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World Bank raises East Asia's 2018 GDP outlook

But it warns that a possible trade war can harm growth in countries that are part of the Chinese goods supply chain


THE World Bank raised its growth forecast for East Asia and the Pacific for 2018, but warned that a possible US-China trade war could harm growth in countries that are part of the Chinese goods supply chain.

The Washington-based lender said in a report on Thursday that it expected 2018 growth in the developing East Asia and Pacific (EAP) region - which includes China - to expand 6.3 per cent, a notch up from 6.2 per cent forecast in October.

The 2018 forecast is slower than last year's 6.6 per cent growth, reflecting a slowdown in China as it continues to rebalance its economy away from investment towards domestic consumption, with policies that focus more on slowing credit expansion and improving the quality of growth, the bank said.

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China's 2017 growth was a faster-than-anticipated 6.9 per cent, prompting the World Bank to revise upwards this year's growth projection to 6.5 per cent from October's forecast of 6.4 per cent.

Sudhir Shetty, the World Bank's chief economist for the region, said that the forecast did not take into account a potential trade war between the world's two largest economies, although he did not feel that one was imminent.

Some US officials and analysts have said that they believe that the dispute could eventually be resolved via dialogue, but Beijing reiterated on Thursday that no formal talks have taken place. However, Mr Shetty noted that two-thirds of Chinese goods on a US list targeted for increased tariffs are made in a supply chain that stretches across the region, particularly in the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Should the tariffs be imposed on goods assembled in China, there would be "a knock-on effect" to economies in the supply chain, he told a news conference.

"That is a significant thing to be concerned about because the success of this region is based on open trade," he added.

The World Bank suggested bolstering regional trade through mechanisms such as the Asean Economic Community, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership so that the region can try to insulate itself against the threat of a trade war.

"Will that completely offset the impact of a possible trade war? Probably not, but it could certainly mitigate against the worst effects of those developments," Mr Shetty said.

The pace of interest rate increases in advanced economies is another short-term risk for the region, he added.

Interest rates in most economies in the EAP region are currently at historically low levels, and monetary tightening may be needed to help offset capital outflows should rates in advanced economies rise faster than expected, he said.

This was particularly the case for countries with high debt levels or rapid credit growth, such as Malaysia, he said.

Meanwhile, countries such as Papua New Guinea, Laos and Myanmar may have to increase their fiscal buffers through a conservative fiscal stance and better public debt management, he said.

The World Bank expects the region to grow 6.1 per cent in 2019, unchanged from its prior forecast, and 6 per cent in 2020. REUTERS