Slow Trade to Persist in East Asia

Business Asia, November 23, 1998 | Go to article overview

Slow Trade to Persist in East Asia


Further stagnation is expected for trade in East Asia in the short term despite signs of an economic turnaround in some Asian nations, according to a report released by the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO).

The report said East Asia's crisis-inspired trade downturn, which began to materialise in 1997, had affected most nations.

Imports in Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia, which had been in decline throughout 1997, fell further in early 1998.

In addition, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong-China and the Philippines -- which had posted import growth in 1997 on a year basis -- suffered a year-on-year contraction during the same period.

The findings have been released by JETRO, a respected government trade group, in a 1998 white paper on international trade.

JETRO suggests a downward trade trend has been established in East Asia.

"It is likely that the slump in economic activity caused by the currency crisis will further reduce imports and also cause exports to contract, and the trade depression in East Asia may worsen further ..." it said.

Exports and imports grew sharply until 1995 in East Asia. The area's exports in 1997 grew by 6.9 per cent on the previous year -- the second consecutive year that growth failed to reach double figures.

Year-on-year growth in imports in 1997 slowed sharply to 1.4 per cent because of sluggish domestic demand caused by the financial crisis.

JETRO said an electronics slump and nations' declining competitiveness because of "rocketing" labour costs contributed to the downturn.

"Although China and the Philippines provided the main impetus for growth in exports in East Asia in 1997, no economy emerged to drive import growth, and it was impossible to make up for the slowdown in the rate of growth of the ASEAN4 (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines) caused by the currency crisis," the report said.

Positive news emerged on trade in services (based on exports). Although 70 per cent of the US$1.3 trillion value of world trade in services in 1997 could be attributed to developed countries, Asian countries showed remarkable growth.

Despite the region's crisis, the World Trade Organisation estimates growth in Asian exports of services in 1997 to have exceeded that of the world as a whole.

JETRO said the world economy enjoyed a stable real gross domestic product growth rate of 4.1 per cent in 1997, while trade volumes rose by 9.6 per cent on the previous year.

In terms of nominal export value, however, world trade in 1997 grew a moderate 3. …

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