Giant on the move
The U.S.-China tyre dispute threatens to spill into other sectors and further squeeze Chinese exporters’ already razor-thin margins. It might seem mind-boggling to many that Chinese manufacturers are still hanging on to weak overseas markets even though the domestic economy looks much healthier and surely offers more potential.
But there are structural reasons why the grass is greener outside China. The risk of not getting paid, or getting paid late, is significantly lower when dealing with foreign buyers. The cost of international shipping has dropped so much that it can be cheaper to send goods over the Pacific Ocean than across the country.
In addition, selling to large buyers such as Wal-Mart creates enough volumes to compensate for weak margins. Moreover, Chinese exporters get all sorts of export rebates and local government incentives which help to lower their costs.
But as the tyre spat has illustrated, Washington can slap punitive duties on Chinese imports simply by pointing to a significant increase in imports from China. By imposing penalties in this case, President Obama has opened the door for a slew of similar complaints against Chinese goods. It will only be a matter of time before other countries, worried about where those displaced Chinese exports might end up, start to follow suit.