There is No Bright Side to a US-China Trade War

I’ve read a few pieces over the last couple of weeks that some Asian nations expect that a drawn out reciprocal trade war between the U.S. and China could have a bright side for them as they expect that they can lure more manufacturing or agricultural exports their way.

Sounds good in theory, but here are the problems with that theory.

1. A lot of outsourced production over the last two decades has become highly specialized to the point where very few nations have factories with production lines that can produce the goods.

2. The modern electronics industry relies on rare earth metals, and China is the majority producer for many of these — in fact, only a few nations on the planet produce some of these rare earth metals.

3. The only nation that can rival China in agricultural production in Asia is India.

4. A number of companies that need supply assurance have locked in contracts with Chinese (multi-)nationals that can’t be easily broken without penalties.

5. International trade requires logistics infrastructure — good roads, reliable trucking, modern ports, large cargo carriers, etc. Something that not many countries in Asia outside China and India (and to some extent Japan and South Korea) have a lot of.

In other words, there’s not a lot of outsourced production that can be easily switched to other Asian countries, and, most importantly, if China becomes unattractive to the U.S., which we must remember controls about one quarter of global GDP, then

6. Central and South American sources can be just as attractive, and can be easier to source logistically.

Trade wars are never good, and there is no bright side, especially in this trade war.