Bangladesh, Nepal overtake India’s growth as slowdown hits South Asia

The World Bank's report noted that South Asia’s current economic slowdown echoes the decelerating growth and trade slumps of 2008 and 2012. Representative purpose only. Photo: iStock.

Bangladesh and Nepal are estimated to grow faster than India in 2019, according to the World Bank, which said that overall growth in South Asia is projected to slow down this fiscal in line with a global downward trend.

Pakistan’s growth rate is projected to deteriorate further to a mere 2.4% this fiscal year, as monetary policy remains tight, and the planned fiscal consolidation will compress domestic demand, it said.

Growth in South Asia is projected to fall to 5.9% in 2019, down 1.1 percentage points from April 2019 estimates, casting uncertainty about a rebound in the short term, the World Bank said in its latest report.

The latest edition of the South Asia Economic Focus, Making (De)centralization Work, finds that strong domestic demand, which propped high growth in the past, has weakened, driving a slowdown across the region. Imports have declined severely across South Asia, contracting between 15 and 20% in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

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In India, domestic demand has slipped, with private consumption growing 3.1% in the last quarter from 7.3% a year ago, while manufacturing growth plummeted to below 1% in the second quarter of 2019 compared to over 10% a year ago.

“Declining industrial production and imports, as well as tensions in the financial markets reveal a sharp economic slowdown in South Asia,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank Vice President for the South Asia Region. “As global and domestic uncertainties cloud the region’s economic outlook, South Asian countries should pursue stimulating economic policies to boost private consumption and beef up investments,” he said.

The report noted that South Asia’s current economic slowdown echoes the decelerating growth and trade slumps of 2008 and 2012. With that context in mind, the report remains cautiously optimistic that a slight rebound in investment and private consumption could jumpstart South Asia’s growth up to 6.3% in 2020, slightly above East Asia and the Pacific and 6.7% in 2021.

In a focus section, the report highlights how, as their economies become more sophisticated, South Asian countries have made decentralisation a priority to improve the delivery of public services. “Decentralisation in South Asia has yet to deliver on its promises and, if not properly managed, can degenerate into fragmentation,” said Hans Timmer, World Bank Chief Economist for the South Asia Region.

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“To make decentralisation work for their citizens, we encourage South Asian central governments to allocate their resources judiciously, create incentives to help local communities compete in integrated markets, and provide equal opportunities to their people,” Timmer said.

In Nepal, GDP growth is projected to average 6.5% over this and next fiscal year, backed by strong services and construction activity due to rising tourist arrivals and higher public spending. In Afghanistan, with improved farming conditions and assuming political stability after the elections, growth is expected to recover and reach 3% in 2020 and 3.5% in 2021. In Bhutan, GDP growth is expected to jump to 7.4% this fiscal year. In Maldives, growth is expected to reach 5.2% in 2019. In Sri Lanka, growth is expected to soften to 2.7% in 2019.

However, supported by recovering investment and exports, as the security challenges and political uncertainty of last year dissipate, it is projected to reach 3.3% in 2020 and 3.7% in 2021. “Pakistan’s economy is slowing as the country passes through yet another macroeconomic crisis with high twin deficits and low international reserves. With an IMF Extended Fund Facility supported stabilisation program in place, growth is expected to remain low in the near-term,” the report said.

“Obviously, the tensions are problematic for the whole region, but as we set off a year ago, the lack of integration into international markets is not just because of a lack of regional integration. Like India, Pakistan is underperforming in all markets and in the world,” Timmer added.

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