What China’s baby woes mean for its economic ambitions
Crystal, who wished to withhold her real name, is a 26-year-old living in Beijing. Unlike most women from previous generations in China, she is unmarried and currently faces no pressure to tie the knot.
It appears to be a common sentiment among young urban women in China. A 2021 survey by China’s Communist Youth League of almost 3,000 people between the ages of 18 and 26, found that more than 40% of young women living in cities did not plan to marry – compared to less than 25% of men. This is in part due to rising childcare costs and the ghosts of China’s one-child policy.
“Having just one child or no children has become the social norm in China,” says Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a prominent critic of the one-child policy.
For Beijing, this is a worrying trend because China’s population is declining. It’s birth rate has been slowing for years but in 2022 its population fell for the first time in 60 years.
That’s bad news for the world’s second-largest economy, where the workforce is already shrinking and an ageing population is beginning to put pressure on the state’s welfare services.
China’s working age population – those between the ages of 16 and 59 – currently stands at about 875 million. They account for a little more than 60% of the country’s people.
But the figure is expected to fall further, by another 35 million, over the next five years, according to an official estimate by the government in 2021.
“China’s demographic structure in 2018 was similar to that of Japan’s in 1992,” Mr Yi said. “And China’s [demographic structure] in 2040 will be similar to Japan’s in 2020.”
Until last year, many economists had assumed China’s growth would surpass that of the US by the end of the decade – a move which would cap the country’s extraordinary economic ascent.
But Mr Yi says that is now looking unlikely, adding “By 2031-2035, China will be doing worse than the US on all demographic metrics, and in terms of economic growth”.
The average age in China is now 38. But as its population ages and birth rates plummet further, there are concerns that China’s workforce will eventually be unable to support those who have already retired.
The retirement age for men in China is 60 and for women, it is 55. Currently, those above 60 make up almost a fifth of the population. In Japan, which has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world, nearly a third of the people are 65 or older.
“Population ageing is not unique to China but the strain on China’s pension system is a lot more acute,” says Louise Loo, a senior economist with Oxford Economics.
She says the number of retirees has already exceeded the number of contributors, leading to a drop in contributions to the pension fund since 2014.
The country’s pension fund is administered at a provincial level and on a pay-as-you-work basis – that is, contributions from the workforce pay the retirees’ pensions.
So Beijing, aware of these cracks in its system, created a fund in 2018 to shift pension pay-outs from richer provinces like Guangdong to those facing a deficit. But in 2019 a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences predicted that because of its shrinking workforce, the country’s main pension fund would be depleted by 2035.
Then in 2022 China launched its first private pension scheme in 36 cities, allowing individuals to open retirement accounts at banks to buy pension products like mutual funds.
But Ms Loo says it’s unclear if many Chinese people, who typically invest savings in more traditional avenues such as property, would turn instead to private pension funds.
These problems are not unique to China – Japan and South Korea both have a greying population and a shrinking workforce.
Mr Yi noted that Beijing is poised to replicate Tokyo’s policies to lower parenting costs but, he adds, “China, which is ‘getting old before it gets rich’ does not even have the financial resources to fully follow Japan’s path.”
And this is not the only thing troubling Beijing. There’s also a growing online youth movement to “lie flat”. It calls on workers to reject the struggle for career success and promises release from the pressures of life and work in a fast-paced capitalist society. Add to the mix a high youth unemployment rate, which peaked last July when 20% of those aged between 15 and 24 were jobless.
As Mr Yi puts it: “The labour force is the flour and the pension system is the skill of making bread. Without enough flour, it is impossible to make enough bread, even with the best bread-making skills.”
Federal budget to focus on clean economy, support for low-income Canadians, Freeland says – The Globe and Mail
The federal government will “invest aggressively” in clean technology, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday during a prebudget event in which she outlined the main themes of the economic plan she will deliver next week.
At a time when the U.S. government is spending billions through programs and tax breaks to spur the use of electric vehicles and clean energy, Ms. Freeland said it would “reckless” if Canada failed to also take action.
“Canada right now is really at a crucial crossroads. This is a moment when the great economies of the world have decided to embrace the clean economy,” Ms. Freeland told reporters after delivering a budget-themed speech to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Oshawa, Ont.
Ms. Freeland, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said Canada must choose between two options.
“We also can invest aggressively in the clean economy of the 21st century in a smart, focused Canadian way – or we can be left behind,” she said. “Not making those investments is also a choice. And a choice, I believe, would be really irresponsible, really reckless.”
Monday’s speech is the latest in a series of public remarks in which the Finance Minister has provided broad outlines of the March 28 budget. She has previously said that accounting for the recently announced increase in health transfers to the provinces will be a key element. Her comments Monday add to earlier signals that the budget will include measures in response to green technology incentives contained in the Inflation Reduction Act approved last year in Washington.
In addition to those two areas of spending, Ms. Freeland said next week’s federal budget will include a “narrowly focused” boost to social safety net supports for low-income Canadians in response to the higher costs of living.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who is part of a supply and confidence agreement with the minority Liberal government, has said this should come in the form of an extension of the current six month doubling of the GST credit, a direct payment that is aimed at lower income Canadians.
Ms. Freeland did not provide specifics as to the form this support will take. She also repeated past assurances that the new spending can occur as part of a fiscally responsible budget.
Economists and business groups have cautioned that Canada can’t compete dollar-for-dollar with the billions in subsidies now on offer south of the border. A Congressional Budget Office report estimated that the measures in the Inflation Reduction Act add up to about US$400-billion over 10 years. A Credit Suisse report said the total could be twice as high.
Business Council of Canada CEO Goldy Hyder has said that Canada’s response should be about one-10th of the size of the U.S. package, given that Canada’s population is about one-10th that of the U.S. He also said that Canada’s response could include repurposing previously announced programs for business rather than funding it entirely through new spending.
In her speech, the finance minister also addressed the turmoil in financial markets following the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and this weekend’s merger of UBS and Credit Suisse.
“We have strong institutions, and we have a financial system that has proven its strength time and again,” she said. “Our financial institutions have the capital they need to weather periods of turbulence. A hallmark of our Canadian banks is prudent risk management—and this is also a core principle for those of us who regulate the financial system.”
The minister said the federal government is being vigilant and monitoring the situation closely.
Mr. Singh, the NDP leader, told The Globe last week that his party will be expecting to see cost-of-living support in the budget, including a previously promised expansion of a dental care program for lower-income Canadians.
The Conservative Party is urging the government to deliver a budget that reins in spending and avoids tax increases.
IMF approves Sri Lanka’s $2.9bn bailout – Al Jazeera English
Sri Lanka’s president has said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved its request for a $2.9bn bailout and the country’s presidency said the programme will enable it to access up to $7bn in overall funding.
The IMF’s board confirmed it has signed off on the loan, which clears the way for the release of funds and kicks off a four-year programme designed to shore up the country’s economy.
The decision will allow an immediate disbursement of about $333m, the IMF said, and will spur financial support from other partners, potentially helping Sri Lanka emerge from its worst financial crisis in decades.
But IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva warned that Colombo must continue pursuing tax reform and greater social safety nets for the poor – and rein in the corruption that has been partly blamed for the crisis.
“I express my gratitude to the IMF and our international partners for their support as we look to get the economy back on track for the long term through prudent fiscal management and our ambitious reform agenda,” Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a statement on Monday.
The country defaulted on its foreign debt in April 2022 as it plunged into its worst economic downturn since independence because of a major shortage of foreign currency reserves.
The Indian Ocean nation of around 22 million people ran out of cash to finance even the most essential imports, leading to widespread social unrest.
Mass protests over economic mismanagement, acute shortages of food, fuel and medicines, and runaway inflation forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign in July.
Rajapaksa was replaced by President Wickremesinghe, who has implemented tough spending cuts and tax hikes in an attempt to secure IMF assistance.
IMF staff had provisionally approved the bailout in September, but the final green light was held up until China, the island’s biggest bilateral lender, agreed to restructure its loans to Colombo.
Beijing had said this year that it was offering a two-year moratorium on its loans to Sri Lanka, but the concession fell short of IMF expectations for the sustainability of the island’s debt.
Wickremesinghe had said after China agreed to restructure its loans that he expected the first tranche of the IMF package would be made available within the month.
Earlier on Monday, Wickremesinghe’s office said he was seeking a 10-year moratorium on Sri Lanka’s foreign debt as the country was out of foreign reserves to service its loans.
Officials involved in the negotiations said the terms of debt restructuring must be finalised and agreed upon by all parties before June, when the IMF is expected to review the bailout programme.
Wickremesinghe’s office said in a statement that the IMF programme will help improve the country’s standing in international capital markets, making it attractive for investors and tourists.
Wickremesinghe told the country’s parliament earlier that there were signs the economy was improving, but there was still insufficient foreign currency for all imports, making the IMF deal crucial so other creditors could also start releasing funds.
Call to tackle corruption
Colombo is also banking on the IMF deal to unfreeze billions of dollars in foreign aid for projects suspended since Sri Lanka defaulted on its loans last year.
The government has already doubled taxes, increased energy tariffs threefold and slashed subsidies in an effort to meet the preconditions of the IMF bailout.
The austerity measures have also led to strikes that halted the health and logistics sectors last week. Wickremesinghe has said he had no alternative but to go with an IMF programme.
Georgieva said Sri Lanka must stick with its controversial tax reforms, manage government expenditure and do away with energy subsidies.
In a statement, she said that “the momentum of ongoing progressive tax reforms should be maintained, and social safety nets should be strengthened and better targeted to the poor”.
She also urged Colombo to tackle endemic corruption.
“A more comprehensive anti-corruption reform agenda should be guided by the ongoing IMF governance diagnostic mission that conducts an assessment of Sri Lanka’s anti-corruption and governance framework,” she said.
Sri Lanka’s economy shrank by a record 7.8 percent last year as it grappled with its worst foreign exchange shortage since independence from Britain in 1948.
Sri Lanka secures $3B IMF bailout to help salvage bankrupt economy – CBC.ca
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Monday that its executive board has approved a nearly $3 billion US ($4.1 billion Cdn) bailout program for Sri Lanka over four years to help salvage the country’s bankrupt economy.
An IMF statement said about $333 million US ($455 million Cdn) of the funding will be disbursed immediately and the approval will also open up financial support from other institutions.
“Sri Lanka has been facing tremendous economic and social challenges with a severe recession amid high inflation, depleted reserves, an unsustainable public debt, and heightened financial sector vulnerabilities,” the IMF statement quoted managing director Kristalina Georgieva as saying.
“Institutions and governance frameworks require deep reforms. For Sri Lanka to overcome the crisis, swift and timely implementation of the EFF-supported program with strong ownership for the reforms is critical.”
The office of Sri Lanka’s president said the IMF approval will unlock financing of up to $7 billion ($9.6 billion Cdn) from the fund and other international multilateral financial institutions.
Earlier this month, the last hurdle for the approval was cleared when China joined Sri Lanka’s other creditors in providing debt restructuring assurances.
“From the very start, we committed to full transparency in all our discussions with financial institutions and with our creditors,” president Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a statement from his office. “I express my gratitude to the IMF and our international partners for their support as we look to get the economy back on track for the long term through prudent fiscal management and our ambitious reform agenda.”
Wickremesinghe said he has made some tough decisions to ensure stability, debt sustainability and to grow an inclusive and internationally attractive economy.
Sri Lanka increased income taxes sharply and removed electricity and fuel subsidies, fulfilling prerequisites of the IMF program. Authorities must now discuss with Sri Lanka’s creditors on how to restructure its debt.
“Having obtained specific and credible financing assurances from major official bilateral creditors, it is now important for the authorities and creditors to make swift progress towards restoring debt sustainability consistent with the IMF-supported program,” Georgieva said.
“The authorities’ commitments to transparently achieve a debt resolution, consistent with the program parameters and equitable burden sharing among creditors in a timely fashion, are welcome,” she said.
Sri Lanka announced last year that it is suspending repayment of its foreign debt amid a severe foreign currency crisis, because of a fall in tourism and export revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, mega projects funded by Chinese loans that did not generate income and releasing foreign currency reserves to hold the exchange rates for a longer period.
The currency crisis created severe shortages of some foods, fuel, medicine and cooking gas leading to angry street protests that forced then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign.
Since Wickremesinghe took over, he has managed to reduce shortages and ended hours-long daily power cuts. The Central Bank says its reserves have improved and the black market no longer controls the foreign currency trade.
However, Wickremesinghe’ s government is likely to face hostility from trade unions over his plans to privatize state ventures as part of his reform agenda and public resentment may increase if he fails to take action against the Rajapaksa family, who people believe were responsible for the economic crisis.
Wickremesinghe’s critics accuse him of shielding the Rajapaksa family, who still control a majority of lawmakers in Parliament, in return for their support for his presidency.
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