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Four Maps Showing China’s Rising Dominance in Trade

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We often use big, overarching ideas to help us understand the world and the opportunities contained within. These narratives, which can change over time, are used to create context. They give us a frame of reference for comprehending the news and events that affect our outlook on things.

China’s economic prowess is one of these new paradigms that has emerged, but many people still can’t really wrap their heads around the scale or scope of it.

It’s happened suddenly, and the ramifications are extremely relevant to our investments and understanding. Here’s four maps on China’s trade dominance that will help you think differently about the world:

China is the world’s #1 trade partner

China trading partners outnumbers US by a factor of two

Image courtesy of: Connectography

The United States is the number one trading partner for 56 countries, with important relationships throughout North America, South America, and Western Europe.

Meanwhile, China is the top partner for 124 countries, dominating trade in Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Australia.

China’s Sphere of Influence

This map shows the portion of trade conducted by each country with China in Southeast Asia.

China's trade with ASEAN

Image courtesy of: Stratfor

The influence that China has with nations in Southeast Asia is significant. Most trade is in double-digit percentages, and China views this as its immediate sphere of influence. Throughout history, territories in this region would even pay tribute to China to gain access to trade.

“In East Asia’s tribute system, China was the superior state, and many of its neighboring states were vassal states, and they maintained a relationship of tribute and rewards,” writes Liu Mingfu in The China Dream, a popular book about China’s plans to return to power.

Maintaining influence in Southeast Asia is part of the reason that Beijing is posturing in the South China Sea. In fact, China’s coastguard is growing so fast that in 10 years it will have more tonnage than all of the coastguards in Southeast Asia, the United States, and Japan combined.

Building a New Silk Road for Chinese Trade

New Silk Road

Image courtesy of: Council of Foreign Relations

China seeks to increase trade ties with Asia and Europe even further by building a new Silk Road that puts even Marco Polo’s route to shame.

The Chinese transcontinental network, a massive infrastructure project pegged for completion by 2025, is expected to bring down overland travel time from Beijing to London to just two days. Currently, it takes 15 days for the journey.

The project’s aim is to shorten the time of bulk consumer-goods transport to Europe, while unlocking the economic potential behind Eurasian cities from Almaty to Tehran. The new Silk Road will include at least one high-speed line that goes 320 km/h, and the network will help to link up 70% of the world’s population in roughly 40 countries.

Infrastructure Override

You may have heard of the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), which was officially launched at the end of last year. Initially proposed by China, the bank now has over a $100 billion of capitalization and 57 founding member states.

AIIB

Image courtesy of: Reuters

While this shows China’s push for infrastructure especially to coincide with its new Silk Road, there is another very interesting detail: Beijing controls 26.06% of the votes, essentially giving it veto power as most bank decisions need 75% of the votes to pass.

In other words, only infrastructure projects that benefit Chinese trade will likely get the nod from Beijing.

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China

Charting the Rise and Fall of the Global Luxury Goods Market

This infographic charts the rise and fall of the $308 billion global personal luxury market, and explores what the coming year holds for its growth

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The Rise and Fall of the Global Luxury Goods Market

Global demand for personal luxury goods has been steadily increasing for decades, resulting in an industry worth $308 billion in 2019.

However, the insatiable desire for consumers to own nice things was suddenly interrupted by the coming of COVID-19, and experts are predicting a brutal contraction of up to one-third of the current luxury good market size this year.

Will the industry bounce back? Or will it return as something noticeably different?

A Once Promising Trajectory

The global luxury goods market—which includes beauty, apparel, and accessories—has compounded at a 6% pace since the 1990s.

Recent years of growth in the personal luxury goods market can be mostly attributed to Chinese consumers. This geographic market accounted for 90% of total sales growth in 2019, followed by the Europe and the Americas.

Analysts suggest that China’s younger luxury goods consumers in particular have significant spending power, with an average spend of $6,000 (¥41,000) per person in pre-COVID times.

An Industry Now in Distress

The lethal combination of reduced foot traffic and decreased consumer spending in the first quarter of 2020 has brought the retail industry to its knees.

In fact, more than 80% of fashion and luxury players will experience financial distress as a result of extended store closures.

luxury market McKinsey supplemental

With iconic luxury retailers such as Neiman Marcus filing for bankruptcy, the pressure on the luxury industry is clear. It should be noted however, that companies who were experiencing distress before the COVID-19 outbreak will be the hardest hit.

Predicting the Collapse

In a recent report, Bain & Company estimated a 25% to 30% global luxury market contraction for the first quarter of 2020 based on several economic variables. They have also modeled three scenarios to predict the performance for the remainder of 2020.

  • Optimistic scenario: A limited market contraction of 15% to 18%, assuming increased consumer demand for the second and third quarter of the year, roughly equating to a sales decline of $46 billion to $56 billion.
  • Intermediate scenario: A moderate market contraction of between 22% and 25%, or $68 to $77 billion.
  • Worst-case scenario: A steep contraction of between 30% and 35%, equating to $92 billion to $108 billion. This assumes a longer period of sales decline.

Although there are signs of recovery in China, the industry is not expected to fully return to 2019 levels until 2022 at the earliest. By that stage, the industry could have transformed entirely.

Changing Consumer Mindsets

Since the beginning of the pandemic, one-quarter of consumers have delayed purchasing luxury items. In fact, a portion of those who have delayed purchasing luxury goods are now considering entirely new avenues, such as seeking out cheaper alternatives.

However, most people surveyed claim that they will postpone buying luxury items until they can get a better deal on price.

luxury market supplemental

This frugal mindset could spark an interesting behavioral shift, and set the stage for a new category to emerge from the ashes—the second-hand luxury market.

Numerous sources claim that pre-owned luxury could in fact overtake the traditional luxury market, and the pandemic economy could very well be a tipping point.

The Future of Luxury

Medium-term market growth could be driven by a number of factors, from a global growing middle class and their demand for luxury products, as well as retailers’ sudden shift to e-commerce.

While analysts can only rely on predictions to determine the future of personal luxury, it is clear that the industry is at a crossroads.

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The New Energy Era: The Impact of Critical Minerals on National Security

The U.S. finds itself in a precarious position, depending largely on China and other foreign nations for the critical minerals needed in the new energy era.

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In 1954, the United States was only fully reliant on foreign sources for eight mineral commodities.

Fast forward 60+ years, and the country now depends on foreign sources for 20 such materials, including ones essential for military and battery technologies.

This puts the U.S. in a precarious position, depending largely on China and other foreign nations for the crucial materials such as lithium, cobalt, and rare earth metals that can help build and secure a more sustainable future.

America’s Energy Dependence

Today’s visualization comes from Standard Lithium, and it outlines China’s dominance of the critical minerals needed for the new energy era.

Which imported minerals create the most risk for U.S. supply chains and national security?

Supply Chains and National Security

Natural Resources and Development

Gaining access to natural resources can influence a nation’s ability to grow and defend itself. China’s growth strategy took this into account, and the country sourced massive amounts of raw materials to position the country as the number one producer and consumer of commodities.

By the end of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, China’s mining industry was largely in ruins. After the war, vast amounts of raw materials were required to rebuild the country.

In the late 1970s, the industry was boosted by China’s “reform and opening” policies, and since then, China’s mining outputs have increased enormously. China’s mining and material industries fueled the rapid growth of China from the 1980s onwards.

Supply Chain Dominance

A large number of Chinese mining companies also invest in overseas mining projects. China’s “going out” strategy encourages companies to move into overseas markets.

They have several reasons to mine beyond its shores: to secure mineral resources that are scarce in China, to gain access to global markets and mineral supply chains, and to minimize domestic overproduction of some mineral commodities.

This has led to China to become the leading producer of many of the world’s most important metals while also securing a commanding position in key supply chains.

As an example of this, China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of rare earth materials. The country produces approximately 94% of the rare earth oxides and around 100% of the rare earth metals consumed globally, with 50% going to domestic consumption.

U.S.-China Trade Tensions

The U.S. drafted a list of 35 critical minerals in 2018 that are vital to national security, and according to the USGS, the country sources at least 31 of the materials chiefly through imports.

China is the third largest supplier of natural resources to the U.S. behind Canada and Mexico.

RankCountryU.S. Minerals Imports By Country ($US, 2018)
#1Canada$1,814,404,440
#2Mexico$724,542,960
#3China$678,217,450
#4Brazil$619,890,570
#5South Africa$568,183,800

This dependence on China poses a risk. In 2010, a territorial dispute between China and Japan threatened to disrupt the supply of the rare earth elements. Today, a similar threat still looms over trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

China’s scale of influence over critical minerals means that it could artificially limit supply and move prices in the global clean energy trade, in the same way that OPEC does with oil. This would leave nations that import their mineral needs in an expensive and potentially limiting spot.

Moon Shot: Building Domestic Supply and Production

Every supply chain starts with raw materials. The U.S. had the world’s largest lithium industry until the 1990s—but this is no longer the case, even though the resources are still there.

The U.S. holds 12% of the world’s identified lithium resources, but only produces 2% of global production from a single mine in Nevada.

There are a handful of companies looking to develop the U.S. lithium reserves, but there is potential for so much more. Less than 18% of the U.S. land mass is geologically mapped at a scale suited to identifying new mineral deposits.

The United States has the resources, it is just a question of motivation. Developing domestic resources can reduce its foreign dependence, and enable it to secure the new energy era.

In the clean energy economy of the future, critical minerals will be just as essential—and geopolitical—as oil is today.

—Scientific American

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