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EU-Mercosur FTA: Old Negotiations, New Zest

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The EU and Mercosur (a trade bloc comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay*) free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations date back almost two decades, to 1999. After failing to seal the deal in 1999 and again in 2004, the countries initiated new negotiations in 2010 and though started out slowly, they accelerated the process in 2016 (with hopes to finalize the deal by the end of 2017). A trade deal at this moment will be of significant importance to both sides owing to substantial amount of trade between the two blocs. The EU is Mercosur’s largest trading partner accounting for 21% of the bloc’s trade in 2015, while Brazil alone is the EU’s eleventh largest trading partner. However, despite a positive framework for the agreement to happen, there is still a great deal of resistance from few EU countries regarding the opening up of their agriculture sectors. Now it remains to see whether the two blocs can reach the much needed compromises and end up with an agreement by the end of the year or talks will remain hanging once more.
*Venezuela has been suspended from the trade bloc in 2016 and therefore is out of the negotiations

While this may not be the first time the EU and Mercosur sit to negotiate the terms of an FTA, it definitely seems to be the most promising one. The main reason the earlier efforts have gone in vain was the Argentinian leftist government’s adverse stance on trading outside their own backyard. This changed with the election of president Mauricio Macri in December 2015, who unlike his predecessor (Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner), looks at international trade as a growth opportunity for Argentina. Similarly, the impeachment of the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff in May 2016 resulted in a new political wave in Brazil. While Brazil’s former president did take small steps towards trade liberalization, her successor, Michel Temer, has accelerated this process and has made the EU-Mercosur deal one of his top priorities.

Another reason this deal has gained immense importance for the Latin American bloc has been a declining bilateral trade among Mercosur’s two largest members, Argentina and Brazil, owing to recession. Trade between the countries declined from US$36 billion to US$22 billion during 2013-2016. This has forced the two nations to soften their stance on global trade.

Considering these developments, as well as the changing political and trade dynamics between several Latin American countries and the USA, following the arrival of Trumps administration at the White House, Mercosur’s openness and renewed interest in strengthening international trade ties is fully understandable. We wrote about it in February 2017 in our article Trump in Action: Triumph or Tremor for Latin America? and again later in June 2017 in Japan Hopes to Get a Slice of Mercosur Opportunity Cake as LATAM Exports to USA Decline.

On the other side of the negotiations table, as the EU has maintained a positive outlook towards foreign trade in general, the lost prospect of a Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the USA under Donald Trump has also reinvigorated EU’s interest in the Mercosur FTA. Moreover, the EU views the deal with Mercosur as a suitable counter-measure to the growing Chinese influence in Latin America.

Apart from these aspects, the main reason for renewed commitment to the deal by both sides is the significant and increasing level of trade and investment between the two blocs. In 2014, EU’s investments in Mercosur countries reached US$494 billion. The EU’s exports to Mercosur expanded from about US$24.6 billion (€21 billion) in 2005 to about US$54 billion (€46 billion) in 2015. Similarly for Mercosur, its exports to the EU increased from US$37.5 billion (€32 billion) to US$49 billion (€42 billion) during the same period. Agriculture products constituted 48% of Mercosur’s exports to the EU, while machinery (29% of exports) and vehicle and parts (17% of exports) were EU’s largest export categories to the Latin American bloc.

The EU stands to gain a great deal from the FTA. As per current calculations, EU exporters would save about US$5.2 billion (€4.4 billion) annually on trade tariffs and stand to double their exports within five years of reaching a deal.

Despite hefty trade benefits and a lot of political and economic factors being in favor of the deal, agriculture remains a sore point. Several EU countries, led by France, do not want to open up their agriculture sector to Mercosur’s exports as they feel their domestic produce (especially grains and meat) cannot compete with that of Brazil and Argentina in terms of price. In addition, they are concerned that Mercosur’s agricultural produce are not subject to the same health standards as their domestic produce.

A quick glance at the average production costs indicates that the EU farmers have a reason to worry. As per estimates, if the deal comes through, the amount of maize available in Brazil and Argentina for export by 2020 will be between 23 and 26 million tonnes. While the average production cost of cereal in Mercosur is close to US$94/ tonne (€80/tonne), it is about US$141/tonne (€120/tonne) in the EU. This is likely to result in substitution of EU-grown maize with that from Mercosur, which will most likely result in a loss of about US$2.3 billion (€2 billion) by 2020 for EU’s agriculture sector. In addition, it can be expected to result in an indirect loss of about US$1.2-3.5 billion (€1-3 billion) as Mercosur-produced maize is likely to also replace wheat for animal feed during high production and harvest months.

In case of meat products, beef produced in Mercosur is more competitive than EU’s beef in terms of pricing. Moreover, a study of the usual trend of beef quotas suggest that they are first filled with noble cuts exports (including filet, entrecote, and rump steak) followed by other hindquarter cuts (such as topside and silverside). In case the deal takes place, it is expected that Mercosur’s beef will largely substitute local beef produce with Mercosur’s export volume (keeping in mind higher quantities of noble cuts, such as Hilton beef) expecting to reach 1 million tonnes. These would be worth US$18.8 billion (€16 billion) and would directly impact the local production and sales value. To bring this into perspective, the value of Brazil’s beef exports (the largest beef exporter among the Mercosur countries) to the EU was US$485 million in 2016. Moreover, low-priced imports from Mercosur will put pressure on the pricing in the domestic EU market resulting in close to a 30% downward price revision, which in turn is highly likely to result in further losses of about US$10.6 billion (€9 billion). In case the EU agreed to 300,000 tonnes at zero duty, this would expectedly result in US$3.5 billion (€3 billion) in direct costs and US$7.1 billion in indirect costs (€6 billion).

In addition to this, there are several non-tariff related issues with Mercosur’s produce, such as lack of tagging and traceability of livestock to identify and guarantee origin. Also, several drugs, such as hormones and growth promoters, as well as few antibiotics and insecticides that are banned in the EU are legally used in Mercosur. These factors have resulted in countries such as France, Ireland, and Poland opposing the EU-Mercosur FTA.

Another source of disagreement for the EU lies in the trade of sugar and ethanol, which the European producers claim should be excluded from the list of freely-traded items. This stems primarily from the fact that the Brazilian government provides subsidies worth US$1.8 billion annually to its ethanol and sugar producers, a fact providing them with an undue advantage compared to the European counterparts.

On the other hand, Mercosur is discontent with EU’s limited concessions on agricultural imports and its stance to continue quotas on the Mercosur’s food imports. Mercosur also has some concerns regarding providing the EU with access to public tenders, which in Brazil alone are worth about US$176 billion (€150 billion), however, they are positive that they will be able to reach a consensus during negotiations.

While few points of contention remain, negotiators at both ends are keen on resolving these issues and signing the deal by the end of 2017, remaining aware of the significance of this deal for both the sides as well as of the tendency for these talks to remain unresolved if not pushed soon. Moreover, both sides want to exploit the current favorable political scenario in Brazil and Argentina. With Brazil heading for presidential elections in 2018, the chances of a leftist-government coming to power do exist, and this can again put the deal in danger if it is not completed by then. Both sides of the negotiating table want to reach an agreement sought-after for the past 20 years as early as possible, even if it means compromising on some expectations.

EU Mercosur FTA Old Negotiations New Zest

EOS Perspective

A goal of completing the deal by the end of 2017 seems like quite a gun to the heads of both the blocs, as past experience, both in the case of this deal as well as other FTAs, proves that the process is never quick nor simple. Moreover, the EU seems somewhat divided on the deal, with Spain, Portugal, and Germany advocating for it and France, Poland, and Ireland opposing it. That being said, this deal – which has been on and off again and again since 1999 – has never been as close to getting finalized as it is now. This is primarily due to the fact that both Argentina and Brazil (that were the two main factors holding the deal back all these years) are extremely keen on reaching this agreement with EU, to the extent that they may be willing to compromise quite a bit as long as the deal includes provisions that leave room for future improvements and it brings increase in trade and thus growth for local economies. However, it remains to be seen whether they will be willing to stretch their compromises far enough to agree to the EU’s terms on the agriculture produce trade. At the same time, it is not clear how much the EU is going to push for these provisions, so there is a chance that both parties will manage to reach a well-rounded deal for both the sides. The least probable scenario is that the deal will come to a stand-still once more, however till the ink dries on the deal, nothing can be considered as certain.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Is Cambodia Ready To Dress Up The World?

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Gap, Adidas, and Giorgio Armani are some of the renowned fashion brands that manufacture their designs in Cambodia. As of 2014, Cambodia was the sixth fastest growing economy in the world and its textile production held a 1.2% share of the global market by volume in 2008. It is no coincidence that whenever Cambodia is mentioned, almost instantaneously, it is linked to a soaring apparel production sustained by a large number of factories as well as workforce in number only comparable to some of the world’s largest textiles producers such as Thailand or Vietnam. Is Cambodia ready to face this steep growth?

Accounting for 16% of the country’s GDP in 2012, garment sector certainly plays an important role in the Cambodian economy. It provided employment to 8.2% of the country’s population in 2014, while textile export accounted for 80% of Cambodia’s total exports in 2013. Moreover, Cambodia’s government has recently increased its focus on industry development with stress on garments. The country has not only set a long term Industrial Development Policy to spur its textile sector growth but it also has implemented initiatives seeking to organize the apparel production and become an even more appealing destination for international buyers as well as investors.

1-WHY INVEST IN CAMBODIA

In 2009, as a long term strategy, the country became part of the Association of South East Asian Nations community (ASEAN), a regional economic and political organization associating 10 member states. This allowed Cambodia to take advantage of several FTAs previously signed by ASEAN with developed countries, and benefit from many other betterments offered by this international community. After years of political stress and economic instability of the Cambodian’s economy, ASEAN membership helped Cambodia register a manifold increase in trade in the last five years, with stabilized inflation rate at about 4%, and an expected GDP CAGR of around 8-9% during 2015-2018.

Since declared a Least Developed Country (LDC) in 1991, Cambodia has been benefitting from quota-free and duty-free export to EU countries without having to comply with the rule of origin, a rule establishing that all manufactured goods must originate from the country of export. Fabrics may come from, i.e. China, but it is Cambodia that manufactures and exports all of the clothing and footwear to places such as UK (which accounted for 7.8% of total garment exports from Cambodia in 2013) or Germany (accounted for 6.7% of total garment exports in the same year). For a country as heavily dependent on raw material (57.2% of total imported garment raw material came from China in 2013) as Cambodia, this scheme is greatly favorable, allowing the country to export US$554 million worth of textiles and footwear during the Q1 2015 to the EU alone.

2-ADVANTAGES

For the past two decades, the country has been relying on FDIs with a strong focus on garment industry investment. Cambodia became an attractive investment destination in 1996, after receiving the status of Most Favored Nation (MFN) by the USA and launching an open trade administration with permissive investments and incentives for foreign investors. Due to open trade policies such as no price controls on products or services, free remittance of foreign currencies abroad, and full import duty exemption, favoring mostly foreign capital, Cambodia tripled its FDI in the last decade with a record of US$4.6 billion of cumulative approved FDI. As of 2014, about 28% of that FDI, or US$1.28 billion, focused on the garment and footwear sector production through foundation of new factories and implementation of high-tech manufacturing equipment rather than depending on low cost and low skilled labor as means of retaining international competitiveness.

Despite an increase in total export volumes buoyed primarily by textile and footwear export over the past several years, Cambodia’s government is yet to address internal problems that may obstruct both the country’s economy as well as apparel sector’s growth in the coming years.

3-CHALLENGES

EOS Perspective

During the last decade, Cambodia has strategically positioned itself as an attractive FDI destination for clothing and footwear companies to make their designs or to open new low-cost production facilities. However, since 2014, Cambodia’s internal conflict with garment sector workers has affected the country’s image causing a decline in purchase orders for the first time in a decade. The conflict has also negatively impacted foreign investors who are losing confidence in the country’s management of the apparel sector, and subsequently, Cambodia is registering a decline in FDI inflow, which it greatly relies on to aid its apparel industry development. Further, considering Cambodia’s textile industry is highly dependent on imported raw material and electricity, the apparel production cost is susceptible to possible increase in prices of imported fabric and unforeseen changes in electricity rates.

As a result, it does seem Cambodia is still unprepared to handle a possible steep growth of its textile industry. Although there have been several industrial development policies implemented to better organize the industrial setup, Cambodia is yet to build strong manufacturing industries to supply for its own apparel industry needs. Further, the ongoing lack of a fully-working power grid that feeds textile factories puts Cambodia in a weak position vis-à-vis its garment-oriented competitors. Therefore, in order to become a truly large player in the global apparel industry playground, Cambodia has to focus its efforts on developing self-sustainability and overcoming its ingrained internal conflicts.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Central America And Caribbean: Rising Stars In Investment Landscape

Since 2010, less frequently discussed Central American and Caribbean countries such as Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua have started to attract significant investment limelight. Effective government initiatives, complemented with availability of young and qualified labor as well as advantageous geographical location are helping these countries attract an increasing number of investments in various industries with each passing year. However, certain challenges continue to hamper these countries in realizing their full investment potential. Therefore, there exists a lingering need to take actions against such challenges and further bolster investment scenarios.

Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Dominican Republic are emerging as attractive investment destinations in the Central American and Caribbean region. Their promising investment landscapes are reflected in estimated investment growth rates and net FDIs, amongst other investment parameters.

Government initiatives play a critical role in encouraging both domestic and foreign investors to establish and expand their operations in an assortment of industries, but certain challenges, for instance corruption, poor infrastructure, and weak legal system are plaguing the investment environments.

Investment Parameters

Ranking


Government Initiatives

Government Initiatives


Investment Driven Industries
Investment Driven Industries


Challenges and Recommendations

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Poor infrastructure, either at a general level or in terms of shortage of electricity is challenging Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Dominican Republic. Since quality infrastructure is one of the critical pillars for various types of investments to operate profitably, effective steps need to be taken to prevent investments from being further hindered by this challenge. The affected countries should come together and synergistically utilize their resources through mutual agreements and infrastructure-oriented development projects.

Although, all of the five countries are presently experiencing relatively accelerated investment growth, they seem to not realize the opportunity cost being incurred from not taking sufficient actions to root out challenges faced by investors. Perhaps, only when total investment value growth starts becoming sluggish, these countries might recognize the importance of effectively implementing measures to overcome investor related risks.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Garments and Textiles In Vietnam – Is The Future As Bright As The Past?

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Recording a positive growth year after year since 2001, Vietnam’s garment and textile industry is now banking on a potential TPP and some FTAs to continue its journey on the success path. However, as some of the already existing problems, such as heavy reliance on imported raw materials, become a bigger concern, and new problems such as increase in production cost and threatened interest of domestic players come to surface, will the industry be able to secure its future?

Vietnam’s garment and textile industry has been one of the country’s leading sectors, recording growth of more than 15% annually between 2001 and 2014, remaining the chief contributor to Vietnam’s economy. 18% year-on-year growth was registered by Vietnam’s textile and garment exports in 2013, which took exports value to a whopping US$20 billion.

Garment and textile exports also accounted for a significant proportion of Vietnam’s GDP (approximately 15%) and total exports (about 18%), in the same year. The industry provides jobs and salaries to over 4.5 million workers, out of which approximately 2.5 million are direct workers in 4,000 textile and garment enterprises. Products of the industry get shipped to more than 180 countries across the world.

Vietnam - Major Garment and Textile Exports Markets

A lot of optimism is budding around the industry’s performance for the year 2015 and ahead, part of which is arising from the market’s consistent positive growth trajectory traced during the past several years.

Another reason for the optimism is Vietnam’s potential Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA) and FTAs with the EU, South Korea, and the Eurasian Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.


Vietnam - Exports of Garment and Textile

The TPP and the FTA with the EU are in last stage of negotiations, while the FTAs with Eurasian Customs Union and South Korea were signed in December 2014 and May 2015, respectively. Industry stakeholders are relying on the TPP and the FTAs to steer the sector into the future.

Completion of the TPP is estimated to increase Vietnam’s garment and textile exports to the USA to US$30 billion by 2020, as compared with US$8.6 billion exports recorded in 2013, recording growth of approximately 250%.

With the EU being the second largest importer of Vietnam’s textiles and garments, a FTA between the two would further boost Vietnam’s garment and textile industry. It is expected that exports from Vietnam to the EU would increase by 20% during 2013-2020 as the value of textiles and garments exports is projected to increase from US$2.7 billion to US$3.2 billion.

Vietnam’s FTA with South Korea is expected to almost triple bilateral trade value during 2015-2020, to reach US$20 billion by 2020. Garment and textile industry is expected to be amongst several Vietnamese industries, which are likely to be positively impacted by the FTA. Also under the FTA between Vietnam and the Eurasian Customs Union, Vietnam’s exports, including textiles and garments, as well as seafood, wooden furniture, and agricultural products, are benefiting from preferential tariffs and are expected to increase by 30% during 2013-2020.


Opportunities for Vietnam’s Garment and Textile Industry from the TPP and the FTAs

Further expansion of the industry’s exports share in the USA
Even though the USA has been Vietnam’s largest garment and textile exports market (as of 2014), the industry’s exports account for only 8-9% of total textile and garment imports in USA. TPP offers a chance to increase Vietnam’s textile and garment’s share to 12-13% in the US market as the tariff would be reduced from 17% to 0%
Increase in the number of foreign direct investments in the industry
Number of foreign investments is likely to increase in Vietnam’s garment and textile industry with the completion of the TPP and the FTAs with the EU, the Eurasian Customs Union, and South Korea. The industry might further develop (e.g. in terms of infrastructure) through utilization of additional revenue generated from increased exports. This can perhaps become a key reason for foreign investors to initiate new investments in the industry
Becoming one of leading nations in global garment and textile production chain
Vietnam has a chance of becoming a truly global player in the world garment and textile industry if it starts manufacturing high-quality textiles and garments by upgrading and maintaining its production standards and adopting advanced production technologies with the help of FTAs
Boosting Vietnam’s local garment and textile players’ position in the market
FTAs can boost restructuring process among Vietnam’s garment and textile companies and offer a new array of opportunities arising from preferential or 0% tariffs, cheaper supplies, and loosening of other trade barriers. Vietnam’s government can also promote local players further by offering garment and textile industry related subsidies (for example, charging lower taxes on garment and textile manufacturing plants). Such subsidies would further encourage Vietnam’s local garment and textile industry players to expand their operations and help the industry in a positive way

Roadblocks for Vietnam’s Garment and Textile Industry Growth

Heavy Dependence on Imported Raw Materials

According to VINATEX (Vietnam National Textile and Garment Group, Vietnam’s state-owned largest garment and textile corporation which manages Vietnam Textile Garment Group), in 2013, the country’s domestic cotton production satisfied only 1% of the industry demand while domestic fabric production fulfilled 12-13% of the demand. Materials from China account for almost 50% of the total raw materials imported by the industry. As of 2013, cotton worth US$7.5 million, yarn worth US$350 million, and fabric worth US$3 billion were imported from China to Vietnam.

Raw material development in Vietnam is challenged by environmental protection laws implemented by Ho Chi Minh City Garment and Textile Association (HCMC, a government association) wherein limited licenses have been awarded to Vietnam’s garment and textile dyeing and weaving plants as they cause heavy pollution. Moreover, farmers have been earning higher profits through plantation of crops other than cotton which further hampers local cotton production.

Vietnam - Garment and Textile Raw Material Imports

The potential TPP is likely to be based on the yarn-forward principle. The principle mandates every stage of garment and textile production (such as sourcing/developing of raw materials, weaving, dyeing, finishing, and sewing) to be executed in Vietnam or 11 other TPP member countries. Only if this requirement is met, the products will be eligible for a duty-free export to other TPP member countries. Since China accounts for almost 50% of the total raw materials imported by Vietnam’s garment and textile industry, the yarn-forward principle would further compel Vietnam to locally produce raw materials to manufacture garments and textiles to be exported to other TPP member countries.

Increasing Production Costs

Growing prices of electricity and transportation, along with an increase in minimum wages are also becoming new causes of headache to the industry players. In Vietnam, minimum wages witnessed a hike of 15.2% in 2014 (while it is generally assumed that already a 10% increase in minimum wages pushes up a company’s salary costs by almost 17% due to increased allowances and other social benefits).

For the year 2015, Vietnam’s garment and textile manufacturers believed that if the increase in minimum wages goes beyond 12%, the impact of the increase will be noticed in terms of higher market selling prices of Vietnam’s garments and textiles. Such a situation would reduce total revenue generated by the industry as higher selling prices might adversely affect exports and thereby, take away some FTA-related potential revenue. In order to avoid the situation, Vietnam’s garment and textile manufacturers attempted to cap the increase in minimum wages by a maximum of 12%, in 2015. However, Vietnam’s government decided the hike for the year 2015 to be 13-15%, which is bound to adversely affect selling prices of the industry’s products.

Interest of Domestic Market Players at Risk

FTAs such as those with the Eurasian Customs Union, the EU, South Korea, and the TPP would open doors of Vietnam’s garment and textile industry for foreign players. Foreign companies have already accelerated their investments in the industry. This is leading to higher number of foreign firms, which are usually technologically advanced and capital rich, sidelining local industry players (as per Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry report published in 2014, as of 2013, 96% Vietnamese companies operated on small scale and lagged behind on capital and technology fronts).

Some examples of foreign players planning to enter the industry include Kyung Bang Vietnam (a 100% South Korean invested enterprise), which is in the process of establishing a spinning plant with a capacity of 6,000 tons per annum in Vietnam’s Binh Duong province. Another example is a Hong-Kong based company, Texhong, which is also planning to build a spinning plant in the country’s Quang Ninh province. The entry of foreign players in the industry is likely to intensify competition among all the industry players (both local and foreign).


Future Outlook

For the period 2015-2020, Vietnam’s garment and textile industry targets a production growth of 12-14% on an annual basis, 3 million people additionally employed in the industry, and export revenues valued at US$25 billion by end of 2020.

In the light of challenges faced by the market, the industry has started to take efforts in order to have a roadblock-free path ahead to achieve its targets.

Reduce heavy dependence on imported raw material
Localization of Raw Material Development

After realizing the importance of localizing raw material production for the industry, initiatives to increase domestic raw material production are being undertaken. A cotton manufacturing plant, known as “Rang Dong Industrial Park” (infrastructure development expected to complete by end of 2015), at a size of 1,500 hectares and worth US$400 million is being established in Vietnam’s Ninh Thuan province. The park is expected to record production value of US$3 billion on an annual basis.

In addition to this, Vietnam is urging for inclusion of “weak rule of origin” or “single transformation rule” in the TPP agreement. Inclusion of the rule will mandate only cutting and sewing aspects of garment and textile manufacturing process to be performed in one of the TPP member countries. This would allow Vietnam to export garments and textiles manufactured with imported raw material to other TPP members.


Lower production cost
Lowering Production Costs

Since the production cost is bound to increase due to growth in minimum wages, it is of paramount importance for Vietnam’s garment and textile manufacturers to look for ways to control and minimize the overall production cost hikes. This might be possible through adoption of more efficient and advanced technologies.

To make the adoption possible, the government in channeling its efforts to attract higher number of FDIs in the industry.

The industry plans to host “Vietnam Garment and Textile Forum – 2015 edition” in June 2015 in Hanoi. Major garment and textile companies such as H&M, Adidas, Puma, and Li & Fung are expected to participate in the forum.


Protect the interest of domestic market players
Protecting the Interest of Domestic Players

The government undertook attempts to help domestic raw materials producers as it noticed that certain raw materials utilized by the Vietnamese industry are being imported without any tax.

As such imports tend to hurt domestic producers, in May 2015, Vietnam’s Ministry of Textile and Garment proposed a 2% import tax on polyester staple fibre, which is presently enjoying no import tax.

Objective of the proposal is to safeguard the interest of domestic fibre producers, who were found not to be running at full capacity while imports of the fibre were being recorded at around 150,000 tonnes on an annual basis



All these initiatives will have to stand the test of time, and whether they prove themselves to be sufficient to help Vietnam’s garment and textile industry grow while deriving maximum benefit from the potential of the TPP and various other FTAs, is to be seen.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

South Korea – At the Crossroads!

South Korea is the world’s fifth largest automobile manufacturer, behind China, Japan, the US and Germany. Automobile sales in South Korea breached the 8 million units mark for the first time in its history in 2012. The surge was mainly on account of strong overseas demand for locally-made models – exports accounted for 82% of these sales while domestic sales (accounting for the remaining 18%) actually contracted 4.2% to 1.4 million units in 2012.

Contracting domestic demand for local companies is mainly due to lack of real income growth, increased debt repayment burden and slump in the housing market in Seoul Special City (houses are often bought in South Korea for investment purposes). Meanwhile, overseas sales, cars exported from South Korea and vehicles assembled in overseas plants, expanded 7.9% to 6.8 million units in the same year.

The South Korean market is dominated by Hyundai Kia Automotive Group which accounted for 82% of domestic sales and 81% of exports in 2012. GM Korea, Renault Samsung and Ssangyong (acquired by Indian company Mahindra and Mahindra in 2011) account for 10% of the domestic sales while rest of the market is catered to by imports. BMW, Daimler (Mercedez-Benz), VW, Audi, Toyota, Chrsyler and Ford are the leading importers.

Free Trade Agreements

South Korea has aggressively pursued FTAs, with the provisional enforcement of an FTA with the EU from July 2011 and the full enforcement of an FTA with the US from March 2012. In the automotive industry, tariffs on parts and components were abolished as soon as the agreements came into force, whereas tariffs on vehicles will be abolished between South Korea and the EU over a three-to-five-year period and those with the US in the fifth year after enforcement of the agreement.

As a result of the FTA, exports to the EU sky-rocketed and the double-digit growth trend continued until March 2012. However, as the EU economy weakened, exports declined and returned to pre-FTA levels. In case of the US, exports surged around the time of the enforcement of the FTA in March, even though the tariffs on vehicles are yet to be scaled down. This phenomenon was labelled as ‘announcement effect’.

An interesting trend that has emerged is that whereas the domestic sales of South Korean cars declined by about 6.3% in 2012, domestic sales of imported cars increased by 24.6% in the same year. Moreover, for the first time, imports accounted for 10% of domestic sales, which is in sharp contrast to the 2% share about a decade back. European automotive OEMs have benefitted the most from this surge in demand for vehicles. This increased market share for European vehicles is mainly due to the fall in prices; as part of FTA between South Korea and the EU, the tariffs on large vehicles reduced from 8% to 5.6%.

Thus it can be said that while the enforcement of FTAs has been effective in boosting exports, it has brought about structural changes in South Korea’s domestic market.

Labour Strife

After an almost 4-year gap, strikes by the labor union returned to plague automotive manufacturing in South Korea in the summer of 2012. The industrial action, which also hit car parts manufacturers and some other industries, revived memories of the days when strikes were chronic in South Korea. Workers went on strike in 21 of the first 22 years since the unions’ formation in 1987; however, unions’ political influence has dimmed in recent years with declining memberships.

Hyundai, Kia and GM Korea were affected by the strikes and suffered record losses – Hyundai alone is estimated to have lost more than USD 1 billion. The main points of contention were the abolition of graveyard shift, wage increase and to confirming of permanent positions to the high proportion of contract workers. Although the companies agreed to most of the demands of regular workers, discussions with contract workers are still ongoing.

To offset the loss suffered from such strikes, OEMs are diversifying their production bases. Hyundai for one has moved to reduce the dependence on domestic manufacturing plants by expanding production in the US, China, India, Brazil and Turkey during the last decade. South Korean plants accounted for 46% of Hyundai’s capacity in 2011, down from 60% in 2008, when the last strike took place and 93% in 2000. Although another objective for establishing a global production network is to make inroads into the global markets.

Another consequence of strikes is that production costs are expected to shoot up, mainly on account of increased wages and also due to the additional investments that the OEMs will now have to undertake to make up for the reduced working hours per day; along with the abolition of the graveyard shift, another demand of the workers was to reduce the number of hours being worked in the two shifts from 20 to 17 hours.

Currency Uncertainties

The Won has been strengthening against the Yen and the US dollar since mid-2012, increasing production costs while adding to currency conversion losses, as sales in foreign markets translate into fewer Won. This has significantly eroded South Korean automotive OEMs competitiveness; companies such as Hyundai and Kia have consequently ceded market share to Japanese OEMs which are enjoying resurgence on the back of a brightening export outlook.

The Yen is also on a two-year low against the US dollar while the Won was at the highest level against the dollar since August 2011 in January 2013. Toyota can now in principle offer a discount of more than 10% to its US customers whereas South Korea’s Hyundai Motor has to raise the dollar price by over 5% to keep up with the Won.

A December report by the Korean Automotive Research Institute (KARI) states that South Korean export would shrink by 1.2% annually for every 1% drop in the Yen against the Won.

Over the years, the strategy of the South Korean Automotive OEMs has revolved around exports and the companies have established global production network to cater to geographies around the world. However, the recent upheaval in the foreign exchange markets have raised serious doubts about the company’s short-medium term prospects.


With increasing competition from global OEMs both in the domestic and global markets (resulting from FTAs) and currency uncertainties nullifying cost advantages that the Korean car makers have traditionally relied on, it is perhaps time for country’s OEMs to shift focus from quantity to quality – stressing superior design and engineering over sales growth.

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In our fourth discussion in this series, we understand the automotive market dynamics of Turkey. Its proximity to Europe and cultural affinity to Asia has seen a growing presence of both European and Asian OEMs. Is Turkey a long-term growth market for automotive OEMs, or is the market as developed as most western countries?

Part I of the series – Mexico – The Next Automotive Production Powerhouse?
Part II of the series – Indonesia – Is The Consecutive Years Of Record Sales For Real Or Is It The Storm Before The Lull?

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Mexico – The Next Automotive Production Powerhouse?

As the first of our five part automotive market assessment of the MIST countries – Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Mexico as an emerging automotive hub, and the underlying potential in this strategically located gateway to both North and South America.

Emergence of Mexico as a major automotive production hub is the result of a series of events and transformations over the past decade. The most important of which is the growing trend among automotive OEMs and auto part producers to have production bases in emerging economies. And the earthquake in Japan in 2011 tilted the tide in favour of Mexico just as ‘near-shoring’ was already becoming a key automotive strategy in 2011.

Automotive production in Mexico increased by 80% from 1.5 million in 1999 to 2.7 million units per year in 2011, largely thanks to a significant boost in investment in the sector.

Between 2005 and 2011, cumulative foreign direct investment (FDI) in the automotive sector amounted to USD10.3 billion. In the last year, several automotive OEMs have initiated large scale projects in Mexico; some of these projects include

  • Nissan – building a USD2 billion plant in Aguascalientes; this was the single largest investment in the country in 2012 and should help secure the country’s position as the eighth largest car manufacturer and sixth largest car exporter in the world

  • Ford – investing USD1.3 billion in a new stamping and assembly plant in Hermosillo, New Mexico

  • Honda – investing USD800 million in a new production plant in Celaya, Guanajuato

  • GM – investing USD420 million at plants in Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi

  • Daimler Trucks – investing USD300 million in a new plant to manufacture new heavy trucks’ transmissions

  • Audi – has decided to set-up its first production facility across the Atlantic in Mexico; with planned investment outlay of about USD2 billion, this move by Audi represents a significant show of trust by one of the world’s leading premium car brands

  • Mazda – building a USD500 million plant in Guanajuato; it has reached an agreement to build a Toyota-branded sub-compact car at this facility and will supply Toyota with 50,000 units of the vehicle annually once production begins in mid-2015

Bolstered by this new wave of investment, Mexico’s vehicle production capacity is expected to rise to 3.83 million units by 2017, at an impressive CAGR of 6% during 2011-2017.

Why is Mexico attracting such large levels of investment from global automotive OEMs? Which factors have positively influenced these decisions and what concerns other OEMs have in investing in this North American country?

So, What Makes Mexico A Favourable Destination?

  1. Trade Agreements – Mexico has Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with about 44 countries that provide preferential access to markets across three continents, covering North America and parts of South America and Europe. Mexico has more FTAs than the US. The FTA with the EU, for instance, saves Mexico a 10% tariff that’s applied to US-built vehicles, thereby providing OEMs with an incentive to shift production from the US to Mexico.

  2. Geographic Access – Mexico provides easy geographical access to the US and Latin American markets, thereby providing savings through reduced inventory as well as lower transportation and logistics costs. This is evident from the fact that auto exports grew by 12% in the first ten months of 2012 to a record 1.98 million units; the US accounted for 63% of these exports, while Latin America and Europe accounted for 16% and 9%, respectively (Source – Mexican Automobile Industry Association).

  3. Established Manufacturing Hub – 19 of the world’s major manufacturing companies, such as Siemens, GE, Samsung, LG and Whirlpool, have assembly plants in Mexico; additionally, over 300 major Tier-1 global suppliers have presence in the country, with a well-structured value chain organized in dynamic and competitive clusters.

The Challenges

  1. Heavy Dependence on USA – While it is good that Mexico has established strong relations with American OEMs, it cannot ignore the fact that with more than 60% share of its exports, the country is heavily dependent on the US. The country needs to grow its export markets to other countries and geographies to hedge against a downturn in the American economy. For instance, during the downturn in the US economy in 2008 and 2009, due to decline in sales in the US, automotive production in Mexico declined by 20% from 2.17 million in 2008 to 1.56 million in 2009. Mexico has trade agreements with 44 countries (more than the USA and double that of China) and it needs to leverage these better to promote itself as an attractive export platform for automotives.

  2. Regional Politics – Mexico is walking a tight rope when it comes to protecting the interests of OEMs producing vehicles in the country. In 2011, Mexican automotive exports caused widespread damage to the automotive industries in Brazil and Argentina and in a bid to save their domestic markets, both the countries briefly banned Mexican auto imports altogether in 2012. Although, later in the year, Mexico thrashed out a deal that restricts automotive imports (without tariffs) to its two South American neighbours rather than completely banning them, it does not augur well for the future prospects of automotive production in Mexico. One of the reasons automotive OEMs were expanding their capacity in the country was to be able to cater to the important markets in Latin America, particularly Brazil and Argentina. Now the Mexican government has the challenge of trying to keep everyone happy – its neighbours, the automotive OEMs and most importantly its own people for whom it might mean loss of jobs and income.

  3. Stringent Regulatory Environment – The Mexican government, the Mexican Auto Industry Association and International Automotive OEMs are locked in a tussle over the government’s attempts to implement fuel efficiency rules to curb carbon emissions. Mexico has an ambitious target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020, and 50% by 2050. The regulations are similar to the ones being implemented in the USA and Canada, however, the association has complained that the proposal is stricter than the US version. Toyota went as far as filing a legal appeal against the government protesting the proposed fuel economy standard. Although the government eased the regulations to appease the automotive OEMs in January 2013, the controversy highlights resistance by the country’s manufacturing sector to the low-carbon regulations the government has been trying to introduce over the past few years. Such issues send out wrong signals to potential investors.

So, does Mexico provide an attractive platform for automotive OEMs? From the spate of investments in the country so far, it seems so – over the past few years, the country has finally begun to fulfil that potential and is now a key driver in the ‘spreading production across emerging economies’ strategy of companies looking to make it big in the global automotive market. However, there are still a few concerns that need to be addressed in order for Mexico to become ‘the’ automotive manufacturing hub in the Americas.

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In our next discussion, we will assess the opportunities and challenges faced by both established and emerging automotive OEMs in Indonesia. Does Indonesia continue to be one of the key emerging markets of interest for automotive OEMs or do the challenges outweigh the opportunities?

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