Visualizing 2020: Trends to Watch

CFR experts spotlight some of the most important trends they will be tracking in the year ahead.  

December 12, 2019

Article
Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

In 2019, a number of significant patterns emerged or continued across the world. The editors asked seven CFR scholars to share the charts, graphs, and maps that offer a window into the future, looking at issues such as Asia’s aging societies and Africa’s housing crunch.

Shrinking U.S.-China Trade Flows

Graphic showing how certain U.S. imports from China have dipped after tariffs.

The trade war that started last year intensified in 2019, with President Donald J. Trump’s administration levying tariffs on some two-thirds of imports from China. U.S. companies with supply chains that run through China are responding, in many cases looking to import from other countries, particularly Vietnam. While the United States is slightly shrinking its trade deficit with China, it’s rapidly expanding its one with Vietnam.

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The pace of change varies by sector. For instance, the furniture trade, which has been hit with a steep 25 percent tariff, is changing fast as U.S. companies seek out new, lower-cost suppliers. The shift has been less dramatic in the trade of washing machines and apparel, which face lower tariffs, but China is still losing ground. If the trade war continues into 2020, more and more U.S. importers are likely to seek alternatives to China, moving toward the decoupling favored by some in the Trump administration.

More on:

Trade

China

Climate Change

Latin America

East Asia

Edward Alden is the Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow, specializing in U.S. economic competitiveness, trade, and immigration policy.

Latin America’s Fading Left

Map showing how country politics have shifted over last decade.

Much of Latin America has experienced a political realignment over the last decade. The so-called pink tide of democratically elected left-wing governments, which washed over the region in the first decade of the 2000s, has now receded.

One of the major causes was the end of the commodities boom, which devastated Latin America’s leading extractive economies and, consequently, crippled the social welfare programs championed by leaders such as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Furthermore, prominent left-wing parties in several countries became embroiled in corruption scandals and engaged in undemocratic behavior that eroded their bases of support.

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However, some leftist governments have managed to weather the storm and retain power—a handful at the ballot box and others through repression—contributing to the striking ideological diversity the region has today.

Paul J. Angelo is a fellow for Latin America studies.

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Trade

China

Climate Change

Latin America

East Asia

Africa’s Looming Housing Crisis

Graphic showing how Africa's urban housing crunch will worsen in decades ahead.

Africa’s urban housing crunch is already a serious problem, and without significant investments and policy interventions, it’s projected to get far worse in the decade ahead. As the continent’s booming youth population flocks to cities in search of work, many will struggle to find a place to call their own.

A major housing shortfall in African cities could threaten urban health and safety and provoke serious social frustration and political unrest. To head off a crisis, civic leaders should move quickly to introduce zoning, construction, and related reforms that set the stage for smart, sustainable additions to the urban housing stock.

Michelle D. Gavin is senior fellow for Africa Studies.

Surging Far-Right Terrorism

Map of U.S. indicating instances of terrorist attacks committed by far-right, far-left, and incel extremists.

The tide of terrorism has turned decidedly rightward in the United States. Over the last two years, far-right extremists were responsible for fifteen out of seventeen terrorist attacks, including mass shootings in California, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Communities outside of the United States, most notably in Germany, New Zealand, and Norway, were also struck by far-right rampages.

The wave of far-right violence is likely to continue in the United States in 2020, given the intensely partisan atmosphere around the presidential election campaign and impeachment proceedings. At the same time, terrorist threats from an increasingly emboldened far-left militant movement, and from the self-proclaimed Islamic State—which is desperate to retaliate for the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and several other senior leaders—will persist.

Future far-right attackers will almost certainly draw inspiration from their predecessors, and they can tap into deepening transnational networks. U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the coming year need to take into account the rising diversity of adversaries.

Bruce Hoffman is the Shelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland security. 

Zeroing Out Automobile Emissions

Map showing countries and cities that have pledged to ban gas-powered vehicles.

When climate activists look back on history, they might see 2019 as a turning point—the year when the first serious proposal to ban gasoline cars was introduced in the U.S. Congress. The Democrat-sponsored legislation would require carmakers to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040. While the bill is unlikely to pass in the car-centric United States any time soon, it’s part of a trend that is gaining international momentum.

In recent years, many countries, including France, India, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, have pledged to phase out the sale of cars with internal combustion engines in an effort to fight urban air pollution and limit greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which represents about 15 percent of global emissions. China, the world’s largest car market, is following suit; it’s currently working out the details of its own plan. Meanwhile, major cities such as Los Angeles and London have also pledged to ban these vehicles from their urban centers in the years ahead.

Amy Myers Jaffe is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment and director of the Energy Security and Climate Change program.

The Research and Development Race

Graphic showing how China's R&D spending is set to eclipse other countries.

China is investing enormous resources to develop the next generation of critical technologies, and it is well on its way to becoming the world’s largest spender on research and development (R&D). Beijing’s sprint to become an innovation superpower could help drive global growth and prosperity, but it also threatens U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

It’s not too late, however, for leaders in Washington to take remedial action and dedicate more funding to the basic research that is too expensive and risky for the private sector. The United States still leads the world in total R&D spending, and it could remain competitive if the government restores investments in this area to prior levels. Boosting federal R&D spending to its historical average of about 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—some $230 billion—could ignite the type of discoveries that have reshaped and revitalized the U.S. economy.

Adam Segal is the Ira A. Lipman chair in emerging technologies and national security and director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program.

Aging Asia

Charts showing how many Asian countries are rapidly aging.

Asia has become the engine of the global economy, but the region’s dynamism could fade as some powerhouses face aging populations. The region’s largest economies—China, Japan, and South Korea—will need to manage a profound demographic shift in which their workforces steadily shrink, and are potentially surpassed by the nonworking populations.

The implications for these societies, their governments, and their foreign relations will be immense. Among other things, more women will need to work to support households and sustain national wealth. The caregiving burden will increasingly fall on the state. The region’s geopolitics could be fundamentally reshaped.

On the other hand, some Asian nations are set to grow their workforces. Can they harness this trend to power their economies ahead of their neighbors?

Sheila A. Smith is a senior fellow for Japan studies.

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