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UN: 2007 Global Economy Slows
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According to estimates by the United Nations, the global economy expanded by 3.8 percent last year, continuing the strong performance recorded since 2003.

Led by China and India, developing countries were prominent among the best performing economies, expanding by 6.5 percent on average in 2006.

But can this apparently benign pattern of global growth be sustained, particularly since growth has been accompanied by ever-widening global financial imbalances?

The outlook for 2007 is for weakening global economic growth. The UN's World Economic Situation and Prospects 2007 cautions that a weaker housing market will undermine US growth.

Consequently, global economic expansion will slow, as no other major country is set to take over as the main engine of growth.

With slowing world economic growth, US financing needs could cause a drop in investors' confidence in the future of US-based assets, precipitating a sharp dollar depreciation.
The UN report observes that national economic policies and existing multilateral settings are not designed to mitigate effectively the risk of a global slowdown or to address global imbalances.

In Europe and Japan, for example, monetary and fiscal policies have been tightening in response to domestic concerns, further slowing the world economy.

The build-up of official reserves in East Asia and other developing countries will provide them with extra means to deal with possible external shocks.

However, it has also limited the expansion of domestic demand and import growth, exacerbating rather than redressing the global imbalances.

Of course, no single government can bear all the costs of the policies needed to correct today's global imbalances.

But an internationally agreed set of policies could help reduce the risk of weaker growth in the major economies, maintain confidence in the stability of international financial markets, and avoid a hard landing for the dollar.

This would require, for instance, stimulating growth in Europe, Asia, and the major oil exporters in order to offset the contractionary effect on the world economy of adjustment in the US, which should include more restrictive fiscal policies, less private consumption, and higher domestic savings to reduce its external deficit.

Exchange rates should be realigned in a coordinated fashion to stimulate exports from deficit countries and import demand from surplus countries.

This is not just a matter of revaluing the Chinese currency, as argued by some US policymakers, but requires gradual adjustment of most major currencies against the dollar in conjunction with concerted fiscal and monetary policy adjustments in the rest of the world.

Existing platforms, such as the G-8 summits, are unsuitable to achieve this course of action, mainly because key players from the developing world are not included.

The multilateral surveillance mechanisms launched last year by the IMF are a step in the right direction, but only if they become part of an institutionalized multilateral mechanism of surveillance and policy coordination.

Jose Antonio Ocampo is UN Under-Secretary General; Rob Vos is director, development policy and analysis division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The views are their own. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2007. www.project-syndicate.org.

(Shanghai Daily March 15, 2007)

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