Asia's economic boom may have generated formidable wealth in the region's most robust economies inrecent years, but the surge in exports has resulted in a rise in inequality, higher unemployment, and persistentfood insecurity, according to a UN report published today.The UN development programme's report says that trade liberalisation has resulted in "jobless growth" insome parts, particularly in east Asia, and has had a severe impact on agriculture.The report found that despite formidable growth rates in China and the surge in exports from the region,young people still face chronic unemployment problems. Fewer jobs were created in the Asia-Pacific region inthe 1990s - 176m - compared with 337m in the 1980s, the report found. As a result, overall unemployment inthe region shot up from 3.9% to 6.3%, even though manufacturing output went up by almost 180%.The main burden of unemployment has fallen on young people: in 2004, while those aged 15-24 made upone-fifth of the labour force, they constituted nearly half of the unemployed.Women too have lost out: in most countries their unemployment rates are higher than men's. "The fact thatAsian agriculture has not performed well is at the heart of the story," UNDP's Asia-Pacific director, HafizPasha, told journalists in New Delhi prior to the release of the report, Trade on Human Terms, whichassesses the impact of Asia's phenomenal export-led growth on people's lives. "Over half a billion people stillgo hungry in our region, more than in any other part of the world."At the same time, the problem of jobless growth has been acute in the booming economies of East Asia, withthe worst scenario in high-trade countries such as China and Singapore, where unemployment rates haveincreased substantially. The principal cause has been the shift in manufacturing from low-tech, labourintensiveindustries, such as garments and leather, to hi-tech and more capital-intensive ones, such aselectronics.
"China's economy grows at 10%; its employment grows at 1%," said Mr Pasha.
Even the IT offshoring boom in Asia has had its adverse effects, the report said, citing the adverse healtheffects of night work and the way the industry is clustered around certain cities, increasing regional disparity."The experience of the Asia-Pacific region has clearly demonstrated that trade by itself cannot addressinequalities; indeed, it may well make them worse," the report said.Another disturbing outcome of the rapid increase in trade, says the report, has been the rise in incomeinequality. "Countries which have grown faster have become unequal faster," said Mr Pasha. "And in China,the rural-urban gap has increased phenomenally. In this context, the redistribution policies of governmentsbecome extremely important, but we have not seen the kind of concern that is needed," he added.Nevertheless, the report shows a substantial decline in poverty. Between 1990 and 2001 the number ofpeople living on less than $1 a day dropped by nearly a quarter of a billion. But less developed countries suchas Laos or Nepal have had less success on this front. Thirty-eight per cent of the population in these countrieslives below the poverty line, compared with 22% in the more developed ones.The UNDP human development report calls for greater investment in rural development. It also says that the region's huge foreign exchange reserves - which are seen as protection against another Asian financial crisis- could be better invested in health, education and physical infrastructure, and to help ease the oil price shockin poorer countries.
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