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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 October, 2003, 22:55 GMT 23:55 UK
1990s boom 'stunting world growth'
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The boom years are still taking their toll
The world economy is still trying to shake off the hangover of the late 1990s boom years - and there is little prospect of a sustained recovery in the near future.

That is the stark message of United Nations' annual report on trade and development.

In a gloomy assessment of the world's economic prospects, the report says there are still too many workers chasing too few jobs - and too many goods chasing too few buyers.

And the world cannot necessarily look to the United States, the traditional engine of growth, to haul it out of the mire.

'Double dip' recovery

"This is an anxious time for the global economy," the United Nations Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report says.

"The long-anticipated rebound in the US continues to be delayed and there are concerns that imbalances and excesses ... could result in a long period of erratic and sluggish growth."

Despite a succession of interest rate cuts by the US Federal Reserve, investment has still not recovered as expected and the labour market is in "its worst shape for some time".

The upturn in the US is already beginning to look like the "double dip, jobless recovery" of the 1990s, the report says.

Out of reach

At the same time, neither Europe - with its weak consumption and tight spending controls - or Japan, where the economy continues to stagnate, were well placed to step into the breach and provide the necessary leadership.

Global poverty cuts are under threat
The consequences for "even the most resilient developing countries" are likely to be grim, the report warns.

And there is a growing consensus that the Millennium Growth Targets - the agenda for halving extreme poverty by 2015 - are already out of reach.

The report found:

  • Europe is set to repeat a disappointing 2003 growth rate of about 1%, largely due to weak consumption demand in all the major economies.

  • Japan's growth is near zero and investment remains weak

  • Latin America has endured a "lost half decade" after the initial success of opening up of its markets to foreign investment in the 1990s

  • In Africa, the global slowdown has had little effect, but continued weakness of commodity prices means little improvement will be made on the growth of previous years

  • Average growth for all developing countries including China rose to 3.3% in 2002, up from 2.4% a year earlier, but below the average of 4.8% in the 1990s

Generally, little improvement is expected over the 1.9% growth of the world economy registered last year, the report says.

Job creation

But the answer, UNCTAD says, does not lie in greater liberalisation of world trade, as conventionally thought.

Domestic job creation must come first, it stresses.

"The rapid expansion of trade and further trade liberalisation depend crucially on a rapid recovery of demand and production in the world economy rather than the other way around," UNCTAD secretary general Rubens Ricupero said.

The report also criticises the "big bang liberalisation" of Africa economies favoured by Western donors, which in many cases have skewed structural change and "stunted technological progress".

It warns against a "second generation" of neo-liberal reforms.

WTO walk-out

But it also advises against a return to what it calls the "easy industrialization" of the past.

It calls for a wholesale rethink of development policy, drawing on known success stories and not attempting to find a one-size-fits all solution.

The UNCTAD findings come a month after developing nations walked out on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Cancun, Mexico, protesting against rich countries' refusal to cut their agricultural subsidies.

The collapse called into question the WTO's ability to reach a global trade treaty by the end of next year.

The new politics of trade
15 Sep 03  |  Business
World poverty fight 'in danger'
08 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature

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