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Macroeconomics and Economic Growth

China experts to answer questions in live online chat

James I Davison's picture

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.

Cautious optimism about condition of Chinese exports

Louis Kuijs's picture

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.
As we were looking at recent developments as background for our China Quarterly Update, which was released yesterday, we had to make up our minds about how well China’s exports are doing. This was necessary because there are conflicting answers to this question. On the one hand, we are reading many reports from the coastal provinces, Guangdong in particular, about how bad things are there in the export industries, with factories closing and migrant workers going back to rural areas. On the other hand, the data on overall export developments suggests exports have held up reasonably well so far, with overall exports in real terms still far outgrowing overall world import growth, implying continued gains in global market share for China (see left hand figure below).

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.

Sustaining growth: China’s need for a new growth model

David Dollar's picture

China’s big stimulus plan will help keep the economy growing at a healthy rate, though 2009 will be a rough year with probably the slowest growth in nearly 20 years. While China applies stimulus to deal with the immediate downturn, it would be good to be thinking ahead. China needs a new growth model, and it should evaluate its possible spending plans both in terms of immediate stimulus and in terms of contribution to this new growth model.

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.

In time of economic crisis, influential thinkers contemplate future

David Dollar's picture

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.
Seven hundred self-styled “smart people” got together in Dubai on Nov. 7-9 under the auspices of the World Economic Forum for what was billed as the largest-ever brainstorming on the global agenda -- that is, the priorities for global action. The event had been planned for a long time, but the deepening global financial and economic crisis naturally colored the discussions. I was part of the trade facilitation group -- under Harvard professor Robert Lawrence -- which worked closely with the trade policy group under Ernesto Zedillo, director of Yale University’s Center for the Study of Globalization. The most fun was the unstructured morning in which we could interact as we chose with any of the 66 other groups. I spent time with the groups working on the future of China, climate change, and growth and development. The official summary is on the WEF website, but I took away three main points from the interesting weekend.

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 plan also aims to improve quality of life

David Dollar's picture
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).

Anxiety and hope in Guangdong, China

David Dollar's picture

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.
I visited the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong this week, the heart of China’s export machine. A large number of export-oriented processing firms have already closed in Guangdong in sectors such as toys and footwear. Of course, firms close all the time in market economies, while others start up. This churning is part of the normal cycle in a market economy and is one of the key sources of productivity growth. Less productive firms die off while the successful new firms have especially rapid productivity growth. As the global economic crisis hits China, it is hard to keep track in real time of the balance of closings and openings.

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.


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