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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Europe Fights Back to Curb China’s Dominance

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Given the swiftness of China’s economic development in the past three decades, transitioning from an impoverished and insular country to one of the formidable economic powers of the world, it has taken some time for Europe to accept China’s growing power and influence. Not only does China sit on largest currency reserves worldwide, but it has also become a significant provider of foreign investments, including in EU nations. This has recently strengthened China’s influence over the EU, which has created a sense of caution amidst European policymakers.

How is Europe benefiting from China’s growing investments?

Europe-bound Chinese investments were six times higher than Chinese investments in the USA – in H1 2018, Chinese investments in Europe stood at US$ 12 billion as compared to US$ 2 billion in the USA. For some of the economically struggling EU countries, Chinese investments are critical for developing and upgrading infrastructure, including energy plants, railways, motorways, and airports.

China’s Belt and Road initiative, under which cross-border infrastructure will be developed, will reduce transportation costs across Europe and China, creating an opportunity to facilitate trade expansion, regional integration, and attract foreign investments.

Besides infrastructure development, the investments are likely to create job opportunities and enhance economic competitiveness across Europe.

Then why is China’s growing influence alarming Europe?

Europe now sees a range of threats that China’s rising dominance in the region could bring along. Recently, the European Commission labelled China as economic competitor seeking technological leadership and systemic rival encouraging alternative models of governance. Europe realizes that China pursuits to shape globalization to suit its own interests.

The EU is deeply concerned regarding China exercising divide and rule tactics to strengthen its relationship with individual member countries that are susceptible to pressure, which could eventually harm the European cohesion. Recently, Italy signed the Belt and Road initiative, a landmark move against the counsel of western European nations, such as France and Germany, thus, raising questions on cohesion of EU countries.

The other concern is China’s rising influence over key governments of EU nations, thus, empowering itself with political leverage across the continent. China has already yielded political returns by wearying EU unity, particularly, when it is related to European policy on international law and human rights. In 2017, Hungary broke EU’s consensus by refusing to sign letter on human right violation against China. During the same year, Greece blocked an EU statement, which condemned China’s human rights record, at the UN human rights council.

Besides politics, China has also spread wings across key sectors of economy such as infrastructure, high-end manufacturing (including critical segments such as electronics, semiconductors, automotive, etc.), and consumer services, among others – growing dominance of China across these sectors is another cause of worry for the EU.

Europe also condemns China’s discrimination against foreign businesses, rendering limited market access to European firms and employing a non-transparent bidding processes. European firms operating in China face several trade and investment barriers such as joint venture obligations and discriminatory technical requirements that entail forced data localization and technology transfers. On the other, European markets have been open to foreign investments leading to massive Chinese FDI. However, lack of reciprocity harms European interest and could lead to unfulfilled EU-China trade ties.

The EU also criticizes China’s Belt and Road project for its lack of respect for labor, environment, and human rights standards. Other concerns include non-transparent procurement procedures with majority of contracts being awarded to Chinese companies without issuing public tenders, meagre use of domestic labor and limited contractor participation from host country, and use of construction materials from China – all of which undermine Europe’s interests.

Europe Fights Back to Curb China’s Dominance

How is Europe responding to China’s actions?

Europe is adopting strategies to limit China’s influence and reach across Europe and beyond, in African and Pacific countries.

Development of EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy

The EU’s new initiative, EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy, is an implicit response to China’s Belt and Road initiative, signifying a crucial first step to promoting European priorities and interests in terms of connectivity. The initiative aims to improve connectivity between Europe and Asia through transport, digital, and energy networks, and simultaneously promote environmental and labor standards.

The EU’s initiative emphasizes sustainability, respect for labor rights, and not creating political or financial dependencies for the countries.

Robust FDI screening process

European nations have been increasingly alarmed due to state-owned Chinese companies acquiring too much control of critical technologies and sensitive infrastructure in the continent, while China shields its own economy.

For the same reason, EU parliament is developing an EU-level screening tool to vet foreign investments on grounds of security to protect strategic sectors and Europe’s interests. The regulation will protect key sectors such as energy, transport, communication, data, space, technology, and finance.

While the EU still remains open to FDI, the regulation will protect its essential interests. Nonetheless, stringent investment screening procedures are likely to limit foreign investments in the continent, particularly from China.

Tackling security threat posed by China

In March 2019, the EU Parliament passed resolution asking European institutions and member countries to take action on security threats arising from China’s rapidly rising technological presence in the continent.

The resolution is likely to impact the ongoing debate of whether to eliminate China’s Huawei Technologies from building European 5G networks. The EU is concerned that the Chinese 5G equipment could be used to access unauthorized data or sabotage critical infrastructure and communication systems in the continent.

To minimize dependence on Chinese technology firms (such as Huawei Technologies), EU countries would need to diversify procurement from different vendors or introduce multi-phase procurement processes.

EU countries expanding footprint to counter China’s reach

Since 2011, China has invested US$ 1.3 billion in concessionary loans and gifts across the Pacific region, and has established its supremacy by becoming the second largest donor. China has been trying to build its influence, as the Pacific is bestowed with vast expanse of resource-rich ocean and the regional countries have voting rights at international forums such as the United Nations.

To counter China’s reach and ambitions across the Pacific countries, European nations such as the UK and France plan to open new embassies, increase staffing levels, and engage with leaders in the region. The UK plans to open new high commissions in Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa by the end of May 2019 and France is looking to meet and engage with Pacific leaders during the year.

Investment in Africa to limit China’s influence

As a strategy to curb China’s growing influence, the EU plans to deepen ties with Africa by boosting investment, creating jobs, and strengthening economic relations. The plan is to create 10 million jobs in Africa over the next five years. Europe is also aiming to establish free trade agreement between the two continents.

In recent times, China has been blamed of neo-colonial approach towards Africa, which is aimed at emptying the continent of its raw mineral in exchange for inexpensive loans, extensive but inferior infrastructure, among others. Europe aims to curb such influence by attempting to do business ethically. 

EOS Perspective

Unnerved by flurry of Chinese investments in the continent, the EU is looking to regain its control over matters. Europe has adopted a defensive approach against China’s initiatives, reflected through measures taken to protect critical sectors using investment screening system. The EU understands the downsides of enormous Chinese investments/loans, which may seem hugely enticing in the beginning, but could saddle vulnerable countries in debt they cannot repay – for example, a Chinese-built highway in Montenegro is likely to increase the country’s debt to about 80% of its GDP.

Currently, the key issue is the fact that Europe is standing divided on the right strategy to respond to bolder and ambitious China. While countries such as Germany, France, and UK have grown skeptical of China and are revolting against it, Italy, Hungary, Portugal, Greece, among others, are generally China-friendly. Europe has certainly become stern and tougher on China, but cannot pursue its interests without standing united.

The current situation does not demand Europe opposing China outright, but rather ensuring fair business conditions and equal market access through dialogue and cooperation with China.

Nonetheless, the EU has been quite slow to wake up to the various challenges that excessively ambitious China brings to the table. However, if Europe is able to become united now, there is still a chance to build a decent Sino-European partnership that serves interests of both parties.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

China’s Investments in CEE: Sharing Benefits or Building Own Dominance?

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In 2012, China unveiled its plan to invest in Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) through transregional platform called the 16+1 Cooperation framework. Since the launch of this framework, China has been proposing various policies of mutual benefit, making efforts to become an important trade and economic partner of the CEECs.  While investments are welcome, several EU leaders and political experts in the region criticize such deals. They point at a threat of China’s growing dominance in the CEECs, as well as at China not keeping its promises made during the launch of this framework and negotiations of various deals.

China promises mutual benefits

The 2008 crisis brought worsened economic conditions to the CEECs, which have since been seeking capital to stimulate investment and facilitate higher economic growth, along with expanding exports beyond traditional European destinations.

Owing to China’s position as one of the largest economic power houses and due to the CEECs’ high trade deficit with China, the countries in this region showed interest in Chinese investments and opened their doors for potential avenues to increase trade with China. China too has looked for diversifying its export destinations and expanding its brands internationally, and CEECs could help it achieve just that. Chinese motivation to focus on CEECs has been fueled by two key factors: availability of skilled and cheaper workforce in CEECs (as compared to EU average) as well as China’s desire to gain stronger strategic influence in business and politics arena in the region as against the EU and Russia.

In this mutual interest, China and the 16 countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia) signed a framework named 16+1 Cooperation in Warsaw in 2012. At the outset, this framework aimed at deepening the multi-lateral economic ties, intensifying infrastructural and cultural cooperation, and capitalizing on the emerging business opportunities for both China and the CEECs.

The scope of cooperation was set to cover projects in CEECs’ infrastructure through investing in transportation systems by establishing new rail routes connecting the 16 countries with other parts of the world (Asia, Africa, and Middle East). China also intended to focus on capitalizing on green technologies, expanding export and import of goods, bringing new technologies for manufacturing sector, enhancing exchange programs for science, architecture, literature etc., and improving cross-cultural relations with the 16 countries.

Framework institutionalization raises a few eyebrows

In order to execute all the cooperation plans, the institutionalization of this framework in the CEECs became the first task to accomplish. It began with launch of Permanent Secretariat at the Chinese Foreign Ministry in China in 2012, followed by opening of Business Council in Poland (2014), Secretariat of Investment Promotion in Poland (2014), New Silk Road Institute in Czech Republic (2015), Center for Dialogue and Cooperation on Energy Projects in Romania (2016), Regional Center of the China National Tourism Administration in Hungary (2016), Coordination Mechanism on Forestry Cooperation in Slovenia (2016), Association for the Promotion of Agricultural Cooperation in Bulgaria (2017), China-CEE Institute in Hungary (2017), and few more.

Such institutionalization in the form of CEECs national coordinators, establishment of several secretariats, and a number of associations and industry organizations for individual states, became a crucial step towards enhanced political and economic relations of China and CEECs, and paved the way for further projects.

On the other hand, however, it left room for criticism. Some organizations, such as Institute for Security and Development Policy, Sweden, pointed out that establishing these institutions in a scattered rather than centralized way will deeply affect proper coordination and flow of information about all projects and initiatives within the framework.

Other voices of criticism, mostly from EU diplomats, warned about the fact that these institutions will limit accessibility to the information for the public. These institutions tend to work in line with the Chinese culture which differs greatly from cultural norms in European (and thus CEECs) organizations. In CEECs’ political culture (prevalent to various degrees across the European region), institutions are expected to actively and symmetrically communicate information to the public, providing room for public criticism and ensuring transparent procedures.

However, in Chinese political culture, public consultation and individual opinion are not given such importance. This leaves many EU leaders to ponder whether China’s intentions are to actually enhance the Sino-CEECs relations or to grow its dominance over the CEECs and act as it pleases behind the veil of its own culture providing an excuse for limited transparency.

OBOR and 16+1 framework go hand in hand

One of China’s major initiatives (and perhaps the only one so far considered to bring real benefit for both sides) is the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project, launched in 2013 (we wrote about it in our article OBOR – What’s in Store for Multinational Companies? in July 2017). Under this project, China is ambitiously investing in developing one road connectivity, and this plan includes connecting the 16 CEECs with Asia, Africa, and Middle East. According to National Development and Reform Commission of China, Chinese investment in OBOR is likely to reach anywhere between US$120 billion and US$130 billion and with the external investments, it is expected to be totaling to US$600-800 billion by 2022. The success of OBOR is likely to impact the economies of CEECs though increased trade not only with China but also with other countries in Asian Pacific region.

China’s Investment in CEE Sharing Benefits or Building Own Dominance

The Balkans remain important in China’s plans

As part of OBOR, China has increased investment in infrastructure development in CEECs countries, with the initial focus on a few Balkan projects, especially in Serbia, with which China have always had excellent bilateral relations. The country appears to be the central hub in the Balkans for OBOR, both at an infrastructural and political level.

China started with a couple of agreements for infrastructure development with Serbia. These included China’s first large infrastructure investment in the region – construction of “Mihajlo Pupin”, the second bridge over Danube River in Belgrade in 2014 by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CBRC). The bridge shortened the travel time between Zemun on the south bank and Borca on the north bank of the Danube River from more than an hour to just 10 minutes. It also considerably reduced traffic problem on the first bridge. The project was received well by Serbia and taken as a good sign of China’s efforts to strengthen relations between the two countries.

China and Serbia came together for three more deals under the 16+1 framework, leading to total Chinese investment of nearly US$1.06 billion. These included US$715 million for construction of Kostelac power generation unit and expansion of coal-fired plant complex started in 2013, another US$350 million for re-construction of 34.5 km long segment of Belgrade-Budapest railway line, started in 2014, and undisclosed-value project of construction of Surcin-Obrenovac segment on Serbia’s E763 highway developed by China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) in 2017. All the three projects are likely to be completed by 2020.

Another flagship project, which involved Serbia and Hungary, was the construction of China-Europe land-sea fast intermodal transport route that was initiated in 2014 and became operational in 2017. With these infrastructural developments, China showed it delivered on its promises, and took steps to facilitate an enhanced exchange of goods with the CEECs.

Asymmetrical distribution of opportunities also causes criticism

The fact that all these projects were developed predominantly by Chinese firms, has been a cause for concern for western European leaders who criticized Chinese companies for seizing all opportunities and profits. The critics point out that if China and CEECs are coming together for such projects, the local companies should be able to benefit and be given opportunity to contribute skillset and technologies to local infrastructure development.

On the other hand, according to numerous experts, several countries, including Serbia, lack the technical and financial capacity required for such projects. China’s perspective should also be considered here – as China is already investing in the CEECs in the development of infrastructure, it is only logical (and natural) that it would prefer to engage own firms in order to help their business and take back some revenue from the projects.

China strengthens its foothold through financing initiatives

Chinese investments in CEECs are not only limited to the infrastructure sector, but also include certain financing initiatives in the form of availability of loans and funds. During the launch of 16+1 Cooperation framework, China announced a special credit of US$10 billion to the 16 countries to be used as preferential loans for implementation of common projects. Apart from that, in 2013, China together with CEECs launched a Sino-CEE investment fund of US$435 million, which aims at contributing financially to the sustainable economic development of CEECs.

Further, various banks and financial institutions, such as Bank of China, China Development Bank, China Export-Import Bank, and Industrial and Commercial Bank, have opened their branches in the region. While the official reason for this was to provide financial support and availability of funds to the CEECs, a relevant reason was also for China to expand the reach of these financial institutions’ brands in the European market.

Chinese investments grow in size and breadth

It is clear that China’s interest in CEECs has been growing, as exhibited through the sectoral breadth of investment initiatives and the variety of investment modes. Chinese companies are also pursuing the path of acquisitions and joint ventures with CEECs-based companies, the key example of which was seen in 2016, when Polish waste management firm, NOVAGO, was acquired by China Everbright International (Hong Kong). The deal was signed up at a value of US$144.3 million and was one of the largest acquisitions by a Chinese firm in the environment sector in CEECs.

While it is expected that such acquisitions can certainly bring benefits to the local entities involved in the deal (through capital and technology transfers, and easier access to the Chinese market), some concerns have been raised that an intensive Chinese-dominated M&A activity is not healthy for the local market dynamics.

The extent of these investments and acquisitions resulted in year-on-year increase in China’s outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) stock in the 16 countries. According to data from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the OFDI stock in 2010 in CEECs was estimated at US$0.85 billion and it reached US$1.97 billion in 2015, depicting an overall increase of around 130% in five-year period. Overall, Hungary was the leading recipient of FDI in CEE region with US$571.1 million, followed by Romania with US$364.8 million, and Poland with US$352.1 million in 2015.

The increased FDI in these countries is partially also a result of their interest in attracting Chinese investments even before the 16+1 cooperation framework came into picture. Poland, for example, being the largest economy amongst CEECs, started promoting itself with Chinese firms since the EXPO 2010 in Shanghai. For long, Hungary seems to have made a point to maintain good relations with China, even before other CEECs intensified multilateral relations with China. Hungarian government also made efforts to attract FDI, including from China, by proposing deals such as introduction of special incentives for foreign investors from outside EU or residence visa programs for bringing in a certain level of investment in Hungary.

Trade intensifies, though less than expected

Not only has there been growth in Chinese FDI since the yearly 2010s, but also the trade between China and the CEECs has grown progressively. According to Department of European Affairs at China’s Ministry of Commerce, trade between CEECs and China was estimated at US$43.9 billion in 2010 and grew to US$68.0 billion in 2017, showing a growth at a CAGR of 6.5% during 2010-2017.

While this might seem impressive, it must be noted that at the time of the launch of 16+1 cooperation framework, China promised to increase the trade value to US$100 billion by the end of 2015, which is far from the actual results even by the end of 2017. This again led to the criticism by the western European leaders over China’s ability (and willingness) to deliver on its promises, indicating lack of credibility in Chinese assurances.

On the other hand, the numbers do depict growth in trade between China and CEECs from 2010 to 2017 as compared to the previous years. According to Chinese Ministry of Commerce, China exports to CEECs were US$49.4 billion and imports from CEECs were US$18.5 billion in 2017, with an increase of 13.1% and 24%, respectively, from 2016. China’s exports to CEE concentrate on technology (with high-tech products from telecommunication, service sectors, and e-commerce sectors). CEECs supply agricultural products including fruit, wine, meat, and dairy products to meet the growing demand of the large population of China. Further interest in expanding imports of agricultural and dairy products by China can be expected, and an increased ease of exporting to China is likely to help CEECs to reduce their continued trade deficit in the coming years.

EOS Perspective

The rising investments of China in the CEECs have been under scrutiny since formalizing the 16+1 cooperation framework in 2012. Ever since the launch, China has been taking a range of initiatives that on the one hand worked towards development of the CEECs, but on the other hand gradually built its dominance in various markets and sectors in the region.

It is clear that such steps are taken by China in order to strengthen its political and economic foothold in the region. European leaders continue to remain skeptical over the intentions of China, which might also indicate the EU’s insecurity about China capturing strong hold over CEECs markets and building its dominance, which potentially might be able to overpower the EU’s influence in the region (especially in the Balkans out of which several countries are not EU members).

From the development point of view, initiatives such as OBOR, China-Europe sea-land express way, Belgrade and Budapest railway line, and even the mergers and acquisition deals, certainly bring advantages not only for China but for the CEECs as well, through much needed funding of infrastructure projects as well as through increased trade revenue.

Although it is of paramount importance for European watchdogs to keep an eye on the ongoing trade imbalance and growing Chinese ownership in CEE enterprises, it must be noted that acquisitions of CEECs-based firms by Chinese firms have largely affected the business in a positive way till now, thanks to influx of capital and the possibility to get the base to expand in Asian markets. Under this framework, despite its inherent issues and associated risks, steps taken by China for future development in the form of ongoing projects, especially in the infrastructure sector, have the potential to create more opportunities for the parties involved to strengthen cross-regional trade and hence create a (almost equal) win-win situation for both China and the CEECs.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Dual Quality of Food Products Questions EU’s Single Market Strategy

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Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) allege that some multinational brands and supermarkets’ private-label food products sold in Western Europe are of superior quality than those available under the same brand name and packaging in their home markets. Food producers contend that they often change composition or characteristics of food products in different countries to adapt to local taste preferences. However, this practice has led to resentment among the CEE consumers who feel that food producers deliberately offer inferior quality products in CEE to save on costs. Taking into consideration the results of comparative tests (conducted by few CEE member states) indicating dual quality of food products to be a fact, European Commission has come out in support of countries complaining about double standards of food products. As European Commission is working out an approach to tackle the issue of dual quality of food products, the packaged food industry must prepare for possible impact.

Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, and Romania are among the countries that have voiced their concerns over dual quality of food products. These countries claim that some of the packaged food products sold in their home markets differ in composition and ingredients when compared to same brands’ food products sold in western markets, for instance, some products contain lower quality of the primary ingredient (e.g. less fish in fish fingers) or contain ingredients considered as less healthy (e.g. sweeteners instead of sugar in beverages). Some countries also complain about the difference in sensory characteristics such as taste, texture, or color.

Investigations by national institutions of few CEE countries revealed that, despite being marketed under identical packaging, many packaged food products differ in composition and characteristics across European Union (EU) member states. In many cases, food products available in CEE markets were less healthy as compared to same brand products available in western markets such as Austria, France, or Germany. In 2015, the Prague University of Chemistry and Technology tested 23 products marketed under the same brand name in Czech Republic and Germany and uncovered differences in eight products. Slovak Agriculture Ministry and the State Veterinary and Food Administration (ŠVPS) conducted a similar study in 2016 and found discrepancies in nearly 50% of the products tested. In 2017, NEBIH, Hungary’s food safety authority, compared 96 products in Hungary, Austria, and Italy. The study included multinational brands, supermarkets brands, as well as some products with similar composition but not the same brand. While 25 of these products were found to be identical, 8 products were different in composition and 30 products exhibited difference in sensory characteristics, whereas 33 products indicated differences in both.

Multinational companies contend that this is a common business practice to change the composition of the branded products as per the local preferences and demand, difference in purchasing power, local sourcing requirements, variation in production lines, etc. EU legislation requires companies to properly label ingredients, but it does not mandate sale of the same recipe under the same brand name across the EU markets. However, it is difficult for consumers to identify the difference in quality of products based solely on information presented on the label. Consumers generally expect that products of the same brands with identical packaging and appearance are the same and thus the purchase decision is often based on brand image and reputation.

The frustration and dissatisfaction is building up among consumers in these markets as they feel as if they are being unfairly treated as second-class consumers. The dual food quality issue has now come under the political radar as the concerned countries have joined forces compelling the European Commission to take necessary actions to eliminate double standards in the quality of food products sold across EU.

EU-Dual Quality of Food Products

After years of perseverant diplomatic efforts, in 2017, European Commission finally acknowledged the issue of dual quality in food products and pledged necessary action against such practices as they may lead to single market fragmentation. In September 2017, the European Commission offered a grant of EUR 1 million (~US$1.2 million) to the Joint Research Centre (European Commission’s science and knowledge service) to develop a common methodology which can be used across the EU market for comparison of products. Additional EUR 1 million (~US$1.2 million) will be offered to member states for conducting further tests and to take actions to ensure compliance.

Alongside, European Commission also released guidelines highlighting application of the existing EU food and consumer protection legislation to determine whether a brand is acting in breach of these laws when selling products of dual quality in different countries. Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) prohibit “a misleading commercial practice if in any way it deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer, even if the information is factually correct, in relation to the main characteristics of the product”. National authorities are directed to determine on case-by-case basis whether consumers would still buy a product of a particular brand if they were aware that its main characteristics differ from those of the product sold under the same brand name and packaging in most EU member states – if they would not, then the company can be considered acting in violation of UCPD (though such a determination will undoubtedly be challenging with regards to maintaining objectivity and common fixed criteria). European Commission, along with the help of industry stakeholders, is also preparing a new code of conduct that will include standards to improve transparency and thereby avoiding the dual quality issue.

EOS Perspective

Dual quality of food products has been proven to be a fact and is perceived as an unfair distortion of EU single market. European Commission advocates to strengthen enforcement of existing consumer protection laws, however, some of the EU member states’ representatives are demanding legislative amendments as they believe that the current laws are inadequate to tackle the issue of dual food quality. CEE countries demand that the multinational brands must standardize their food products across the EU market to put an end to the discriminatory practice. However, this would require revision of EU food legislation, a proposal relished by neither the European Commission nor the industry.

In May 2017, Hungary submitted a draft legislation to European Commission to introduce a labelling obligation to include distinctive warning on dual quality food products. However, food law experts contest that such an obligation will restrict the food producers to distribute their products freely in Hungary, unless they bear an additional cost for labelling. This conflicts with article 34 of EU’s treaty that guarantees free circulation of goods within EU. However, if a similar proposal is considered for EU, it would force the food producers to include a warning on the labels, and this could be perceived as a mark of a potentially negative marketing.

It is about time that multinational brands offering dual quality products acknowledge the intensity of the allegations. Companies must prepare an acceptable justification for the difference in quality of their products, more specifically, if their products in certain markets are of inferior quality. Companies may consider reformulating their products in CEE markets to standardize their product offering across the EU bloc. For instance, in September 2017, HiPPs, a German baby food producer, announced that it would reformulate one of its Croatia-sold products to match with the German recipe.

Rebranding is another option that the companies could explore. Products with significant difference in composition could be launched under a new brand name exclusively for that local market. Companies for whom rebranding and reformulating is not deemed feasible, should consider relabeling and repackaging their products to clearly differentiate the products across markets. For instance, Tulip is considering changing the packaging of canned luncheon meat in the Czech Republic to differentiate it from the similar product available in Germany. An unquestionable fact here is that whichever approach companies take to address the dual quality issue, it will result in additional costs, which might affect the products’ prices and make them less accessible, especially for consumers from low-income sections of the CEE population.

For the multinational brands offering identical products across EU, the dual quality issue can be seen as an opportunity. Such companies could consider multilingual labelling informing consumers that same product is sold across markets, and this approach would also help standardize the packaging and labelling across the region. Further, these companies could also benefit from a positive PR and marketing campaigns to reinforce the fact that they consider all their customers equal across EU single market.

Packaged food producers who have presence only in Western Europe are presented with a unique opportunity to expand in CEE markets. As the general perception in CEE is that packaged food products made in western EU countries are often of superior quality, the western-recipe version of a given product may be well received by the CEE consumer.

Local e-tailers as well as retailers in border cities can also be at gain. For instance, Czech e-tailers such as Rohlik.cz and Košík.cz have added special sections on their websites offering German products; likewise, supermarkets in German towns such as Altenberg and Heidenau have put up sign in two languages, due to increasing footfall from Czech cities across the border.

As the debate on dual quality of food products is gaining heat, multinational brands such as HiPPs and Tulip are already considering changing product composition or packaging to reflect the differentiation of their products across member states. Though food producers are not required to offer standard products across the EU countries, they will need to justify the difference in their products, and failure to do so may lead to legal action. The recent guidelines announced by European Commission are more of a soft warning to food producers. If the issue remains unresolved, then European Commission may consider more extreme measures. European Commission warned that if the situation does not improve, it will make the name of brands that are involved in the practice of dual quality publicly available. This might severely impact the brand image of these multinational brands in consumer’s view. Revision of packaging and labelling law is also one of the recommended alternatives that might be explored as a last resort.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

A Dragon Unfurls its Wings – How China’s Economic Slowdown Is Rippling Through Emerging Markets

Almost 10 years ago, Goldman Sachs published a report, in which it predicted Chinese GDP to overtake the USA’s GDP by 2020. Today, this prognosis looks like a far-fetched dream as China has recently been riding a wild economic horse. When Chinese economy was growing, its demand for various products and services contributed to the economic growth of emerging markets across the world. The deteriorating performance of Chinese economy over the past few years appears to have started adversely affecting these markets. Will the emerging markets be able to successfully sustain in future?

China witnessed a spectacular and continued rise of its GDP during major part of last three decades. However, end of 2007 saw a turning point, and the country’s economic growth rate cooled off from 14.2% still in 2007 down to 9.6% in 2008, reaching mere 7.4% in the first quarter of 2014. This single digit growth would be more than satisfactory for a lot of economies. However, for China, which regularly recorded double digit rates, this extended period of slower growth is disappointing, with some calling it as ‘an end of an era’.

For years, China was enjoying relentless economic growth through massive investments, exemplary rise in exports, as well as abundance of labor force which was available at low wages. Due to these factors, economists started referring to China’s economic growth model as an investment-and-export driven model. This model has played a key role in driving exports also from emerging markets such as Latin America, Asia, and Middle East, as there was substantial demand for commodities from China’s end to support its domestic consumption as well as export requirements. With the weakening of foreign demand and internal consumption, China’s export demands have considerably weakened, leading to declining prices of export-related commodities and resulting in an adverse impact on emerging markets’ GDPs.

Is the Slowdown for Real?

China’s economic slowdown has not only been reflected in its modest GDP growth figures, but also in several other negative trends that have been observed. These include a continuous decline in the percentage of fixed-asset investments as a part of China’s GDP. Investments contracted from 24.8% in 2007 to 19.6% in 2013. Reduction of fixed-asset investments is likely to negatively contribute towards a country’s economic slowdown by adversely affecting sectors such as real estate, infrastructure, machinery, metals, and construction.GDP

Moreover, yuan has depreciated against US dollar (with average exchange rate of 7.9 in 2006 down to 6.26 in April 2014). In addition to this, Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which is a composite index of sub-indicators (production level, new orders, supplier deliveries, inventories, and employment level), has plunged from 52.9 in 2006 to 48.3 in April 2014, below the middle value (50), thus indicating some contraction of China’s manufacturing industry. This industry contributes significantly to China’s GDP, therefore, the industry’s deterioration has a direct adverse effect on China’s economy.

This negative twist in China’s economic growth story is believed to be a result of a synergetic effect of various internal and external factors, some of which include:

  • Over-reliance on abundant supply of low-cost labor. For decades, China has based its growth on production of goods requiring high amount of cheap manual labor. However, as the economy continued growing, the demand for higher wages has increased, pumping up the labor cost. This cost is contributing to the inflation of products’ export prices, which is ultimately translating to a lower demand of Chinese goods.

  • The focus of Chinese workforce has been shifting from rural agriculture to urban manufacturing. The government has been taking steps to propel this transition in order to boost economic growth, prosperity, and industrialization. As more and more Chinese moved to urban areas, gradually, the transition has started yielding diminishing returns mainly due to saturation in the manufacturing industry.

  • Europe has also played a villainous role in China’s story. It has been one of China’s largest export markets but has recently been extending a significantly low demand for commodities and products from China. In 2007, the European Union accounted for 20.1% of all the exports from China. This percentage has fallen to 16.3% in 2012.

Chinese Leaders React

The Chinese government is in a reactive mode and has been unveiling a plethora of actions to bolster growth. The overall approach looks conservative in nature with a targeted GDP growth of 7.5% for this year, after recording a growth of 7.7% in 2013.

In an attempt to improve the situation, some of the expected financial and fiscal reforms are in the pipeline. Liberalizing bank deposit rates and relaxing entry barriers for private investment are some of the moves to be implemented by 2020. Various property measures (such as relaxing home purchase rules, providing tax subsidies, or cutting down payments) are planned to be introduced (based on local demands and conditions prevailing in a particular city) in order to balance the property market as a whole. A target of creating 10 million new jobs in Beijing has also been set for 2014. The underlying motive of all the rescue measures is strengthening the Chinese economy’s reliance on domestic consumption and services.

Influence on Emerging Markets

Undoubtedly, swing of the Chinese economy towards consumption and services is expected to considerably affect all the connected economies, several of them being emerging markets economies (EMEs). Commodity producing emerging markets such as Latin America, Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia are likely to be affected. Within this group, metal producers will probably suffer the most, as China had a significant demand for iron ore, steel, and copper during its investment boom phase. Within this subgroup, economies which are running current account deficits are forecast to be more susceptible to the ill-effects of China’s economic slowdown.

As China tilts towards domestic consumption, Latin America has started to witness a dawdling growth as the region’s growth rate dropped from an average of 4.3% in the period of 2004-2011 to 2.6% currently. For instance, as Chile depends heavily on copper exports to sustain its economic expansion, the country has been regularly reporting sluggish growth rates (5.8%, 5.9%, and 5.6% in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively) due to the decline in the price of copper, largely fueled by a lower demand from China. In addition to this, Brazil and Mexico are struggling to survive through falling benchmark stock indexes. The fall is mainly due to declining prices of commodities, as exports to China from Brazil and Mexico have weakened.

Middle East will probably register both positive and negative effects of China’s economic slowdown. One of the ill-effects could be reduction in oil prices, from US$140 per barrel in 2008 to approximately US$80 per barrel by the end of 2014, due to China’s lower demand of oil. On the positive side, Middle East is strengthening its position as an attractive region with long-term growth since China is being considered as a slightly less attractive option for investment by a majority of investors. This is mainly due to Middle East’s good infrastructure and accelerated development of industries such as defense, chemical, and automotive, and not only traditionally developed energy and petrochemicals.

The impact on African countries is expected to be negative primarily due to declining commodity prices. As Africa’s growth substantially depends on its exports to China, some African commodity exporters, such as Zambia, Sudan, and Angola, have started to feel the strain as China’s demand for commodities is weakening. This weakened demand has led to lower prices of commodities such as aluminum, copper, and oil, which registered a y-o-y decline by 4%, 9.5%, and 5.4%, respectively in January 2013. Zambia is likely to receive the strongest hit as copper constitutes almost 80% of the country’s total exports and reduction in copper prices could make its current account deficit to account for almost 4% of GDP in 2014.

Effect of China’s economic slowdown will vary from country to country in case of Asia. Countries such as Indonesia and Philippines, which have significant domestic demand, would be less adversely affected as they are less dependent on commodities exports to China. China’s unstable economy has spurred new investments in other growing Asian economies such as Cambodia. India is also likely to benefit from the ability to import oil at lower prices, which are pushed down by China’s weakened demand for oil. At the same time, however, export of cotton and metals such as copper and iron ore from India to China is dampened, adversely affecting India’s economy.

While EMEs have already been witnessing a lower demand from their traditional trading partners such as European Union and the USA, China’s slowdown will be an added burden to their economies.
China's Impact


It’s Touch and Go

It is rather evident that Chinese economic slowdown is having an adverse impact on emerging countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One can hope that the measures taken by the Chinese leadership to curtail the slowdown will soon start taking effect and gradually lift up the economy, and in doing so, control the extent of damage spilling over many emerging countries and their economies.

In the event that the Chinese economy is unable to recover from this period of slowdown soon, it will continue to be a terrible blow to the economic ambitions of several emerging markets, especially those in Africa and parts of Asia-Pacific, which are heavily reliant on Chinese investment and trade relations.

Simultaneously to absorbing fewer production inputs imported from emerging countries, it is worth noting that China’s role in world economics might start to alter as it transforms to a consumption-led economy. This transformation is likely to slowly increase China’s appetite for imports of products and services, apart from traditional commodities-focused imports. It will be interesting to observe whether and how some of the emerging economies will attempt to satisfy this new Chinese hunger for goods extending beyond simple commodities.

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