EU, Ukrajina, Koreja

autora/ice cronomy

EU je odbila Istočnu Europu

Ms. Merkel said she couldn’t see the need for a broad grant of aid to Eastern Europe. “The situation is very different” in Europe’s economies. “We cannot compare Slovakia nor Slovenia with Hungary,” she told reporters.

But both the bailout and calls for Eastern European countries to join the euro sooner were coolly received by Western European nations. Ms. Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy both separately suggested that Eastern countries should look elsewhere — to the International Monetary Fund, for instance — for help.

Behind the tensions: The recession has struck the 27 EU nations with widely varying force. Large and steady economies such as Germany’s are facing an inevitable slowdown, but smaller peripheral states such as Latvia, Bulgaria and even Ireland have been brutally whipsawed from an era of heady growth to shockingly fast decline.

The impact on Eastern Europe, which boomed in recent years, has been especially intense. Latvia, which financed its own expansion by borrowing from abroad, is literally running out of money as the credit crunch shuts those spigots off. Last week, Standard & Poor’s cut Latvia’s credit rating to junk.

And, as some in Eastern Europe warned, deep pain could well emerge elsewhere. All eyes are on Ireland, which is slashing public-sector pay as it scrambles to close a budget deficit that could reach nearly 10% of gross-domestic product. A protest last month in Dublin drew more than 100,000 people. …

The EU’s disinclination to fund a regional bailout suggests that the IMF and other multilateral institutions will take on an even larger role in coming months — a role that IMF officials have said they recognize. The IMF is looking to double its war chest for lending to $500 billion, and the EU is weighing whether or not to make a loan for that purpose. Last week, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank said they would provide €24.5 billion in financing for banks in Eastern Europe.

The IMF has been active on Europe’s periphery: Iceland, Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine have turned to the agency for aid.

Most critical was the cold shoulder from Germany, which, as Europe’s largest economy and the one with most access to borrowing, would play the largest role in financing any aid. Germany, the EU’s strongest economy, is unwilling to unwind its own fiscal discipline to pay for the spending excesses of others. Admitting countries with weaker finances could hurt the strength of the euro or push up inflation across the euro zone.

…Ukrajina puca…

Steel and chemical factories, once the muscle of Ukraine’s economy, are dismissing thousands of workers. Cities have had days without heat or water because they cannot pay their bills, and Kiev’s subway service is being threatened. Lines are sprouting at banks, the currency is wilting and even a government default seems possible.

Ukraine, once considered a worldwide symbol of an emerging, free-market democracy that had cast off authoritarianism, is teetering. And its predicament poses a real threat for other European economies and former Soviet republics. …

It is not hard to understand why world leaders are increasingly worried about the discontent and the financial crisis in Ukraine, which has 46 million people and a highly strategic location. A small country like Latvia or Iceland is one thing, but a collapse in Ukraine could wreck what little investor confidence is left in Eastern Europe, whose formerly robust economies are being badly strained. …

While Ukraine’s economy is dependent on exports of steel and chemicals, which have plummeted, the crisis has cut deeply because people are disillusioned with the government. …

In February, the International Monetary Fund refused to release the next installment of a $16.4 billion rescue loan to Ukraine because the government would not adhere to an earlier agreement to pare its budget. On Friday, the monetary fund projected that Ukraine’s economy would shrink by 6 percent this year, and said that it was continuing to work with the government to find a way to disburse the rest of the rescue loan.

…Korejancima opako pada izvoz, pa režu plaće.

Shinchang Electrics Co. offered union leaders a proposal that would reduce wages at the auto-parts company by 20% in exchange for no layoffs among its 810 workers this year. Eight days later, the union agreed.

The deal is one sign of the unusual way South Korea is grappling with the global economic crisis. Across the country, executives, salaried employees and hourly workers at companies from banks to shipbuilders are joining to slash wages and other costs with the goal of avoiding layoffs….

In South Korea, job preservation is the government’s biggest goal in shaping its response to the onset of recession, President Lee Myung-bak declared in January. Last week, leaders of major industry groups, unions, civic groups and government ministries struck a “grand bargain for social unity.” Under the plan, which isn’t legally binding, employers won’t fire workers, unions will accept wage freezes or cuts, and the government will provide tax breaks to companies that preserve jobs….

Some other countries and companies are also attempting to stave off massive job cuts by asking workers to scale back hours, take pay cuts or schedule time off without pay. Last week, Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford and Chief Executive Alan Mulally agreed to take 30% cuts in salary for two years to help win union support for capping wages. In Canada, a United Steelworkers union of nearly 600 salaried employees agreed in January to a four-day work week to avoid layoffs.

However, no place seems to be making such a coordinated national push as South Korea. It’s too soon to tell precisely what the country’s no-layoff drive will produce, whether a viable means to cope with recession or a mere delay of painful job cuts….

The current economic crisis hit South Korea later than other countries because its banks had little exposure to distressed property investments in the U.S. But South Korea was slapped hard when the banking crisis turned into an economic one, leading to job losses and lower consumer spending in the U.S. and Europe.

Demand for the electronics, steel, cars and other products South Korea sells to those places fell sharply, sending its fourth-quarter gross domestic product down at an annualized rate of 21%, the biggest drop of any developed country — and more than three times the U.S. rate of 6.2%.

South Korea didn’t face a drop in exports during its two previous recessions, which meant it could recover relatively quickly. Today, exports account for about two-thirds of South Korea’s near-$1 trillion GDP, up from about one-third in 1998. And the shock of a rapid drop in shipments — down 17% in February from the previous February after a decline of 32.8% in January — is rippling through the country’s manufacturing base. The country’s weakened currency has provided some cushion to corporate profits, since it means that money earned abroad is worth more when converted to the Korean won.

An entrenched cultural force is also at the heart of the push to avoid layoffs at all costs. Like many Asian societies, South Korea’s is more communal than individualistic. The loss of a job can be deeply humiliating and also mean the loss of a kind of second home. All but the smallest employers offer benefits such as education and weekend getaways….

Sharing the Cuts

In the 1998 recession, Shinchang and its union agreed to a similar pay cut. A year later, as the country started to recover, the company boosted pay for workers above their pre-recession salaries by 20% for the next two years before returning to its normal wage agreement.

Nothing in the latest agreement specifies that Shinchang will boost wages above current levels after the economy recovers, but Park Jong-nam, the company’s personnel manager, says it is likely. And Mr. Shim, who molds ignition components, says, “They didn’t say they would reward this, but we trust them.”

In January, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, the second-largest umbrella group of unions, and the Korean Employers Federation, a group representing midsize companies, proposed the building of a national consensus on layoffs and wage cuts. A series of meetings followed that produced the broad agreement last week.

“We find it’s getting more serious than the [1997-98] period,” said Kang Choong-ho, a spokesman for the Federation of Korean Trade Unions. “This time we thought we must keep jobs and yield what we can, sharing the pain.”

But the endgame in South Korea may turn out to be more painful. At a news conference early last month, LG Electronics Co. CEO Nam Yong said he’s watching the cost savings that the firm’s Japanese rivals are achieving by cutting jobs, and he will try to match them. “There are no reasons to lay off staff for now,” Mr. Nam said. Down the line, he added, “It’s difficult to give a clear answer.”

(Naravno, mi nismo Koreja.)

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