Category Archives: China

Geopolitical Damnation #31: China and the New Silk Road

China is arguably, and simultaneously, the world’s oldest culture and the world’s newest mega-economy and super-power. Not only does China have the 2nd largest GDP in the world, but it is one of only 4 countries that are net international creditors (the other three being Norway, Luxumbourg, and Switzerland). In comparison, the US, with the largest GDP (of slightly less than 18 Trillion), has an external debt that is roughly 18 Trillion. (In other words, it’s debt now exceeds its annual GDP!)

It’s also the world’s most populous country with 1.35 Billion people and the second largest country by land area. It has the world’s third longest river, 14,500 kilometers (or 9,000 miles) of coast lines, approximately 130 ports open to foreign ships, over 11,000 kilometers (or 6,800 miles) of rail, and over 180 commercial airports. It’s rail network and ships transport a significant percentage of the world’s global trade and traffic is still increasing annually.

China is no longer the emerging economy of the 80s and 90s that you outsourced to and imported from — now it is the emergent economy that is outsourcing to Brazil (to serve the North American Market, consider Foxconn) and Africa (to serve the European market). And, for most multi-nationals, it’s their newest, and most promising (and potentially most profitable) market. China already has over 220 billionaires, and this number increases annually. (The US has 442.)

And as a result, China is turning the traditional sourcing world topsy-turvy — especially now that the New Silk Road (China’s Grand Strategy has been operational for eight weeks. (Source: UNZ) As described in the UNZ article, and on SI last fall (in What Impact Will The New Silk Road Have on Global Trade?, for e.g.), this 13,000 km railroad that crosses China from East to West and then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain enables trade across most of Eurasia. And when the high-speed rail is complete, transport from China to Europe will take even less time than it does now. And China, which is home to 7 of the world’s top 10 container ports and which serves up air cargo that represents more than one-third of global trade value (even though only 1% by weight), will control even more of global trade then it does now! While also being your biggest customer.

You can’t deal with China in the old way anymore. Gone are the days when they were the low cost provider that needed your business. Gone are the days when you could fall back on Mexico. And gone are the days when you never needed to worry about the China market. Now they are a lower cost provider, due to their increases in efficiency (just like Japan increased in efficiency after WWII), but they don’t need your business. They have money and they have the world to sell you. Because Mexico was almost abandoned for China, there are few factories left that can produce modern electronics and none that can produce the volume to equal a Foxconn. And with most markets stagnant, China is one of your few opportunities for growth. Moreover, the supplier you are negotiating with to produce your cell phones for Engineering might be the same supplier your sales team is negotiating with to buy IT’s new mobile factory management software suite.

In other words, when China is across the table, they are not a vendor or supplier that can be beaten down with old-school hard-ball negotiation (even if they historically put melamine in the milk, lead in the paint, and who knows what in the pet food) — they are a partner, and equal, and must be approached as such. Even if you never sell to them, you might sell to one of their partners, and they talk just like we do. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be determined in your negotiations — as you should always fight for the best deal — but be fair, realistic, and base your demands on fact and should-cost models, not empty threats or baseless demands for unreasonable cost reductions.

China is about to become your upstream as well as your downstream supply chain. You have to abandon your old view of the world, accept this reality, and start preparing for it. It doesn’t have to be the damnation that causes your undoing. It can be your salvation. Your choice.

On the Subject of Trade Treaties, Continued

On Tuesday, when we noted that Russian (Border) Trade Agreements are nothing new, we pointed out that it was the Six Hundred and Ninety First anniversary of the Treaty of Noteborg. Then, yesterday, when we wrote on the subject of Historical Trade Treaties, we noted that it was the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814, also known as the Convention of London.

The reason for these posts were to point out a number of things:

  • Trade, Treaties, and Embargoes are nothing new,
  • Today’s trade agreements and partners are not necessarily tomorrow’s trade agreements and partners,
  • The outcomes are not always what you would expect.

Trade, Treaties, and Embargoes are nothing new

Written peace treaties, with economic ramifications, have been around for at least 4,500 years. For example, archaeologists have found clay cylinders dating from about 2,500 BC that record a treaty between the two Sumerian cities of Lagash and Umma that were looted 18 miles apart. The second cylinder describes a one-time penalty of 144,000 gur of grain that Umma had to pay Lagash.

And while the Continental System was one of the most comprehensive attempts at an embargo throughout all of history, the concept of an embargo, which is the partial or complete prohibition of commerce and trade with a particular country, the origin of the embargo is in the blockade, which was initially designed to cause military exhaustion and starvation, but which evolved over time to target the populace (to build internal dissension in the enemy) as well as the military. And blockades have been around for over 2,500 years. For example, back in 458 BCE, the Athenians blockaded the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf during the first Peloponnesian War.

Trading Agreements and Partners are in constant flux

A trading agreement generally only lasts as long as the agreement is beneficial to both parties. Once it is no longer beneficial, one of three things will generally happen:

  • it will be executed minimally to completion, if it ends soon,
  • it will be renegotiated, if it doesn’t end soon but both parties want to maintain a relationship, or
  • it will be broken, and one or both parties will risk penalty or retaliation because they feel it can’t be worse than the current agreement.

The outcomes of a Trade Agreement, Treaty, or Embargo are not always what you expect

In the case of an agreement, the agreement might go exactly as planned. The first party might deliver to the second party the exact quantity of goods specified for the exact duration specified in the agreement, and then stop. The agreement might work out so good for both parties that they double down and trade even more. Or, it might work out so bad that they almost immediately negotiate an end to the agreement.

In the case of a treaty, it might strengthen relations or it might weaken relations.

But in the case of an embargo, the exact opposite of what is desired can happen. It might be the case that all parties in the coalition respect the embargo and stop trading the designated goods and services to the party for which the embargo applies. And it might be the case that some parties in the coalition refuse to respect the embargo and continue to trade with the embargoed party anyway.

But even if the first case is the reality, it is not necessarily the case that the embargo will have the desired effect. It could be the case that the embargo, designed to weaken a party, actually strengthens a party. Sometimes the ancient* proverb is right and the enemy of my enemy is my friend and the embargo, instead of hurting the intended party, causes them to strengthen their trading relationship with another party and makes two parties you want weakened stronger.

And, going back to Tuesday’s post, just like the Continental System backfired on France, as it only made Britain and Russia stronger when Russia started trading with them again in 2010, any embargoes on Russia, which is no longer the Super Power they once were, is just going to backfire on any western country that hopes that the embargo is going to weaken Russia. All the embargo is going to do is strengthen Russian ties with its Middle Eastern and Asian neighbours, and China in particular. The New Silk Road will be here sooner than you think.

So what does this mean for your Supply Management Organization?

* An early expression of this concept is found in a Sanskrit treatise on statecraft dating to the fourth century BC.

Russian (Border) Trade Agreements Are Nothing New

So why is everyone fretting about the $20 Billion Oil Deal between Iran and Russia? Yes, it delivers another blow to the US-based petro-dollar, but is it really any worse than China and it’s efforts to not only reign in the value of the western dollar but control the valuation of its yen at the same time? We should not forget that the GDP of China is more than FOUR times that of Russia and that Russia and Iran used to be neighbours. Even though Russia is now two countries away from Iran border-wise — as it now borders Kazakhstan which borders Turkmenistan which borders Iran — it wasn’t always this way. The Russian Empire began to expand into what is present day Kazakhstan back in 1813 and essentially all of present day Kazakhstan was annexed by 1907. Similarly, Turkmenistan was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881 and became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1924, only regaining its independence upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

And Russia has a long history of either conquering, annexing, trading, or negotiating with its neighbours. For example, 691 years ago today, the Treaty of Noteborg was signed between Sweden and Novgorod (present day Russia, more or less), and for the first time the border between the two countries was regulated. The conclusion of the Swedish-Novgorodian Wars, the treaty awarded three Karelian parishes to Sweden who, in return, would stay out of the conflict between Novgorod and Narva (present day Estonia, more or less). In addition, both sides would refrain from building castles on the new border. So it should be no surprise that, given the opportunity to reclaim Crimea — and to do so relatively peacefully — that Russia took it or that they took the opportunity to trade with Iran on local terms.

But it’s not worth fretting about. One has to look at the bigger picture. When it comes to the BRIC, Russia is essentially the weakest player. India has considerably more population and a long-term outlook of becoming a top 5 GDP player. Brazil has a larger GDP (by as much as 20%) and very bright prospects as the new near-shoring destination for North America. And China has 4 times the GDP, 9 times the population, and a heck of a lot more clout when it comes to global trade!

So don’t fret about a 20 Billion Oil deal, the return of what is essentially a small province to Russia, or the fact that Russia has agreed to pay China in domestic currency. It’s a drop in the bucket. The real shocks to global trade will come from China and the new Silk Road they are building.

Don’t get caught up in the meaningless media frenzy focused on Russia. Just because the media has forgotten that the cold war is over doesn’t mean we should.

Why Is This Poor Little LOLCat Begging You?

As per our post on April 26, this poor little LOLCat is Begging You to Stop Harper.

Why is this poor little LOLCat begging you to Stop Harper? Because when even the leading academics of China call your prime minister “Canada’s George W. Bush” and a leader who has overseen a sullying of the country’s international reputation, you know things are bad. (This quote is from Nathan Vanderklippe’s article in the Friday, May 16 edition of
The Globe and Mail print edition, page A9, in the article headlined Canada’s image in decline, say Chinese.

You have to admit, they do look very much alike in this picture!

The New Silk Road Might Be the Biggest Boon to Supply Chain Finance This Year

In yesterday’s post, we asked what impact will the new silk road have on global trade. Specifically, what impact will the new Russia, China, and Germany trade partnership have on global trade — besides simplifying and building Eurasian trade relationships.

One thing it will do is strengthen the resolve of these countries to not only de-couple their currency from the dollar and launch a new reserve currency backed by their union, but to trade in local currencies as well. As trading in local currencies becomes more and more common, banks will become more and more inclined, and even comfortable, to lend in foreign currency denominated debt as well as local currency. Private lending institutions will not only follow, but begin to lead the way.

This will be a great boon to foreign companies which, until now, have been limited to either borrowing from local lenders, at high interest rates, but in the local currency, or a handful of global lenders, at slightly lower interest rates, in a foreign currency, that could cause their debt to skyrocket if their currency weakens with respect to the foreign currency.

The whole point of Supply Chain Finance is to help the cash-strapped supplier. Early payment or dynamic discounting doesn’t help the supplier if the discounts are too high. Arranging for third party lenders to lend using your credit score, and not the suppliers, doesn’t help if the supplier has to take a risk in a foreign currency. And factoring isn’t a solution at all! (Since a third party will only buy your suppliers’ receivables if it can make money off of them — loan sharks at their finest.) Arranging for lending in your suppliers’ local currencies on your credit score when you can’t pay early is safest for your supplier and probably the best supply chain finance solution we’re going to see for a while.