BEIJING–Asia needs at least $1.5 trillion of roads, bridges and other infrastructure annually between now and 2030 to maintain its growth momentum, a doubling of earlier projections, according to the Asian Development Bank.
In a report released Tuesday, the Manila-based development bank said the tab would run even higher if climate change is factored in: Upgrading power plants, transport systems and other facilities would boost regional investment by another $241 billion annually among some 45 Asia and Pacific countries.
Infrastructure has gained favor as a way to boost flagging growth following the 2009 global financial crisis. U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to spend $1 trillion over a 10-year period rebuilding U.S. roads and bridges. China spent 15.2 trillion yuan [$2.2 trillion] in infrastructure fixed-asset investment in 2016 alone. The world’s second-biggest economy is promoting its infrastructure-led growth model, creating the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which touts itself as a more efficient alternative to the likes of the World Bank and ADB.
Countries that fail to invest in infrastructure may see economic growth pinched by bottlenecks and lackluster job-creation. The ADB’s current projections represent a doubling of the $750 billion in annual infrastructure requirements the bank forecast in 2009 for the 2010-2020 period. The Asia-Pacific region currently invests around $880 billion annually in infrastructure, according to ADB.Governments currently pay around 92% of the cost of infrastructure in the region, the bank estimates in its report. Boosting spending levels, it said, is going to require tax, regulatory and institutional changes to draw in the private sector.
“Governments can get more bang out of their infrastructure investment,” said ADB economist Rana Hasan. Mr. Hasan acknowledged that the Asian region is unlikely to spend the full $1.7 trillion annually, but said the ADB hopes its recommendations can bring governments closer to those levels. “They need to make it more attractive for the private sector,” he said.
Of the estimated $26 trillion in projects required between 2016 and 2030 to bolster economic output, alleviate poverty and respond to climate change, $14.7 trillion is needed for the power sector, $8.4 trillion for transport, $2.3 trillion for telecommunications and $800 billion for water and sanitation projects, the report said.While acknowledging the need for better and more infrastructure, some economists caution that corruption and politics can significantly undercut the economic benefits of big building initiatives.
“Most developing countries could use more infrastructure. But the problem is not a lack of demand. It’s a lack of credibility,” said Guanghua School of Management professor Michael Pettis. “If your debt gets too high, you start running into debt-servicing problems, defaults and other problems.”China has relied on infrastructure investment as a form of economic stimulus since the global financial crisis in 2009. Since then, local government debt, much of it to fund infrastructure, has risen by two-thirds, according to Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC. That debt stood at more than 41% of economic output in 2015, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.Beijing has also struggled to attract private investors. Though it has strongly promoted public-private partnerships, some have stumbled during implementation, many due to mismatched expectations of private companies and the state sector.
More favorable reviews have been given to China’s ambitious plans to modernize the ancient Silk Road trade routes. Known as “One Belt, One Road,” the program envisions a network of ports, bridges, rail lines, industrial parks and telecommunication links linking China to the rest of Asia, Europe and points beyond.
The large sums have caught the attention of foreign engineering and equipment companies such as Caterpillar, ABB Group and Vermeer Corp., which are hoping for a slice of future projects.