues to vigorously pursue economic reform."
The reason that China cannot be the engine of global growth tomorrow is straight-forward. For the last decade an awful lot of the final demand in the world has come from the U.S. That era is over for the time being as U.S. households now concentrate on rebuilding their savings. No one country can fill the gap left by the slowdown in U.S. consumption: Japan, Germany, and China together have less consumption than the U.S., so no one of them can replace the U.S. as the major source of demand in the world. It's not realistic to expect China to play that role. But we are probably moving into a more multi-polar period in which there is more balanced growth in all of the major economies.
We are finally starting to see some positive news around the East Asia and Pacific region, but it is too soon to begin to speak of "green shoots" of economic activity or reaching the bottom of the economic downturn in Asia. Although the Swine flu (one disease originating from animals that did not come from Asia!) and the nervousness about the condition of U.S. banks had a slightly negative impact on financial markets in Asia this past week, the stock markets are still up by about 12% for the year – led by Indonesia (21.6%), Korea (11.8%), and China (9.4%).
At a recent press conference, three African finance chiefs chastised international credit rating agencies for failing to forecast the global financial crisis and challenged international financial institutions to do a better job of monitoring the global economy and of holding rich and developing countries accountable in the same way.
The Ministers from Zambia, Cote d’Ivoire and Tanzania spoke about the crisis and its effect on Africa. Mustafa Mkulo, Tanzania’s Minister for Finance and Economic Affairs, said:
"This crisis has come when African governments have taken broad based measures to reform their economies, followed by significant achievements. It is now threatening to wipe out our gains of the past ten years and disrupt all our plans for further progress."
- Press Release: African Ministers Outline Impact of Crisis on their Countries
- Website: The Financial Crisis in Africa
- Blog: Africa Can End Poverty
“We are here to listen—tell us how we can better assist you. And please, be frank,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Africa Region Vice President.
Ezekwesili asked the ministers from Liberia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to discuss capacity development efforts in their countries, and to identify what has and has not worked, and how donors can provide more effective support for human development, infrastructure, and public sector reforms.
Several common themes emerged from the ministers’ interventions, including:
- Donors prioritizing support for primary and secondary education, and not higher education
- Donors pressing a “one size fits all” approach on countries, trying to replicate programs that were successful elsewhere
- The failure by expatriate advisors in civil service posts to transfer their knowledge and skills to local counterparts
- Tension among returning members of the Diaspora and local populations that stayed behind, partly around incentive structures for civil service
- An urgent need to deliver skills-training and create job opportunities for young ex-combatants
Augustine Ngafaun, Minister of Finance for Liberia, outlined the enormity of the challenges facing his country, which has “75 percent of the educational facilities destroyed” combined with a “massive brain drain” as a result of professionals fleeing during Liberia’s recent conflict.
“We have very few doctors, teachers and hardly any engineers,” said Ngafaun, Liberia's Minister of Finance.
He also noted that, despite the importance of the mining sector for Liberia’s growth, there are not even five geologists in the entire country.
Rwanda’s Finance Minister James Musoni noted that even though the reconstruction challenges were daunting, his country has made significant progress since the 1994 genocide. He said it is crucial for the donor community to understand the context in which each country operates, as in some cases the political leadership may not be ready.
Ezekwesili stressed the need to build confidence in all sectors, pointing out that “development solutions work only to the extent that the capacities of the nation-state, the private sector, and civil society are strong.”
“The lack of capacity is magnified by the stress of the post conflict environment,” Ezekwesili said.
Flanked by the finance and development ministers of France and Germany, World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick launched two initiatives today that together are expected to mobilize more than $55 billion in financing for infrastructure projects over the next three years.
The multibillion dollar initiatives—the Infrastructure Recovery and Assets (INFRA) platform and Infrastructure Crisis Facility—were created to address the falloff in funding for the construction of roads, water systems, power generation and distribution, and other critical infrastructure.
There is no doubt infrastructure plays a huge role in economic growth and development, Zoellick said.
“In this crisis, we will need more and more to identify creative ways to mobilize additional financing. This facility sends an important market signal,” encouraging the private sector to continue infrastructure investment and development.
France and Germany became the first to sign on to the Infrastructure Crisis Facility with commitments of about $660 million through German development bank KfW and roughly $1.3 billion through French development bank Proparco.
INFRA is designed to help countries offset the negative effects of the financial crisis on their infrastructure services and investment programs, with up to $45 billion available over the next three years. Assistance will be global, but Africa is expected to see a large share of the funding.
The Infrastructure Crisis Facility, administered by IFC, a private sector branch of the Bank Group, is expected to attract more than $10 billion to help bridge the infrastructure financing gap.
At today’s signing, German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul appealed to industrialized countries to support the initiative and take into account the situation in developing countries. “They’re not responsible for the crisis. We have a special responsibility to be at their side.”
French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde added: This is a time “when we can put our money where our mouth is and commit to deliver…I think the World Bank has done an outstanding job dealing with issues that are difficult. This is a good illustration of how projects should be conducted. They should be focused where they can actually make a difference.”
On a related note, I caught up earlier today with the Bank’s director for energy, transport and water, Jamal Saghir, who said the Bank’s Board has approved $9 billion in infrastructure projects already this fiscal year. That puts the Bank 47 percent ahead of the amount of infrastructure funding approved this time last year.
Saghir gave a shout-out to staff, who he credited with working hard to speed up project implementation to respond to the crisis.
For more information
- Press release: World Bank Group Launches Multi-Billion Infrastructure Initiatives to Help Developing Countries Weather Crisis
- Website: Infrastructure Recovery and Assets Platform
- Website: Infrastructure Crisis Facility
- Feature story: Infrastructure Financing Gap Endangers Development Goals
Yesterday, the IMF and the World Bank released the 2009 Global Monitoring Report, saying that the global financial crisis is imperiling attainment of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and creating an emergency for development.
Justin Lin, World Bank Chief Economist, spoke about the crisis at the launch of the report:
"Worldwide, we have an enormous loss of wealth and financial stability. Millions more people will lose their jobs in 2009, and urgent funding must be provided for social safety nets, infrastructure, and small businesses in poor countries, for a sustainable recovery."
For more information:
BBC World yesterday hosted a debate at World Bank headquarters in Washingtonon on how the world's poorest are being affected by the global economic downturn and what can be done to avert a major international human disaster. While the rich world pours billions of dollars into banks and companies, why can’t it spare more for the poorest nations now suffering the effects of the downturn, asked BBC Host Zeinab Badawi.
The five-person panel–including World Bank President Robert Zoellick, German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Mozambique Prime Minister Luisa Dias Diogo, Indian economic planner Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and activist Bob Geldof—agreed that a solution to the crisis can’t be business as usual and needs to come now.
Unlike the tsunami of 2004, the victims of the financial crisis aren’t so easy to visualize, said Wieczorek-Zeul, making it harder for governments to commit aid money. But there are victims. An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 children will die annually as a result of the crisis, she noted.
Zoellick stressed that for those in the developing world, the crisis isn’t a matter of losing your financial cushion—it’s a matter of eating, of going to school. And the impact won’t end when the crisis ends; it will be felt over a generation.
Responding to the crisis with economic isolationism and protectionism will only hurt everyone, especially the world’s poorest, Zoellick added.
Prime Minister Diogo warned that if we don’t act, there is a potential for instability. “Instability increases nervousness… poverty increases conflict,” said Geldof.
A number of panelists noted that the G20 meeting in London last month was the beginning of the basis for a new global architecture.
“We’re living through an historic period,” said Geldof. “It could all still collapse. There must be new rules for a new world. We must include the most vulnerable on this planet. If not, the 21st Century is up for grabs.”
“We all agree that a global problem requires a global solution with global ownership,” said Ahluwalia.
The debate airs on BBC World on Saturday, April 25.