If there is one fact I think sums up the problems of the Middle East and North Africa, it is that the non-oil exports of the whole region, are $365 billion, about the same as the exports of Belgium, a country of 11 million people, compared with the 400 million people who make up the Arab world. This is a crucial indicator of the nature and size of the structural adjustment problem the Arab countries in transition face.
As I step down from my position as Director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, I would like to share some reflections on one of the central issues facing many countries—adjustment under fixed exchange rates. It goes without saying that these reflect a personal and not an institutional view. In the old days, fixed exchange rates were the norm rather than the exception. A body of literature and a wealth of country experience have accumulated on how to adjust under such exchange rate regimes, mostly in emerging economies. The expression “adjustment and financing” came to summarize what economies should do when faced with severe funding constraints brought on by high borrowing costs for government debt in financial markets.
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.
As a commodity exporting region, Latin America has greatly benefited from the commodity price boom of the past decade. But with talk of a new global recession, what will happen to the region if the boom turns to bust? The IMF’s October 2011 Regional Economic Outlook: Western Hemisphere sheds light on Latin America’s reliance on commodities from a historical perspective. Our study also looks at the effect of a sharp decline in commodity prices on emerging market economies and on the policies that could shield countries from that shock.
It wasn’t all that long ago when virtually all of sub-Saharan Africa’s exports were destined for Europe and North America. But the winds of Africa’s trade have shifted over the past decade. There has been a massive reorientation towards other developing countries, in particular China and India. Like Janus, the Roman god, Africa’s trade is now, as it were, facing both east and west. Our latest Regional Economic Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa looks closely at these developments and its policy implications. In addition to the well-known gains from international trade, Africa’s trade reorientation is also beneficial because it has broadened the region’s export base and linked Africa more strongly to rapidly growing parts of the global economy. These changes will help reduce the volatility of exports and improve prospects for robust economic growth in Africa.
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.
The center of global economic growth is moving from the West to Asia. Over the last 30 years, the Asian economy has grown by over 7 percent each year, doubling in size every decade. This success has been based in large part on outward-oriented growth strategies. But, there is growing awareness that Asia’s export-led growth needs to be balanced by a second engine of growth. How to achieve this rebalancing is a key theme of a new book from the IMF, launched in Hong Kong, on Rebalancing Growth in Asia—Economic Dimensions for China.