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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Asia’s economy to shrink, first time since 1960s. China to buck the trend

  • The region’s gross domestic product will decline by 0.7% in 2020, down from June’s projection of an increase of 0.1%, Asian Development Bank says
  • In India, where lockdowns have stalled private spending, GDP will shrink by 9% this year, sharply down from June’s forecast of -4%, the ADB says

Developing Asia’s coronavirus-battered economy will shrink for the first time since the early 1960s, with the level of output next year still seen below pre-pandemic projections even as growth recovers, according to the Asian Development Bank.

The region’s gross domestic product will decline by 0.7% in 2020, down from June’s projection of an increase of 0.1%, the Manila-based bank said in a report Tuesday. A contraction this year would be the first since 1962, Yasuyuki Sawada, the ADB’s chief economist, said in a live-streamed briefing.

“The economic threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic remains potent, as extended first waves or recurring outbreaks could prompt further containment measures," Sawada said. Downturns across developing Asia are more widespread than previous crises, with three-quarters of economies in the region tipped to shrink this year, he said.

China will buck the trend and is forecast to expand 1.8% this year -- unchanged from June’s projection -- as successful public health measures provide a springboard for growth, according to the ADB. Growth is forecast to accelerate to 7.7% in 2021, up from a previous forecast of 7.4%.

In India, where lockdowns have stalled private spending, GDP will shrink by 9% this year, sharply down from June’s forecast of -4%, the ADB said. There were also big downgrades for the Philippines and Thailand, which are now projected to contract 7.3% and 8% respectively.

The downgrades took into account that the pandemic has been “more serious" than initially anticipated, Sawada said in an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg TV’s Haslinda Amin and Yvonne Man. “Having said that, our baseline assumption is that health risks will be basically contained within this year."

“Large-scale" fiscal stimulus has helped cushion the blow and provides a base for a rebound, Sawada said.

Coming Rebound

Growth in Developing Asia -- a region that excludes advanced nations like Japan, Australia and New Zealand -- will rebound to 6.8% in 2021, in part because it will be measured against a weak 2020, Sawada said. That will still leave next year’s level of GDP below pre-coronavirus projections, implying that the recovery is only “partial" and “not full."

Virus containment “seems to be translated into growth performance," and a prolonged pandemic remains the biggest downside risk this year and the next, he said.

U.S.-China trade tensions and technology conflicts and financial vulnerabilities amid the pandemic also weigh on growth, Sawada said.

Policies focused on protecting lives and livelihoods, and ensuring a safe return to work and restart of businesses, are crucial to ensuring a sustained recovery for the region, he said.

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