4.6 Emerging Markets

How do we classify an emerging market?

The definition of an emerging market is complex and inconsistent. The application and interpretation information varies depending on who is doing the analysis—a private sector business, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations (UN), or any number of global economic, political, and trade organizations. The varying statistics, in turn, produce a changing number of countries that “qualify” as emerging markets. For many businesspeople, the definition of an emerging market has been simply a country that was once a developing country but has achieved rapid economic growth, modernization, and industrialization. However, this approach can be limiting.

Knowing that there are wide inconsistencies, how do we define emerging markets consistently from the perspective of global businesses? First, understand that there are some common characteristics in terms of local population size, growth opportunities with changes in the local commercial infrastructure, regulatory and trade policies, efficiency improvements, and overall investment in the education and well-being of the local population, which in turn is expected to increase local incomes and purchasing capabilities.

As a leading economic and strategic thinker in the area of emerging markets, Kvint concludes from his research that there are several major characteristics of emerging markets, which create “a comfortable and attractive environment for global business, foreign investment and international trade. Based on my study, an emerging market country can be defined as a society transitioning from a dictatorship to a free market-oriented economy, with increasing economic freedom, gradual integration within the global marketplace, an expanding middle class, improving standards of living and social stability and tolerance, as well as an increase in cooperation with multilateral institutions.” Vladimir Kvint, “Define Emerging Markets Now,” Forbes, January 28, 2008, accessed January 5, 3011, http://www.forbes.com/2008/01/28/kvint-developing-countries-oped-cx_kv_0129kvint.html.



Brazil remains Latin America’s largest market, the world’s fifth-most-populous country, and the world’s tenth-largest economy in GDP terms. Government policies for disinflation and income support programs for the poorest families have contributed to a significant reduction in poverty rates and income inequality in recent years. However, poverty remains a stubborn challenge for Brazil.

Brazil’s economic history has progressed in cycles, each focused on a single export item. Soon after the arrival of the first Europeans, wood was the hot commodity. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the scramble was for sugar. Eighteenth-century traders lusted for gems, gold, and silver; and finally, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, coffee was king. Rubber had its day as well. Also of economic importance during these cycles were cattle and agriculture, though they mainly served the domestic market.

Brazil is best known as a leading world producer of coffee and sugar. These commodities, no doubt, enable the country to trade on the world’s stage and remain critical to the Brazilian economy to this day. Brazil is also one of the largest producers and exporters of soybeans, orange juice, cocoa, and tropical fruits. A little known fact, however, is that today, nonagricultural products—namely, auto parts, aircraft, and machinery—bring in more money. Ironically, it’s the oft-maligned industrial programs of the 1960s and 1970s that deserve much of the credit for these successes.


Russian industry is primarily split between globally competitive commodity producers—in 2009 Russia was the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, the second largest exporter of oil, and the third largest exporter of steel and primary aluminum—and other less competitive heavy industries that remain dependent on the Russian domestic market. This reliance on commodity exports makes Russia vulnerable to boom and bust cycles that follow the highly volatile swings in global commodity prices. The government, since 2007, has embarked on an ambitious program to reduce this dependency and build up the country’s high-technology sectors but with few results thus far. A revival of Russian agriculture in recent years has led to Russia shifting from being a net grain importer to a net grain exporter. Russia has a highly industrialized and agrarian economy. Almost ten million people are engaged in the agriculture industry. Along with its vast spaces, Russia has always been known for its amazing resources. The country produces 30 percent of the world’s nonferrous, rare, and noble metals; 17 percent of the world’s crude oil; 30 percent of natural gas; and it holds 40 percent of the world’s known natural gas deposits. Today, agriculture accounts for 4.7 percent of the economy, industry represents 34.8 percent, and services total 60.5 percent (based on a 2009 estimate). US Central Intelligence Agency, “Central Asia: Russia,” World Factbook, accessed January 6, 2011, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rs.html.


Prior to the mid-1980s, the country pursued a policy of socialism with the state planning and controlling many sectors of the economy. Foreign investment had been discouraged except in the area of technology transfers. Since the early 1990s, India has embarked on an economic liberalization scheme that has proven beneficial to the country.

In 1991, India was on the brink of defaulting on its foreign debt. The government responded with a series of successful measures to initiate widespread economic reforms, including reducing export and import barriers, dismantling some of its swollen bureaucracy, making the currency partially convertible, and eliminating the black market for foreign currency and gold. Efforts were also made to privatize or increase the efficiencies of unprofitable state companies. Finance Minister Manmohan Singh (who later became prime minister) was successful in beginning to dismantle the “License Raj,” an intricate system of government economic control through permits and quotas. Various policies initiated by the government provided a larger role for the private sector and encouraged foreign investment. As a result, investment increased, though at much lower levels than in other Asian countries.


For more than fifty years, China has had a centrally planned economy in which the state controlled most of the commercial activity. Under Mao Zedong’s over forty-year leadership, the Chinese government kept a firm grip on the country’s economic activity. That grip has been loosening since the 1980s as a result of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, which introduced some strong capitalist characteristics into China’s centrally planned economy. Since the early 1980s, the Chinese economy has been in a transition away from central planning and toward a market-driven economy. In today’s model, market forces work in conjunction with state ownership and intervention. This system is commonly referred to as “a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics.” The government now realizes that it can’t provide all the resources needed to fuel the economy by itself and that the private sector has a major role to play in providing investment—and jobs. Today, China’s economy is caught between two opposing forces—a burgeoning market sector that is outgrowing government control and the inability of that market to function efficiently due to continued influence by the state on production and prices.

South Africa

Initially, a refuelling station for Dutch sailors travelling to the East, South Africa gradually developed an agricultural sector, based on fruit, wine, and livestock production, along the coast of the Cape of Good Hope. All of this changed dramatically with the discovery of minerals in the late nineteenth century. Subsequently, the country emerged as the leading manufacturing and industrial economy on the African continent.

Surging prices for gold and the high demand for base metals and other mineral products propelled the country’s economy after World War II. South Africa was fortunate to have this strong economic base when international sanctions were applied in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nonetheless, import substitution and sanction busting were necessary for economic survival, and the country as a whole became increasingly isolated. A handful of massive corporations controlled most of the country’s wealth and provided the majority of goods and services. The national government controlled those sectors of the economy seen as critical to the national interest of the apartheid state, including transportation, telecommunications, and the media.

Other Emerging Markets

In addition, to illustrate how experts debate the next group of emerging-market countries, the Goldman Sachs economist who created the term BRIC in 2001 in a report for the investment bank has added a new group, MITSK. A January article in the British Financial Times newspaper notes, “Jim O’Neill, who coined the term ‘Bric’, is about to redefine further emerging markets. The chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management (until end of 2010) plans to add Mexico, South Korea, Turkey and Indonesia into a new grouping with the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India and China—that he dubs ‘growth markets.


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Introduction to Management by Kathleen Rodenburg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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