Bound for better and for worse

Whoever wants to break economic ties forged over decades. Not even the developed countries with a partner as problematic as China, nor the latter with the others for that matter.

The trend seemed irreversible, however. Western countries and their companies have been hiding their frustration with Beijing’s slowness in ending the unfair trade advantage enjoyed by its many state-owned companies, the forced transfer of intellectual property, for years. foreign companies and barriers to accessing the Chinese market.

Then came President Trump, determined to force everyone, with inflammatory rhetoric and trade tariffs, to choose sides between the United States and China. The COVID-19 pandemic should have accelerated this great economic decoupling by showing, in particular with vaccines and medical equipment, that we are never as well served as by ourselves, in addition to turning upside down global supply chains.

A certain decoupling did not seem to displease China either. Beijing has repeatedly expressed the wish to reduce its dependence on exports of goods and foreign investment in order to become a more “normal” economy, that is to say mainly oriented towards its domestic consumption and the service sector. And then, now having the ambition to move from the status of simple manufacturer to inventor, especially in the areas of information technology, automation and green economy, we had already started to be more distant to the foreign competition.

What decoupling?

However, not only exports – like imports – from China have not decreased for two years, but they increased, noted in August an analysis of Oxford Economics. What is more, much of this increase in trade is attributable to developed economies, with exports to the United States regaining some of the ground lost during the Trump years, when its sales to Europe and Japan set new records.

Part of this performance will undoubtedly be temporary because it is due to the explosion in demand for medical equipment, electronics, computers and office furniture related to containment measures, teleworking and social security. financial assistance to workers who came up with the pandemic. But there’s more to it, says Oxford Economics. We are forced to admit that “the supply chains that have been put in place over the last decades, and at the center of which is China, do not come apart as easily as many believed”.

Foreign companies wishing to move their homes from China to other skies will quickly see how difficult it is to find an industrial base offering so many advantages in terms of technology, logistics and manpower, or even proximity. suppliers, observed at the beginning of the year the correspondent in Beijing of the daily The echoes, Frédéric Schaeffer.

In any case, most do not want to leave, if only to stay as close as possible to this extraordinary market of 1.4 billion consumers. Asked by their respective chamber of commerce, seven in ten American companies said, last year, according to the Wall Street Journal, have no intention in this direction, and six out of ten European companies even affirmed, last June in The echoes, on the contrary, wanting to strengthen their presence there. Companies in the world’s second-largest economy, for their part, continued to spread their wings around the world, noted The Economist in July. By avoiding spectacular transactions and hiding behind well-known brands (Pirelli, Volvo, GE appliances, etc.), China inc. has learned to be noticed less.

Common rules to find

So far, the policies of each other to force an economic decoupling have affected only a small part of world trade, noted last spring in The world the French economist and expert Sébastien Jean. And “because ever more advanced international specialization has given rise to complex and tangled value chains that it is impossible to untie in the short term”.

It is in this context that the most senior American and European officials in international trade and foreign affairs gathered this week in Pittsburgh, United States. There was talk of trade sanctions and counter-sanctions that are still inflicted on each other on both sides of the Atlantic, since Donald Trump, but also of a possible common position on a point that was never named in the official program or the final declaration: China.

With it too, we will have to end up one day by agreeing on common rules, had affirmed the day before in Financial Times US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. But “there is no question of talking about decoupling,” she assured. “It’s too big an economy, we want to have access to it, and they want to have access to our economy. “

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