Ten big emerging markets, located in every part of the world, will change the face of global economics and politics. They are: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Poland, Turkey, India, Indonesia, China, and South Korea.
Each big emerging market is important as an individual country; but it is the combined effect of the group as a whole that will have a critical impact on American interests at home and abroad.
The big emerging markets are the key swing factor in the future growth of world trade, global financial stability, and the transition to free market economies in Asia, Central Europe, and Latin America. They are also crucial to nuclear nonproliferation, the improvement of human rights, environmental cooperation, and the avoidance of war in several critical hotspots.
The big emerging markets (BEMs) are often in the news these days, but without a broader framework for thinking about them, the stories appear far less significant than they are. When the Mexican economy went into a tailspin in 1995, it looked like a story about Mexico, but in fact that nation’s troubles were but an advanced state of similar economic and political pressures found in many other BEMs–growth that was too reliant on foreign borrowing, mixed with a government unable to manage the powerful political pressures acting on it at home and abroad. In 1996, when Washington and Beijing went to the brink of a trade war over China’s refusal to enforce laws protecting patents, trademarks, and copyrights–what is called “intellectual property”–it was an acute case of problems similar to those America has with many other BEMs. A few months later when India refused to sign the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty despite massive U.S. arm-twisting to do so, or when the Turkish prime minister concluded an oil deal with Iran in defiance of American efforts to isolate Iran with sanctions, New Delhi and Ankara were reflecting the growing political independence that the Big Ten are exercising. And when South Korean police brutally stormed several universities to quell rioting in August 1996, or when Indonesian President Suharto repressed political dissent that same month, the seething pressures for more freedom reflected similar, albeit less acute, tensions in other BEMs undergoing tumultuous political and economic change.
Why should Americans care about this group of ten countries? Who are they, and why are they important? Let’s take a look at the ten central players in the dramatic global transformation that is underway.
THE BIG TEN
As so many Americans now know from the heated political debates over NAFTA in 1993 and the financial crisis of 1995, Mexico presents both great opportunities and great dilemmas for the United States. A nation of 88 million people, it is the second largest country in all of Latin America and shares a thousand-mile land border with the United States. Our two nations are closely intertwined by trade, investment, banking, legal and illegal movement of people, as well as the need for close cooperation on environmental protection and narcotics trafficking. Mexico represents an enormous commercial market for American firms, but its cheap labor also poses threats to the American workforce, and its history of booms and busts has on more than one occasion created havoc with our economic links. In the late 1990s, Mexico will be preoccupied with recovering from a financial crisis, opening its economy toward greater foreign trade, and moving its political system to more democracy.
Before the peso collapsed in 1995, Mexico was gaining substantial political influence around the world. It was the first developing country in the hemisphere to join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development–the “rich nations’ club” of the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Western Europe–and the first Latin American country to join the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, a Pacific Rim grouping that includes the United States and that seeks to create a free trade zone within the next few decades. To its great credit, Mexico responded to its financial crisis decisively and courageously, resisting severe pressures to erect new trade barriers or to slow down important free market reforms. It has already repaid the emergency loans to the United States that kept it afloat in 1995, and has regained its ability to borrow funds in international markets. Mexico, in fact, is moving from being a very closed economy to one of the most open trading nations. Today, an economic recovery appears on the horizon, and the economic fundamentals look strong. And although the road back will take time to travel, before the end of the century, Mexico is likely to reemerge as a prosperous nation, and one with substantial influence in the hemisphere and beyond. It will also resume its place as one of America’s most important markets. Already U.S. exports are back to pre-crisis levels.
With 165 million people, Brazil is the largest country in South America in population and also in geographical territory. Charles de Gaulle, former president of France, is rumored to have said, “Brazil is the country of the future … and will always be.” For Brazil, the future is now. Historically plagued by hyperinflation, sometimes as high as 2,500 percent per year, under its last and current government Brazil has reduced annual price rises to below 15 percent. The economy used to be protected by large tariffs and tight quotas on imports, and some products like computers and cars were kept out completely. All this is ending. There has been substantial trade liberalization and an unprecedented welcoming of foreign investment. Today Brazil accounts for over a quarter of all imports from around the world into Latin America and the Caribbean. It is the single largest destination for American investment in South America, and is our largest trading partner there. The country has a highly advanced technological base, and huge requirements to build a modern infrastructure in such areas as transportation and communication–auguring well for its potential as an ever greater trading partner for the United States.
Brazil is also playing a larger role on the world stage than ever before. It is a strong voice in global trade negotiations, a supporter of nuclear nonproliferation, and a provider of troops for peacekeeping operations. Closer to home, Brasilia is taking the lead in building a South American trading block called Mercosur, which now links the country to Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile, and which could become a rival to NAFTA. Brazil’s growing political clout in the hemisphere is tangible. Over the past few years, Washington has worked hard to build cooperative ties with governments from Canada to the tip of Argentina. Before every important policy decision, it has had to get Brazil’s consent and agree with Brasilia on the next steps.
Until the early 1990s Argentina, like Brazil, was decimated by inflation. It, too, has brought runaway prices under tight control. It has transformed itself from a highly protectionist economy to an open one. Probably no other country in the developing world has moved so extensively to sell its government-owned companies to private investors. Until the Mexico crisis in 1995, which cast an economic shadow across Latin America, Argentina experienced industrial growth that was among the highest in the world, fueled by a rise in investment and productivity. The strength of a nation is judged by many criteria these days, but in an era in which economic and financial policies count for so much, Argentina has impressed the global markets by its ability to withstand a serious recession in 1995 and continue pursuing free market policies. The country has a highly sophisticated industrial and agricultural sector. Despite its relatively small population–35 million–it has become an attractive commercial partner for the United States, not only because of its extensive economic reforms, but also because of its membership in Mercosur. American companies like General Motors or IBM see great opportunities to use Argentina as a base to sell and invest throughout the region. Together, Argentina and Brazil account for over half the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Latin America.
Across the Atlantic, South Africa, with a population of 41 million, represents over 45 percent of the GDP of its entire continent. It is the most advanced, productive, and balanced economy in all of Africa, not to mention the most vibrant democracy and the most potent military force. It has a modern infrastructure, and highly sophisticated industries in finance, communications, transport, and energy, as well as several home-grown multinational companies. It has one of the most advanced stock exchanges in the world. Its market absorbs products from all of Africa and its companies provide critically essential goods and services for all of its neighboring countries.
Pretoria’s success will spill over into all of Africa, as will its failures. A peaceful, democratic, and prosperous South Africa would set a good example of a country that has managed to reconcile and overcome ethnic divisions, whereas a South Africa that fails in this effort would send alarming signals throughout the continent. But in addition to being so influential in its own neighborhood, South Africa could be a powerful trading partner and ally to America because of its future growth potential as well as its ethnic bond with African-Americans.
Turkey, with a population of 61 million people, occupies one of the most strategic positions in the world, sharing borders with Syria, Iraq, and Iran, not to mention the Balkans and several countries on the southern flank of the former Soviet Union. It is a member of NATO and has formed a customs union with the European Union. It has long been a military ally of the United States, supplying bases and troops, most recently in the Gulf War. The country has overwhelming importance to America as a strategic ally in a highly volatile Islamic region; indeed, Washington is counting on it to be a bulwark against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism into Europe. Turkey is among the most industrialized nations outside of America, Western Europe, and Japan, and it aspires to be an economic hub for the vast region that surrounds it. Its strong historical and ethnic ties to neighboring countries, as well as its huge market and its commercial expertise, put it in a good position to achieve this goal, provided it gets its own economic house in order with sounder budget policies and privatization of state-owned firms. It is already the largest U.S. trading partner in the region, but the potential is much greater.
The largest country in Eastern Europe, with 39 million people–more than Hungary and the Czech Republic combined–Poland was the first post-Communist country to emerge from the recession that blanketed the region after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. Poland quickly established a democracy, moved rapidly to privatize its economy, and made remarkable strides in getting its finances in order. Once a Soviet-style economy dominated by heavy industry, it has moved quickly to build a service-oriented sector based on banking, tourism, health care, and leisure activities. Poland has emerged as the most entrepreneurial country in the ex-Communist region, sprouting some two million new businesses in the 1990s. With one of the fastest growing economies on the continent, it has become the beneficiary of large-scale investment from Europe, particularly from Germany and the United States. It is also emerging as a key trading partner for American firms in a region with a highly educated workforce and the biggest and most stable middle class in the former Soviet bloc. This country, which aspires to join the European Union and NATO and has an excellent chance of doing both, wields a great deal of influence in a region that is now at the heart of a much enlarged Europe.
Across the Pacific there are four Asian BEMs. South Korea, with 45 million people, is the most highly industrialized of all of the Big Ten. In the last few decades, Seoul’s rapid economic advancement has made South Korea one of the most economically powerful nations outside of North America, Western Europe, and Japan. Its economy represents about 7 percent of the entire East Asian GDP, and its highly protected market, were it to open more quickly, holds great potential for American firms. Between 1994 and 1995, for example, despite its huge trade barriers, both exports and imports of South Korea increased by over 30 percent–more than those of any other major country.
Seoul has become a major foreign investor in Asia, with hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and elsewhere. It is also a fierce competitor, as companies like Samsung or Goldstar have burst onto the global scene in the last decade. In education, as well as research and development, South Korea can match many European nations.
Strategically, South Korea is a crucial partner for the United States in Northeast Asia, where the North and South Korean armies maintain a state of high readiness to confront one another in what may be the most serious possibility of large-scale war anywhere in the world today. Nevertheless, peaceful reunification of the two Koreas is also a plausible scenario, in which case we may see the emergence of a powerhouse in all dimensions–economic, industrial, and military.
With a population of 1.2 billion, China is by far the biggest of the BEMs. By several measures it is likely to be one of the three largest economies within the next decade. Beijing has attracted commitments of overseas funds on the order of $80 billion per year in 1994 and 1995, half of which has already been invested, making it the largest destination of direct foreign investment in the developing world, and the fourth largest in the world behind the United States, Great Britain, and France.
No market holds more long-term potential for America, and China has become a key element in the global strategy of hundreds of America’s top firms. The future of China is also the future of most of Asia. If China is able to link its vast economy further into the global network of trade and finance, world commerce could expand significantly. If China can establish itself as a nation seeking peace with all of its neighbors, as well as become a force to help settle regional disputes, then the prospects for Asia are indeed bright. On the other hand, China may prove to be an enormously disruptive force in the region, creating serious military and economic tensions from Seoul to Sydney. It is likely that our relationship with China will emerge in the next decade as the most important focus of our entire foreign policy.
Not only is China itself a big emerging market, but so is the “Chinese Economic Area” comprising China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Hong Kong, after all, will become part of China in the summer of 1997. And despite political tensions, commercial ties between Beijing and Taipei are booming. Taiwanese investors have had a heavy focus on low-technology production of such items as shoes and toys. Now, however, they are moving into more sophisticated products such as Chinese-languages computer software and biotechnology. Many innovative companies already see the Chinese Economic Area as an integrated market. From the outset the Clinton administration called the Chinese Economic Area a BEM, rather than just China.
Indonesia, with a population of 194 million, is the world’s fourth largest nation in terms of people, and the world’s largest Muslim nation. It has become not just one of the world’s fastest-growing countries but also the home to billions of dollars of American investment, particularly in the energy sector, but increasingly also in manufacturing. Indonesia has also been a regular supplier of peacekeeping forces around the world.
Like many other BEMs, the significance of Indonesia to American interests can be accurately gauged only by looking at its role and influence in its wider region. And in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is both a major economic and military force. It plays a leading role in the important Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a group comprised of several very rapidly growing countries including Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and one that is now beginning to coordinate its trade and military policies and is becoming an integrated market with a population of 414 million and a combined GDP of over $500 billion. In fact, the real BEM is not just Indonesia, but ASEAN itself; this actually was how the Clinton administration ultimately defined the BEM in the region. This broader interpretation of a big emerging market in Southeast Asia makes good sense, because American companies are seeing it the same way–linking themselves through trade and investment to one or another of the countries, often with the idea of using them as a platform to serve the entire ASEAN market.
India, with a population of 914 million, including a “middle class” of well over 100 million people, is vast by any standard. It has a diversified industrial base, with large-scale production of coal, steel, cement, chemicals, heavy machinery, and textiles. Its highly trained and educated workforce has helped make it one of the world’s largest exporters of computer software.
Unlike many BEMs, India has a sophisticated commercial and legal code. Like the others, it has placed economic progress at the heart of its national policies, and in just the last few years it has succeeded in opening its economy to the rest of the world beyond anything that most observers would have imagined possible in so short a time. Between 1991 and 1995, the government largely abolished a heavy-handed system in which anyone wanting to set up a business needed to struggle through months, if not years, of red tape to get a license; it slashed tariffs from a maximum of 300 percent to 50 percent; it ended government monopolies in electric power, telecommunications, and aviation; and it welcomed foreign investment for the first time in fifty years.
The United States is already India’s largest economic partner, and its trade and investment links with America are sure to grow. Like China, India has a nuclear weapons capability, a large army, and an aspiring navy, guaranteeing it influence well beyond economics. India and its neighbor, Pakistan, have clashed three times since independence in 1947, and continued military tensions among those two potential nuclear powers make the region one of the world’s most dangerous hotspots.
The Selection Criteria
It is never easy to select some countries and reject others. No two countries are alike, so many criteria must be weighed. In identifying the BEMs, here are some of the key considerations used in selecting which countries qualify:
They have large populations, large resource bases, large markets, and are powerhouses in their respective regions. China, India, and Indonesia are three of the four most populous countries in the world. Each of these, plus Brazil, occupy enormous land masses. If any of the Big Ten are economically successful, their progress will spur development in the countries all around them. Conversely, if they experience an economic crisis, they have the capacity to bring down their neighbors.
They are bursting onto the world scene, shattering the status quo. With the Cold War over, the big emerging markets are seeking their place in the global hierarchy. They are finding a new sense of national pride. They want a larger voice in international politics. They want a bigger share of the global economic pie. In order to build their economies and to enhance their global competitiveness and prestige, they want to acquire the latest technology and put it to work effectively. Their young workers will produce hundreds of billions of dollars worth of products that will be less expensive than ours, and often just as good. This will cause major changes in the structure of world trade and investment, painful dislocations for millions of American workers, and strong downward pressure on American wages.
They are critical participants in the major political, economic, and social dramas taking place on the world scene. All the BEMs are struggling to make the transition from authoritarian state-run economies to democratic capitalism, and on their success rests the future of global politics and economics. The three Latin-American BEMs will determine whether the entire continent can escape the recurrent boom-and-bust cycles of the last century. The four Asian BEMs will determine whether East Asia will be characterized by expanding trade and investment and stunning economic progress, or whether it will descend into the political and military rivalries more characteristic of Europe in the first half of this century. India will be the most significant test case for whether democracy and capitalism can deal effectively with mass poverty. Turkey is the wall that could stop Islamic fundamentalism from reaching well into Europe. South Africa will show whether racial harmony and democratic capitalism can coexist.
They are the world’s fastest expanding markets, and responsible for a good deal of the world’s explosive growth of trade. The United States now exports more in goods and services to the ten big emerging markets than to all of Europe and Japan combined. Over the next decade, East Asia alone will account for almost half of all growth in the purchase of cars, telecommunications equipment, and movies. The ten countries are all moving quickly up the ladder of economic development, educating their populations, training their workforces, expanding technical research, building modern infrastructures.
They are all trying to open their economies, balance their budgets, and sell off their state companies. All but two have instituted substantial political liberalization. The pace of economic opening in Argentina, India, and Poland has startled most experts. The opening of political systems in Brazil, South Africa, and South Korea is also impressive. But not all of the BEMs have made good on the promise of capitalism and democracy, and where this hasn’t happened there are offsetting factors of overwhelming commercial or strategic importance to the United States that still compel their inclusion in the BEM category. For example, China and Indonesia have made significant economic strides, even though Beijing remains a Communist government. However, their markets are critical for us, as are their political stability and the dampening of any expansionist ambitions they may have. Turkey’s economic policies have floundered, but it is a vibrant democracy, and Ankara’s strategic position is too important for us to ignore.
While ten countries do stand out, this is not a static number. The ten should be considered representative of a category of country. During the Commerce Department’s examination of the BEMs, several countries were heatedly discussed but ultimately rejected from this category. For example, in the original selection, the most controversial decision was to exclude Russia. After all, it was big, powerful, and would surely rate high on America’s radar screen for years to come. Ultimately, we chose not to put Moscow on the list. It was not far enough along with its economic reforms, its political leadership seemed too precarious, and consequently the prospects for progress were simply too uncertain. Also, because of its enormous military and nuclear capability, Russia belonged in a category by itself and was already getting an enormous amount of high-level attention in Washington.
In selecting India, we also considered Pakistan, but it carried nowhere near the global influence of its southern neighbor. And although it has made some impressive economic reforms, the potential of Pakistan’s market appeared much less than that of India’s. In focusing on Indonesia, Thailand also arose as a candidate. That was a close call, but Indonesia carried much more weight on the global scene. Ultimately, moreover, it made sense to think of Indonesia as the hub of the ASEAN region, which would, in any event, include Thailand.
When we were looking at Argentina, Venezuela also popped up on our screen. But whereas Buenos Aires had taken the hard economic decisions toward economic reform, Caracas’s policies were in a total shambles, with little prospect, in our view at the time, that they would improve. On more than one occasion, representatives of the Greek government admonished us for having included Turkey and not Greece. Although the two countries have been rivals, we did not ascribe to them the same geopolitical significance.
Why BEMs Matter–A Tale of Two Very Different Futures ?
The starting point for a discussion of why BEMs really matter to the United States is the range of changes that are occurring in the international arena and in the BEMs themselves, and the relationship between the two.
As we all know, the end of the Cold War brought a dramatic decline of global military tensions and a parallel increase in our focus on our everyday lives, including our schools, health care, pensions, and crime. These preoccupations coincided with increasing trade and foreign investment around the world, such that it has become difficult to divorce our future from the state of the world economy.
Even for the United States, despite its size and strength, the global links have been increasingly critical. Over the last four years, our exports have grown about three times as fast as the overall economy, and our sales to foreign countries have accounted for about a third of our economic growth. Today exports support about 11 million jobs, which typically pay some 15 percent more than the manufacturing wage, and which are more resistant than others to downsizing and recession. Exports will be even more important in the future. Over the last twenty-five years, trade as a percentage of our economic activity (GDP) has grown from 11 percent to 23 percent, and the trend is straight up. By the year 2000, over 16 million jobs are likely to depend on exports, and nearly 30 percent of America’s GDP may involve trade. A similar story could be told about the importance of our imports, how dependent we have become on oil or certain electrical components, how foreign goods stimulate competition in our country and help hold down inflation, how much our everyday choices are expanded by the enormous volume of foreign-made products available to us. Or we could look at the hundreds of billions of dollars that America borrows from other countries to help service our debts while keeping interest rates lower than they would be if all our borrowing had to be drawn solely from the savings of Americans.
International linkages are growing because of the dramatic expansion of capitalism and democracy abroad. But the simultaneous blossoming of more open politics and more open economies has created a very uncertain environment to which our fate is being hitched. On the one hand, it is plausible to believe that we are entering a golden age in which businesses will join hands across borders, barriers to international commerce will fall, modern technology will spread everywhere, and economic growth around the world will soar. On the other hand, new democracies tend to be chaotic, because they do not have the underlying foundations–a history of elections, the presence of a skilled government bureaucracy to provide efficient services without corruption, or an effective judicial system–that give mature democracies stability. And countries opening their markets for the first time create another form of chaos, as government controls are lifted and business experiences a free-for-all without sound regulations or other established rules of the game. On top of this simultaneous political and business chaos is the fact that newly freed people demand more from their governments than can possibly be delivered, leading to widespread popular disillusionment and a backlash against both democracy and free markets.
We can therefore envision two different futures. In the first, capitalism and democracy flourish, even if there are some ups and downs along the way. Some countries take two steps forward and one back, but the favorable trends persist, and with them comes an age of unprecedented prosperity. A second scenario, however, is that political and economic chaos leads to a return to authoritarianism and government-controlled economies, including a sharp rise in trade protectionism. This would happen if large segments of the population in many nations experiencing democracy and free markets for the first time conclude that this form of capitalism is not working for them, that lots of people are getting rich but many more are mired in misery, and that the Darwinian environment is too painful and not politically acceptable.
Obviously, the United States has an enormous stake in which scenario materializes. We will gain enormously from a steady increase in democratic capitalism, not only because trade will increase but also because the environment will be more peaceful and there will be less need for U.S. military intervention. But if the second scenario comes to pass, our economic interests will suffer greatly, global political tensions will mushroom, and we could be drawn into foreign conflicts as governments return to the tradition of building up their armies as a diversion from their domestic problems.
The ten big emerging markets stand in the middle of all these currents. That is why they are so important to the global scene, and to the United States in particular. As a group, the BEMs hold the key to the steady expansion of global trade and investment and to the evolution of democracy. They are, after all, the territories where large-scale experiments in creating open political and economic systems are taking place. Their size and power make what happens within their borders, and between them and other countries, of global significance. If they succeed, we all do. If they fail, then they will have thrown a gigantic monkey wrench into the wheel of global economic and political progress.
The Big Emerging Markets:
As Important as Europe and Japan
It is precisely because of their pivotal role in the international arena that the importance of the big emerging markets must be reweighed in the total calculus of American interests. For a century we have been preoccupied with Western Europe and Japan. This is understandable given the history and culture we share with much of Europe, the important alliances that we have had, the personal friendships that have been built up, and the fact that the overwhelming bulk of our commercial relations has historically been with these industrialized nations. Although the glue that has bound us together is sure to loosen now that we do not have the Soviet Union as a common enemy, it will be of great importance that we maintain these ties. But a true assessment of our future interests would compel at least as much attention to the BEMs–which would mean a sea change in our foreign policy.
Indeed, if we make a cold-eyed assessment of where our future priorities lie, we would conclude that the world’s dynamism is unlikely to be found in Europe or Japan, but instead in the Big Ten. Our global commercial interests, so important in this era, will be expanding in the big emerging markets to a much greater degree than in Europe and Japan, if for no other reason than that the BEMs will be growing much faster and our trade and investment will be starting from a much smaller base. But beyond commercial stakes, there is the question of partnering with countries that share America’s political and economic energy. For the foreseeable future, that means the BEMs.
Europe is sure to be preoccupied with a broad range of issues that are fundamentally focused inward: building technical and bureaucratic arrangements for enlarging the European Union, creating a common currency, dismantling large-scale social welfare systems, dealing with enormous problems of youth unemployment, and coming to grips with the need to rejuvenate European technological capabilities, which have lagged so far behind those of the U.S. and Japan. As for Japan, no one should discount the possibility that it will reemerge from its long recession and its huge banking problems to become economically vibrant again. But the Japanese economy is still mired in heavy innovation-stifling regulation that, judging from the past pace of reform, is likely to take at least another decade to dismantle. And Japanese internal politics is still in the throes of a very slow transition to a modern democracy, making it incapable of facilitating any dramatic changes in Japanese society.
The lack of vitality in Europe and Japan stand in direct contrast to the rapidly changing character of American society–our entrepreneurism, our technological capabilities, and our political laboratory, which allows fifty state governments to experiment with new approaches to governing. There is nothing static about the United States; in fact, we are still a revolutionary society. We are also a multicultural nation, becoming even more so with immigration from Asia and Latin America–a situation that is likely to shift the weight of attention of the American people away from Europe and Japan to countries like Mexico, Brazil, China, India, South Korea, and the ASEAN region. In this respect, in the future we are likely to have at least as much in common with many of the Big Ten as with our historic trading and military partners. We will certainly have much more in common with them in the emerging global arena than ever before in history.