The Hot Zone
China's newly announced air defense identification zone over the East China Sea aims to shore up national security
Current Issue
· Table of Contents
· Editor's Desk
· Previous Issues
· Subscribe to Mag
Subscribe Now >>
Expert's View
Market Watch
North American Report
Government Documents
Expat's Eye
Photo Gallery
Reader's Service
Learning with
'Beijing Review'
E-mail us
RSS Feeds
PDF Edition
Reader's Letters
Make Beijing Review your homepage
Hot Links

cheap eyeglasses
Market Avenue

UPDATED: April 15, 2011 NO. 16 APRIL 21, 2011
Fall of Another Domino
Portugal follows other PIGS countries to seek international aid to cope with its economic crisis


ON STRIKE: Portuguese gather in a rally against the government's fiscal austerity plan in Lisbon on November 24, 2010 (TONG BINGQIANG) 

No one loves the messenger who brings bad news. But recently, bad news items have arrived one after another from Europe. On April 6, Portugal asked the EU for financial aid, becoming the third euro-zone country after Ireland and Greece to request a bailout.

Deep-rooted crisis

Portugal's current economic crisis can be traced back to the 1980s. On January 1, 1986, Portugal joined the European Community (EC), the EU's predecessor. This not only expanded its international market, but also increased its attractiveness to foreign investors. For many years in the 1990s, Portugal's economic growth rate was much higher than the average level of EC members.

Portugal joined the European Monetary Union in 1998, and became one of the 11 euro founders in the following year. Hence it benefited greatly from a stable exchange rate, declining inflation and low interest rates. Many Portuguese believed they had finally bidden farewell to underdevelopment and embraced a prosperous future, thanks to European integration.

This brilliant prospect was accompanied by risks. For instance, the Portuguese Government implemented a policy of deficit spending. In addition to increasing social welfare, it invested heavily in infrastructure, constructing subways, highways and ports. Ordinary people boldly made use of bank credit to improve their living conditions. But Portugal's economic structure did not change fundamentally. Textiles, shoemaking and winemaking remained its pillar industries. It had few hi-tech industries, and its industrial base was still weak.

Despite Portugal's burgeoning trade ties with other countries, Portuguese small and medium-sized companies failed to become more competitive internationally. Unlike most EU members, Portugal has few big companies. Small and medium-sized companies were major players in its national economy. These companies, weak in hi-tech innovation, lacked competitive edge in the international market.

Worse still, after the EU's eastward expansion in 2004, new members replaced Portugal to become favorite destinations of foreign investment. Portugal's advantages in this regard gradually disappeared.

All these problems not only undermined Portugal's economic potential but also led to unbearable deficit and debt. As a result, Portugal's GDP growth rate dropped from 5 percent in 1998 to 0.7 percent in 2002 and -0.9 percent in 2003. Since then, this figure has been lingering between 1 percent and 2 percent, and there was even negative growth at times.

The global financial crisis in 2008 dramatically deteriorated the external conditions for Portugal's economic growth. In the meantime, the heavy national debt of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain sparked global concern. Media outlets even labelled them PIGS by abbreviating their first letters. International credit rating agencies—Moody's, Standard and Poor's and Fitch—lowered the credit ratings of these countries. This made it more difficult for Portugal to get loans.

Timely bailout

Portugal was not willing to accept aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This may be because of its painful memories from history. In 1977 and 1983 respectively, caught in economic crises, Portugal was forced to accept IMF assistance. As a precondition, it carried out a series of fiscal austerity measures requested by the IMF, including reducing social welfare, cutting public expenditure and freezing wage increases.

This time, to reduce fiscal deficit, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates carried out a package of anti-crisis measures. Of them, the most prominent was a "crisis tax," which was implemented beginning May 2010.

But the government's fiscal austerity plan, aimed at further cutting public spending, met with resistance from the opposition. On March 23, the plan, which had been endorsed by the EU, was rejected in parliament for the fourth time, forcing Socrates to resign. Eight days later, Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva accepted his resignation and announced elections for a new government on June 5.

The political crisis triggered by Socrates' resignation worsened Portugal's shaky economic situation. The country's credit rating in the international financial market was further lowered.

What's more, Portugal must pay back a 9-billion-euro ($12.99 billion) loan due in the second quarter of 2011. But the government has only 5 billion euros ($7.21 billion) at its disposal. So the government is on the edge of bankruptcy. State-owned companies may even be unable to pay wages in the second half of this year.

The IMF said it was willing to provide aid for Portugal. Many Europeans questioned Portugal's refusal to ask for help. They worried if the bailout was delayed, the debt crisis would spread to Spain, devastating the entire euro zone.

Given its deteriorating political and economic situation, Portugal finally conceded. On April 6, Portugal said it had requested aid from the EU. At a meeting held in Hungary on April 8-9, euro-zone finance ministers said Portugal could get an 80-billion-euro ($116 billion) relief package by mid-May as long as it agreed to take further austerity measures.

1   2   Next  

Top Story
-Protecting Ocean Rights
-Partners in Defense
-Fighting HIV+'s Stigma
-HIV: Privacy VS. Protection
-Setting the Tone
Most Popular
About BEIJINGREVIEW | About beijingreview.com | Rss Feeds | Contact us | Advertising | Subscribe & Service | Make Beijing Review your homepage
Copyright Beijing Review All right reserved