Hope or hype?

A year ago, Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey were tipped to become the next global economic powerhouses. We examine if they are still on course to fulfil the promise

MINT


More than a decade ago, economist Jim O’Neill predicted the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China as the world’s next biggest economies and coined the now famous BRIC acronym. In 2013, he suggested that for any other countries to be regarded as ‘BRIC-like’, they needed either to already account for 5% of global Gross Domestic Product (for comparison, the US economy makes up some 20%) or have the potential to do so in the medium term. He tipped Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – what he called the MINTs – as the successors to the BRICs.

Not everyone agrees, though.

‘The BRICs were all huge, leader economies, alone and together all touted as challengers to the US, with 40% or thereabouts of the world's population between them,’ says Matt Potter, economic historian and author of Outlaws Inc.

Potter explains the MINTs are simply not in the same category and are a very heterogeneous bunch. Unlike the BRICs, each MINT country is only the second largest or, in the case of Indonesia, the third largest economy in its region. Nigeria and Indonesia have large populations – 170 million and 250 million espectively – but Turkey and Mexico have just under 80 million and 120 million people respectively. Income levels vary considerably too. For example, GDP per head in Mexico is nearly seven times as high as it is in Nigeria. Turkey and Indonesia run large current account deficits too, having increased borrowing to fund spending.

Also, the MINTs keep featuring in the news for all the wrong reasons.

‘These are places with endemic corruption, sizeable dark economies and politics prone to exactly the sort of shifts we've just seen in Russia and India,’ says Potter. ‘All of them are also engaged in, or seemingly poised for, a long drawn-out armed conflict against insurgents, from narco-terror cartels to Boko Haram and Jamaah Islamiyah, and the snowballing ISIS/PKK problem.

‘I don't think anyone can claim the MINTs are the pinnacle of a new world economic order,’ he sums up. Yet, he adds, they could be perceived as ‘disruptors’.

‘If the BRICs were touted as blue-chip corporates, perhaps it's more useful to see the MINT economies as Silicon Valley startups,’ he says. And, even if they do not become the next global economic giants, they can successfully serve larger economies, particularly if they deal with their respective challenges.

Mexico

Because of its improving infrastructure, growing middle class and declining poverty rates, Mexico is expected to have a higher GDP per capita than all but three European economies by 2050. Its substantial manufacturing sector is becoming integrated into the US supply chains so that the country’s growth prospects are closely linked to the strengthening growth of its northern neighbour.

The country has also embarked on a series of major reforms in the energy, telecommunications, education and financial sectors. Yet Jim O’Neill says that Mexico, like all MINT countries, still suffers from corruption and a massive informal sector. ‘Unless the government can encourage people to join the formal economy, its much hyped reforms won’t lead to much,’ he has recently told ACCA.

Indonesia

The World Bank estimates Indonesia will be ranked ninth in the world in GDP by 2050, just after Mexico in eighth place. Today, however, the country’s manufacturing and its transport infrastructure are still relatively underdeveloped. Also, although Indonesia is the biggest and the most dynamic of the MINTs in terms of population growth, it is – together with Nigeria – ‘the most challenged in terms of educating children into workforces that could add value,’ says Potter.

Yet hopes are high with the recent election of president Joko Widodo, who is expected to battle corruption and boost the country’s growth. Although Jim O’Neill thinks this task is a tall order, the country’s annual GDP growth rate is predicted to remain at around 5% between now and 2050.

Nigeria

Home to over 15% of Africa’s population, Nigeria has the potential to grow into a very large economy, provided it can tackle its severe political and social problems.

‘The projected growth in average income is expected to be $12,600 by 2050,’ says Babawande Sheba, head of the logistics and operations department at GSM London.

‘Although oil is the source of Nigeria’s current fame accounting for 40% of the country’s GDP, recent reforms have led to a shift towards other industries for the achievement of sustained economic growth, including significant expansion to the financial services industry and the manufacturing sector,’ he adds.

Agriculture is another good example of a sector that has received big investment. ‘The 2011 transformation initiative, aimed to increase the domestic supply of food by 20 million metrics by 2014, has seen an investment of $1.6bn over the past two-and-a-half years, and has created 3.5 million new jobs,’ Babawande says.

In 2013, Nigeria also announced reforms aimed at removing legal and regulatory obstacles to private sector investment in its power industry.

‘If it can implement these reforms, the country could easily grow by more than 10% for years,’ Jim O’Neill has told ACCA. Also, the ease of doing business in the country remains one of Nigeria’s main economic challenges. According to the World Bank, Nigeria’s 'Ease of Doing Business' rank for 2015 is 170 (out of 189 economies), up by only five points from 175 in 2014.

Terrorism in the north and widespread corruption continue to pose a risk to Nigeria’s growth too.

‘Investment in infrastructure has also been slow, with investment in the education system in particular lagging behind other emerging economies,’ says Babawande. ‘Furthermore, the current instability in oil prices threatens to derail Nigeria’s growth plan, as the country is still very much dependent on this resource.’

Turkey

In 2013, Turkey was the third fastest growing economy in the world (even faster than China), with its economic growth of 10.3%. By 2050, its GDP is estimated to grow to $4.45trn, which would rank the country as the 14th largest economy in the world, although economists predict this will happen via a more sustainable rate of growth of 3.5–4% year on year. So far, growth is mainly coming from construction and related industries, which make up some 30% of the country’s economy.

By contrast, manufacturing in Turkey is still focused towards the lower end of the value chain. Also, of the four MINT countries, Jim O’Neill thinks Turkey has ‘the most challenging cyclical imbalances, with high inflation and current account deficit’. Nevertheless, he says, Turkey ‘has much going for it in the long term, especially a geographical location that allows its best businesses to reach in all directions of the changing world and boost their trade’.

In a recent article in The New York Times, Jim O’Neill has summed up his current views on the MINTs: ‘I have travelled quite often to all four MINT nations [during 2014], and while they have many challenges, they all have exciting potential, and could become mini-giants, if not quite on the scale of some of their well-known BRIC colleagues.’

Iwona Tokc-Wilde, business journalist

"If the BRICs were touted as blue-chip corporates, perhaps it's more useful to see the MINT economies as Silicon Valley startups"

Matt Potter