The People’s Bank of China’s ambitious plan to settle foreign trades in yuan has been given the cold shoulder by companies both at home and abroad. The failure of this experiment shows the difficulties China faces in internationalising its currency.
Launched by the PBOC with a fanfare almost two months ago, the pilot scheme has so far seen only thin volumes of yuan trade settlement. Guangdong province, the country’s export hub, was supposed to be the cornerstone of the plan, but local officials said they found few willing counterparties.
This should not have come as a surprise. Foreign importers either have little access to the yuan, are reluctant to part with it, or do not want to commit future payment in a currency that is expected to appreciate. More surprisingly, domestic exporters, who would benefit from lower currency risks, are put off by the logistical headache of receiving domestic currency for their exports.
These concerns aside, there is a more fundamental reason why the yuan is not catching on. The Triffin Dilemma, named after the Belgian-American economist who rose to prominence in the 1960s, stipulates that it is hard for a country running a large trade surplus to demand that others buy goods using its own currency.