China's rapid growth and increasingly close integration with world markets is transforming Northeast and Southeast Asian regional production and trade. Southeast Asia's relatively resource-abundant economies are expected to lose comparative advantage in low-skill, labor-intensive manufacturing activities while gaining comparative advantage in natural resource products. The latter shift will increase incentives to exploit and export the products of forestry, fisheries, and agriculture.
What are the implications for long-run growth and welfare, particularly in the poorest and least industrialized economies, including Indonesia and Vietnam? How will this trend interact with the other major phenomenon sweeping through Southeast Asia, i.e., decentralization? With reduced national authority and minimal local accountability, the potential for disastrous rates of resource exploitation is high. A race to liquidate natural resource assets, if sufficiently pronounced, could expose parts of the region to a new variant of the "natural resource curse" - the idea that resource-abundant economies grow more slowly than others.
Ian Coxhead is an economist and serves as director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His specialty is the economic development of Southeast Asia. His many publications on trade, development and the environment include The Open Economy and the Environment: Development, Trade and Resources in Asia (2003, with Sisira Jayasuriya). Prof. Coxhead's current research features the impacts of globalization, regional growth, and domestic policy reforms on the structures of production and employment, issues of poverty and the environment, and the exploitation of natural resources in Vietnam and the Philippines.