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East Asia needs to push ahead with reform programs

Apr '07
A decade after the financial crisis which devastated East Asia in mid-1997, the region is much wealthier, has fewer poor people and a larger global role than ever before, says the World Bank's latest East Asia & Pacific Update - a six-monthly report on the region's economic and social health. But with this success, comes a new wave of challenges for countries trying to avoid the 'middle-income trap'.

The report finds that growth in Emerging East Asia1reached 8.1 percent in 2006 - the strongest in the past 10 years and it is likely to slow only modestly to 7.3 percent in 2007. Per capita incomes in the former crisis-affected economies2have significantly exceeded their pre-crisis levels and are growing steadily nearly everywhere. In China and low-income transition economies like Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR, incomes have grown at 'exceptional rates', the report says.

"The region has grappled with and overcome the crisis to return to solid growth," says the report's principal author and lead economist for the World Bank's East Asia and Pacific region, Milan Brahmbhatt. "The past 10 years have seen the emergence of China as a major global economic power, a doubling in the value of regional output levels, a halving in poverty rates, a jump in global and regional integration and accumulation of over $2 trillion in foreign reserves."

But the report warns new challenges are arising which could slow or even derail growth if not handled properly. "The idea of a 'middle income trap,'" says Brahmbhatt "is that the strategies that allow countries to grow from low income to middle income are not enough to get them to high income. Historically, few countries have mastered the complex technical, social and political challenges that arise."

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