Global integration of the movement of goods

THE economic meltdown has popularised a new term: deglobalisation. Some critics of capitalism seem happy about it—like Walden Bello, a Philippine economist, who can perhaps claim to have coined the word with his book, “Deglobalisation, Ideas for a New World Economy“. Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, is among those who fear the results will be bad.

But is globalisation really ending? The world’s economies are certainly slowing fast. And the speed and scale of this recession are raising doubts about the assumptions that had underpinned the drive to integrate world markets. At the end of 2008 the IMF said the world economy would grow 2.2% in 2009, less than half the rate in 2007. Now it thinks growth will be just 0.5% this year, the lowest for 60 years. Even that may be optimistic; in the last quarter of 2008, some economies shrank at annualised rates of over 10%.

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Nobody ever said globalisation had ended economic ups and downs, but this feels different: prima facie evidence of big problems at least, and possibly of the failure of globalisation to deliver many of its advertised benefits, especially to the poor. True, economic slowdown is not the same as deglobalisation. And the slowdown has yet to affect one thing. For years, poor countries have been growing faster than rich ones; so far, they still are. The gap between real GDP growth in emerging markets and in rich countries widened from nothing in 1991 to about five points in 2007—

and, says the IMF, it will stay at 5.3 points in 2008 and 2009. Helping poorer countries catch up has long been among the benefits touted for globalisation.

And yet the process is going into reverse. Globalisation means the global integration of the movement of goods, capital and jobs. Each of these processes is now in trouble. World trade has plunged. As recently as the first half of 2008, boosted by rising commodity prices and a falling dollar, trade was growing at an annualised 20% in dollar terms. In the second half of 2008, as commodities sagged and the dollar rose, growth slowed fast; by September, says the IMF, it was in reverse. In December, says the International Air Transport Association, air-cargo traffic (responsible for over a third of the value of the world’s traded goods) was down 23% on December 2007—almost double the fall in the year up to the end of September 2001, a result affected by the 9/11 terror attacks.

The downturn has been sharpest in countries that opened up most to world trade, especially East Asia’s tigers. Singapore’s exports are 186% of GDP; its economy shrank at an annualised rate of 17% in the last three months of 2008. Taiwan’s exports are over 60% of GDP; and its economy may fall as much as 11% this year. The downturn has also hurt rich countries that specialise in staid old-fashioned manufacturing—supposedly a safer activity than the reckless delusions of finance. On average, says the IMF, rich countries will contract 2% this year. But Germany and Japan, big exporters of capital goods, cars and electronics, will do worse, their economies shrinking by 2.5% and 2.6% respectively. In the last quarter their economies contracted alarmingly, falling at an annualised rate of 8% in Germany and by 13%—the worst since 1974—in Japan.

Small countries which went into businesses that grew in globalisation’s wake, like tourism, are also suffering. The World Tourism Organisation says international tourist arrivals fell 1% in the second half of 2008, which may not sound bad, but compares with growth of more than 5% a year for the previous four years. In the Caribbean, visitors may fall by a third this season; in some islands hotels are half empty, flights are being cancelled and national budgets, reliant on tourism, are strained.

In contrast, the biggest emerging markets are doing less badly so far. In India, where exports are around 15% of GDP, the government recently said growth in the year to April 2009 would be 7.1%; most forecasters put growth for the 2009 calendar year lower, but still about 5%. In Brazil the economy has been harder hit by falling commodity prices and declining exports. Most economists still think output grew a bit in the year to the fourth quarter, and put growth for 2009 at 1.5% to 2%. China was still growing by 6.8% in the year to the fourth quarter, though like Brazil it is probably stagnating. Chinese exports fell 18% and imports 43% in the year to January. All three countries have large domestic markets and relatively stable banking systems, which have not been liberalised.

The gap between toothless tigers and friskier BICs (ie, BRICs minus Russia, a special case because of oil) raises questions not so much about globalisation as a whole—after all, Brazil, India and China have been beneficiaries—as about particular aspects. Can one be too dependent on trade? How far should one liberalise banking? Is there a trade-off between taking advantage of good times and providing shock absorbers for bad ones?

Emerging markets’ trade problems have been worsened by shifts in capital flows, globalisation’s second big plank. According to the World Bank, net private debt and equity flows to developing countries will fall from $1 trillion in 2007 to $530 billion in 2009, or from 7.7% to 3% of those countries’ GDPs. The Institute for International Finance sees an even steeper fall; it says that this year banks will extract more from emerging markets in debt repayments than they inject in new loans. Bond markets in those countries collapsed in the last quarter of 2008, doing less than $5 billion of business; in the second quarter, they had issued about $50 billion of bonds.

As with trade, financial deglobalisation is hitting countries in a variety of ways. In this case, East Asia has been less affected because most countries there are net creditors. But eastern Europe and Russia have been hammered because local banks went on a foreign-borrowing binge, foreign banks piled into their markets (and piled out again) and because some countries lacked insurance policies against tough times. Although many big emerging markets have built up foreign-exchange reserves and cut their external debts, in eastern Europe reserves have been flat, external debts have risen and current- account deficits have grown considerably in the past decade. In these countries, the reversal of globalisation has exacerbated problems that were building up anyway.

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