A version of this article was published in Spanish in "Revista Gestión" (http://www.revistagestion.ec/).
The slowdown of the Chinese economy
By Luis Fierro Carrión
In recent months, alarm bells have been going off about the likely slowdown of the Chinese economy, which could have negative effects for the world economy, and in particular for commodity exporters such as Ecuador and other Latin American countries.
During 33 years (1979-2012), the average annual growth rate of China was close to 10 %, and it became the second largest economy in the world. The GDP per capita increased from $250 in 1980 (measured in purchasing power parity) to $9,185 in 2012 - that is, it had a 36-fold increase!
This extraordinary growth reflected diverse trends: the reincorporation of China into the world market; the capitalist development (within a Communist political regime); urbanization; industrialization; opening towards foreign direct investment and joint ventures, etc. There were some particular characteristics of the hybrid Chinese model, such as the expansion of state-owned enterprises (SOE), financed by the equally state-owned development banks.
But in part this accelerated growth simply reflected starting off at such a low base, after many decades of economic stagnation, "cultural revolution", state ownership of the means of production, and military conflicts.
The official growth rate target for 2013 is 7.5 %, but it is likely that this figure will not be met. The longer term prospects for the future are even less auspicious, as economists believe that China is entering into what is know as the "middle income growth trap".
The rapid urbanization process seems to have reached excessive levels, with high urban rates of pollution: 16 of the 20 most contaminated cities of the world are located in China, and the life expectancy in Northeastern China has started to decrease as a consequence of respiratory and other illnesses associated with pollution.
Workers are starting to demand higher salaries and better working conditions, which will make a model based on cheap labor untenable. Investment - that is as high as 50 % of GDP - is facing decreasing returns, as the labor surplus is falling. The Chinese stock market index (SSEA) has fallen by 8 % since December 2012. The state-owned financial system is facing increasing disequilibrium And the population is ageing, and growing at a slower rate (with the added problem of having more males than females).
The slowdown in China has already had a negative effect on the prices of commodities. The price of metal products, for example, has fallen by 6.5 % thus far in 2013, and the price of gold by 26.2 %. This has affected commodity producing countries, such as Australia, Brazil, Peru and Chile; and it could also affect oil exporters, if the same trend starts to be felt in the oil market (the price of the West Texas Intermediate benchmark has fallen by 7.9 % in the month to November 12, although it is still up for the year).
What can countries such as Ecuador do to confront the Chinese slowdown? Diversify its productive matrix and its commercial partners; depend less on commodities, and more on the increase of productivity of manufacture and services; depend less, as well, on Chinese financing, which will probably become less available and more expensive as China experiences growing economic and financial difficulties.