Risks rise over future growth in China and India

Chemical companies, Consumer demand, Economic growth


Many chemical companies now believe it is inevitable that China and India will reach developed economy status. Some even believe that their strong growth will mean “the end of economic cycles”.

But as we discuss in chapter 6 of ‘Boom, Gloom and the New Normal’, the new International eChem/ICIS eBook, there are three major risks to this rosy scenario:

China’s demographic timebomb. Its one-child policy was introduced in 1978, to counter fears of over-population and famine. By China’s own accounting, about 400m births were prevented between 1979 and 2010.

This has reduced today’s 25-to-35-year-old age group by 75%. As demographer Kenneth Gronbach notes, “the 30-somethings will have to do the majority of China’s production, consumption and taxpaying, and when you have a 75% reduction in the group that is chiefly responsible for those activities, you’ve got a real problem“.

Lower incomes. China and India’s “middle class” have incomes that are only a tenth of those in developed markets, as we discussed in Chapter 4. This has major implications for the nature of consumption – and for the type of products that companies will need to make to prosper.

The transition is not guaranteed. It takes 50 consecutive years of 7% annual growth for a country to boost per capita income from $500 to $20,000, says Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence. China’s per capita GDP was only $4382 at end-2010, and India’s $1371, according to the International Monetary Fund. So both countries have a long way to go.

Recent growth in China and India has also come at a price: Poor air quality, chronic water shortages and deforestation. Equally, China needs to rebalance its economy away from its over-reliance on exports.

India must improve its atrocious infrastructure, and reform the harmful government subsidies that are holding back the agricultural sector. It is also often forgotten that India is home to a third of the world’s poor people, with 37% of its population (410 million) classified as poor by the World Bank. Its literacy rate is only 61% – and just 48% for women.

The new chapter therefore argues that China and India will require quite different products and services from those sold in the West. It also warns that their growth should not be taken for granted. Companies need to develop robust Scenarios, to manage the uncertainty this will create.

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