Central and Eastern European (CEE) economies costs and benefits from Covid-19

The impact of Covid-19 on countries like China, and other parts of Asia, has meant that firms in the large economies of Germany and France might not be keen to outsource work to Asia. Although the infrastructure and the resources are available in these countries the Covid-19 risks associated with them means some European companies are looking at options closer to home – also referred to as “nearshoring” (moves by China-wary western European manufacturers to bring production closer to home). CEE countries especially Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania are particularly strong in the manufacturing sector whilst Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (Baltic states) have a comparative advantage in services. Although outsourcing will help these economies it will take a bit of time before there is any significant change.

This is an optimistic view but for some Eastern European countries the GDP forecast has been worse than that experienced after the GFC.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the transition from command to market systems led to severe recessions within countries – accelerating inflation and very high levels of unemployment – GDP fell by over 40% in the old Soviet-bloc countries. The present recession is proving to be much worse and these Eastern European countries are particularly vulnerable. The Economist came up with three reasons:

  • These economies are exported dependent – as a % of GDP exports are 96% in Slovakia, 85% in Hungary.
  • Eastern European countries will find it hard to fund deficits as their credit rating tends to be a lot lower than other countries wishing to borrow money. Bulgaria’s rating is BBB compared to say Austria which is AA+
  • A lot of these countries rely on tourism as part of GDP therefore with Covid-19 the tourist industry has all but disappeared. For Croatia that is about 25% of GDP.

The outlook looks especially bleak for economies that were in a poor economic condition before Covid-19. Even though there have been radical steps taken to nullify the economic impact of the virus it will take a strong and coordinated response at EU level to steer countries out of their economic hardship.

Source: The Economist – Eastern Europe’s covid-19 recession could match its post-communist one. 28th May 2020

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