The South China Morning Post reported Monday on Chinese businessmen complaining that Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is generating too many profits for foreign firms and subjecting Chinese companies to increased competition.
The SCMP heard this complaint from several attendees at the venerable Canton Import and Export Fair, whose 125th iteration was held this year in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou:
“China’s top leaders went to belt and road countries and promoted big infrastructure projects. But in our actual trading process, the national strategy doesn’t help much for small and medium-sized manufacturing exporters like us, as few customers from belt and road countries know the concept of the Belt and Road Initiative,” said a salesman with Guangdong-based Aokly Power.
“So far, we can apply for subsidies from the government for taking part in exhibitions in belt and road countries. It seems it’s the only benefit from the belt and road plan for small exporters.”
Smaller traders also worry that foreign exhibitors from developing belt and road countries are attending the country’s biggest export fair that is currently underway in Guangdong province less to sell their goods but rather obtain ideas about new products they could use to compete with Chinese exports.
“We have come to the Canton Fair for many years. It is obvious that there are more and more merchants from the belt and road countries in the past two years. And there is a feeling that our veteran traders still don’t like it,” said a stone exporter, who declined to be identified.
The stone exporter quoted above went on to complain that foreign competitors taking advantage of BRI – such as Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines – currently have a major advantage over Chinese firms because they do not have to pay the tariffs imposed by the United States in its trade war with China. Chinese attendees at the Canton Fair were worried about foreign competitors permanently winning over some of their clients.
The SCMP noted over 60 percent of the 383 overseas manufacturers with displays at the Canton Fair were from Belt and Road countries, showcasing a vastly larger array of foreign products than veterans have seen at previous fairs.
Another SCMP report from the Canton Fair found a “sour mood” among Chinese exporters due to the trade war. Small business owners complained their voices are not heard in Beijing the way giant corporations like Huawei are. They spoke of losing thousands of huge orders from American customers and picking up only a smattering of small orders from Belt and Road clients.
Reuters found Chinese firms “giving discounts, tapping tax breaks, trimming workforces, and occasionally shifting production overseas” to survive the trade war.
One corporate spokesman at the Canton Fair told Reuters the trade war would end soon because “it’s not good for America, not good for China.”
“We will sell to America again,” he predicted. “We need to make money. Everybody loves money.”