지난 2008년 미국 투자은행 리먼브라더스 파산 이전 10여 년간 높은 성장세를 구가했던 신흥경제국들은 2008년 위기 이후에도 가파른 회복세를 시현했지만 최근 들어 성장률이 급속히 둔화되고 있다.
IMF의 자체 분석 결과 이렇게 신흥경제국들 성장률이 동시에 둔화되는 이런 현상은 부분적으로는 수출수요 부진 등 경기적 요인에 따른 것이기도 하지만 또 한편으로는 낙후된 기반시설과 노동시장 제도 등 자체 구조적 요인에 의한 것이기도 하다. 물론 아직 불분명한 다른 요인들도 관련돼 있을 가능성은 있다.
이제 많은 사람들이 갖는 의문점은 과연 이러한 신흥경제국들의 동반 둔화 추세가 얼마나 지속될 것인가에 모아진다. 그 답은 이같은 성장 둔화의 원인이 과연 얼마나 구조적 요인에 따른 것인가에 달려 있다. 즉 잠재성장률 자체가 둔화되는 것 때문이냐의 여부인데, 잠재성장률이라는 개념 자체가 모호한 것이어서 이 또한 논란이 될 수 있다.
어찌 됐건 이 부분에서 중요한 것은 신흥경제국 정책당국자들은 이 시점에서 성장률 둔화를 상당부분 어쩔 수 없는 현상으로 인식할 필요가 있다는 점이다. 만일 이같은 성장 둔화를 극복한다는 명분 아래 과도한 경기부양책을 펼 경우 오히려 오래도록 경제에 악영향을 미칠 각종 경제불균형을 자초할 수 있다.
결국 신흥경제국 정책당국은 차제에 지속 가능한 체질 개선을 위해 정책 역량을 집중할 필요가 있다. 예를 들어 국내 경제활동의 원활한 흐름을 저해하는 병목을 해소하고 저조한 분야의 생산성을 개선하며 산업의 고도화를 위해 정책을 집중해야 장기적인 성장을 담보할 수 있는 것이다. 단기적인 부양책은 더 이상 과거와 같은 성과를 거둘 수 없다는 것을 인식해야 할 것이다.
After a decade of high growth and a swift rebound after the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, emerging markets are seeing slowing growth. Their average growth is now 1½ percentage points lower than in 2010 and 2011. This is a widespread phenomenon: growth has been slowing in roughly three out of four emerging markets. This share is remarkably high; in the past, such synchronized and persistent slowdowns typically have only occurred during acute crises.
Our analysis attributes the slowdown in part to cyclical forces, including softer external demand and in part to structural bottlenecks, for example in infrastructure, labor markets, power sector. And this has happened in spite of supportive domestic macroeconomic policies, (still) favorable terms of trade, and easy financing conditions, which only began to tighten recently. However, a non-trivial portion of the slowdown remains unexplained, suggesting that other factors common to emerging markets are at play.
Is lower growth here to stay?
The current slowdown raises the question of whether emerging markets can bounce back to the growth rates seen in the last decade, or if their prospects are dimmer than we thought a few years ago. Strong external demand and developing supply chains brought higher growth through trade and specialization in the 2000s. And prudent policies paid off. Countries that managed their economies well in the “good times” had more firepower to deal with the global financial crisis. Conversely, economies with large external and financial imbalances, including much of emerging Europe, are going through a painful deleveraging process and have experienced a more protracted recovery since Lehman.
Whether this slowdown is long lasting depends on how much of it is considered structural— jargon used by economists to reflect fundamental changes in an economy’s growth potential. But growth potential is an unobservable metric. Taking into account the fact that cheap financing and rising commodity prices over the past decade raised investment and growth in many economies, and the fact that those favorable tailwinds are fading, we estimate that emerging market’s “potential” growth needs to be revised down. IMF forecasts for growth five years ahead are down by 0.7 percentage points compared to October 2012. Market analysts have made similar downward revisions.
What this means is that policymakers in emerging markets need to recognize that they will grow at lower rates than in the past. Otherwise, they risk over stimulating their economies and generating imbalances that will come back to haunt them. But there are things that they can do to generate higher sustainable growth.
Back to the future—renewed emphasis on old challenges
This discussion takes on added significance when we take into account the imminent tightening of global interest rates. Following the U.S. Fed’s tapering announcement, some emerging markets have seen large and disruptive capital outflows. And more vulnerable emerging markets, those with high and growing current account deficits and high inflation, have seen sharper exchange rate depreciation and bond-yield increases. Policies will be critical in the period ahead, as investors will increasingly differentiate between emerging market countries according to their policy frameworks and health of their balance sheets.
How can emerging markets get their groove back? At the risk of restating what may seem like “old hat,” countries will need to identify reform priorities to remove supply bottlenecks, boost productivity and move their economies up in the value chain of economic activities. This means addressing lingering barriers to long-term growth— pushing ahead with infrastructure investment and improving the business climate, for example. Countercyclical demand management policies will no longer do the trick.
The stakes are high and the need for decisive policy action is now. Given the time it takes to implement structural measures and the natural lags with which the economy will respond, emerging market rebound will not be fast or easy. But they will have to start soon if they want to avoid the risk of a lost decade.