Worsening terms of trade, and the persistent strength of imports tied to investment spending have had a substantial impact on China’s currency account surplus. Economists here at the IMF suggest they account for close to two-thirds of that decline since 2007. But as I said above, there is little evidence that consumption is rising as a share of GDP. Yes, China is increasingly becoming a source of final consumer demand for the world economy, but its imports of consumer goods are growing at a slower pace than its imports of machinery and equipment.
Suddenly it's the thing everyone is talking about. Income inequality. In North Africa and the Middle East, jobless youth sparked the Arab Spring. In the United States, the growing gap between rich and poor is the “meta concern” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Worldwide, frustrations appear to be on the rise. And, in sub-Saharan Africa, sustained economic growth may have produced tremendous advances, but a large proportion of the population is still living in poverty. Here, the underlying situation is a little more complex. In July, I wrote about the importance of inclusive growth and whether economic growth was a necessary or a sufficient condition for poverty reduction. Our latest Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa takes that thinking a step further, with new analysis that looks at how living standards for the poorest households have actually been changing in some countries in the region.
Across the world, surging international food prices have become a major cause for concern and topic of debate. This is especially so in the Arab world, which is home to some of the largest food importers and where rising food prices have been one of the factors in recent political unrest. In the context of ongoing political developments, governments across the region are responding to the rise in commodity prices with hikes in fuel and food subsidies, civil service wage and pension increases, additional cash transfers, tax reductions, and other spending increases. These measures will help poor households maintain their purchasing power and limit further increases in domestic food prices.
With all the anxiety generated by the troubles of Portugal, Greece, and Ireland, it is easy to forget that a different part of Europe was in the spotlight two years ago, facing equally dire predictions of bank runs, fiscal ruin, and devaluation. Today, many economies in emerging Europe are quietly staging a strong comeback. Most impressive is the turnaround in the three Baltic countries, which suffered record deep recessions in the wake of the 2008/09 financial crisis. Take Lithuania, which grew an eye-catching 14.7 percent in the first quarter of 2011. Given this good news, what more can policymakers do to sustain the recovery—and prevent a new boom-bust cycle? Raising the long-term growth trend is key.
Continuing my travels through Asia for the launch of our latest Regional Economic Outlook: Asia and Pacific, I am writing to you today from Singapore. Last week, I wrote about the near-term outlook for Asia. Today, I turn to the key medium-term challenge—an issue emphasized by G-20 ministers over the weekend—the need to rebalance economic growth. For much of Asia, this means shifting away from heavy reliance on exports by strengthening domestic sources of growth. While much of the discussion on this issue has focused on ways to increase consumption, the role of investment is equally important and should not be overlooked.
As Asia starts down the path to recovery, it is going to have to tackle two issues which are constraining its long-term growth potential: firms that save but do not invest and wealthy households that are reluctant to consume.