Trouble comes in cycles, not just business and economic cycles. Just a few years ago, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Philippines were hit by terrorism. Then, bird flu and H1N1 affected Asia. The 2008 global economic recession also slowed Asian growth until 2010.
But from January to March 2011 alone, there were four significant earthquakes in Asia-Pacific: south-west Pakistan (7.2), New Zealand (6.3), the east coast of Honshu, Japan (9.0) and Myanmar (6.8). While earthquakes and tremors routinely occur, these latest shocks have happened within a short time period and have disrupted Asia’s connected supply chains, public transportation, food and power supplies and businesses. For a brief period, all international flights out of the affected countries were suspended. Expatriate staff are also leaving for safer countries less prone to earthquakes, fearing for their personal safety.
Economists are predicting that devastating earthquakes will cause rising oil prices and higher interest rates, which in turn will slow down Asia’s economic growth.
The disruptions in Japan are causing inflation and shortages of raw materials and parts for the automotive, electronics and shipbuilding industries. This, in turn, is predicted to slow industrial production in other Asian countries; they are expected to experience a short-term reduction in demand from Japan, their major export partner. All factors of production – land, labour and capital – are affected.
At the company level, most business owners and executives are already asking themselves how to best manage their businesses and investments to cope with the immediate effects of earthquakes.
Mixed farming, irrigated agriculture and food businesses are some of the first sectors to be hit. Food and livestock from farms now have to procure from and outsource to foreign suppliers. Rice, wheat, corn and tea crops have been most affected. And consumers now have to pay more for such daily staples, reducing their savings propensity, disposable income and spending on non-essential goods and services.
Logistics, supply chain management and transportation sectors are also significantly affected as the levels of activity across the economy slow down.
No one can foretell when certain parts of Asia will fully recover from the recent earthquake in Japan. Stoic and resilient, Asians will take such devastation and disruptions in their stride, hunker down to deal with the short-term crisis on a best-effort basis and try to identify and capitalise on new business opportunities as they wait for the Asian phoenix to rise again.
Opportunities come in cycles too. Perhaps these will be unlocked through operational free-trade agreements, freer intra-regional movement of goods, parts and people, and rising entrepreneurism and innovation.
One short-term crisis will not cripple Asia for long; if anything, the crisis will only serve to strengthen and improve it.
Lawrence Yeo is CEO and principal consultant of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based consultancy that provides Asia market research and investment/trade promotion services. E-mail: email@example.com