’The steepest and longest recession of any developed country since World War II.’ This has been the case for Ireland, which has seen national income fall by 20% since 2007. Many countries across the globe have experienced pretty bad recessions, but what makes Ireland stand out is how it has been dealt with.
In the UK, the government has continued spending in a bid to stimulate the economy and to use Gordon Brown’s phrase from 2008, we have aimed to ‘spend our way out of recession’. Ireland, however, did not have that option. With too much borrowing, Ireland was unable to stimulate the economy and needed to cut its debts in order to maintain its credibility in the eurozone. Last year, significant cuts in government spending were accompanied by tax rises equal to 5% of GDP. Similar action is to be expected in the UK following the election, where popular benefits may have to be reduced, as transfer payments do account for the majority of government spending. Whoever is in government following the election will have some hard decisions to make and everyone will be affected. Read the article below and listen to the interview and think about what the UK can learn from Ireland.
Irish lessons for the UK (including interview) BBC Stephanomics (9/4/10)
- In the interview, Brian Lenihan said that the UK was expecting too much from the falling value of sterling. What was the UK expecting following significant depreciations in the value of sterling and why has that not happened?
- What is a deflationary spiral? Why has it caused Ireland’s public debt to rise so much?
- Why does Brian Lenihan argue that there are limits to how much taxes can be increased? What are diminishing returns to taxation?
- Would the UK be any better off had we joined the euro? What about other countries: would they have benefited had we joined the euro?
We have all heard about the troubles of Greece, but are things really that bad? It does have huge debts, which is costing about 11.6% of GDP to service; and estimates suggest that government borrowing will need to be €53bn this year to cover budget shortfalls. Furthermore, its situation could spell trouble for the eurozone and in particular for certain countries. However, as the article below discusses, Greece still has some trump cards to play.
Advantage Greece BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (3/3/10)
- “The single most important factor propping it (Greek debt) up in the past year has been that it can be swapped for free money at the ECB.” How does this prop up Greek debt?
- If Greek debt does fall in value, how will other members of the Eurozone be affected?
- Why are countries such as France and Germany hostile to a loan to Greece from the IMF?
- If Greece was to collapse, which countries do you think could potentially follow? Which factors have influenced your answer?
With the majority of developed countries now moving out of recession, many people will think the worst is over. But for some countries and some people, there may be worse to come. The single currency in the eurozone was introduced in 1999 and in December 2009, the eurozone saw its highest level of unemployment at 10%. There are now 23 million people unemployed across the 16 countries that make up the eurozone and many of those people reside in Spain, where unemployment has reached a 12-year high of 18.8% and is even expected to reach 20%.
Interest rates in the eurozone and in the UK have been maintained at 1% and 0.5% respectively, and inflation has seen a rise in both places. Whilst in the eurozone inflation remains well below the inflation target, in the UK there has been a rapid rise to 2.9% to December 2009 (see Too much of a push from costs but no pull from demand)
While Spain is suffering from mass unemployment, Greece is struggling with the burden of a huge budget deficit. The former European Central Bank Chief Economist, Otmar Issing, has said that any bailout of Greece would severely damage the Monetary Union and “The Greek disease will spread”. With concern that Greece will not be able to service its debt, there is speculation that the country will be forced out of the currency bloc. However, the chair of the single currency area’s finance ministers said that Greece will not leave the eurozone and does not believe that a state of bankruptcy exists.
So, what’s behind rising unemployment, rising inflation and rising budget deficits and how are they likely to affect the eurozone’s recovery?
Eurozone inflation rises to 0.9% BBC News (15/1/10)
Unemployment sector remains beat in Eurozone pressuring price levels FX Street (29/1/10)
greek bailout would hurt Eurozone – Germany’s Issing Reuters (29/1/10)
Eurozone unemployment rate hits 10% BBC News (29/1/10)
Greece will not go bust or leave Eurozone Reuters, Michele Sinner (27/1/10)
Eurozone unemployment hits 10% AFP (29/1/10)
New rise in German job loss total BBC News (28/1/10)
Spain unemployment nears 12 year high Interactive Investor (29/1/10)
- How do we define unemployment? What type of unemployment is being experienced in the eurozone?
- Why do you think unemployment levels have risen in the eurozone and in Spain in particular? Illustrate this on a diagram.
- What are the costs of unemployment for (a) the individual (b) governments and (c) society?
- What explanation can be given for rising levels of both unemployment and inflation?
- Inflation in the eurozone increased to 0.9%. What are the factors behind this? Illustrate the effects on a diagram.
- Greece’s forecast budget deficit for 2009 is 12.7% of GDP, but Greece has said it will reduce it to 8.7% of GDP. How does the Greek government intend to do this and what are the likely problems it will face?
- Why could bailing out Greece hurt the eurozone?
Back in 1993, the EU imposed tariffs on bananas imported from countries which were not former colonies of EU countries. These former colonies are in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (the ACP countries). This meant that the main countries bearing the tariffs were banana producing countries in Central and South America.
“In 1996, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, together with the US, formally complained to the World Trade Organization (WTO) about the tariffs. Since then the WTO has repeatedly ruled that the EU tariffs are unfair, but little has changed thanks to continued discussions and arguments between the major players.”
Over the years the disputes between the EU and the APC countries on one side and the Latin American countries and the USA on the other have become known as the ‘banana wars’ (see Web cases 24.5 and 24.6 in Economics 7e MyEconLab). The WTO has ruled against the EU on several occasions, but to little effect as appeals have been lodged and talks have continued. At last, however, agreement has been reached – and without the WTO. This should see EU tariffs on Latin American bananas cut from 176 euros per tonne now to 114 euros per tonne over a seven-year period.
So are the banana wars over? Will EU consumers gain? And what will be the effect on Latin American and ACP banana producers? The following articles examine these questions.
Ending the longest trade dispute in history: EU initials deal on bananas with Latin American countries EU Press Release (15/12/09)
The EU-Latin America Bananas Agreement – Questions and Answers EU Press Release (15/12/09)
Lamy hails accord ending long running banana dispute WTO Press Release (15/12/09)
EU ends ‘banana wars’ with Latin America EU Observer (15/12/09)
Bananas dispute at the World Trade Organisation Reuters Factbox (15/12/09)
Banana prices to fall after longest trade dispute in EU history settled Telegraph (16/12/09)
End of banana wars brings hope for Doha Financial Times, Joshua Chaffin (16/12/09)
EU cuts import tariffs in a bid to end ‘banana wars’ (video) BBC News (16/12/09)
EU cuts import tariffs in a bid to end ‘banana wars’ BBC News (15/12/09)
Banana wars: the fruits of world trade BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (15/12/09)
EU, Latin America Proclaim End to “Banana War” Latin American Herald Tribune, Marta Hurtado (15/12/09)
Settlement should help Chiquita Business Courier of Cincinnati, Dan Monk (15/12/09)
Banana deal offers hope for global trade talks Sydney Morning Herald, Alexandra Troubnikoff (16/12/09)
Pact Ends Long Trade Fight Over Bananas New York Times, Stephen Castle (15/12/09)
Banana deal offers hope for global trade talks Sydney Morning Herald, Stephen Castle (15/12/09)
EU banana dispute ends in favor of Latin American exporters Deutsche Welle (15/12/09)
- Who has gained and who has lost from the tariffs imposed on non-ACP producers over the past 16 years?
- How might the agreement over bananas impact on the stalled Doha round talks?
- What is likely to happen to banana prices in the EU over the coming months? Use a diagram to illustrate your answer.
- Are the banana wars likely to be over now?
In an earlier news item we saw that the global recession has hit the demand for organic produce. The same is not true for Fairtrade products as a global survey published on 17/4/09 shows (see). Awareness of Fairtrade products continues to grow as do sales. The articles below look at the findings of this survey and at the explanations behind it.
UK: Fairtrade Flows Against Economic Tide Namnews (20/4/09)
The government must act on fair trade now Public Service Review: International Development Issue 13 (20/4/09)
Fairtrade a hit with shoppers as demand rises despite credit crunch Glasgow Daily Record (17/4/09)
Link to short videos from the Fairtrade Foundation; Link to facts and figures on Fairtrade Fairtrade Foundation
- Consider the reasons why Fairtrade sales have increased while sales of organic produce have declined.
- Does purchasing Fairtrade products mean that consumers are not seeking to maximise their consumer surplus?
- What economic challenges face Fairtrade producers? How should governments help the Fairtrade movement?
- Is the liberalisation of trade in the interests of Fairtrade producers?