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    UN Reports 'Remarkable' Surge in Asian Economies

    The United Nations says Asia's economies are surging ahead, but warns that attempts to manage currency exchange rates could unsettle things.  And, as VOA's Kate Pound Dawson in our Asia News Center in Hong Kong reports, the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific says discrimination against women costs the region billions of dollars in economic growth.

    The latest United Nations data show that Asian economies should grow an average of 7.4 percent this year. That is up from an earlier forecast of 6.9 percent, but down slightly from last year.

    The annual report released by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific says the region is a locomotive for worldwide growth.  UNESCAP, economist Shamika Sirimanne explains.

    "We see a lot of resilience in our economies to withstand any trend of a slowdown in the U.S. economy," Sirimanne says. "India is supposed to grow around nine percent in 2007, in China close to 10 percent.  These are really remarkable numbers.  And Southeast Asia will have a rebound, except for countries such as Thailand, Cambodia."

    But Raj Kumar, a senior economist with the commission, says it is not clear that economic prosperity is reaching all levels of society.

    "Indeed, the disparities and income inequalities in China and India are getting worse.  Indeed, there was even mention of Japan as well, where creeping inequalities are beginning to show their ugly face.  A key message of this high growth is, do not forget the poor persons, otherwise this growth means nothing," Kumar says.

    The report also warns of considerable risk to the region's growth.  One potential problem is that countries might try to keep their currencies from strengthening if the U.S. economy slows and the dollar weakens.  UNESCAP officials urge governments to maintain flexible exchange rate systems to avoid encouraging speculative flows of capital.

    In addition, the report says there is concern that if China's economy overheats - leading to inflation and other problems - it could cause social instability.  Given China's role as both an exporter to Asia and a buyer of Asian goods, any economic problems there could ripple across the region.

    For the first time, this year's UNESCAP report considers the costs of gender discrimination.  The agency estimates that between $42 billion and $47 billion in economic output are lost each year in Asia because discrimination restricts job opportunities for women.  It says inadequate education for girls costs the region as much as $30 billion a year.  

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