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China – a blessing or curse for Developing Countries of Africa?

May 20, 2017 Leave a comment

I recently read in the New York Times Magazine a very interesting article on China and how it has built up enormous holdings in poor, resource-rich African countries. Although it may seem as a blessing to the local economy it does have its drawbacks. You can read the full article here but I have edited it for students doing Development Economics topic at A Level.
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Everywhere you look on the globe China’s presence can be felt, driven by its insatiable demand for resources and new markets as well a longing for strategic allies. In 2000 China had 5 countries as their largest trading partner but that has increased today to more than 100 countries including New Zealand, Australia and the USA.  Although there has been a slow down in China, President Xi Jinping has indicated that over the next decade approximately $1.6 trillion will be put into infrastructure and development throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This is serious money that makes a bold statement as to their intentions globally.

China hasn’t held back in trying to secure sufficient resources to keep their economy going. Besides oil and gas China’s state-owned companies have bought mines around the world eg:

  • Peru – copper
  • Zambia – copper
  • Papua New Guinea – nickel
  • Australia – iron ore
  • South Africa – iron ore
  • Namibia – uranium

However as the Chinese economy slowed recently the demand for imports of commodities dropped thus impacting on some of these commodity exporting countries – in particular mines in Western Australia, Zambia and South Africa have been forced to close.

When China met Africa
You maybe aware of a previous blog post in which I talked about the DVD documentary  ‘When China met Africa’ which focused on Chinese investment in Zambia – a very good look at the micro environment that businesses operate in.  Investment in Africa by the Chinese started in 1976 with a 1,156 mile railroad through the bush from Tanzania to Zambia but it wasn’t until the 2000’s that Chinese authorities realised that there was a need for resources to fuel its own internal growth. With this in mind Chinese companies were given free reign to go and seek these resources.

With the end of the Cold War and the Middle East becoming a major conflict area, the US involvement in Africa started to dwindle. Furthermore with the Trump administration raising doubts about free trade agreements and global warming there is an opportunity for China to push its own initiatives and push for global leadership. A Trans Pacific Partnership without the US is very appealing to the Chinese authorities as it allows to become a dominant player in negotiations with other members.

husab mine.jpegChina tends to provide no-strings financing that, unlike Western aid, is not conditional on human rights, clean governance or fiscal restraint. The Namibian finance minister welcomed China as an alternative but although the Chinese want you to be masters of your own destiny and dictate what you want, there are conditions which doesn’t necessarily make their presence truly beneficial. Namibia has seen significant Chinese investment especially in the Husab Uranium Mine ($4.6bn) the second largest uranium mine in the world. It is estimated that it will increase Namibia’s GDP by 5% when the mine reaches full production although almost all of the uranium will go to China for nuclear energy and thereby reducing its dependence on coal. Approximately 88% of China’s energy comes from fossils fuels, 11% from hydropower, solar and wind and only 1% from nuclear power. In order to reach clean energy goals and lose the mantle of chief polluter in the world, China has put a lot of emphasis on nuclear power and they have 37 nuclear reactors with another 20 under construction. The aim is to have 110 reactors by 2030 and become an exporter of nuclear-reactor technology.

The Chinese company China General Nuclear (CGN) has a 90% stake in the mine with the Namibian government 10%. Although Namibians are benefitting from all the infrastructure investment by the Chinese they have saddled the country with debt and have done little to reduce the 30% unemployment rate – Namibia has one of the most unequal societies in the world. In China independent unions are essentially illegal but Namibians have the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (MANWU) which accused Chinese state-owned companies of paying Namibian workers only one third of the minimum wage and also using Chinese workers for unskilled jobs that by law should be going to Namibians. As the unions’s secretary said “the Chinese will promise you heaven but the implementation can be hell”. Also scandals involving Chinese nationals  include tax evasion, poaching endangered wildlife, money laundering have done little to enhance the mood of locals.

Over the last decade China has got a reputation for pillaging and pilfering the natural world with its growing demand natural resources as well as the illegal wildlife trade. Chinese businesses have had public backlash over their proposals that could do damage to the environment. One company wanted to clear a 30,000 acre forest so that it could plant tobacco – the soil in the forest is totally unsuitable for this purpose. Another wanted to set up donkey abattoirs to meet China’s demand for donkey meat and skin whilst a Nambian-based Chinese company requested to capture killer whales, penguins, dolphins and shark in Namibian waters to sell to aquatic theme parks in China. Under pressure from activists the Chinese firm withdrew their request.

Is China the World’s New Colonial Power?

Categories: Development Economics Tags: ,

The Doughnut Model of Economics

May 8, 2017 Leave a comment

A recent book entitled “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist” by Kate Raworth of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, offers an alternative to the all too familiar policy of economic growth to solve the issues of poverty, inequality, unemployment in the global economy. Simon Kuznets, who normalised the measurement of economic growth, stated that national income cannot be a accurate measure of total welfare in an economy as it only measures annual flows of money and not stocks of wealth and their distribution. Raworth states that the current model of endless economic growth using up the finite resources of the planet is not the way forward. Most textbooks refer to the circular flow as the model of the economic system – households, firms, banks, overseas markets and the government which bears little relationship to reality today. Instead Raworth goes beyond this simple circular flow model and includes social and environmental issues – energy, the environment, raw materials, water pollution etc.

The Doughnut
Raworth’s circular flow consists of two rings – see graphic below.

Doughnut Economics.jpeg

Inner Ring – this consists of the social foundation and those things we need for a good life – food, water, health, education, peace and justice etc. People living within this ring in the hole in the middle are in a state of deprivation.

Outer Ring – this consists of the earth environmental limits – climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species etc.

The area between the two rings is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. As stated in The Guardian review, the purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there. As the graphic shows we breach both rings as billions of people live below the poverty line and climate conditions, biodiversity loss, land conversion etc are at concerning levels. The video below is a useful explanation.

China and the exodus of cash

March 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Another very good video from PunkFT. As the Chinese economy starts to slowdown by its standards (even at 6% growth) the Chinese are sending their money overseas in search of safer investments. In doing this they are often violating currency controls which are there to keep money inside China. The housing market in many countries have been driven up by the flood of cash from China – Vancover, Sydney, Hong Kong, New York and Auckland. Chinese spent almost $30 billion on U.S. homes in 2015.

How will authorities stop the outflow? One way is to increase domestic interest rates to encourage people to deposit their money in local banks. However this impacts those Chinese companies that borrow money and could prompt some debt-laden companies into deleveraging. Worth a look and great animations.

China’s wages on the increase

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Useful new video from the FT showing the increase in China’s wages and how they are catching up with those in the developed world. China’s labour force as a whole, hourly wage is around 70 per cent of the level in weaker eurozone countries, according to data from Euromonitor International. Has China reached the Lewis Point where the abundance of cheap labour has dried up as workers return to the rural areas? Could be used for the A2 Developing Economies topic.

International migration – what about developing to developing countries?

January 21, 2017 Leave a comment

When you look at figures regarding international migration, the movement of people from developing to developed countries is most talked about and is the most common of the four types. Figures issued by the McKinsey Global Institute estimate that 120m people have made this move – see graphic below:

Developing Countries Migration.png

The second largest move is from developing to developing countries with just under 80m. This flow has been a popular option as people leave a poor country for a somewhat less poor country in search of higher wages. For instance the World bank estimated that 1.5m migrants from Bukino Faso live in the Ivory Coast which is proportionately larger than Indians in the UK, Turks in Germany and Mexicans in the US. The Ivory Coast is a poor country but not as poor as Burkina Faso and with wages double what they are in Burkina Faso migration is an attractive proposition. The World Bank estimates that $343m in remittances flowed from Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso in 2015 and accounts for 87% of all remittances.

Another example of movement from a developing to developing country is India and Bangladesh with an estimate of 20m Bangladeshis living in India. The World Bank estimates that more money is remitted to Bangladesh from India than from any other country – $4.5bn in 2015.

Why is developing to developing becoming more prominent?

  • Neighbouring countries tend to share currencies meaning money can be moved more easily in ways that officials do not notice.
  • Poorer people cannot afford travel to the West or the Gulf
  • The poorer people are the shorter the distance they can travel so neighboring countries might be attractive
  • Neighboring countries often share a language
  • Tribes often span borders of developing countries
  • In developed countries most jobs require legal documentation and authorisation. In the developing world informal work is seen as the norm.
  • More less-skilled work is available in developing countries.
  • The West does not have enough jobs for those from developing countries – African, Asian countries may offer more opportunity.

Sources: McKinsey Global Institute, The Economist.

Social Progress Index v GDP per capita

January 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Although GDP has lifted millions of people out of poverty there have been numerous articles/books written on how economic growth alone is not enough to indicate how economies are developing – see previous posts on this topic. An economy that doesn’t account for basic human needs, address educational opportunity, protect the environment, personal freedom etc isn’t achieving success. Therefore understanding the success of countries beyond GDP means inclusion of social progress.

The Social Progress Index aims to meet this pressing need and incorporates four key design principles:

  1. Exclusively social and environmental indicators: The aim is to measure social progress directly, rather than relying on economic indicators.
  2. Outcomes not inputs: Measuring a country’s health and wellness achieved, not how much effort is expended nor how much the country spends on healthcare.
  3. Holistic and relevant to all countries: Creating a holistic measure of social progress that encompasses the many aspects of the health of societies. Knowing what constitutes a successful society for any country, including higher-income countries, is imperative
  4. Actionable: The Index aims to be a practical tool that will help leaders and practitioners in government, business, and civil society to implement policies and programs that will drive faster social progress.

SPI - 12 components.png

Each of the twelve components of the framework (see above) comprises between three and five specific outcome indicators. Indicators are selected because they are measured appropriately with a consistent methodology by the same organisation across all of the countries.

The 2016 Social Progress Index includes 133 countries covering 94 percent of the world’s population. An additional 27 countries are included with results for 9 to 11 of the total 12 components. This brings total coverage to 99 percent of the world’s population.

SPI v GDP per capita

Despite the overall correlation between economic progress and social progress, the variability of performance among countries for comparable levels of GDP per capita is considerable – see graph below. Hence, economic performance alone does not fully explain social progress. The Social Progress Index findings reveal that countries achieve widely divergent levels of social progress at similar levels of GDP per capita. You will notice that Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have relatively high levels of GDP per capita but don’t rate as well on the SPI. By contrast although Costa Rica’s GDP per capita is below $20,000 the country does rate highly on the SPI.

SPI v GDP.png

SPI - Very High Social Progress.pngThe top 12 countries have tightly clustered overall scores between 90.09 and 87.94. Five of the 12 countries in this group are from the Nordic region, confirming that this model of development delivers social progress. More striking is the finding that the majority of countries in this group do not correspond to the Nordic model. The top performers show that there is more than one path to world-class social progress. New Zealand and Australia are the top two performers, respectively, on Personal Rights. New Zealand achieves strong relative social progress, despite its high GDP per capita. This is a significant achievement given that it is harder for countries with higher GDP per capita to over-perform.

Social progress is about meeting everyone’s basic needs for food, clean water, shelter, and security. It is about living healthy, long lives and protecting the environment. It means education, freedom, and opportunity. Social progress goes far beyond crossing a dollar-denominated threshold. We need a much more holistic view of development.

Source: Social Progress Index Report 2016

Sub-Sahara economies hit by fall in commodity prices.

January 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Commodities have been the engine of growth for many sub-Saharan countries. Oil rich nations such as Nigeria, South Africa and Angola have accounted for over 50% of the region’s GDP whilst other resource-intensive countries such as Zambia, Ghana and Tanzania to a lesser extent.

I have mentioned the ‘resource curse’ in many postings since starting this blog. It affects economies like in sub-Sahara Africa which have a lot of natural resources – energy and minerals. The curse comes in two forms:

  • With high revenues from the sale of a resource, governments try and seek to control the assets and use the money to maintain a political monopoly.
  • This is where you find that from the sale of your important natural resource there is greater demand for your currency which in turn pushes up its value. This makes other exports less competitive so that when the natural resource runs out the economy has no other good/service to fall back on.

However it is the fall in commodity prices that is now hitting these countries that have, in the past, been plagued by the resource curse. As a lot of  commodities tend to be inelastic in demand so a drop in price means a fall in total revenue since the the proportionate drop in price is greater than the proportionate increase in quantity demanded.

The regional growth rate for 2016 is approximately 1.4% but it is not looking good for commodity driven economies:

  • Nigeria – oil – 2016 GDP = -2%
  • Angola – oil – 2016 GDP = 0%
  • South Africa – gold – 2016 GDP = 0%

In 2016 resource rich countries will only grow by 0.3% and commodity exporting countries have seen their exports to China fall by around 50% in 2015. Furthermore, public debt is mounting and exchange rates are falling adding to the cost of imports. With less export revenue the level of domestic consumption has also decreased.

It is a different story for the non-resource countries of sub-Sahara. It is estimated by the IMF that they will grow at 5.6%. By contrast they have been helped by falling oil prices which has reduced their import bill and public infrastructure spending which has increased consumption.

africa-oil-effectAs is pointed out by The Economist numbers should be read wearily as GDP figures are only ever a best guess, and the large informal economy in most African states makes the calculation even harder. Africa may have enormous natural reserves of resources, but so far most Africans haven’t felt the benefit. In Nigeria, for instance, what’s seen as a failure to spread the country’s oil wealth to the country’s poorest people has led to violent unrest. However, this economic paradox known as the resource curse has been paramount in Africa’s inability to benefit from resources. There is a gravitation towards the petroleum industry which drains other sectors of the economy, including agriculture and traditional industries, as well as increasing its reliance on imports. What is needed is diversification.

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