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    Who wins and who loses in a US-China trade war?
    Who wins and who loses in a US-China trade war?
    BUSINESS

    Who wins and who loses in a US-China trade war?

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    Photo: AFP
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    China and US have fired the first shots in a fast-escalating trade skirmish, exchanging threats of levies on each other's imports that have rattled global financial markets.

    On Wednesday, Beijing announced extra tariffs on $50 billion worth of US products, including major US exports like soybeans.

    It was a swift response in kind to Trump's plan to impose additional 25% tariffs on the same amount of Chinese products, in both percentage and dollar terms.

    No one knows when these new tariffs will come into effect, if they will at all. 

    Even though the Chinese side has said it's “not afraid” of a trade war, it has also said that it prefers negotiation over conflict. 

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    Likewise, even as Trump has kept up his tough talk against the US’s trade deficit with China and alleged intellectual property theft – at least on Twitter – his administration has signaled that it’s open to talk.

    No one knows if the new tariffs will come into effect.
    No one knows if the new tariffs will come into effect. Photo: AP

    “Even shooting wars end with negotiations,” US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on CNBC on Wednesday.

    Still, the possibility of a negotiated way out of the trade conflicts hasn't been enough to calm all markets and investors.

    The question now is, what would be the collateral damage – and benefits – if neither side backs down?

    The losers

    Asian export economies

    Analysts say that Asian economies engaged in intermediary trading between China and the US will bear the brunt of the impact of the trade dispute.

    South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia are vulnerable, said Steven Schwartz, senior director of sovereign ratings for Asia at Fitch Ratings. That's because they all export goods – such as machine parts and components for communications equipment – used in the production of items that China then sells to the US, he said.

    Japan, one of the world's largest exporters, could also be at risk, said Tommy Wu, a senior economist at Oxford Economics. The country shipped abroad almost US$700 billion worth of goods last year, a chunk of it cars, and China and the US were its top trading partners.

    Many Asian economies engage in intermediary trading between China and the US.
    Many Asian economies engage in intermediary trading between China and the US. Photo: Bloomberg

    Hong Kong

    Another economy at risk is the semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which is a gateway for much of the trade that flows between China and the US.

    Paul Chan Mo-po, the city’s financial secretary, has warned that the escalating trade dispute could affect one in five jobs in Hong Kong, citing US tariffs on solar panels and washing machine imports in January, then steel and aluminium last month.

    The winners

    Soybean exporters

    Beijing’s new 25% tariffs on American soybeans – the country's single most valuable export to China, worth $14 billion annually – will be a boon for other exporters of the grain, like Brazil and Argentina.

    China is the world’s largest buyer of soybeans, importing 60% of the traded crop, which it uses primarily for animal feed. 

    American soybean farmers will not be pleased by a China-US trade war.
    American soybean farmers will not be pleased by a China-US trade war. Photo: Reuters

    With US soybeans set to become more expensive, Beijing would likely turn to other markets, including South America, said Allan von Mehren, China economist at the Denmark-based firm Danske Bank Markets.

    Artyom Lukin, an international politics expert at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, said Russia might also be able to make up some of the shortfall in supply of soybeans.

    Pork and plane suppliers

    China’s efforts to hit back at US pork products – with the $3 billion worth of tariffs announced earlier this week – could be good news for alternative suppliers, like Germany, Spain and Denmark, von Mehren said.

    Lukin said that Russian pork producers might also benefit from a slump in sales of American meat.

    Other companies might benefit if China decides to buy European-made Airbus aircraft instead of Boeing planes from the US, he said, even though China's planned tariffs affect only a limited number of Boeing models.

    China will buy more pork from non-US suppliers if a trade war takes place.
    China will buy more pork from non-US suppliers if a trade war takes place. Photo: Reuters

    Steel importers

    The tariffs imposed by the United States on steel and aluminium imports could benefit other buyers of the metal, including the Philippines, its trade secretary Ramon Lopez said. 

    Steel prices are likely to fall.
    Steel prices are likely to fall. Photo: AFP

    As China sought to divert its supply to other markets it could bring down steel prices, he said in an interview with ABS-CBN News.

    That's good news if you have a skyscraper to build – as long as you’re not building it in America.

    Additional reporting by Kinling Lo

    Sarah Zheng
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    Sarah is a contributor to Inkstone. She is a China reporter covering diplomacy and society news at the South China Morning Post.
    Alan Wong
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    Alan is editor at Inkstone. He was previously a digital editor for The New York Times in Hong Kong.
    Sarah Zheng
    arrow rightarrow right
    Sarah is a contributor to Inkstone. She is a China reporter covering diplomacy and society news at the South China Morning Post.
    Alan Wong
    arrow rightarrow right
    Alan is editor at Inkstone. He was previously a digital editor for The New York Times in Hong Kong.
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