Archive for ‘Infrastructure’

28/02/2017

Building Binge: ADB Calls for More Infrastructure Across Asia – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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.

Source: Building Binge: ADB Calls for More Infrastructure Across Asia – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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13/01/2017

Opinion is divided on China’s massive infrastructure projects | The Economist

CHINA is proud of its infrastructure: its cavernous airports, snaking bridges, wide roads, speedy railways and great wall. This national backbone (minus the wall) bears the weight of the world’s second-largest economy and its biggest human migration, as hundreds of millions of people move around the country during the lunar new-year holidays—the rush officially begins on January 13th.

Western leaders often shake their heads in disbelief at the sums China spends on its huge projects. And some analysts question how much of it has been wisely spent. In a widely circulated study published last autumn, Atif Ansar of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and his co-authors say the world’s “awe and envy” is misplaced. More than half of China’s infrastructure projects have “destroyed economic value”, they reckon. Their verdict is based on 65 road and rail projects backed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or the World Bank since the mid-1980s. Thanks to the banks’ involvement, these projects are well documented.

One example is a 147-km, four-lane toll road in southern Yunnan province, which was built with the help of an ADB loan approved in 1999. The ADB expected the Yuanjiang-Mohei highway (Yuan-Mo for short) to cut travel times, reduce traffic accidents and lower the costs of fuelling and repairing vehicles, adding up to a compelling economic return of 17.4% a year. By 2004, however, traffic was 49% below projections and costs were more than 20% over budget, thanks to unforgiving terrain prone to landslides.

Were such setbacks enough to damn over half of the projects they examined? As a rule, the ADB and World Bank will approve an undertaking only if they expect its broad benefits (the economic gains from reduced travel times, fewer accidents, etc) to exceed its costs by a large margin, leaving ample room for error. Mr Ansar and his co-authors assume this margin is 40%: they posit a ratio of expected benefits to costs of 1.4 for every project. They scoured the banks’ review documents for examples of cost overruns and traffic shortfalls. Given these assumptions, a project becomes unviable if costs overrun by more than 40%, traffic undershoots by 29%, or some combination of the two. Of the 65 projects, 55% fell into this category. Yuan-Mo was one.

These projects may not be representative of China’s infrastructure-building as a whole. But there is little reason to think they are unusually bad. They are often managed with greater rigour, thanks to the involvement of outside lenders.The authors’ conclusion, however, rests on their assumption about the margin for error built into the projects they looked at. Take Yuan-Mo, for example. Its projected benefits, over its first 20 years of operation, were several times greater than its costs. But as often with roads, the costs arrive early; the benefits are spread thinly over many years. In the time it takes for an investment to pay off, the resources used could have been earning a return elsewhere. So it is necessary to reduce the future payoffs by some annual percentage, known as a “discount rate”. The higher this is, the lower the value placed today on tomorrow’s gains.

So a lot turns on what rate is chosen. For historical reasons, the ADB adopts a high one of 12%. At that rate, Yuan-Mo’s ratio of expected benefits to costs equals 1.5, roughly in line with the authors’ assumptions. But at a gentler rate of 9%, the ratio improves to about 2. At a rate of 5.3% (more in line with government borrowing costs) the ratio rises to 3. With these higher margins for error, many fewer elephants turn white. At a ratio of 2, the share falls to 28%. If the ratio is assumed to be 3, the proportion of duds falls to just 8%.

The authors also assume that any traffic shortfall persists throughout its life. That is not always the case. Traffic on Yuan-Mo, for example, has rebounded, according to the road’s operator. By 2015 it was 31% higher than the ADB projected back in 1999. Around last year’s lunar new-year holiday the road handled record numbers. Some white elephants turn grey with age.

Source: Opinion is divided on China’s massive infrastructure projects | The Economist

04/06/2016

This Spanish Company Says It Holds the Key to Speed on India’s Crooked Railways – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s trains are notoriously slow and outdated, but a Spanish train maker says it can change that with coaches that can squeeze much more speed out of the country’s crooked railways.

Talgo S.A. has been wooing India for years as the South Asian nation has one of the largest railway networks in the world and big plans to upgrade its rail infrastructure.

The Madrid-based company got its breakthrough this year when it got the go-ahead to test its coaches on few routes in India to prove its trains can slash travel times for the 13 million people who use the state-owned Indian Railways every day. Talgo claims its coaches can cut travel time by up to 30%.

The existing average maximum speed of Indian passenger trains is 110 kilometers per hour, according to Vijay Kumar, executive director for infrastructure and mechanical engineering at Indian Railways.

One of Indian Railways’ current fastest trains–the Rajdhani Express–travels between Delhi and Mumbai in around 16 hours. Talgo says the same journey with its coaches will take less than 11 hours.

India has traditionally built its own trains and Talgo is the first foreign train-manufacturer to be given permission to conduct trials, said Mr. Kumar.

The tests of the trains began last weekend between Bareilly and Moradabad in northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and will be expanded to two other routes.

The main selling point of the Talgo coaches is that India won’t need to change the tracks for them.

“For any conventional train you need a lot of investment in the existing infrastructure but with Talgo train you don’t need any investment in the infrastructure and it can start going at higher speed,” said Subrat Nath, director for India and Asia-Pacific region at Talgo.

Despite India’s dependence on its railways, the system has become outdated and overburdened.

“India is unique and alone among the major countries of the world in not having a single high-speed rail corridor,” said a document presented to the Indian Parliament in 2009 titled “Indian Railways Vision 2020.”

The Congress party-led government back then said it would upgrade the current tracks and build “state-of-the-art high-speed corridors” for the trains to run up to 350 kilometers, or 217 miles, per hour.

In the latest step in that direction, India launched its first “semi-high speed” train in April–the Gatimaan Express– between Delhi and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. The train has a maximum speed of 160 kilometers, or 99 miles, per hour, cutting the fastest travel time between the capital and Agra by more than 15 minutes.

One of the biggest factors slowing down Indian Railways’ 7,000 passenger trains is the country’s long and winding railroads. There are 495 speed-killing curves in the tracks between Delhi and Mumbai alone, said Mr. Kumar at Indian Railways.

Straightening out existing tracks or building straight ones from scratch is too expensive, said Mr. Kumar, so the trains from Talgo and others which offer more speed on curvy lines could be the best option.

Talgo coaches use a “natural tilting mechanism” which allows them to go up to 20% faster on curves than conventional coaches, Mr. Kumar said.

He said the trials will test whether the trains perform as promised. India has not committed to ordering from Talgo yet.

Talgo’s Mr. Nath says the company is ready to build the coaches in India if it can get the orders.“India can be a key market for us,” he said.

Source: This Spanish Company Says It Holds the Key to Speed on India’s Crooked Railways – India Real Time – WSJ

30/12/2015

Historian praises China’s global infrastructure building, criticizes West’s destructive methods – Xinhua | English.news.cn

China, with its impressive international infrastructure initiatives, has injected impetus into global growth, a U.S.-German historian has said, while criticizing Washington’s hawkish attitude, as reported by Sputnik.

China is “leading an economic renaissance of a scale not seen in more than a century,” said F. William Engdahl, a historian and economic researcher, in his recent article for New Eastern Outlook. “Beijing is, with customary Chinese speed, linking its economy by land and by sea lanes to all Eurasia,” the historian wrote, previously saying that China is “moving forward with an impressive array of major international infrastructure projects” in various regions. “For my side, I infinitely prefer the peaceful building projects to the destroying ones,” Engdahl said.

During the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in early December in South Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the 60-billion-U.S.-dollar aid package for Africa in the next three years. The package seeks to help Africa to industrialize, modernize its agricultural production, boost the skills of its workers, build infrastructure and improve its health care.

“Unlike NATO’s endless wars, construction of infrastructure — railways, water navigation, electric power grids, lifts people up and enhances peace and stability,” Engdahl said, pointing out that Xi’s offer benefits both Africa and China.

China is also establishing a more amicable, vibrant neighborhood and is deepening economic ties with European countries through its Belt and Road initiative. The Belt and Road initiative, comprising the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, was brought up by Xi in 2013, with the aim of building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.

The initiative creates a “golden opportunity” for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that are facing economic difficulties, linking the East and the West of the Eurasian continent through a vast network of high-speed railways and maritime routes, Engdahl said.

“China is the world address in rail infrastructure today, while the West, led by the pathetic rail construction record of the USA, falls farther and farther behind,” Engdahl said, referring to China’s planned construction of a Hungary-Serbia high-speed railway. The railway linking the capitals of Hungary and Serbia, Budapest and Belgrade, has a total length of 350 km, with 184 km in Serbia. It is designed for electric passenger and cargo trains with a maximum speed of 200 km per hour. Once complete, it will help create a fast lane for importing and exporting products between China and Europe.

Besides recognizing the export of “Chinese rail technology” to Europe, the researcher also mentioned Beijing’s intentions to invest in constructing and upgrading port facilities in the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas.

Source: Historian praises China’s global infrastructure building, criticizes West’s destructive methods – Xinhua | English.news.cn

13/03/2015

India in pacts to develop infrastructure in Mauritius, Seychelles | Reuters

Curious: India not known for its own infrastructure is offering to help its neighbours!

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has secured agreements to develop islands in Mauritius and Seychelles in an early success for his drive to wrest back influence in the Indian Ocean from China.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the inaugural session of Re-Invest 2015, the first Renewable Energy Global Investors Meet & Expo, in New Delhi, February 15, 2015.  REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

China has invested millions of dollars in recent years building seaports and highways in countries stretching from the Maldives to Sri Lanka that lie on vital shipping lanes through which much of its energy supplies and trade passes.

India, alarmed at the prospect of China building a network of friendly ports in a “String of Pearls” across the Indian Ocean, has stepped up its diplomacy, offering a range of civil and military assistance.

On Wednesday, as Modi toured Mauritius, officials signed an agreement to upgrade sea and air links on the remote Agalega islands, offering India a foothold in an area hundreds of miles from its coast.”

via India in pacts to develop infrastructure in Mauritius, Seychelles | Reuters.

24/02/2015

Modi’s bid to ease land for companies could impact reforms | Reuters

A bid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make it easier for businesses to buy farm land for infrastructure and industry has sparked a backlash that could stymie his efforts to get reforms through a parliament session that began on Monday.

Labourers work along the construction site of a road at Ghilot in Rajasthan, October 1, 2014.  REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

While the change is aimed at unlocking hundreds of billions of dollars worth of projects, which have been stuck for want of land, opposition parties and rights activists say it discriminates against farmers.

“We will protest and fight the government on this issue inside and outside parliament,” Ghulam Nabi Azad, a senior leader of the opposition Congress party, told the Indian Express.

Modi issued an ordinance in December to exempt projects in defence, rural electrification, rural housing and industrial corridors from provisions of a law enacted by the previous Congress party government that mandated the consent of 80 percent of affected landowners for any deal.

He had also ended the need for companies to conduct a social impact study of such projects, which would involve public hearings and, industry executives fear, drag on for years.

The ordinance is a temporary order and needs the approval of both houses of parliament to come into force. It will lapse if parliament does not ratify it this session.

via Modi’s bid to ease land for companies could impact reforms | Reuters.

25/11/2014

China’s Railroad Ventures Abroad Project Soft Power – Businessweek

Last week state-owned China Railway Construction Corp. (CRCC) signed a lucrative contract with Nigeria to build an 870-mile coastal railroad from Lagos to Calabar, two of the West African nation’s leading cities. The price tag: $12 billion. That makes it the largest single overseas engineering contract awarded to any Chinese company, according to state-run Xinhua newswire.

Chinese and Venezuelan construction workers build an elevated platform at China Railway Engineering Corporation's (CREC) Tinaco-Anaco railway project in Los Dos Caminos, Venezuela in 2012

Beijing hopes many more deals will follow. In recent months, Chinese leaders on overseas missions have often bragged of the country’s prowess in building railroads, including high-speed bullet trains.

In May, Li Keqiang made his first diplomatic trip as China’s premier to Africa, visiting Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola, and Kenya. At the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he said he envisioned a bright future for the continent when African capitals would be connected by high-speed rail. And China, he added, according to Xinhua, could “help make this dream come true.”

In early November, a consortium of Chinese companies led by CRCC won a $3.7 billion contract to build a bullet train in Mexico; that contract was canceled a few days later due to suspected corruption on the Mexican side. But the aborted deal is still a sign of overseas demand for China’s rail technology.

Nor are rail deals limited to developing nations: In October, Boston’s transit authority signed a $567 million contract with China’s CNR Corp. to build 284 subway cars.

In addition to stimulating domestic manufacturing demand for steel and rail equipment exports, China’s leaders hope the flurry of railway deals will have soft power benefits as well. The Nigerian railroad will be “a mutually beneficial project,” as CRCC Chairman Meng Fengchao told Xinhua. He pledged to hire at least several thousand workers from Nigeria; in the past, Chinese companies have been criticized for bringing in Chinese workers to complete large engineering projects, thus denying work opportunities to local populations.

via China’s Railroad Ventures Abroad Project Soft Power – Businessweek.

05/11/2014

India to foreign CEOs: ‘We’re waiting for you’ – Businessweek

India’s finance minister is urging foreign investors to help plug enormous gaps in the country’s infrastructure blamed for holding back growth.

“We are waiting for you,” Arun Jaitley told a roomful of international and Indian CEOs attending the India Economic Summit, one of the World Economic Forum’s satellite summits held around the globe.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has enchanted Indians with his vision of a country crisscrossed by modern roads, high-speed trains, dozens of high-tech smart cities and universal Internet cables.

To get there, India has a long way to go.

The country is beleaguered by a patchy network of pot-holed roads, lumbering railway service and a lack of warehouses that leads to some 40 percent of the country’s produce and grains going to rot.

The country loses about a quarter of the electricity it generates through a leaky, inefficient grid. And hundreds of millions still have no proper home or access to sanitation facilities.

Economists estimate India needs a staggering $1 trillion in infrastructure investment alone. That’s more than half India’s entire gross domestic product for 2013 of $1.87 trillion.

“Infrastructure, let me tell you, we welcome large investment participation, even international participation,” Jaitley said. He said legislative reforms to open industries such as real estate, railways services and even defense would be easy to sell in a country sometimes wary of big change.

Modi, under pressure since taking office in May to boost the economy, has visited countries including Japan, the United States and Australia with the goal of building business ties. He also hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in September and plans to host Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in December.

via India to foreign CEOs: ‘We’re waiting for you’ – Businessweek.

17/09/2014

5 Things to Look Out for During Xi Jinping’s Visit to India – WSJ

Manan Vatsyayana/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

1 INFRASTRUCTURE

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is looking for foreign capital and expertise to build “smart cities”, high-speed trains and modern airports of the kind that China has built for itself in the past decade. The two leaders are expected to sign a deal to bring bullet trains to India and may also reach an agreement for the building of world-class railway stations and airports.

2 INDUSTRIAL PARKS

The two countries laid the groundwork for Chinese investment in industrial parks in India when Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari visited Beijing in June. Indian officials say they expect to ink deals worth $5 billion for two parks – one in the western state of Gujarat, Mr. Modi’s home state, and the other in Maharashtra. The idea is to make it easier for Chinese companies to set up shop in India.

3 BORDER TROUBLES

Territorial disputes that have long dogged Sino-Indian ties aren’t the focus of this visit, but are sure to come up. Two reports this week – one about an alleged incursion by Chinese troops in Ladakh and another about protests by Chinese civilians and troops against the construction of an Indian canal along the disputed border – have highlighted the unresolved issues. Even after 17 rounds of talks, no solution has emerged – don’t expect one during this visit either.

4 COMPETITION WITH JAPAN

Indian newspapers have been filled with anticipation about whether China will outdo its Asian rival, Japan, in promising investments for India. Earlier this month, Japan pledged to pour $35 billion into India over five years; China is expected to go further. Expect reams of analysis of Mr. Xi’s rapport with Mr. Modi. When Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe met Mr. Modi, they bear hugged.

5 BREAKING OUT OF THE MOLD

Officials have raised hopes of a “directional change” and an “orbital jump” in Sino-Indian ties, which have long been bogged down by bureaucratic mistrust. Trade relations have flourished in the past decade, but are skewed in China’s favor– and investments have remained very low. Experts are hoping Mr. Modi – who worked with Chinese as chief minister of Gujarat – will adopt a pragmatic approach to push for Chinese money. If he succeeds, the visit may set the stage for an era of economic collaboration between the two Asian giants.

via 5 Things to Look Out for During Xi Jinping’s Visit to India – WSJ.

17/09/2014

Is China’s promised $100 billion India investment more dangerous than its border policy?

Experts believe that China deliberately uses trade as part of its geo-strategic arsenal.

The script is almost predictable. Right before meetings of Indian and Chinese heads of state, something happens on the border to remind everyone that sentiment between the two countries is not exactly neighbourly. Last year it was a standoff in Daulat Beg Oldi about infiltration by the Chinese army. This year, with everyone excited at China’s promise to pump $100 billion into India, there’s another incursion by the Chinese into Demchok in Ladhak.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in India today and will visit Ahmedabad on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday. But Chinese troops have also been reported to have moved 500 meters into Indian territory.

Beijing’s approach seems to be sweet-talking – this time taking the form of foreign direct investment – coupled with regular pinpricks that remind India that they have the stronger position on the border.

But could the proposed investment be as much of a threat to India as the border dispute?

Trading places

India’s total trade with China was around $65 billion in 2013-’14. Of that, only $14 billion were Indian exports heading into China, leaving India with a trade deficit of $36 billion. If oil imports are included, Chinese imports are responsible for nearly half of India’s overall trade deficit. This is a great many Indian eggs in one Chinese basket.

For many economists, this isn’t a problem. It’s simply the way efficient markets ought to function, with India buying the goods it needs from the most competitive seller. “The more competitive the trading partner, the more India should buy from it, and the bigger should be the bilateral trade deficit,” wrote commentator Swaminathan Aiyar last year. “China is the most competitive exporter of all, so India should run its biggest trade deficit with this country.”

Yet India does feel the need to reduce the trade deficit with China. Answering a question in the Lok Sabha earlier this year, minister of state for commerce Nirmala Sitharaman admitted that the balance of trade was heavily in China’s favour and that India was taking steps to address this.

“With a view to reducing the trade deficit with China, efforts are being made to diversify the export basket,” Sitharaman said.

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