Publication: South Asia Economic Focus, Spring 2017: Globalization Backlash

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South Asia remains the fastest growing region in the world. With a strong performance in the eastern part of the region – in particular in Bhutan, Bangladesh and India – the region defied disappointing world growth in 2016. Inflation slowed down in the second half of 2016, mainly due to lower food prices, but appears to be turning up again. Despite recent real exchange rate appreciation, current account balances are mostly in order throughout the region. After a sharp decline triggered by lower oil prices, remittance inflows are stabilizing in most countries and international reserves are mostly at comfortable levels. Progress on fiscal consolidation has been more gradual and public debt levels remain high. South Asia’s performance will maintain momentum, with the gap between its growth rate and that of East Asia slightly widening over time. Regional growth is expected to surpass 7 percent from 2018 onwards. Robust domestic demand, an uptick in exports, and steady FDI inflows underlie this positive outlook. But with financial sector risks remaining, creating financing opportunities for private investment remains a challenge. Pressures against international trade are mounting. The negotiation of mega-regional trade agreements stalled, the number of protectionist measures has increased, and existing agreements may be reconsidered. South Asia was already less integrated in global merchandise trade than other regions. In light of current pressures, a legitimate question is whether it should focus on exports as a driver of economic growth and job creation. However, the prospects for the region are better than it seems. The stalled mega-regional trade agreements, which did not include any South Asian country, were expected to reduce South Asia’s competitiveness. Simulations on the impact of hypothetical new trade barriers applied across the board suggest that the harm for the region would be limited. And in a scenario where hypothetical new trade barriers would be applied selectively, South Asia could actually benefit from trade diversion. The region also stands to gain from the observed growth recovery in advanced economies, because they are the main markets for its exports. The current globalization backlash should thus not dissuade South Asian countries from having a stronger outward orientation. But the gains for the region would be larger if its exports were more diversified and its supply response were more elastic.
World Bank. 2017. South Asia Economic Focus, Spring 2017: Globalization Backlash. © World Bank, Washington, DC. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
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