Amid all the news of the slowing global economy, I’m not sure anyone was too surprised that the World Bank’s latest China economic projections estimate the country’s economic growth, despite remaining relatively strong, will continue to slow in 2009.
Macroeconomics and Economic Growth
|We cannot be too optimistic on China’s exports, even though we think the country’s competitiveness is still strong. Image credit: scobleizer at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.|
An important part of the answer lies in the fact that the export performance differs markedly between sectors. Exports of light manufacturing products, such as textiles and toys, are by now lower than a year ago in real terms (see right hand figure below), while real exports of (higher value added) machinery and equipment are still growing by over 30 percent year-on-year. Exports of light manufactures have been hit by cost increases as well as weak overall foreign demand—which matters a lot because China now produces the bulk of global production in certain sectors, such as toys. On the other hand, China’s exports of machinery and equipment still occupy modest market shares globally, and China’s strong underlying competitiveness means that its exporters can continue to gain market share even in more challenging global circumstances.
China needs a new growth model because after the global downturn comes to an end, exports will never again play the same role as they have in the past two decades. I would argue that the four basic principles that account for the Chinese miracle since 1978 remain valid, each of which needs some tweaking in the new environment.
|The World Economic Forum, billed as the largest-ever brainstorming on the global agenda, drew about 700 people to Dubai in early November. Image credit: worldeconomicforum at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.|
It is striking how well the global trade system is working, even as the global financial system spirals into crisis. This is not to say that global trade is immune from the crisis, far from it. Trade finance has contracted sharply and the World Bank projects that total global trade in 2009 will decline for the first time since 1982. But what is striking is that global trade has a well-defined set of rules and an institution (the World Trade Organization) to oversee them. Global finance, on the other hand, does not have a well-defined set of rules and regulations. Until now, the system of global trade continued to work well.
|China’s stimulus package, announced this week, focuses on more than just building up the industrial and export capacity. Some investments will also be in housing, schools, and health facilities.|
China announced a massive stimulus package of 4 trillion Yuan (US$570 billion) this week, to aid its ailing economy. The move was quickly welcomed by World Bank President Robert Zoellick: "China is well positioned given its current account surplus and budget position to have fiscal expansion," said the World Bank chief at a news conference. "I am delighted that China decided not only to undertake these steps, but to announce it before the G20 summit," he added.
Basically, I think that the package is very good. It is not as big as it looks at first glance, but then the economy is not as bad as many people think. Real retail sales for October came in at 17 percent growth rate, down trivially from 18 percent in September. Exports in October were up 19.2 percent over the year before. There is definitely evidence of a slowing economy, but nothing too dramatic has happened so far. Worrying signs, such as a sharp drop in growth of electricity demand in October, suggest that heavy industry is slowing. And imports for processing have slowed to a 2-3 percent growth rate, indicating that processing exports will slow down sharply. We have said for some time that China needed to be ready with a stimulus package toward the end of 2008 as global conditions would likely lead to a slowdown, and that time has come. I see the current move as precautionary, in light of some worrisome signals, rather than as reactive to a highly deteriorated situation (as suggested in some of the Western press coverage).
|A large number of export-oriented processing firms have already closed in Guangdong, the heart of China’s export machine. Image credit: lylevincent at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.|
Entrepreneurs and local officials here are certainly aware that demand for China’s exports has dropped sharply, and they wonder when the global economy will pick up again. Still, at the same time I was impressed at how many see this as an opportunity for China to pursue its rebalancing agenda. These discussions took place at a workshop in Jiangmen on Investment Climate, Innovation, and Industrial Transfer. The phrase “industrial transfer” refers to the fact that the most labor-intensive activities are moving away from the highly successful coastal cities, either to inland China, or other countries (Vietnam, Bangladesh) with lower wages.