Growth in Asia will slow down in 2023, then pick up next year, Atradius says

Bert Burger, Principal Economist at Atradius
Bert Burger, Principal Economist at Atradius

Atradius, a trade insurance firm, has released its 2023 Regional Economic Outlook report, setting out growth forecasts for key economies in Asia, including the outlook for a newly reopened China, and offering a long-term view on the risks of geo-economic fragmentation resulting from ongoing supply chain reconfigurations and geopolitical tensions. Below are the key takeaways from Bert Burger, Principal Economist, Atradius, and the full report is here.

What were the findings of Atradius’ survey?

Overall Asia macro-economic outlook

Asian economies are on course for modest growth as they shake off the negative effects of tighter financial conditions, inflation, a weak global economic environment. Except for China and Thailand, most Asian nations will likely see lower real GDP growth this year than in 2022.

But as the aforementioned headwinds weaken over the coming months and the impact of China’s reopening cascades through the region, the recovery is expected to pick up in 2024.

Major Asian economies’ performance: a mixed bag

For China, weak export demand from developed economies and a struggling real estate sector will counterbalance the benefits of reopening and supportive fiscal and monetary policies — capping growth at no higher than 4.5% this year compared to 3% in 2022. In the long run, issues like an ageing population, low productivity growth, human capital mismatch, supply chain shifts and geopolitical rivalry may limit its growth, risking a middle-income trap.

India is set to be the fastest-growing economy in Asia this year and next, expanding at 4.8% and 6.8%, respectively. The country’s relatively strong performance is underpinned by a less severe surge in inflation, a strong domestic economy that is offsetting decline in external demand, and improving overall business environment, which is attracting global investments.

In Japan and S.Korea – growth will be muted at 0.7% and 0.8%, respectively – as high inflation dents their recovery. High household debt in S.Korea has kept a lid on consumer spending after rate hikes. Pent-up demand in Japan will partly compensate for inflation, supporting the recovery in domestic consumption to continue but slower than 2022.

ASEAN-5 more resilient than ever

With their increasingly robust economies and financial systems, the five largest emerging markets in Southeast Asia known as ASEAN-5 have remained resilient against recent external shocks, making them more likely to benefit from the global supply chain diversification trend. ASEAN-5 consists of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Together with five other countries, they form ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Philippines will grow the fastest at 4.1%, followed by Thailand (4%) and Vietnam (4%). Thailand’s resurgence as a preferred holiday destination will boost revenues and push growth to 4% compared to 2.6% in 2022. Indonesia will be a laggard, growing at 3.6% before seeing a surge in growth to 5.5% in 2024, as private investments benefit from a new law.

Emerging risk of geo-economic fragmentation

While the diversification of supply chains, triggered by Covid-19 and geopolitical tensions between the US and China, has benefited India, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, a broadening of this trend may risk a sharp geo-economic fragmentation of financial and trade flows.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ensuing sanctions on the country have already led to increased uncertainty around future trade relations. The potential consequences of a fragmentation scenario – reduced investments, jobs and growth – are expected to result in large economic losses for Asia due to its central role in global manufacturing.