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ADB Gives Bleak Forecast for Southeast Asian Economies

Luis Liwanag and Basilio Sepe
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Workers construct part of the Metro Manila Skyway as the Philippine government eased its COVID-19 lockdown, May 16, 2020.
Workers construct part of the Metro Manila Skyway as the Philippine government eased its COVID-19 lockdown, May 16, 2020.
Jojo Rinoza

Southeast Asian nations can expect to see their economies shrink because of ongoing ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) reported on Thursday as it trimmed its two-month-old projections.

The gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract by 1 percent in Indonesia, 3.8 percent in the Philippines, 4 percent in Malaysia, and 6.5 percent in Thailand, the bank said.

“Economies in Asia and the Pacific will continue to feel the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic this year even as lockdowns are slowly eased and select economic activities restart in a ‘new normal’ scenario,” ADB chief economist Yasuyuki Sawada said in a statement linked to the supplemental report released Thursday.

In its annual Asian Development Outlook released in April, the bank had projected GDP growth of 2.5 percent in Indonesia, 2 percent in the Philippines, and 0.5 percent in Malaysia. And it had projected a contraction of 4.8 percent in Thailand.

For all of Asia, the outlook is for economic growth of 0.1 percent, down from the 2.2 percent projection in April.

“While we see a higher growth outlook for the region in 2021, this is mainly due to weak numbers this year, and this will not be a V-shaped recovery,” Sawada said in the statement.  “Governments should undertake policy measures to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 and ensure that no further waves of outbreaks occur.”

The ADB warned of the risks of multiple waves of COVID-19 outbreaks this year, adding that financial crises could not be ruled out.

“There is also the risk of renewed escalation in trade tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” it said.

For 2021, ADB projects GDP growth of 5.3 percent in Indonesia, 6.5 percent in the Philippines and Malaysia, and 3.5 percent in Thailand, as well as 6.2 percent for the entire Asian region.

Lost jobs

Last month, the Philippine statistics agency reported that about 7.3 million Filipinos had lost their jobs as companies began cutting jobs in mid-March while authorities imposed a lockdown related to the pandemic.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has since ordered a gradual reopening of the economy, while reminding the public that Philippines, like the rest of the world, was not out of the crisis.

On Thursday, the health department reported nine COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 1,116. In addition, 562 new cases were reported, increasing the total to 27,799.

Globally, the death toll topped 450,000 and infections neared 8.4 million as of Thursday, according to according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

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