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Slowing down? not these trends

Lately it has become fashionable to question whether globalization and its benefits have peaked or are even about to reverse themselves. Pundits cite protectionist pronouncements by politicians and predict a backlash against global economic integration. But their statements are usually short on data, and that’s no surprise. The numbers tell a decidedly different story.

By almost any major metric, the integration of the global economy is continuing apace and even accelerating. Exports of merchandise rose by two-thirds from 2000 to 2005, according to the World Trade Organization, as did trade in commercial services. Both types of trade also made up a greater share of the world’s gross domestic product in every single year.

The story in corporate finance is much the same. The value of global mergers and acquisitions rose 38 per cent in 2006 from 2005 and was 11 per cent higher than in 2000, its previous peak.

These trends suggest acceleration, not a slowdown. And even if the figures for 2006 showed lower growth rates, a responsible statistician wouldn’t automatically assume a retrenchment. Economic processes rarely run in one direction all the time. Just consider the business cycle of any mature economy: there are peaks and troughs, but in the long run there is growth.

Still, the protectionist gripes do have the potential to cause a fit or start, and they occasionally have a solid economic motivation. The costs of adjusting to a more connected world can be lessened when they are borne over time rather than all at once. That is why tariffs and state control of industries are usually phased out, with retraining programs for workers sometimes introduced.

The debate will be lopsided unless it considers the ways globalization has improved economic well-being. The booms that have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in China and India have relied on growing economic openness, both in those two countries and in their major export markets.

Fortunately, that progress against poverty doesn’t seem to be slowing down, which probably means that globalization isn’t either.

International Herald Tribune, January 10th, 2007


Japan tops growth forecasts

The Japanese economy grew twice as fast as expected in the second quarter, the government reported Tuesday, raising expectations that the Bank of Japan would raise interest rates by early next year.

Corporate investment in capital equipment surged, helping gross domestic product to rise for the seventh straight quarter. The economy expanded at an annualized rate of 2 percent, the Cabinet Office said in Tokyo, while second-quarter growth in Japan was revised to 1.5 percent from 1 percent.

After a decade-long slump, the economy of Japan has quietly mustered one of its longest periods of overall growth since World War II. Using a variety of economic data, including GDP, the government said the economy had expanded for 57 months. That matches a similar period of growth in the 1960s, although the rate is far more moderate than the rate in that era of rapid growth.

But the government remained cautious on the economic outlook, pointing to sluggish consumption.

The central bank has said it would raise interest rates gradually in the future after lifting them in July for the first time in six years.

The International Herald Tribune, November 15th, 2006


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