Looking to China
News day reporter
At a time when it seems the logistical and political challenges to deepening global trade couldn’t be more daunting, Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has appealed to local manufacturers to are getting involved and investing in the Chinese market.
Speaking during a tour of local businesses, including Angostura, which she took part in alongside Chinese Ambassador Fang Qiu last Wednesday, Ms Gopee-Scoon urged Angostura to expand its market and range of special products to penetrate China and, by extension, Asia.
But trade with China is and never has been a simple affair.
According to some analysts, Trinidad and Tobago is a net importer of goods from China, with around $340 million in imports compared to $291 million in exports. China is the second trading partner of this country (the United States is the first, with nearly ten times more trade).
Historically, the main linchpin of TT-China trade relations has been tied to government-to-government agreements surrounding the financing and construction of megaprojects.
Ongoing examples include the billion-dollar ANR Robinson International Airport expansion, which is being carried out by a Chinese company. The construction of a new wing at the Port of Spain General Hospital was also the subject of a similar arrangement, but the involvement of the successful Chinese company fell through.
Such projects have come under criticism due to the lack of transparency involved as well as the tendency to select Chinese contractors on a one-time selection basis. (A Chinese company’s withdrawal from the hospital project is an exception in which the way has now been cleared for more local content – but the finer details of this state-run project remain shrouded in secrecy. .)
At the same time, China’s efforts to strengthen its position in the region through such economic deals have drawn mixed reviews. Although key infrastructure is said to be built at competitive rates, the true costs, in terms of the working conditions experienced by Chinese workers, the erosion of values and impending indebtedness, have yet to be quantified.
There isn’t even much discussion of political platforms about the foreign affairs of this country when it comes to these issues.
Calling now for private sector participation therefore seems to reverse what has been the case so far. But despite China’s renewed efforts to court business in the United States, memories of recent trade disputes linger. The unstable political situation in the United States, where Donald Trump’s anti-China stance is popular with his supporters, is adding to the sense of uncertainty.
Assuming local manufacturers can muster the resources to supply China’s vast markets, it cannot be taken for granted that they would enjoy a level playing field. Reports suggest an increasingly hostile trade market there, a slower economy and difficult geopolitics given China’s attempt to walk a tightrope over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
And yet, many of the world’s largest banks continue to look to China. While welcome, doing business with this country should be undertaken with cautious optimism.