Globalisation and geo-political tectonic plates

Below is another very good CNBC video which tackles the issues of globalisation and can it bring countries together? It goes right back to the 15th century and the Age of Discovery and mentions when globalisation really began in 18th century Britain with the industrial revolution. However more recently with more populist governments countries has become more protective of their industries of which the US China trade war being an example. This year the war in Ukraine has pushed international relations to breaking point.

2023 will most likely see a significant slowdown in the global economy and the reliance on global trade to function. IMF Chief Economist Pierre Olivier Gourinchas talks of ‘geo-political tectonic plates’ where rising commodity prices, supply chain problems, a refugee crisis and higher central bank interest rates have all pushed the plates (countries) further apart to form trading blocs.

The rise of China and other emerging markets has been the success of globalisation but it has also led to protectionist measures and rebalancing of power. Therefore as a country’s power increases there is a need to adjust the way we deal with this imbalance i.e. some countries economic development has not been matched with their financial and global institutional firepower which is patly due to the dominance of the US dollar. This is ironic as the US economy’s share of global output has declined. Worth a look especially when teaching trade and protectionism – see also the table on pros and cons of globalisation.

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Globalisation to regionalisation and its impact.

With the global economy experiencing supply chain pressures, inflationary problems, higher interest and geopolitical tensions are we seeing a move to more regionalisation rather than globalisation?

Part of this change has come about from the decoupling of the American, European and Japanese economies from China. This ultimately alters trade and investment flows around the global economy and will mean lower economic growth and less liquidity. For instance consider the restrictions on technology including complex microchips being placed by the US on China. Janet Yellen the US Treasury secretary referred to ‘friendshoring’ which means relocating production to countries that fall within the US economic sphere of influence. Apple’s recent announcement that it would begin sourcing sophisticated chips from North America is the signal that many global firms have been waiting for to begin reducing their exposure to China.

Furthermore as well as the impact of decoupling of trade with China, a shortage of labour will also add to production costs and will result in slower rates of growth. Labour force participation rates have dropped as there have been less migrant workers coming into countries. This scarcity of labour will put further pressure on wages and ultimately inflation. To counteract the latter interest rates will continue to climb and this will lead to further problems:

  • The cost of financing economic expansion will become more expensive.
  • Firms that have lived off 0% interest rates and negative real rates (nominal interest rate – inflation) will face increasing problems on their balance sheets

In the medium term interest rates are determined by inflationary expectations and rates tend to move lower in periods of disinflation and higher in periods of inflation. The risk for all central banks and policymakers is if the rate of inflation goes above that of expectations there can be a further tightening cycle.

Response to shocks – GFC and COVID-19

The GFC and COVID-19 saw the primary policy response of an expansionary monetary policy (near 0% interest) due to insufficient aggregate demand. The result of this policy has changed the economic landscape. Today things are quite different:

  • insufficient aggregate supply,
  • persistent supply shocks,
  • higher inflation,
  • higher interest rates
  • slow growth.

After years of loose fiscal, monetary, and credit policies and major negative supply shocks, stagflationary pressures are now putting the squeeze on a massive mountain of public- and private-sector debt. Recession (negative GDP for two consecutive quarters) seems on the cards.

Source: The Real Economy Blog

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Barriers to trade not the answer during the pandemic

The WTO has warned that the reduction in global trade could be bigger than that following the GFC in 2008 – see graph below. For countries to start reducing the volume of imports because export volumes have been decreasing is not seen as the right way forward. With countries dependent on the global supply chain for PPE and pharmaceuticals, it would be wrong to focus on being self-sufficient in these essential products.

Source: WTO

As Martin Wolf of the FT pointed out the issue is not with trade but a lack of supply. Export restrictions merely relocate the shortages, by shifting them to countries with the least capacity. The natural response might be to become more self-sufficient in every product but free trade and globalisation does have its advantages:

US question globalisation whilst India embrace global trade

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a development strategy proposed by the Chinese government that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries. Through infrastructure development China wants to boost trade and stimulate growth across Asia and into Europe. Ratings agency Fitch said that $900bn in projects were planned or in progress.

India is a country that will benefit from this development and recently Prime Minister Modi positively responded to Chinese President XI Jinping’s vision of the world – the BRI being the most obvious and a catalyst to India’s foreign policy aims which responds to the global trends. These are:

  1. India has the potential to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030. It intends to do this by sharing prosperity and working with other countries to set joint goals.
  2. Political ideologies are now encompassing equity and environmental issues. In India they are becoming more main stream policies for government and sustainable resources use is important in the 21st century.
  3. India is looking at Asia as the largest common market. Asia is reverting to its historical equilibrium of an integrated continent and does not want to choose between India or China. Instead, it supports a resetting of their relations to shape the goals of the ‘Asian Century’, which include the Bell and Belt Initiative and security related differences.
  4. India has a comparative advantage in the digital world and the potential to be the engine behind global growth.
  5. India priority is settling the boundary issues with its neighbours, enhancing diplomatic leverage and building a $10 million economy.

China is trying to improve international norms, technical standards and institutions through the BRI which covers more than 900 projects – 76 ports and terminals in 34 countries and special arbitration courts, about 80% which are contracted to Chinese companies. Whilst Prime Minister Modi is trying to divert the Western framework for reducing emissions in favour of human well-being within ecological limits.

And as the rivalry between the US, and Russia and China intensifies, India can play a stabilising role on agreed goals within the framework of a multi-stakeholder in the “Asian Century”.

Source: Neighbors move toward ‘Asian Century’ – ChinaDaily 28-29th April 2018

Globalisation not what it used to be

Below is a very good short video by Martin Wolf of the FT on Globalisation. He discusses the following and uses graphs to illustrate the decline of global trade and other related variables.

  • Global trade has stalled in volume
  • Cross border financial assets have declined
  • Global foreign direct investment has fallen
  • Trade liberalization has stopped and the DOHA round of trade talks has failed

Holiday reading – “Deep Sea and Foreign Going”

Deep Sea bookDeep Sea and Foreign Going is an account of a 5 week trip from Felixstowe in the UK to Singpaore. Rose George explains how on a train journey that most items of clothing, electronics, food etc are brought to the UK by ship. The reason being that shipping has become so cheap that it makes sense to import items. She uses the example of cod – it is less costly for Scottish cod to be sent to China to be filleted and then exported back to UK restaurants than it is to pay the (small) salaries of Scottish filleters. Some interesting facts from the review of the book in the Guardian Weekly:

* Containers are the largest man-made moving objects on the planet;
* Triple-E class boats are around 400 metres in length and can carry 18,000 boxes;
* In 2011, 360 commercial ports in America took in international goods worth $1.73tn – 80 times the total value of all US trade in 1960;
* Even in the UK, whose sense of itself as a seafaring nation has long waned, the shipping industry employs nearly 635,000 people;
* Port authorities inspect less than 10% of boxes, making them of great interest to counterfeiters and drug barons.