Global Policy Forum

Moving From Recession to a Real Global Recovery



Martin Khor

April 23, 2010

Getting the world out of recession into sustained global recovery is a top item on the international agenda.  The question is what needs to be done to achieve that.

A new South Centre report addresses this question, and this issue of the South Bulletin presents its highlights through several articles.

The paper "Global economic prospects: The recession may be over but      where next?" is written by the Centre's Special Economic Advisor Y?lmaz  Aküyz  (formerly a Director at UNCTAD).

It throws interesting light on the  global economic imbalances, the situation in the major countries, and what needs to be done, especially in terms of these countries' macro-economic policies.

The global economy is weak because there is insufficient effective demand globally, and this is a major obstacle to a sustained economic recovery. For the global economy to recover, there has to be a boost to global demand, while at the same time securing financial stability.

The paper  throws interesting light on global economic imbalances, the situation in the major countries, and what needs to be done, especially in terms of these countries' macro-economic policies.  It  examines how the major economies-the United States, Germany, Japan and China  - are contributing to global demand, what their weakness are and what policies they should take.

The following are among its main points:

US has to adjust

The US economy (with its problems of high household debt and trade deficit) has to adjust. It has to tackle its over-consumption and increase exports to reduce the trade deficit. But this adjustment will cause its own problems for many developing  countries as it may result in increased interest rates (which is bad for   indebted countries) and a higher dollar (exerting a downward pressure on   currencies in developing countries in deficit, and on commodity prices).

Germany and Japan have to play a more positive global role

In the debate on the global economy, attention has focused on the US-China relation, to the neglect of the role of Germany and Japan. These countries, like China, have been having large current account surpluses (7.5% of GDP in Germany and 4.8% in Japan, before the crisis).   They also have large trade surpluses with the US ($50 billion for Germany  and $75 billion for Japan).

The overall trade surplus of China (11% of GDP) and its trade surplus with the US ($270 billion) is higher. However the contribution of Japan and Germany to global demand and growth is much smaller than China's and their reliance on exports is much greater.

Firstly, the real domestic value of China's trade surplus with the US is   actually lower than the gross figure because there are a lot of imported   components in Chinese exports.  Thus in 2005, the trade surplus of China   with the US was $172 billion in conventional terms, but it was only $40 billion in value-added terms (the amount after deducting the import content of the exports of both counties).

In the same year Japan's surplus with the US was $85 billion.  Since the foreign content of Japan's exports is lower than the foreign content of US  exports, in value added terms Japan's surplus with the US turns out to be higher than China's surplus with the US.

Secondly, and more importantly, "Japan and particularly Germany have been  siphoning global demand without adding much to global growth."  During 2002-07, exports grew 25 times faster than domestic demand  in Germany and 8.5 times in Japan while the figure is less than 3 for  China.

While exports contributed 34% to GDP growth in China, they contributed 50% to Japan's GDP growth and 143% to Germany's growth in 2002-2007.   In other words, even if there had been no export growth in China, the GDP  would still have enjoyed high growth, but without export growth Germany's GDP would have fallen by about 1% a year during 2002-07.

Under-consumption as a major problem in Germany and Japan.  In Germany, there has been high unemployment and stagnant wages because of an over-focus on price stability.  In both countries, the share of wages has fallen, thus suppressing consumption.

These two advanced countries need to increase their contribution to global demand (and thus to the global recovery) by expanding their domestic consumption through faster wage growth.  Their increased domestic demand   and higher growth is needed to spur more imports and reduce their trade surplus, which would contribute to other countries' exports and GDP growth.

China should adjust, but don't expect it to be the world's growth engine

China, through its high growth and its reliance on both its own domestic  demand and exports, has contributed relatively more than the two  industrial countries to global growth, the report implies.

However, China obviously also needs to adjust.  It cannot rely as much as  previously on exports and it thus has to generate domestic demand through    significantly increasing its consumption, whose share of GNP fell from 55% in the late 1990s to 36% at present.

Under-consumption is thus a major problem.  Consumption has to grow faster than both national income and investment in China in the future.  The significant fall in the share of wages would need to be reversed.
The report proposes suggests a combination of policies for China -- promoting higher wages, elimination of the gap between wage and productivity growth, increased  budgetary transfers especially to rural households, and increased public-sector  social spending.

However, even if China maintains its high GDP growth, it cannot be expected to become the locomotive for global growth.  This is because there is a lot of imported inputs going into China's exports, whereas imports make up only 8% of China's domestic consumption.

Consequently, a $100 shift in the composition of aggregate demand from exports to domestic consumption would reduce Chinese imports by some $40.  This has serious implications especially for South-east  Asian countries which supply a lot of the parts and components to China  for its exports.

The exchange rate issue

The report also comments on currency exchange-rates, an issue made topical by the high level of criticism of China's currency policy by the U.S. administration and Congress members, and the threat to take trade measures such as an import surcharge on Chinese goods.

The paper says that exchange rates is an important issue in the  adjusting of global trade imbalances, but currency movements do not create  additional demand for the global economy.  They alter relative growth rates rather than raising the overall global growth.

Thus, currency movements cannot address the problem of global  under-consumption associated with sluggish wages.

A depreciation of the dollar against the Chinese currency could reduce Chinese exports and its trade surplus with the US, but would not increase  domestic demand and could even aggravate the under-consumption problem.  Thus the exchange rate is not an appropriate instrument to address under-consumption problem and excessive reliance on exports in China.

Dollar depreciation against the Chinese currency would also not address the root cause of the US problem of  over-consumption.  It is unlikely to produce significantly faster growth  of exports to China.  Even if it reduces China's exports to the US, this may be replaced by imports from other developing countries as long as US consumers continue to live beyond their means.

The US has run current account deficits in the past four  decades regardless of the strength of the dollar against the currencies of its main trading partners, blaming Germany in the 1970s, Japan in the  1980s and now China.  The yen has been rising against the dollar during this period but this had no impact on the surplus of Japan with the US.

Thus, the paper concludes that: "The solution should be sought primarily in  national policies designed to address problems of over-consumption in the  US and under-consumption in surplus countries."



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