7 June 2007

Make way for the Chinese giant

By Walter T Molano

The emergence of China as a global superpower occurred much faster than anyone imagined. China is the new giant on the block, with enormous resources at its disposal. An exporting powerhouse, China displaced the United States last year as the largest exporter to the European Union.

Chinese exports to the EU jumped 21% year on year in 2006, reaching 255 billion euros (US$336 billion), versus an 8% year-on-year increase in US exports, which totaled 176 billion euros. Chinese exports continue to expand aggressively, driving up

shipping prices around the world. The Dry Freight Index on the Baltic Exchange was up 41% year-to-date, with no end in sight. The earnings from trade are becoming a headache for the Chinese central bank. International reserves recently passed the $1.3 trillion mark. China's current-account surplus is expected to reach $400 billion this year - representing 12.8% of gross domestic product (GDP). The heady expansion of the Chinese economy is putting it in a leadership position, allowing it to move to center stage in the global arena.

China is having a positive effect on the global economy, which in 2006 grew 5.4% year on year. Developed countries expanded 3.1% year on year, while non-Japan Asia grew more than twice as much - expanding 7.9%. China's GDP growth was 10.7% year on year and India expanded 9.2%. The Chinese effect on the developing world was remarkable. The former member states of the Soviet Union surged 7.7% year on year, sub-Sahara Africa expanded 5.7% and Latin America grew 5.5%.

The commodity boom is changing the economic landscape across the developing world. The volume of global trade rose 9.2% year on year in 2006, and emerging-market countries increased their international reserves by $738 billion. This explains the emerging-market boom. This is not a fad or a reflection of global liquidity. The $256 billion of net private inflows into the emerging markets reflect the credit strength of these economies and their ability to grow.

At the same time, the United States is withering away under the weight of its enormous debt load and various asset bubbles. The US economy grew an anemic 1.3% year on year during the first quarter of 2007. Unemployment is picking up and the dollar is collapsing. The unemployment rate in the US increased to 4.5% in April. Indeed, April saw the weakest pace of job creation in two years. The impact of the housing slowdown is starting to appear in the employment data. The tightening of lending standards is reducing the availability of mortgages, forcing further slowdowns in the construction sector.

The economic slowdown in the US is accompanied by serious concerns about the health of the financial sector. With more than $700 trillion in derivative contracts floating in the marketplace, and much of it tied to the mortgage market, an accident is definitely on the way. Some analysts attribute the steady rise in gold prices to concerns about a looming crisis in the US financial sector.

The changes in the global economic order are also realigning the planet's geopolitical structure. China is starting to set the tempo in the international arena. It has the indisputable lead in Africa, committing $20 billion over the course of the next three years to develop infrastructure and trade. It is shepherding the reconciliation between North and South Korea, easing tensions on its eastern flank.

The growing irrelevance of the multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization, is providing a greater opportunity for China to exert a more prominent role without appearing to be a usurper of power. Fortunately, the changes are for the better, at least for most emerging-market countries. China's insatiable appetite for commodities is breathing new life across the developing world.

Last of all, China is providing a bonanza of cheap manufactured goods to developing nations - fueling an unprecedented consumer frenzy. The Chinese behemoth is rapidly displacing the US as the world's main source of capital, manufacturing and commodity demand, leading to a decoupling of the waning North American giant from the rest of the marketplace.

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