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Posts Tagged ‘imports’

A falling pound – rebalancing the balance of payments

In a recent blog, Falling sterling – bad for some; good for others, we looked at the depreciation of sterling following the Brexit vote. We saw how it will have beneficial effects for some, such as exporters, and adverse effects for others, such as consumers having to pay a higher price for imports and foreign holidays. The article linked below examines these effects in more depth.

Just how much the quantity of exports will increase depends on two main things. The first is the amount by which the foreign currency price falls. This depends on what exporters choose to do. Say the pound falls from €1.30 to €1.18. Do exporters who had previously sold a product selling in the UK for £100 and in the eurozone for €130, now reduce the euro price to €118? Or do they put it down by less – say, to €125, thereby earning £105.93 (£(125/1.18)). Their sales would increase by less, but their profit margin would rise.

The second is the foreign currency price elasticity of demand for exports in the foreign markets. The more elastic it is, the more exports will rise for any given euro price reduction.

It is similar with imports. How much the sales of these fall depends again on two main things. The first is the amount by which the importing companies are prepared to raise sterling prices. Again assume that the pound falls from €1.30 to €1.18 – in other words, the euro rises from 76.92p (£1/1.3) to 84.75p (£1/1.18). What happens to the price of an import to the UK from the eurozone whose euro price is €100? Does the importer raise the price from £76.92 to £84.75, or by less than that, being prepared to accept a smaller profit margin?

The second is the sterling price elasticity of demand for imports in the UK. The more elastic it is, the more imports will fall and, probably, the more the importer will be prepared to limit the sterling price increase.

The article also looks at the effect on aggregate demand. As we saw in the previous blog, a depreciation boosts aggregate demand by increasing exports and curbing imports. The effects of this rise in aggregate demand depends on the degree of slack in the economy and the extent, therefore, that (a) exporters and those producing import substitutes can respond in terms of high production and employment and (b) other sectors can produce more as multiplier effects play out.

Finally, the article looks at the effect of the depreciation of sterling on asset prices. UK assets will be worth less in foreign currency terms; foreign assets will be worth more in sterling. Just how much the prices of internationally traded assets, such as shares and some property, will change depends, again, on their price elasticities of demand. In terms of assets, there has been a gain to UK balance sheets from the depreciation. As Roger Bootle says:

Whereas the overwhelming majority of the UK’s liabilities to foreigners are denominated in sterling, the overwhelming bulk of our assets abroad are denominated in foreign currency. So the lower pound has raised the sterling value of our overseas assets while leaving the sterling value of our liabilities more or less unchanged.

Article
How a lower pound will help us to escape cloud cuckoo land, The Telegraph, Roger Bootle (31/7/16)

Questions

  1. What determines the amount that exporters from the UK adjust the foreign currency price of their exports following a depreciation of sterling?
  2. What determines the amount by which importers to the UK adjust the sterling price of their products following a depreciation of sterling?
  3. What determines the amount by which sterling will depreciate over the coming months?
  4. Distinguish between stabilising and destabilising speculation? How does this apply to exchange rates and what determines the likelihood of there being destabilising speculation against sterling exchange rates?
  5. How is UK inflation likely to be affected by a depreciation of sterling?
  6. Why does Roger Bootle believe that the UK has been living in ‘cloud cuckoo land’ with respect to exchange rates?
  7. Why has the UK managed to sustain a large current account deficit over so many years?
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Anyone for Chinese style pork?

The growth of emerging economies, such as China, India and Brazil brings with it both good and bad news for the once dominant countries of the West. With growth rates in China reaching double digits and a much greater resilience to the credit crunch and its aftermath in these emerging nations, they became the hope of the recovery for the West. But, is it only benefits that emerge from the growth in countries like China?

Chinese business has grown and expanded into all areas, especially technology, but countries such as the USA have been reluctant to allow mergers and takeovers of some of their businesses. Notably, the takeovers that have been resisted have been in key sectors, particularly oil, energy and technology. However, it seems as though pork is an industry that is less important or, at least, a lower risk to national security.

Smithfield Foods is a US giant, specialising in the production and selling of pork. A takeover by China’s Shuanghui International Holdings has been approved (albeit reluctantly) by the US Committee on Foreign Investment. While the takeover could still run into obstacles, this Committee’s approval is crucial, as it alleviates concerns over the impact on national security. The value of the deal is some $7.1bn, including the debt that Shuangui will have to take on. While some see this takeover as good news, others are more concerned, identifying the potential negative impact it may have on prices and standards in the USA. Zhijun Yang, Shuanghui’s Chief Executive said:

This transaction will create a leading global animal protein enterprise. Shuanghui International and Smithfield have a long and consistent track record of providing customers around the world with high-quality food, and we look forward to moving ahead together as one company.

The date of September 24th looks to be the decider, when a shareholder meeting is scheduled to take place. There is still resistance to the deal, but if it goes ahead it will certainly help other Chinese companies looking for the ‘OK’ from US regulators for their own business deals. The following articles consider the controversy and impact of this takeover.

US clears Smithfield’s acquisition by China’s Shuanghui Penn Energy, Reuters, Lisa Baertlein and Aditi Shrivastava (10/9/13)
Chinese takeover of US Smithfield Foods gets US security approval Telegraph (7/9/13)
US clears Smithfield acquisition by China’s Shuanghui Reuters (7/9/13)
Go-ahead for Shuanghui’s $4.7bn Smithfield deal Financial Times, Gina Chon (6/9/13)
US security panel approves Smithfield takeover Wall Street Journal, William Mauldin (6/9/13)

Questions

  1. What type of takeover would you classify this as? Explain your answer.
  2. Why have other takeovers in oil, energy and technology not met with approval?
  3. Some people have raised concerns about the impact of the takeover on US pork prices. Using a demand and supply diagram, illustrate the possible effects of this takeover.
  4. What do you think will happen to the price of pork in the US based on you answer to question 3?
  5. Why do Smithfield’s shareholders have to meet before the deal can go ahead?
  6. Is there likely to be an impact on share prices if the deal does go ahead?
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Shortages in Venezuela – what’s the solution?

A simple model in economics is that of demand and supply. Through the price mechanism, signals are sent between consumers and producers and this interaction results in an equilibrium market price and quantity. However, what happens when the market for a good or service is in disequilibrium?

When a market is in equilibrium, demand equals supply. However, as we discussed in a previous blog concerning baby milk in China (see Milking the economy), markets are not always in equilibrium. If demand exceeds supply, a shortage will emerge and to eliminate this, the price must rise. If, on the other hand, supply exceeds demand, there will be an excess supply and thus the price must fall to restore equilibrium.

The market in question here is toilet paper in Venezuela! A severe shortage of this product has emerged in recent months, with shops running out of supplies. In a bid to relieve this shortage, the country’s Minister of Commerce has received approval for a $79 million credit, which can be used to import this basic product in short supply. Fifty million rolls will be imported to help fill the shortage that has emerged. The shortage is not just a problem for toilet paper, but also across a range of basic consumer goods. The article from Reuters comments that:

The government says the toilet paper shortages, like others, are the results of panicked buying and unscrupulous merchants hoarding the goods to artificially inflate prices.

Opposition critics say the problem is caused by the currency controls, created a decade ago by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, and years of nationalizations that weakened private industry and left businesses unwilling to invest.

With shortages across a variety of products, the President has begun to work closely with business leaders to address this situation. The following articles consider this basic market, the intervention and consequences.

Venezuela hopes to wipe out toilet paper shortage by importing 50m rolls The Guardian (16/5/13)
Venezuela ends toilet paper shortage BBC News (22/5/13)
With even toilet paper scarce, Venezuelan president warms to business Reuters, Eyanir Chinea (22/5/13)
Toilet paper shortage in Venezuela to end after lawmakers back plans to import 39 million rolls Huffington Post, Sara Nelson (22/5/13)
Venezuela’s toilet paper shortage ended; 3 other basic goods that went scarce in the country International Business Times, Patricia Rey Mallen (22/5/13)

Questions

  1. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain how equilibrium is determined in a free market.
  2. Illustrate the shortage described in the aticles on your above demand and supply diagram. How should the price mechanism adjust?
  3. What types of government intervention have led to the shortages of such basic consumer goods?
  4. How have currency controls created a problem for Venezuela?
  5. With an increase in imported products, what impact might there be on Venezuela’s exchange rate and on its balance of payments?
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Have you got your Weetabix?

The market for any good or service is affected by countless factors. On the demand-side, things such as incomes, relative prices, expectations of price changes and tastes determine the shape and position of the demand curve. For the supply curve, it’s factors including costs of production, the profitability of alternative goods and in some cases, the weather or natural disasters. It is this last factor, which has presented Weetabix with problems.

An established breakfast cereal and brand, Weetabix is well-known for producing a range of high quality products. However, production of some of its most popular products has been stopped, as the quality of the British wheat used to make the various cereals was called into question. Last year, we had little summer to speak of and this led to the ‘worst harvest we have seen in decades’, so much so that the quality of the wheat was not sufficient to be used in making the breakfast cereal. This has caused production to cease on certain products and shortages have already begun to emerge, with some shops completely selling out and facing no prospect of being re-stocked.

Weetabix is now owned by a Chinese state-owned company, but still prides itself on using locally sourced wheat. However, with the weather affecting the harvest, wheat from abroad has had to be used, aiming to reduce the gap between demand and supply. The UK is typically an exporter of wheat, but with the poor harvest has come a drop in the amount of wheat produced and thus exported by some 2m tonnes – this is back to a similar level as was seen in the 1980s. A spokesman for Weetabix said:

Normally they’re proud to claim Weetabix is not just British wheat but from within 50 miles of Burton Latimer … They have had to source a bit from outside the UK, but Weetabix is still proud to say it sources its wheat within the UK … weather permitting.

Supply will be increased once wheat from abroad is used, but it is expected that this will take a couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you’re a consumer of the traditional Weetabix, you don’t need to worry, as it’s the less-known cereals that have been affected. The following articles consider this external factor and how it affects the supply of a product.

Weetabix products hit by poor wheat harvest BBC News (22/4/13)
Weetabix supplies hit by dismal harvest The Guardian, Rupert Neate (22/4/13)
Weetabix move to scale back production and re-engineer process is a commendable one The Grocer (20/4/13)
Britain’s disastrous wheat harvest halts production of Weatbix Minis and Oatibix Mail Online, Leon Watson (22/4/13)
Bad weather threatens wheat harvest Channel 4 News, Tom Clarke (3/4/13)
Weetabix halts production of Minis after poor harvest Farmers Weekly, Philip Case (22/4/13)

Questions

  1. With a poor harvest, which way would you expect the supply curve to shift? Illustrate this on a diagram.
  2. How should this shift in supply affect the market price and quantity of wheat, assuming all else remains the same?
  3. How can this example can be used to explain the interdependence between markets?
  4. With shortages possibly emerging, what might happen to demand today? Illustrate your answer on a demand and supply diagram.
  5. Does sourcing wheat from local areas give Weetabix a competitive advantage? If so, how might it be affected if it does choose to import wheat?
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Milking the economy

When you hear about China, it’s often regarding their huge population, their strong growth or their dominance in exports. But, when it comes to baby milk, China is certainly an importer – and a big one at that. For many new parents, getting the ‘real thing’ when it comes to baby formula is absolutely essential.

Chinese baby formula is feared by many new parents, due to the potential for it to contain hormones and dangerous chemicals. This has led them to go to great lengths to ensure they have sufficient supplies of imported baby formula, often only trusting it if it has been hand carried from overseas. However, such is the demand for this safe version of baby milk that the global response has been to place restrictions on it. Essentially, we are seeing a system of rationing emerging.

Hong Kong was the first government to limit the amount bought to two cans of formula per day, with the potential for a fine of over $64,000 and up to two years in prison for those who do not abide by the rules. The UK has now also responded with restrictions on the quantity that can be purchased and other countries may follow suit if the excess demand continues.

According to Sainsburys:

As a short-term measure, retailers including Sainsbury’s are limiting the amount of baby milk powder that people can buy. In this way we aim to ensure a constant supply for our customers and we therefore hope they won’t be inconvenienced.

The Chinese government has reacted to this and is aiming to restore confidence in the food industry, but as yet there has been little positive effect and until there are 100% guarantees of food safety the surge in demand for baby formula from abroad is likely to continue.

This policy of rationing is clearly not only going to affect Chinese parents looking to import baby formula, but is already having an impact on domestic residents. Parents living in the UK are feeling the rationing effects and are also being restricted in terms of how many cans of formula they can buy per day. For many families this isn’t a problem, but for those with multiple children and for whom a trip to the supermarket is not a simple task, the restrictions on baby milk purchases is likely to become a problem. The following articles consider this topic.

Baby milk rationing: Chinese fears spark global restrictions BBC News, Celia Hatton (10/4/13)
Stop rationing information about baby formula milk The Telegraph, Rosie Murray-West (9/4/13)
Baby milk rationed in UK over China export fear BBC News (8/4/13)
Baby Formula rationed in UK over China demand Sky News (9/4/13)
Supermarkets limit sales of baby milk to stop bulk buying to feed China market Independent, Emma Bamford (8/4/13)
Cahinese thirst for formula spurs rationing Financial Times, Amie Tsang and Louise Lucas (7/4/13)
Entrepreneurs milk Chinese thirst for formula Financial Times, Amie Tsang and Louise Lucas (7/4/13)
Baby milk powder rationing introduced by supermarkets The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (8/4/13)

Questions

  1. Using a diagram of demand and supply, illustrate how a shortage for a product can emerge. How does the price mechanism usually work to eliminate a shortage?
  2. What actions can be taken to deal with a shortage?
  3. How will more stringent regulations by the Chinese government help to restore confidence in Chinese baby milk formula?
  4. What impact will the imports of baby milk formula into China have on China’s exchange rate and its balance of payments?
  5. How could this situation be taken advantage of by entrepreneurs? Could it be used as a viable business opportunity?
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What’s more important: the volume or the value of the Scotch you drink?

In the blog No accounting for trade, the rise in the UK’s balance of trade deficit was discussed. Many factors have contributed to this weakening position and no one market is to blame. But, by analysing one product and thinking about the factors that have caused its export volumes to decline, we can begin to create a picture not just of the UK economy (or more particularly Scotland!), but of the wider global economy.

Scotch whisky may not have been the drink of choice for many British adults, but look outside Great Britain and the volume consumed is quite staggering. For example, French consumers drink more Scotch whisky in one month than they drink cognac in one year. The volume of Scotch whisky exported from our shores was £4.23 billion for 2011, accounting for 90% of all sales and making its way into 200 markets. However, one problem with this product is that it is highly susceptible to the business cycle. Add to this the time required to produce the perfect Scotch (in particular the fact that it must be left to mature) and we have a market where forecasting is a nightmare.

Producers typically look to forecast demand some 10 years ahead and so getting it right is not always easy, especially when the global economy declines following a financial crisis! So what has been the impact on exports of this luxurious drink? In the past few years, it has been as key growth market for UK exports rising by 190% in value over the past decade. But in 2012 the volume of Scotch whisky exports fell by 5% to 1.19 billion bottles. What explains the decline in sales?

The biggest importer of Scotch whisky is France and its volumes were down by 25%. Part of this decline is undoubtedly the economic situation. When incomes decline, demand for normal goods also falls. Many would suggest Scotch whisky is a luxury and thus we would expect to see a relatively large decline following any given fall in income. However, another factor adding to this decline in 2012 is the increased whisky tax imposed by the French government. Rising by 15% in 2012, commentators suggest that this caused imports of Scotch whisky to rise in 2011 to avoid this tax, thus imports in 2012 took a dive. Spain is another key export market and its economic troubles are clearly a crucial factor in explaining their 20% drop in volume of Scotch whisky imported.

But, it’s not all bad news: sales to Western Europe may be down, but Eastern Europe and other growth countries/continents, such as the BRICs and Africa have developed a taste for this iconic product. Latvia and Estonia’s value of Scotch whisky imports were up by 48% and 28% respectively, as Russian demand rises and China, still growing, is another key market. Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association said:

A combination of successful trade negotations, excellent marketing by producers, growing demand from mature markets, particularly the USA, and the growing middle class in emerging economies helped exports hit a record £4.3bn last year.

Furthermore, while the volume of exports worldwide did fall, the value of these exports rose to £4.27 billion, a growth of 1%. This suggests that although we are exporting fewer bottles, the bottles that we are exporting are more expensive ones. Clearly some people have not felt the impact of the recession. For Scotland and the wider UK, these declining figures are concerning, but given the cyclical nature of the demand, as the world economy slowly begins to recover, sales are likely to follow suit. Gavin Hewitt continued his comments above, saying:

We are contributing massively to the Government’s wish for an export-led recovery. There is confidence in the future of the industry, illustrated by the £2bn capital investment that Scotch whisky producers have committed over the next three to four years.

The following articles consider the rise and fall of this drink and its role as a key export market across the world.

Scottish whisky industry puts export hope in new market BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky sales on the slide The Guardian, Simon Neville (2/4/13)
Growth stalls for Scotch whisky exports BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky accounts for 25pc of UK’s food and drink exports The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Whisky sales fall but value of exports hits new high Herald Scotland (3/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports rise to record value The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports hit by falling demand in France The Grocer, Vince Bamford (2/4/13)
New markets save Scotch from impact of austerity Independent, Tom Bawden (2/4/13)
Scotch exports hit by falling demand Financial Times, Hannah Kichler (2/4/13)

Questions

  1. Which is the better measure of an industry’s performance: the value or the volume of goods sold?
  2. Why would you expect volumes of Scotch sold to decline during an economic downturn?
  3. When a higher tax was imposed on Scotch whisky in France, why did volumes fall? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the impact of the tax.
  4. What type of figure would you expect Scotch whisky to have for income elasticity of demand? Does it vary for different people?
  5. Why is forecasting demand for Scotch so difficult? What techniques might be used?
  6. Why does demand for Scotch whisky remain high and even rising in many emerging markets?
  7. Is the market for Scotch whisky exports a good indication of the interdependence of countries across the world?
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Currency news

The exchange rate for sterling is determined in much the same way as the price of goods – by the interaction of demand and supply.

When factors change that cause residents abroad to want to hold more or fewer pounds, the demand curve for sterling will shift. If, instead, factors change that cause UK residents to want to buy more or less foreign currency, then the supply curve of sterling will shift. It is these two curves that determine the equilibrium exchange rate of sterling.

There are concerns at the moment that sterling is about to reach a peak, with expectations that the pound will weaken throughout 2013. But is a weakening exchange rate good or bad for the UK?

With lower exchange rates, exports become relatively more competitive. This should lead to an increase in the demand for UK products from abroad. As exports are a component of aggregate demand, any increase in exports will lead to the AD curve shifting to the right and thus help to stimulate a growth in national output. Indeed, throughout the financial crisis, the value of the pound did fall (see chart above: click here for a PowerPoint) and this led to the total value of UK exports increasing significantly. However, the volume of UK exports actually fell. This suggests that whilst UK exporters gained in terms of profitability, they have not seen much of an increase in their overall sales and hence their market share.

Therefore, while UK exporters may gain from a low exchange rate, what does it mean for UK consumers? If a low exchange rate cuts the prices of UK goods abroad, it will do the opposite for the prices of imported goods in the UK. Many goods that UK consumers buy are from abroad and, with a weak pound, foreign prices become relatively higher. This means that the living standards of UK consumers will be adversely affected by a weak pound, as any imported goods buy will now cost more.

It’s not just the UK that is facing questions over its exchange rate. Jean-Claude Junker described the euro as being ‘dangerously high’ and suggested that the strength or over-valuation of the exchange rate was holding the eurozone back from economic recovery. So far the ECB hasn’t done anything to steer its currency, despite many other countries, including Japan and Norway having already taken action to bring their currencies down. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, however, said that ‘both the real and the effective exchange rate of the euro are at their long-term average’ and thus the current value of the euro is not a major cause for concern.

So, whatever your view about intervening in the market to steer your currency, there will be winners and losers. Now that countries are so interdependent, any changes in the exchange rate will have huge implications for countries across the world. Perhaps this is why forecasting currency fluctuations can be so challenging. The following articles consider changes in the exchange rate and the impact this might have.

A pounding for sterling in 2013? BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (17/1/13)
UK drawn into global currency wars as slump deepens Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (16/1/13)
Foreign currency exchange rate predictions for GBP EUR, Forecasts for USD and NZD Currency News, Tim Boyer (15/1/13)
Euro still looking for inspiration, Yen firm Reuters (16/1/13)
Daily summary on USD, EUR, JPY, GBP, AUD, CAD and NZD International Business Times, Roger Baettig (16/1/13)
UK inflation bonds surge on Index as pound falls versus euro Bloomberg, Business News, Lucy Meakin (10/1/13)

Questions

  1. Which factors will cause an increase in the demand for sterling? Which factors will cause a fall in the supply of sterling?
  2. In the article by Stephanie Flanders from the BBC, loose monetary policy is mentioned as something which is likely to continue. What does this mean and how will this affect the exchange rate?
  3. Explain the interest- and exchange-rate transmission mechanisms, using diagrams to help your answer.
  4. If sterling continues to weaken, how might this affect economic growth in the UK? Will there be any multiplier effect?
  5. What is the difference between the volume and value of exports? How does this relate to profit margins?
  6. Why are there suggestions that the euro is over-valued? Should European Finance Ministers be concerned?
  7. Should governments or central banks intervene in foreign exchange markets?
  8. If all countries seek to weaken their currencies in order to make their exports more competitive, why is this a zero-sum game?
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Banana War Ends

Trade is generally argued to be good for economic growth, as it allows countries to specialise in those goods in which they have a comparative advantage and thus produce and consume more of all goods in total. However, trade inevitably leads to winners and losers, especially as countries impose tariffs on imports in order to protect domestic industries. This has been the case in the banana industry.

Banana growers in the former European colonies have long been protected by EU tariffs, helping to prevent competition from their Latin American banana growers. But, now things could be about to change. In December 2009, most of the nations concerned reached an agreement in Geneva for tariffs imposed by the EU to be gradually reduced.

The European Union had imposed no duty on bananas from their former colonies, but had imposed tariffs on banana imports from other countries. This meant that those countries now benefiting from zero import duty could sell their bananas for a much lower price, therefore restricting the other nations (who did have to pay an import duty) from competing effectively.

With the World Trade Organisation in attendance, an agreement was signed that puts an end to this trade dispute dating back over 2 decades. The Director General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy said:

‘This is a truly historic moment … After so many twists and turns, these complicated and politically contentious disputes can finally be put to bed. It has taken so long that quite a few people who worked on the cases, both in the Secretariat and in member governments have retired long ago.’

This trade war has been ongoing for many years and this agreement represents a big step in the right direction. With a fairer playing field in this banana market, countries in Latin America will now be much more able to compete with other nations. As economists argue that trade is good, a reduction in protectionist measures should be seen as a good thing and will benefit the countries concerned. The following articles consider this trade resolution.

Banana war ends after 20 years BBC News (8/11/12)
WTO: Historic signing ends 20 years of EU-Latin American banana disputes 4-Traders, WTO (8/11/12)
EU, Latin America nations mark end of ‘banana war’ Fox News (8/11/12)
Banana war ends after 20 years The Telegraph (9/11/12)
Infamous banana dispute ends Sky News (9/11/12)

Questions

  1. What is comparative advantage and how does it lead to gains from trade?
  2. How does a tariff help protect a country’s domestic industry?
  3. Using a diagram, illustrate the effect of a tariff being imposed on banana imports from Latin America. Is there a cost to society of such a policy?
  4. Now, show what happens when this tariff is removed by the EU. Who benefits and who loses?
  5. What is the role of the World Trade Organisation?
  6. How does a tariff affect a country’s ability to compete with other nations?
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Is China trading up?

China has been one of the success stories of the past 20 years, with rapid growth in domestic and export demand. This has created the second largest economy in the world. From 1992 to 2007 annual GDP growth averaged 10.7% and annual export growth averaged 18.9% (see chart).

However, with the credit crunch and ensuing recession, growth rates in China have fallen somewhat. Annual GDP growth has averaged 9.6% and annual export growth has averaged 7.4%. Such growth rates may not seem bad, given that many Western economies have been struggling to achieve any growth, but they have been causing concern for this booming economy.

In its May Outlook, the World Bank forecast China’s growth for the year at 8.2%, but it has since been reduced to 7.8%. A key part of China’s success story has been its export market, but it has been this market that has caused concerns for the mainland economy. In August of this year, its year-on-year export growth was at only 2.7%, but exports last month grew by more than expected, at approximately 7.4%. China has had a consistent trade surplus and according to government figures, this has widened to $27.67 billion in September from $26.66 billion in the previous month.

Recovery in this market will be crucial for the continued success of the economy, as a means of alleviating the fears of a slowdown. This higher growth of exports may be a misleading indicator, perhaps influenced by seasonal factors and thus may not be a sign of what’s to come. Indeed, many analysts have said that they are not convinced that these healthier trade figures will remain. Alistair Thornton, from IHS Global Economics said:

“It’s safe to say we are overshooting the trend here and we expect (the data) to come back in line in the months ahead.”

Citigroup economist, Ding Shaung also confirmed these sentiments:

”The trade data is a positive sign for the Chinese economy … But it remains to be seen whether import and export growth can remain at these levels.”

Part of this pessimism is due to the uncertainty surrounding the growth prospects of its biggest two trading partners – the US and the European Union. Exports to the former have remained relatively high, but exports to the European Union have suffered, falling by over 5.6%. It is likely that weaknesses in the global economy have held back China’s growth prospects in both exports and national output. The Chinese government was aiming for growth of 7.6% in 2012. Not a bad rate you may say, but when compared with growth rates for 2011 (9.3%) and 2010 (10.4%), it does represent a significant fall. The future of the Chinese economy is crucial for the recovery of the world economy, in part as it represents a big demand for imports from other countries, such as the US and Europe. The following articles consider the trade and growth prospects of the world’s second largest economy.

Chinese exports grow faster than expected in September BBC News (14/10/12)
Chinese exports grow faster than expected Financial Times, Patti Waldmeir (14/10/12)
China exports jump, but weaknesses seen ahead The Korea Herald (14/10/12)
China exports rise, hinting at a glimmer of revival New York Times, Keith Bradsher (13/10/12)
China’s trade surplus widens Wall Street Journal, William Kazer (13/10/12)
Chinese surplus widens as exports surge CNN, Paavan Mathemas (13/10/12)
China’s economic slow-down BBC Today Programme, Linda Yueh (18/10/12)

Questions

  1. What is a trade surplus?
  2. Which factors have influenced Chinese exports and imports?
  3. Why is China’s growth rate such an important variable for the UK and other Western economies?
  4. Why has export growth in China fallen recently? Can you use the same explanation for its lower growth in national output?
  5. Explain why analysts remain pessimistic about the sustainability of these improved trade figures.
  6. Using a diagram, illustrate the effect that higher Chinese growth rates will have on GDP in a country such as the UK. Could there be a multiplier effect?
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A trade conflict

International economists have long advocated the advantages of free trade. By boosting competition, increasing choice and market size, trade has long been seen as an engine of growth and efficiency.

For many years, tariffs and other restrictive trade practices have been removed on trade between both developed and developing countries and many rounds of negotiations have taken place, with mixed results.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) plays a key role in trade negotiations and has the main aim of liberalising trade. The organisation requires its members to operate according to a variety of rules, including the prohibition of quotas and the inability of countries to raise existing tariffs without negotiating with their trading partners.

If any country breaks a trade agreement, the WTO can impose sanctions. A current case that has been referred to the WTO for ‘consultation’ concerns Argentina. Argentina has imposed various import restrictions on trade, such as import licensing and a requirement for countries to balance its exports and imports.

A number of WTO members recently expressed their concerns about these restrictive trade practices. The EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht said:

Argentina’s import restrictions violate international trade rules and must be removed. These measures are causing very real damage to EU companies – hurting jobs and our economy as a whole. … Argentina’s trade policy has become rooted in unfair trade practices.

Argentina has said that it was expecting the move from the EU, but claims that its protectionist measures are there to support and re-industrialise the country. This case is unlikely to be resolved any time soon and while the ‘restrictive trade practices’ remain in place, EU companies trying to export to Argentina will find barriers, such as a requirement for all imports to receive pre-approval.

The effects of these restrictions have already been felt, with EU exports to Argentina down by 4% in April this year, compared with the same month last year. The following articles consider this issue.

EU takes Argentina trade fight to WTO France 24, (25/5/12)
EU files WTO suit over Argentina’s import restrictions Reuters, Sebastien Moffett and Tom Miles , (26/5/12)
EU escalates dispute with Argentina Financial Times, Peter Spiegel and Joshua Chaffin, (25/5/12)
EU refers Argentina’s import restrictions to the WTO BBC News (25/5/12)
EU steps up challenge to Argentina’s policies Wall Street Journal, Matthew Dalton (25/5/12)

Questions

  1. What are the rules governing the members of the WTO?
  2. What are the advantages of free trade?
  3. To what extent should emerging economies be allowed to impose protectionist measures to help support their economies?
  4. What action could the EU take in response to the ‘restrictive trade practices’ imposed by Argentina?
  5. What is import licensing?
  6. How will the import restrictions affect EU companies and the growth of the EU as a whole?
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