Business / Economy

Vision for tomorrow

By Pearl Liu in Hong Kong (China Daily) Updated: 2016-03-22 10:37

The AEC should open up new opportunities and avenues for growth for companies from Asia and further afield.

"We will see those manufacturing plants that cannot take the high land costs and high labor costs in their home markets — for example, Singapore — move to a cheaper ASEAN country, such as Cambodia and Myanmar," said Tan.

Such developing countries appeal to companies, he added, as they have a widespread availability of natural materials and cheap labor.

While discussion of these shifts is the focal point of this year's BFA, it will be impossible for delegates to overlook the challenging short-term outlook for the region and the global economy, commodities and equities markets.

"China will face more and tougher problems and challenges in its development this year, so we must be fully prepared to fight a difficult battle," Premier Li Keqiang said on March 5 during the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in Beijing.

Some 10 weeks into the new year, the Shanghai Composite Index is down more than 20 percent, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index has plunged 7.7 percent.

The yield on the 10-year Japanese government bond has dropped below zero for the first time. At the same time, China's economy is likely to grow at around 6.5 to 7 percent this year, not enough to drive global growth.

Zhu Haibin, chief China economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co, said in a recent note that China's growth stabilization will be the "priority task in 2016".

"We expect the government will continue to reiterate ‘no large-scale stimulus', but it will adopt countercyclical macro policy and emphasize ‘supply-side' reform," he said.

China has lowered its outlook for two years running and the prospects for growth are weakening across the region. In February, exports fell 25.4 percent from the previous year as demand slipped in all of China's major markets and imports slumped 13.8 percent, the 16th straight month of decline.

Echoing China's slowdown, Asia also faces economic headwinds.

The ADB now expects Asian economic growth to clock an aggregate of 6 percent. Countries that rely on commodities are hurting from the global slump in prices while the slower-than-expected recovery in the United States, stagnant growth in Europe, contraction in Japan and other hurdles will continue to weigh on the region.

"Currently, we see an L-shaped economy in Asia," said Hu Yifan, chief economist for Greater China with UBS. "It is still in a restructuring period … the region's economy may dip to the bottom in 2018."

Part of the problem is inflation, or the lack of it, with low prices playing a big role.

"We will see a reversal of oil prices although there is no consensus as to when it will come," said Hu. "When they start to rise, there will be dramatic pressure on inflation."

Despite the short-term challenges, the changes underway in Asia are cause for optimism.

"The region's growth is supported by vibrant private consumption in the PRC (People's Republic of China) and expanded industrial production in India and other countries," said Wei Shang-Jin, the ADB's chief economist.

Wei will be a panelist at the BFA and will discuss topics such as forward-looking indicators for Asia's economy and the region's ability to prevent, withstand and recover from crises.

"Although we have seen some softening in a number of economies, the broader regional outlook is for continued steady growth," he said.

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