When I was asked to look back at Cambodia's economy in 2009 and ahead to 2010, I began to wish I had some magic tools such as this ox (although in that case, the ox was not that magical, since the 2009 harvest turned out to be quite good).
A few weeks ago, the World Bank’s migration and remittances team released its latest forecast of global remittance flows, indicating that even fewer migrants from developing East Asian and Pacific countries may be sending home money this year than they predicted in an earlier report. Remittances flowing to countries in the region are now forecast to fall by 5.7-8.8 percent in 2009, according to the report (pdf). Revised 2008 data show China, the Philippines and Vietnam are in the top 10 recipients of remittances among developing countries.
Interestingly, despite indicating falling remittance flows to the East Asia and Pacific region, the outlook states that South and East Asian countries have been relatively strong. There is, of course, a risk of a further slowing down. For example, remittance money flowing to the Philippines appears to still be growing this year. But such positive flows went from 14 percent year-on-year growth in 2007-08 to just 3 percent growth so far in 2009, according to the report.
The report’s authors write that there may be key risks that further threatening global remittance flows to developing countries – including a longer-than-projected financial crisis threatening jobs and income for immigrants in developed countries. However, they write, recovery may come by next year: “We expect that remittance flows to developing countries could decline by 7-10 percent in 2009, with a possible recovery in 2010 and 2011.”
What’s the significance of remittances? One notable example came from blogger Eric Le Borgne last April. Eric pointed out that remittances are a key factor to the economic health of the Philippines, as well as the country’s resilience so far during the global financial crisis.
In the World Bank's latest semi-annual economic update for the East Asia and Pacific region, titled "Battling the Forces of Global Recession" and released today, we mentioned the Philippine economy's resilience, both in absolute and relative terms.
|Declining revenue of tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia shows even the informal sector isn't insulated.|
The World Bank today launches its projection of a 1 percent contraction of the Cambodian economy. This is based on an analysis of available statistics and feedback from a range of economic actors. Yet, to most of my Cambodian friends, it remains hard to conceive.
It is true that "seeing" such a contraction will be difficult. Basically, what it means is that economic activity in 2009 will be pretty much the same as in 2008. So the fact that we continue to have traffic jams in Phnom Penh, see tourists at the Royal Palace, and hear construction machines in many residential areas is consistent with such a projection. What will change, though, is that incomes will not increase this year as fast as past years and it will also become more difficult for the 250,000 young people leaving school each year to find their first job. What also will be different is that with no growth in aggregate, there will be a proportion of those with a livelihood at the end of the year worse than at the beginning.
As jobs become fewer and income harder to come by for immigrants in developed countries, the amount of money they send back home, known as remittances, is expected to fall this year more than previously expected. The Bank's Migration and Remittances team announced the latest outlook last week on its People Move blog: "We now expect a sharper decline of 5-8 percent in 2009 ... compared to our earlier projections," wrote economist Dilip Ratha, who leads the team.
While the steepest drops in remittances are expected for Europe and Central Asia – down 10-12 percent – countries in the East Asia and Pacific region are also forecasted to fall by 4-7.5 percent in 2009. Two of the world's biggest recipients of remittances are China, which received $34 billion in 2008, and the Philippines, which saw $18 billion last year. Other big receipients in East Asia include Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, according to the Bank's Migration & Remittances Factbook 2008.
Lately, I’ve noticed several bloggers and news sites have picked up on an interesting trend migration trend that many have dubbed "reverse brain drain" – the return of skilled immigrants to their home countries. With rising unemployment and an often-difficult U.S. immigration process, the notion of looking back at home for work has reportedly appealed to foreign nationals working in the United States for technology, finance and other industries.
World Bank economist Sonia Plaza writes on the People Move blog about the shift in terminology over the years caused by new trends.
|In Qingshen village, with some of the grandparents taking care of left-behind children and the NGO members who help them out.|
According to the Bank's recently published Migration and Remittances Factbook, the Top 10 remittance recipients in East Asia & Pacific in 2007 were: China ($25.7 bn), Philippines ($17.0 bn), Indonesia ($6.0 bn), Vietnam ($5.0 bn), Thailand ($1.7 bn), Malaysia ($1.7 bn), Cambodia ($0.3 bn), Mongolia ($0.2 bn), Fiji ($0.2 bn), Myanmar ($0.1 bn).