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Posts Tagged ‘China-ASEAN trade’

6th May 2014

In recent articles in the Financial Times the argument has be made that the Peoples’ Republic of China will economically overtake the United States of America in the year 2014. It  should be noted that Chinese economic outpacing of the United States is only measured in terms of statistical purchasing power and little more. In any event, this revealation is significant as it shows the increasing dominance of China in the world economy. The authors of the two articles (which can be found on the Financial Times official website here and here) appear to disagree as to the importance of these developments. The  author of the first article seems rather alarmist about the fact that China will overtake the USA in statistical purchasing power while the second author notes that this should not be viewed as China overtaking the USA in all facets of comparative economics. Furthermore, the second article notes that the United States still remains politically the most powerful nation in the world despite the fact that the world is evolving from a state of unipolarity with the United States as the lone Superpower able to effectively and virtually unilaterally project its power throughout the world, to a state of multipolarity in which many nations have increasing regional (or even global) dominance in certain spheres of economics as well as politics.

The notion that the world is moving toward a state of multipolarity leads this blogger to posit: how will the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) fit into the framework of a multipolar world? It seems reasonable to infer that ASEAN will become an increasingly important economic bloc following the integration of the various member states’ economies under the framework of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) which is set to take effect on January 1, 2015. The creation of a single economic platform which will include approximately 400-500 million people, some of the fastest growing economies in the world, and some of the most strategically important geographical locations will likely lead to greater economies of scale for businesses in the region, a larger market for goods and services for the member states, and greater leverage to trade with countries outside of the bloc. However, these issues are not entirely pertinent to the question posited above. The differences between China and an integrated ASEAN economic platform will be substantial. First, some members of ASEAN rank amongst some of the largest economies in the world, in their own right. Meanwhile other economies within the region are still developing. This could lead to a “best of both worlds” scenario for ASEAN, China, and the USA. Case in point, Thailand has seen difficulties in recent years competing with cheaper Chinese labor, but the movements of labor and capital which will come hand-in-hand with ASEAN economic integration could lead to a situation where Thai companies could utilize labor pools in developing ASEAN member countries to offset the low cost of Chinese labor and thereby mitigate previous competitive disadvantages. Furthermore, the United States may find new markets for US goods in an integrated ASEAN and new venues for the manufacture of low cost goods in developing ASEAN nations that would allow for some economic de-coupling from China by the USA, thereby allowing the United States a freer hand in making foreign policy decisions vis-a-vis China. Finally, China stands to gain due to the increase in trade between China and the ASEAN nations which has recently been evidenced by the evolving nature of the geography of the Chinese economy. In recent years, increasing economic activity has been noted in Southern China across the border from Laos, which acts as a kind of entrepot for trade between China and Thailand as well as the Greater ASEAN community. Recent discussions of a high speed rail link connecting China, Laos and Thailand have also been cause for optimism that one day this region could play host to a booming economy which will bring large numbers of people out of poverty and create wealth for the peoples of all nations concerned.

Following ASEAN economic integration, there are likely to be myriad legal challenges for those businesses in ASEAN nations and abroad wishing to gain a foothold in this burgeoning market. The legal challenges posed will likely require the assistance of legal professionals in the region familiar with new ASEAN regulations as well as the internal regulatory frameworks of the various member states.

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2nd September 2013

In a recent China Daily news article the impact of growing trade between China and the countries which comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was discussed. It would appear that trade between China and ASEAN is having significant ramifications for merchants and businesspeople within China. The article points out that a Chinese candy manufacturer moved its operations to Guangxi, once considered something of a backwater, in an effort to better capitalize upon the benefits of ASEAN’s rise economically. In the article Wu Jinpei, the owner of the aforementioned candy manufacturer, points out that gaining access to the ASEAN market is an important issue for his business “We invested in Guangxi because the region is a gateway to the ASEAN, which provides great geographic advantages and potential markets.”

In a previous posting on this blog, it was pointed out that China-ASEAN trade has increased exponentially in the past 10 years. As of 2012, trade between ASEAN and China exceeded $400 billion. This number is roughly five times larger than the same figures in 2003. Clearly ASEAN is proving to not only be a major factor to be taken into consideration by those doing business within Southeast Asia, but also by those trading in Greater Asia as well. The previously cited article went on to point out that as trade has flourished between China and ASEAN the business dynamics within China have transformed as well. “When I first came here [Guangxi] in 1996, there were only a dozen businessmen from Fujian and the market was small,” said Wu. “But now more than 1,000 Fujian merchants have gathered in this tiny city and the number is growing.”

Recent comments from the Thai Prime Minister pointed out that high speed rail systems linking Thailand to China via Laos is a priority in the long term and many other ASEAN jurisdictions have been moving towards developing similar projects. These remarks, coupled with the information cited in the above article are reminiscent of the period in the United States when so-called “rail heads” created boom-towns across the American frontier. As the railroads continued their drive westward and as new territories became more integrated into the overall economy trade flourished and prosperity increased.

Could the growth of ASEAN-China trade and once small Chinese business communities becoming significant trade centers catering to ASEAN demand combined with the prospect of further economic integration through connection of ASEAN countries with China herald a new boom-town era for East and Southeast Asia? It seems quite likely that as China’s economy continues to become more sophisticated and as ASEAN moves toward economic integration, in the form of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the world could see staggering economic growth in once obscure geographic areas in Asia.

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30th August 2013

In a recent article from The Telegraph author Ambrose Evans-Pritchard analyzed how Federal Reserve policies impact emerging markets. It is a very interesting article for anyone (especially expatriates living abroad) interested in understanding how Fed policy reverberates in markets outside of the United States. Of particular interest to expats living overseas was the analysis of the disproportionate impact Fed policy has on foreign nationals residing in other countries. Although the aforementioned article would seem primarily targeted  at a British audience, as an American expatriate living in the Kingdom of Thailand, I found this information compelling. Evans-Pritchard cited an assertion from Mirza Baig of BNP Paribas noting that foreign nationals bear significant currency risks in some of the nations in Southeast Asia. In Thailand, it appears that foreigners bear currency risks of 81%, while those expatriates living in Malaysia and India bear 90% and 74% risk, respectively. I have  dealt with the vicissitudes of currency fluctuation many times during my tenure in Thailand as the exchange rate between the Thai Baht and the US Dollar was around 39-1 when I first arrived in the Kingdom. Since then, I have seen the exchange rate fall (or rise depending upon your perspective) to around 27-1 and re-stabilize around 30-1. As of the time of this writing, the Baht-Dollar exchange rate stands at approximately 31-1. However, many are speculating that the Baht will lose value against the dollar in the coming months. This would likely be due to the perception that the Fed may begin to implement a kind of belt tightening after years of promoting liquidity.

Unlike times past, the actions of the Fed have increasingly serious implications in emerging markets. As the article noted, in the past when the Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker tightened up his belt, there were substantial ramifications in South America and elsewhere. The negative aspects of those policies on South American economies was containable. However, this was at a time when China was virtually isolated, and the Soviet Union did not really factor into the any analysis of the economic interactions between countries in the “Free World”. Meanwhile in the 1990′s Federal Reserve policies could negatively impact global economics more than before that period, such negative implications were still containable since there was a “power ratio” of around 1:2 between the United States economy and the emerging markets. This is no longer the case as the relationship has basically equalized. Should Fed policies have a substantial negative impact on the emerging markets, then the problem may not be contained within those markets and the economic problems could easily (and quickly, if there is anything to be learned from the financial crashes of the past decade) spill over into Western Europe and America.

In American politics, one cannot read articles and information regarding the United States’ stance on Southeast Asia without seeing the words “pivot”. The Obama administration has consistently noted that the U.S. wishes to see American foreign policy “pivot” to a more solid relationship with the nations in the Asia-Pacific region and those comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In fact the P-word has been cited in connection to the visit to Southeast Asia by the American Secretary of Defense. However, in light of recent events in the economic sphere it would appear that ASEAN countries and Thailand specifically may be “pivoting” themselves. For example, at the recent meeting between the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and the Foreign Minister of China it was noted that Sino-ASEAN trade increased five times compared to ten years ago. As of 2012, trade between China and ASEAN stood at approximately $400 billion. Clearly, China is becoming an increasingly important trading partner and in light of the fact that ASEAN and Thailand may not wish to be at the mercy of the Fed’s whims, further solidifying this relationship may prove to be an effective method for ASEAN nations to mitigate negative side effects caused by economic policies of both China and the United States.

In a recent interview, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, articulated a desire to see further investment in Thailand from China and supported such an investment due to Thailand’s position as the “strategic center” of ASEAN. “Thailand will be spending about 66 billion U.S. dollars in infrastructure. Especially, we will need the technology that China has, like high speed train,” Mrs. Yingluck stated. “And we know that the high-speed railway connecting Thailand and China will run from Thailand through Laos to China. So it will be an important part of Chinese investment in Thailand”. As the deadline for ASEAN integration comes ever closer it seems logical to assume that Thailand, the ASEAN jurisdictions, and China will all see a closer economic relationship begin to blossom. How this relationship will impact both diplomatic and trade relations with the United States remains to be seen, but American economic policy makers should be aware that the era of America being able to set economic and monetary policy with little thought to the implications in emerging Asian markets has passed.

 

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