by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 20, 2016
One out of four US companies active in China has moved some operations out of the country or is planning to, as conditions worsen in the world's second-largest economy, an American business group said Wednesday.
Foreign investment has been a key part of China's transformation in recent decades, which has seen it become the workshop of the world and its largest trader in goods, but growth is now slowing and it faces rising competition on labour costs from rivals in Asia and elsewhere.
The American Chamber of Commerce in the People's Republic of China said more than three-quarters of respondents to its annual business climate survey -- 77 percent -- said they felt "less welcome" in the country last year.
It was a significant jump on the 47 percent in 2014, and came in the wake of wide-ranging monopoly probes that have targeted foreign firms, some of which have paid huge penalties to Chinese authorities.
"Some of the policies which are being considered or have already been enacted are fundamentally leading China in the wrong direction," said Lester Ross, the chamber's vice chairman.
Among the 25 percent who have moved some of their capacity elsewhere in the last three years, or are planning to do so, the most common driver was rising labour costs.
But the chamber said almost one in 10 said they were doing so because of "regulatory challenges".
Internet censorship emerged as a major concern for many firms, with almost 80 percent saying that China's sprawling online control apparatus had a negative impact on them.
Chinese authorities strictly censor websites in the country, and limit access to those outside with a web of controls known as the Great Firewall of China.
More than 70 percent of US firms said that as a result they were unable to access websites and information sources crucial to their business.
More than half found the inability to use some online tools -- Facebook, Dropbox, Instagram, YouTube, and Gmail are all blocked in China -- hindered their ability to operate.
Among the firms that were switching operations away, almost half -- 49 percent -- moved them to other developing Asian countries, while 38 percent went to North America.
US firms sometimes face controversy in their home country over operations in China, with accusations that they are exporting jobs, and some have moved capacity back in recent years, drawn in part by cost savings due to an energy boom and stable wages.
China's GDP grew 6.9 percent last year, its slowest in a quarter of a century, government figures show, and the economy faces challenges including industrial overcapacity and a stagnant property sector, as well as stock market volatility.
Among survey respondents, 45 percent reported flat or declining revenues last year, with only 64 percent saying their China businesses were profitable -- the lowest proportion in five years.
The chamber's 18th annual survey had responses from 496 of its 961 company members.
China outbound investment nears $120 bn in 2015: govt
ODI leapt 14.7 percent from a year earlier to $118.0 billion in 2015, just ahead of the previous year's expansion, according to the commerce ministry.
It remained below inward foreign direct investment (FDI) of $126.3 billion, so the world's second-largest economy remained a net importer of capital. Both ODI and FDI exclude financial sectors.
Outbound investment in the 10-member ASEAN group of Southeast Asian nations jumped 60.7 percent and was up a similar 60.1 percent to the US, the ministry said in a statement, without providing totals.
The biggest individual acquisition was state-owned ChemChina's purchase of emblematic Italian tyremaker Pirelli, ministry spokesman Shen Danyang told reporters.
Chinese firms' takeovers were "large in value and broad in terms of industries and countries involved", he said, adding they remained active in the field despite a sluggish global economy.
Beijing encourages Chinese firms to expand overseas under a so-called "go abroad" strategy as the country faces multiple development bottlenecks.
Among these are manufacturing overcapacity, insufficient domestic demand and increasing energy and resources consumption.
Slumping international commodity prices have also reduced the cost of their investments, as have some currency swings such as the weakening euro.
State-backed Unisplendour Corporation Limited announced in September it would buy 15 percent of US data storage company Western Digital Corp for $3.8 billion.
Chinese power company Three Gorges in November won the right to operate two large hydropower plants in Brazil for 13.8 billion reals ($3.4 billion).
Global Trade News
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