South-South Trade Helping Countries During Economic Crisis

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Weathering the global economic crisis is testing the stability of countries across the global South. But many countries are finding South-South trade and catering to their domestic middle classes can lift incomes and maintain growth rates despite the global turmoil.

A decade of boom in global markets as they became more integrated has brought rising incomes and created growing economies in the so-called emerging markets of the global South. Finance and investment from developed countries flowed into the global South and helped bolster growing economies, boosting incomes and bringing millions of people into the middle classes. But since the start of the global economic crisis in 2008, more and more countries in the global South have experienced turmoil, chaos and crisis.

The export-driven model that had served many Asian countries well – creating products for developed Western markets – is being tested by high unemployment in developed economies and declining purchasing power for the Western middle classes. Two trends that have grown in the past 10 years may offer a solution to this economic crisis. One is to build on the growth in South-South trade, and the other is to tap the growing middle classes of the global South by expanding the products and services available to them and further improving their quality of life.

It is well established that one of the key elements to securing sustainable prosperity is a thriving middle class. Middle classes in many countries in the global South are still classified as vulnerable – at risk of returning to poverty if the economy experiences a short-term crisis. Their resilience to an economic downturn needs to be strengthened, and this can be done by improving the quality of products and services available to them.

Building this market can also strengthen domestic job growth and help reduce a country’s dependence on imports.

One country facing up to this challenge is Indonesia. The New York Times recently reported that ports in Indonesia and other resource-exporting countries are quiet, as China’s demand for resources slows.

But while export markets are experiencing a slowdown, investment is going into Indonesia’s agricultural food-processing industry. Agricultural multinational Cargill (cargill.com) is building a cocoa-bean processing plant in the country, and the PT. Suprama (suprama.co.id/en/) instant-noodle factory is running at full capacity to meet the needs of the country’s growing middle class.

Many countries have experienced significant inflows of investment money as a result of stimulus measures led by the United States Federal Reserve (http://www.federalreserve.gov/faqs/about_12594.htm) to counter the economic contraction caused by the global economic crisis. This money, however, is uncertain and can just as easily disappear as it leaves to chase the next opportunity. Wise countries take measures to avoid being dependent on this fickle and fast investment funding.

Unlike in the Asian Crisis of 1997-1998 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Asian_financial_crisis), many emerging-market countries now have large foreign currency reserves and robust stock markets. They have also built up their middle classes and increased consumption. Trade links with other countries in the global South have grown enormously since the late 1990s. For example, the trade between China and Africa, as announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xi_Jinping) in early 2014, has surpassed US $200 billion for the first time, turning China into Africa’s largest trading partner

Despite a raging global crisis, in many emerging economies domestic spending is holding up and, in some cases, has never been stronger.

China now plays a key role in maintaining global economic demand. According to the global bank HSBC, Chinese growth adds “twice as many dollars to annual global demand as growth in the United States economy and far more than the economies of the European Union.”

An article in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/13/business/emerging-markets-in-asia-in-a-delicate-limbo.html?_r=0) suggested that global South countries can benefit from these trends by becoming an alternative to China’s “own increasingly high-cost producers of coal, aluminum, and other minerals” – as well as of clothing, shoes and electronics.

China is also in the process of altering its economy, from being the low-wage workshop of the world to an increasingly high-tech, high-value economy with growing science, technology and innovation sectors buoyed by heavy investment in research and development, for example China’s Xi’an Hi-tech Industries Development Zone (xdz.com). As China changes, other countries can step in and replace the industries that no longer find China an affordable place to manufacture their goods.

As an example, the Indonesian vice minister of trade, Bayu Krisnamurthi, announced that the Foxconn Technology Group of Taiwan (foxconn.com), which makes components and assembles devices for the popular Apple (apple.com) computer brand, is looking to set up a large factory in Indonesia.

“The other brands will come in their footsteps,” Krisnamurthi told The New York Times.

Other countries are bucking the crisis trend and using greater freedom to boost economic growth.

Cuba has been able to bounce back with free-market reforms. The Caribbean island has had its ups and downs economically since its revolution in the late 1950s. After the revolution, the country had several decades of impressive human development gains and built up enviable education and health care systems. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the country lost its trade relationships and subsidies and was pitched into a major economic crisis.

During the Cold War, the USSR hoovered up almost all of Cuba’s exports of sugar, nickel and citrus fruit, and sold Cuba two-thirds of its food and 98 per cent of its fuel.

What was termed the “special period” after the collapse of the Soviet Union saw petrol become scarce. Many had to turn to cycling and walking to get around. Factories closed and food production declined.

One estimate by Hal Klepak of the Royal Military College of Canada, reported in The Observer newspaper, found the economy collapsed by 50 per cent in the five years to 1993.

Since then, Cuba has endured significant austerity and has struggled to regain its trade relationships and restore economic growth. Tourism has played a key role in keeping the country going.

And since 2008, various economic reforms have started to shift the economy away from over-dependence on the state and towards a more mixed market model.

Its capital, Havana, is a UNESCO world heritage site and is a popular tourist destination with one of the best-preserved former Spanish colonial architecture in the Caribbean.

When President Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel, he began to slowly experiment with reforms to test how much market freedom could boost the economy and increase incomes. This has included allowing paladares, or privately-run restaurants, which are now flourishing and benefiting from the steady flow of tourists to the island.

The state now allows people to set up as independent traders in 200 occupations. Some have established entertainment businesses such as paint balling, others are running bars, or bookshops. It is now possible to easily change money in Havana and to find accommodation in private homes. Cash machines are spreading throughout the capital and more and more businesses will accept credit cards.

Registered businesspeople rose from 157,000 in October 2011 to more than 442,000 in 2013.

By being flexible, it is possible to discover new ways to grow economies and increase incomes, even in hard times. And increasing South-South trade is the way to go.

Resources

1) The China Africa Project: The China Africa Project is a multimedia resource dedicated to exploring every aspect of China’s growing engagement with Africa. Website: chinaafricaproject.com

2) China’s trade and investment in Africa: Resources to contribute to more informed investment and trade policies and decision making in sectors and locations where China is emerging as a major player. Website: http://www.cifor.org/china-africa/home.html

Made-in-China.com: With the continuous and explosive growth of Chinese exports, trade and the number of internet users, Focus Technology launched its online trade platform, Made-in-China.com. Made-in-China.com provides the most complete, accurate and up-to-date information on Chinese products and Chinese suppliers available anywhere on the web. Nowadays, Made-in-China.com is a world-leading B2B portal, specializing in bridging the gap between global buyers and quality Chinese suppliers. Website: made-in-china.com

4) Southern Innovator Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship: Called “Graphically beautiful & informative”, Issue 2 features entrepreneurial solutions for escaping poverty relevant to youth. Website: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator+issue+2&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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