Last term, we pitted each of the four mighty BRIC economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – against a supposedly second-tier emerging market nation – Mexico, Turkey, South Africa and Indonesia – to find out which nations have the brightest economic prospects. In the main, the BRICs were victorious, with only Russia losing out to fellow Eurasian Turkey.
Now we want to find out which of these nations is top overall. Which of our four winners has the resources, financial position, and geographical advantages to carry it furthest in the future? We’ll try to decide.
Brazil and China have been two of the major emerging market success stories of the past few years, with both countries having weathered the global economic downturn with relative ease. 2011 saw Brazil and China move up the global economic league table, with China overtaking Japan to become the world’s second richest nation in terms of GDP, and Brazil pipping the UK for sixth place.
Their successes have been the result of similar economic models: cheap labour fuelling a competitive export sector. China’s export strength has traditionally been based on the manufacturing of consumer goods such as clothes, toys and household items, while Brazilian manufacturing has tended to specialise in cars and machinery. This new-found wealth has slowly filtered down to the masses, with both countries seeing a notable expansion of their middle class populations, leading to booms in demand for consumer goods, and further stoking their economies.
Trying to separate these two emerging market powerhouses is no mean feat. The outlook for both countries over the coming decade looks promising. Brazil’s recently appointed president Dilma Rouseff has introduced the second stage in the country’s infrastructure spending programme, known as the PAC2. Meanwhile, China is expected to experience the strongest GDP growth of any major economy in 2012, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasting a figure of around 9 per cent.
From an export perspective, however, it looks as though China and Brazil are on course for increasingly different trajectories, with a possible trade war threatening to erupt between them. While Brazil has traditionally been able to rely on its competitiveness to drive its manufacturing sector, the increased strength of its currency, the real, over the past few years and a consequential rise in the price of its goods have started to become a concern. Cheap Chinese imports are flooding the domestic market and undercutting locally-made products. In contrast, China’s currency, the renminbi, continues to be weak – many believe that its value is being deliberately restrained by the Chinese government.
It looks like Brazil is beginning to find itself the victim of its own success, with the country’s growing wealth and prosperity beginning to eat away at its competitiveness, which will affect the rate of its GDP growth over the next few years. China by contrast, although it recently saw a fall in its exports for the first time in two years, looks set to remain one of the world's fastest growing economies for some time.
The verdict: China
Turkey swept aside an unsuspecting Russia in the initial rounds of our series, despite boasting barely half of its rival’s GDP and population. Turkey’s secret weapons are its physical and political proximity to Europe and its combination of a young, educated population and up-and-coming manufacturing and financial services sector.
India’s major assets are its workforce of nearly half a billion and its growing reputation as a leading force in “new” industries such as ICT and communications. Paradoxically, however, India’s greatest economic strength may be its poverty. While the country boasts an increasingly influential middle class, much of the population remains remarkably poor by western standards, with the country’s GDP per capita, at around £2,340, the lowest of any major economy. This ready supply of cheap yet well-educated workers means that this Asian tiger can attract a whole array of industries, from call centres to computer software designers.
Any evaluation of India, however, must also take its weaknesses into account. With an increasingly urban population of more than 1.3 billion people, India’s resources and infrastructure are stretched to breaking point. The government’s greatest challenges over the coming decade will be to ensure that its cities are fuelled, its people are fed, and its creaking infrastructure is kept from collapse, all of which will require massive levels of investment.
Despite the challenges ahead, the juggernaut that is the Indian economy is certain to keep on rolling. Very few states can rival it for cheap, highly qualified labour and new-age industries, but one of them is Turkey. The country’s growing influence in areas such as banking and financial services should be boosted by its long-awaited entrance into the European Union, which appears likely to take place sometime in the next decade. Once in, Turkey will become the region’s second most populous state after Germany, which will place it among the Union's most powerful members in terms of votes. First, however, the country must complete a series of economic reforms to meet the entry requirements of EU entry. One of the hardest tasks will be taming the country’s traditionally high levels of inflation.
So overall, while the two countries have so much in common, India's sheer size and raw power means it eases past promising middleweight contender Turkey.
The verdict: India
As the US, Japan and Germany have struggled to ride out the global economic downturn, China and India have found themselves locked what the Economist has termed “the contest of the century”. It’s therefore fitting that these two Asian powerhouses meet in our final. While the there are growing tensions between China and the US, India is likely to be the People's Republic’s long-term opponent.
On the surface, there is relatively little to distinguish China and India, two nations which endured turbulent twentieth centuries and have since emerged as major economic powers. As recently as the 1990s, however, most economists expected Japan to prove the main rival to the US’s economic might in the new millennium. But it now seems inevitable that by the end of this century, one of China or India, if not both, will have overtaken the US in terms of the size of their GDP, and will have changed the shape of the global economy.
Until recently it has seemed inconceivable that China would not emerge as the stronger of the two. Indeed, the People’s Republic has easily outpaced India in terms of economic growth over the past decade to the extent that China’s GDP, at around £4.4 trillion, is significantly more than India’s. The tables may be turning, however, with many economists now identifying India as being in the more advantageous economic position. It’s time to assess the relative assets of the two states.
With living standards and industrial output having dramatically increased in both countries, the need for resources – oil, coal, base metals – is greater than ever. According to Bloomberg, China’s crude oil imports will grow to 11.7 million barrels a day by 2030, up from 4.8 million currently. India’s imports will grow from 2 million to 7.4 million over the same period. Neither state is able to produce all the raw materials it requires and both must therefore source them from overseas, the result of which is a scramble for resources across Africa, the Middle East and Australasia. Tensions between the Chinese and Indian governments have grown as both states have sought to increase their military presence in order to ensure smooth passage of their goods along vital Indian Ocean shipping routes.
The verdict: draw
India’s population has always been its strongest attribute, and looks certain to provide the backbone of the country’s economic growth over the coming decades. As China’s population ages and its workforce shrinks (in part due to the government’s one-child policy, which now looks set to be rescinded), India’s young, hardworking population continues to expand rapidly, filling its factories and offices, and providing a platform for considerable long-term growth.
The verdict: India
Both countries have adopted decidedly different approaches to government. Since independence in 1947, India has been a democracy while China still adheres to a one-party system. China has long been controlled by the Communist Party, and its lack of political freedom has brought criticism from the west. However, its governance has arguably facilitated the country’s single-minded economic progress over the past few years with few other states able to boast an equivalent degree of harmony between their political and economic ideologies. India, by contrast, follows a western-style parliamentary system, which, while often chaotic, affords its people greater freedom. With such different political set-ups in place, choosing a victor is an impossible task.
The verdict: draw
The rapid urbanisation and industrial development of China and India over the past two decades has created unprecedented demand for new roads, railways, ports and power stations. It is here that China’s single-minded political approach allows it the upper hand, with the government having pumped tens of billions of dollars into ensuring the country’s freight transport network is able to meet the demands placed on it by its manufacturing and export-driven economy. In contrast, India’s infrastructure spending programme has always been one step behind the needs of its sprawling cities and trade sector. India’s infrastructure deficit is now estimated to be over £600 billion. Finding this investment will not be easy.
The verdict: China
The transformation from an agrarian to an industrialised economy has been no mean feat for either country, with most key steps taking place in a fraction of the time these changes took in Europe and the US. Whether either country has seen an equivalent development in its provision of education or healthcare is debatable. In India’s case, living standards in its largest cities remain far below those seen in the west, with free education and healthcare still a pipedream for many of the poorest members of the population. However, China’s more cohesive approach to policy-making, combined with a longstanding cultural belief in the importance of education, means it holds the advantage here.
The verdict: China
China emerges victorious!