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China’s economy grew 8.7 percent in 2009. This was more than the 8 percent target, despite the global recession that caused global output excluding China to fall about 3 percent. China’s growth outcome is substantially higher than projections made in early 2009. For instance, in our World Bank quarterly economic update (of which I am the lead author) we projected 6.5 percent GDP growth and some other forecasts were even lower (see Figure 1).
How did these forecasts come about, and what lessons we can draw from the experience of China’s growth in 2009? I cannot speak for my colleagues at the World Bank, let alone for other economists. But, all in all, while I have learned important lessons, I am not sure how differently I would see and do things if again presented with a situation like we were in a year ago.
As part of its regular monitoring of the corporate sector in Southeast Asia, the World Bank economic team I am part of in Thailand has been working on a short case study of supply chains of Japanese multinational companies (MNCs) in the electrical and electronics (E&E) industry. We wanted to hear directly from firms about how the crisis affected them, how they were able to adjust so quickly to the drop in demand, what the rebound looked like, and what were the prospects going forward to upgrade along the value chain. I have learned a great deal from these interviews, and have become convinced that supply chains are central to understanding the current crisis in Thailand and East Asia more generally.
Some facts: the crisis had a disproportionate impact on manufacturing. In Thailand, manufacturing represents about 40 percent of GDP, but contractions in manufacturing value added have accounted for about 75 percent of the contraction of headline GDP. Within manufacturing, the auto and E&E industries account for the bulk of the contraction. Most of the output in those industries is exported, and more than three-fourths of the decline in Thai exports during the crisis was due to falls in shipments from the auto and E&E industries. My conclusion is that the magnitude of the crisis in Thailand has been driven primarily by these two industries.
The economic data for the third quarter of 2009, released almost two weeks ago, confirmed an impressive recovery in China’s economy, supported by very large fiscal and monetary stimulus. Real GDP growth rose to 8.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter. This is clearly good news, for China and many other countries whose economies are benefiting at the moment from strong demand from China. As the World Bank economic team for China (which I'm part of) argues in more detail in the new China Quarterly Update, it also means that it is time to consider a less expansionary macroeconomic policy stance and focus more on the structural reforms needed to rebalance the economy and get more growth out of the domestic economy on a sustained basis.
It’s not as if China has not been hit by the global recession. China’s real economy has been hit hard. Exports fell sharply since November last year, and the contribution of net external trade to GDP growth was minus 3.6 percent points in the first three quarters of this year – with the negative contribution particularly large in the third quarter (in year-on-year terms).
As China’s economy seems to be recovering, many people here have expressed concerns about inflation. I was able to air my views on the subject in an Op-Ed in China’s main English language newspaper, the China Daily, together with two other experts.