Business in China
High seas, high prices
Aug 7th 2008 | HONG KONG
From The Economist print edition
How much will rising shipping costs hurt Chinese manufacturing?
ON LAND, high oil prices have ended America’s love affair with sport-utility vehicles, forcing carmakers to revamp their product line-ups. In the air, sky-high fuel costs have prompted airlines to raise ticket prices and cut routes. What about at sea? Could rising shipping costs scupper China’s export boom?
This question has been much discussed since Jeff Rubin and Benjamin Tal of CIBC, a Canadian bank, issued a memo a few weeks ago saying that a reversal of the great migration of manufacturing operations to China might already be under way. The cost of shipping a standard 40-foot container from Shanghai to America’s east coast, for example, has jumped from $3,000 in 2000 to about $8,000 today.The extra cost of transporting goods halfway around the world, Messrs Rubin and Tal wrote, is wiping out the often slim margins of Chinese exporters.What is more, if oil and shipping prices stay high, many Western companies that now outsource their manufacturing to China might decide that it makes more sense to shift production closer to their customers at home.
这个问题已经讨论的很多了，在这之前，加拿大的一家银行CIBC 的的杰夫Bubin 和本杰明Tal在几周前发表了一份备忘录，说与制造业向中国大量迁移的相反的情形，可能已经出现。一个40英尺标准集装箱从上海运到美国东海岸的海运费已经从2000年时的3000美元飞涨到今天的大约8000美元。Rubin 和Tal在备忘录中提到，绕地球半周的货运所增加的成本正在吞吃掉中国出口企业业已微薄的利润空间。更甚者，如果油价和海运价格继续保持高位，那么许多现在将生产放在中国的西方公司可能会认为将生产转移到距离其消费市场更近的地方会更具商业意义。
Such scenarios would entail a huge shift in global trade patterns. Stephen Jen of Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, says higher shipping costs could even sound the death knell of the entire East Asian export model.This is because so many of the finished goods that China exports to America and Europe are made from components imported from Taiwan, Japan or South Korea. Clearly, affordable transport costs are an essential ingredient in this regional production matrix.
Exporters in China are certainly feeling the pain of higher shipping costs. The Transpacific Stabilization Agreement bunker charge, a benchmark fuel surcharge imposed by shipping firms on sea freight, has risen from $455 per 40-foot equivalent unit in January 2007 to $1,130. Shipments to Europe face similar increases. In the first half of 2008 the growth rate of Chinese exports slowed to 21.9% from 27.6% a year earlier. In Guangdong province, the traditional heart of China’s export manufacturing, growth plunged to 13% from 26.5%.
But if there is a migration of manufacturing from China, it is hardly an exodus. Even the latest trade figures do not show a fall in Chinese exports-only a drop in their pace of growth. And this can be attributed to a number of factors, including China’s stronger currency (up almost 7% against the dollar this year), upward pressure on domestic wages, less generous Chinese government incentives for low-end exporters and weakening foreign demand.
There are already signs that Chinese officials are rethinking their “get tough” policy towards manufacturers of cheap goods. On August 1st the finance ministry increased export-tax rebates on a range of clothing products from 11% to 13%, and on bamboo products from 5% to 11%, in an apparent effort to help exporters of cheap goods. The closure of thousands of small factories is clearly worrying officials.
As for shipping costs, many companies in China export on a “free on board” basis. So theoretically it is the buyers on the other side of the ocean who must absorb the higher fuel surcharges on freight. Of course, they are forcing sellers to share some of the cost. But large bulk purchasers, such as Home Depot or Wal-Mart, are also squeezing the shipping companies to keep the overall bill down.
对于船运成本，因为中国的许多出口企业是基于FOB的出口报价方式，所以理论上来讲是大洋彼岸的买家必须来消化较高的燃油附加费。当然了，他们也迫使卖方分担一些成本。但是一些大买家像美国家用品公司Home Depot 或者沃尔玛也在压榨船运公司来降低其总体成本。
On balance, higher shipping costs are “not as big a factor” as the rising yuan or cost of raw materials, says an executive in the Shanghai office of an American building-materials company which exports Chinese-made goods to America, India and Australia. For a typical pair of Chinese-made shoes sold in America, shipping accounts for only 3-4% of the price.
Besides, companies will not find it easy to move their manufacturing out of China. Norman Cheng, co-founder of Strategic Sports, one of the world’s largest motorcycle and bicycle helmet-makers, with two factories in Guangdong, says if he shifted production out of China, he would have to set up factories in his two biggest markets, North America and Europe. Shipping costs would fall, but labour costs would rise and there would be fewer economies of scale.
除此之外，企业发现将其在中国的生产转移出去很困难。例如，世界上最大的摩托车和自行车头盔生产商之一Strategic Sports的共同创办人Norman Cheng说，如果他把其生产搬出中国，他就得在他公司的两个最大的市场北美和欧洲分别建设工厂，这样的话运费是下来了，但劳动力成本将会上升，并且因为分设两个厂而得不到规模经济所带来的成本缩减。
So China’s manufactured-export industry does not seem to be in imminent danger. Few companies will take the decision to leave China lightly, especially when no one knows if the price of oil will hit $200 or fall back to $100 in the coming months. A senior manager at a large Chinese electronics company, with four factories abroad, says higher shipping costs instead “give us urgency and an incentive to become significantly more efficient and competitive”.Foreign and local firms can also divert production to China’s fast-growing domestic market. There is no doubt that oil at $200 would have dire consequences, both for Chinese exporters and for other firms. But given the impact on the world economy, higher shipping costs might be the least of their worries
如此说来中国的制造出口业似乎并没有濒临危险。不会有很多企业会决定轻易离开中国，尤其是目前大家都不知道石油价格在未来几个月内是将上升至200美元每桶还是回落到100美元每桶。 一家拥有四家海外工厂的中国大型电子生产企业的一位高级经理说，”较高的船运成本促使我们更加注重效率和提高产品竞争力”。. 国外的和当地的厂家也可能将其生产转移至中国快速增长的国内市场。无疑200美元的石油价格将会对中国的出口企业和其他的企业产生可怕的影响。但是考虑到对世界经济的影响，较高的船运成本可能是最少值得担心的。