Global protectionist threats are not over

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

During President Trump’s presidency, increasing concerns about global protectionism were clearly visible. In the meanwhile, one may almost get the impression that protectionism has become a less hot topic.

However, in reality this is not the case. Many (global) companies still consider protectionism as a big or even the biggest concrete challenge beyond acute covid-19 and the current threat of overheated (asset) markets. With the knowledge we have today, this may be a realistic scenario,

The main source for the concerns about remaining or growing protectionism is the fear of further increasing nationalism. There are different signs of this.

First, there are still no encouraging signals from the U.S. pointing at more harmonization with friendly-minded countries. Rather the opposite seems to be the case when considering the American exit from Afghanistan.

Second, there is an obvious risk that future American presidential administrations will continue to apply Trump’s “America first ” policy also with friends – at least to a substantial extent – and go on conducting trade policy in the most favorable national interest of the U.S. “America first” is – of course – a kind of protectionism as well.

Third, China – as we have seen in the past – has its own definition of “free trade”. Generally spoken, China is supporting free trade when it benefits itself from such a policy. This may be a somewhat harsh description but should be more or less correct. Or differently explained: China has its own trade and FDI restrictions when it feels that its competitive position could be jeopardized by required deregulation of trade and inward FDI. According to the European Chamber of Commerce in China’s latest survey from June 2021, market access impediments were reported by 45% of the interviewed European members  ( China’s further superpower development does not indicate a more relaxed free trade policy in the foreseeable future. However, all this is still a scenario and should not be treated as an already well-based forecast.

But check out anyway reports from World Trade Alert for getting more information about different (emerging) countries’ stance of trade policy and affected favored products (! India is a typical country with long-time protectionism. Sure, India has been gradually opening its commercial borders in recent years – but not consequently enough ( Historical protectionism is deeply rooted in this mega country. Watch therefore India’s trade policy in the future!

Even the EU demonstrates sometimes worrisome protectionism. In my view, the next German chancellor – representing the largest European economy – should do everything possible to convince the whole EU about the decisive need to work more ambitiously for free trade. Since trade policy is in the hands of the EU, it should speak to a global public with only one voice. The EU should act more outside its borders and not too exclusively deal with its internal issues. This includes also future relations to China.

Time to wake up!

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board


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Help to India – much more is needed!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

Just after having concluded my recent article about India’s covid-19 (B1.617) crisis, the first countries announced that they would send oxygen and other desperately needed equipment to India as soon as possible – among them the United States, the UK, Germany, France and even Pakistan.

Concerning Sweden, I read two days ago a message from the government agency MSB (Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency) that the volume of Swedish help to India ultimately depends on the situation and how much support is given by other countries. In my view, this comment is a terrifying mix of ignorance and/or cynicism. In the meanwhile, 120 respirators were promised to India which, however, does not look very generous. More should be donated by Sweden. What about oxygen generators and other stuff?

Unfortunately, too many decisions-makers outside India still do not understand the gigantic dimensions of India. Sure, each aircraft landing in India with badly needed equipment is a good deed. A good deed is also that the EU commences now putting together a common strategy and common action. Hopefully, much more is to come.

Summary – understand the size of India!

I am still missing more convincing and wholehearted efforts from the international arena. Sure, we have to welcome that the Indian tragedy has been recognized more globally. However, the following three important matters of fact should be paid attention to more clearly:

¤  India is an incredible giant country with enormous further domestic contagion risks;

¤  enormous domestic contagion risks also mean enormous global contagion risks;

¤  reflecting on the two risks mentioned above means obviously – together with the current dramatic situation – that India needs much more equipment from abroad for fighting against B 1.617 than currently on the cards. Right away!


Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board


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“Pressure on China and India to revive growth”

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Presentation by Hubert Fromlet, affiliate (affilierad) professor at Linnaeus University (Linnéuniversitet), Sweden, on October 16, 2019, at its annual
“Baltic Sea Region /Emerging Market (China) Day“ in Kalmar/ Sweden ————————————————————————————————–

Brief summary in Swedish

Både Kina och Indien drabbas för närvarande av dämpad BNP-tillväxt. Tillväxtförsvagningen är mestadels hemmagjord. Kina påverkas dock mer än Indien av USA:s protektionism. Såväl Kina som Indien är piskade att undvika en ytterligare tillväxtdämpning eller att snarast möjligt komma på en (något) snabbare eller åtminstone stabilare tillväxtbana igen.

I Kina handlar redan nu all ekonomisk planering bakom kulisserna om att kunna presentera landet i en mycket positiv dager vid Kommunistpartiets 100 års jubileum år 2021 – men också att redan nästa år kunna framkalla positiva rubriker vid utvärderingen av de cirka 50 ekonomiska reformplanerna som lades fram vid Centralkommitténs Tredje Plenum år 2013. Utvecklingen bortom 2021 förblir oklar som resultat av den till jubileumsåret delvis artificiellt framkallade tillväxten.

För regeringen i Indien gäller det inte minst att återvinna konsumenternas förtroende. Nationalräkenskaperna visar att det är framför allt konsumenterna som på sistone blivit mer skeptiska. Indiens ständiga hänvisning till att den egna tillväxten på senare år varit bättre än Kinas håller inte riktigt eftersom Indiens upphämtningsprocess kommit igång tydligt senare än Kinas. Indiens långsamma reformtempo bör höjas i den mån det är möjligt.


Why GDP growth is so important to China these days …

Despite regularly returning general criticism, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is still treated by almost all analysts as the most important and most frequently used macroeconomic indicator of a country. Critics, however, mostly want conditions like the environment, national health, wealth etc. to be included in annual national accounting (GDP) as well. Certain governments work already on widened definitions of economic growth but rather in additional terms than on substitutional conditions. These efforts are – in my view – a good idea but certainly difficult to develop and measure in practice. Attempts should be made all the same – like intended in Sweden (though I have so far not heard anything about the progress in this specific respect).

Good numerical GDP growth means traditionally a lot to China and its political leaders. Progress can be shown to the public in a relatively simple and understandable way. The lagging accuracy of official GDP statistics is not really an issue for discussion in the second largest economy (second in dollar terms – but in so-called PPP terms, total Chinese GDP is already the largest in the world).

Outside China, however, many economists have recognized the qualitative statistical shortcomings and inconsistencies of China’s GDP calculations – however, without having the tools to explain these shortcomings in a more accurate way. However, it is certainly not normal that Chinese GDP-growth rates are more or less even during at least several quarters and very predictable from quarter to quarter and from year to year. This happens to my knowledge nowhere else in the world but in China.

The extremely important anniversary year of 2021

For this reason, I feel very sure that the evaluation and anniversary years of 2020 and 2021 will be presented as (very) positive years for the Chinese economy. 2021 will be a key year for the Communist Party, 100 years after its foundation. It is certainly not desirable for China’s political leadership to announce and/or admit a notable downsizing of GDP growth in 2021. GDP growth will therefore be particularly stimulated by monetary policy, certain (environmental) investments and financial support to state-owned companies – indeed as much as possible. Any GDP growth below 6 percent in 2019, 2020 and 2021 would be a major surprise – and probably mean that the development in reality has been worse than this. And besides, in Chinese mythology six is certainly a more lucky number than five.

It could be added when trying to figure out what is really happening in China’s economy, I prefer using indications or indicators like official statements by President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang and reading their comments between the lines, particularly when these top leaders themselves are pointing at a problem . I also look carefully at changes of the banks’ cash requirements at the People’s Bank of China and even more when they are loosened. This means normally an official easening of monetary and credit policy, i.e. an attempt to stimulate the economy and growth. Furthermore, the development of the Producer Price Index (PPI) seems to be another good short-term indicator because of its obvious correlation with GDP. Not to forget statistics on transports!

Sure, there are also many long-term challenges for China – such as private and (local) government indebtedness, the avoidance of a late bursting of the real estate bubble, the creation of new competitive industries with advanced technology, sustained social stability, clear improvements of the environment, dealing with demography and the necessary processes of improving institutions, financial markets included. And what about attempts to improve certain international political relations?

Without doubt, we can recognize China as a superpower that has to face many difficult challenges in the forthcoming decade and even beyond. But there is also a China with specified high ambitions and strong strategic objectives, well looking into the future and working actively for good or at least satisfactory GDP growth in the medium and longer run.

The outcome of this balancing act will remain uncertain for quite some time. But we know that the legitimacy of Chinese political leadership continues to be linked to economic progress, i.e. GDP growth.

… and India ?

More recently, GDP growth has been weakening in India as well, first due to decelerating activities in investment and now very obviously by dampened demand from consumers. All this his is certainly not a good message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. There is pressure on government politicians to work harder for renewed strong economic growth.

Currently, India’s GDP growth is still roughly in line with China’s – but after some time of higher Indian GDP growth than Chinese. 5 percent in y-o-y GDP growth during Q2 in 2019 means the weakest Indian increase since Q1 in 2013. The exact answer to the most probable numerical GDP differential between both countries depends highly on China’s assumed accuracy in national accounting (which we do not know enough about).

Consumers need to become more confident – both in the short and the long run

The currently declining speed of economic growth can be mainly related to skeptical consumers. Consumers’ confidence has been coming down – and, logically, also GDP growth. Future sustainable GDP-trend forecasts at around 8 percent – as often published about two years ago – can certainly not be taken for granted.

Of course, also India has a lot of burdening medium- and long-term challenges. Among them, one can find high governmental fiscal deficits, slowly moving legislation processes, poor infrastructure and environment, lagging human capital formation, political relations to China etc.

However, despite these structural shortcomings: India has two important competitive advantages compared to China – being a democracy and an average population that is ten years younger than China’s; together, China and India count quite equally distributed for more than one third of the global population.

But India can only benefit from this latter advantage if it will be able to give the younger Indians clearly improved conditions for their education. For this conclusion, we have a lot of scientific confirmation.

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board


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