Seven challenges facing China’s economic transformation

Nov 15 2012, 04:21 IST
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SummaryThe consensus is that the double-digit growth that China experienced for the past 30 years is over. Many of the elements that propelled the spectacular growth are now turning into constraints.

Chen Xingdong, Ken Peng & Jacqueline Rong

Depending on your perspective, there are any number of difficulties facing China. We group our views into seven areas that can generally be viewed as structural constraints to China’s sustainable growth. Each of these areas has been a crucial driver in China’s past high growth. At the same time, they were achieved through various distortions to the operations of a market economy. We expect many of these distortions to be forced to correct by market forces. However, after 30 years of development, institutional inertia has been accumulated and major reforms are now required in order to unleash further growth potential.

Export-led model exhausted

China had relied on robust global demand and continuous gains in market share to boost exports and related activities in manufacturing and investment. China’s exports in 2011 were 104.8 times in USD terms or 454.4 times in RMB terms those in 1980, a CAGR of 16.2% in USD terms or 21.8% in RMB terms.

Nominal GDP growth was 16.2% in those 31 years. Export growth has intensified since China entered the WTO in 2001. In the decade since, export CAGR was as high as 20.3% in USD terms or 17.6% in RMB terms, compared to 15.2% in nominal GDP.

As a share of China’s economy, exports went from 8% of GDP on average in 1981-85 to 19% in 1986-95. The share surged to 28% in 2001-05 after China entered the WTO, and peaked at 30% in 2006-10. Then, the share declined slightly to 26% in 2011 and is poised to continue falling to 25% in 2012.

We believe China’s weakening export growth is more than just a cyclical phenomenon, as it is driven by structural constraints. Protectionism is clearly on the rise, with WTO complaints against China being raised by the US, the EU and many emerging countries. China’s exports to its traditional markets, including the US, the EU and Japan, are becoming more and more difficult. Second, China’s export competiveness has been weakened by substantial cost increases, especially in labour. Third, processing-trade investors are facing a less friendly business environment in China than before. Fourth, RMB appreciation has also undermined export competitiveness. Last but not least, since 2008 the Chinese government has changed its export strategy and policy: the aim is no longer to take a greater share of global exports and accumulate foreign reserves, but to aim to find a balance between exports and

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