Remittances fuel Asian economies

A busy Sunday afternoon on Singapore's Orchard Road and Christmas shopping is in full swing. But for the migrant workers filling the remittance centres in the Lucky Plaza mall, the priority is sending money home.

    China and India are the world's top receivers of remittances

    "I send half my salary home every month; but at Christmas I will send almost all of it," says Annie, a 35-year old Filipina working as a maid in the city-state.

    It is money sent home by overseas workers like her that helps drive consumption in the Philippines and, despite high oil prices, will allow the country to post a balance of payments surplus of about $2 billion this year.

    According to the World Bank, the Asia-Pacific region saw the biggest jump in remittances received by developing countries during 2001-2005, with remittances to East Asia and the Pacific more than doubling to an estimated $43.1 billion this year.

    In South Asia, remittances are estimated to reach $32 billion this year, up 67% from 2001.

    Analysts say this money is having a growing impact on regional economies - boosting external finances and raising domestic consumption and investment in local markets.

    India and China were the world's two biggest receivers of remittances last year. Remittances are larger than tea exports in Sri Lanka, quadrupled in Pakistan between 2001 and 2003, and are expected to hit a record high in the Philippines this year.


    Increased migration and a drive to encourage workers to send money home, using formal channels, help explain a rising trend in remittances.

    "I send half my salary home every month; but at Christmas I will send almost all of it"

    Annie, a Filipina working as a maid in Singapore

    "Migration and remittances are here to stay. They have increased in the last three decades and will continue to rise," World Bank Senior Economist Dilip Ratha said at a seminar in Singapore earlier this month.

    An Asian Development Bank study found that nearly two million immigrants, mostly women, from the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, send home more than 30% of their earnings in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

    World Bank figures show that the Philippines and France both received around $12 billion in remittances last year - but remittances are far more important to the Philippines where they are equal to more than 10% of the value of gross domestic product compared to less than 1% in France.

    The Philippine balance of payments surplus could hit about $2 billion this year due to robust growth in remittances and investment, a central bank official said last month. This is higher than a previous forecast of a surplus of $853 million.

    White-collar expatriates

    Not all remittances in Asia are from low-paid workers. India's growing number of white-collar expatriates, many employed in the technology sector, have been targeted with attractive deposit schemes and bonds offered by India's government.

    Philippine remittances: $12bn last
    year and set for record this year

    "Traditionally, cross-border payments to India used to be more corporate and trade related. Now, there is the diaspora all over the world sending back remittances," said Navinder Duggal, regional head of cash product management at Singapore's DBS bank.

    "Increasingly we find this is for investment and with interest rates being fairly high, the stock market at all-time highs, real estate picking up, there are a lot of individual investments going in."

    That in turn will provide an important source of funding for India's trade deficit, which is forecast to reach a record $48 billion for the year that ended in March 2006.

    ICICI Bank, India's second largest lender, lets non-resident Indians remit money through its Money2India website, which has been running for about three years.

    But many low-skilled foreign workers do not have access to online banking. A subsidiary of Globe Telecom, one of the leading mobile phone operators in the Philippines, allows Filipinos to send remittances using text messaging.

    The advantage of this is that while few Filipinos have bank accounts or credit cards, more than 40% have a mobile phone, said Joey Mendoza, president of the Globe subsidiary.

    Mendoza also noted an emerging trend - overseas Filipino workers are starting to ask how they can invest their remittance money in stocks and funds in the Philippines.

    Human cost

    Remittances to China were $21.3 billion in 2004, second only to India's $21.7 billion, and a sharp rise in remittances was partly because of money invested due to speculation about a strengthening in the yuan currency, the World Bank says. 

    "Remittances have a very healthy effect on economies, but for every person that is abroad sending remittances home, that is a person that is away from their family" 

    Analyst who tracks remittances

    Analysts add that while the economic boost from remittances is evident, there is a human cost.

    "Remittances have a very healthy effect on economies, but for every person that is abroad sending remittances home, that is a person that is away from their family," said one analyst who tracks remittances closely, but who asked not to be named.

    "This is the back story to the numbers that are increasing every year."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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