Protectionist policies laid out by the Trump campaign point to hard times ahead for Hong Kong and China

President-elect Trump did not make clear an official doctrine on trade with China, but his campaign speeches offer clues to a more inward looking and protectionist America

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 November, 2016, 9:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 12:00am

If Donald Trump, the president-elect of the United States, follows through on his campaign rhetoric alluding to unfair trade practises, China and particularly Hong Kong will suffer economically, analysts say .

In the course of the campaign, Trump said that he would label China a currency manipulator, and impose a punitive tariff of 45 per cent on Chinese imports into the US. In a separate reference on global trade, the Republican candidate said he would impose a 35 per cent tariff on imports from Mexico.

“This could produce a trade war,” said Bank of Singapore’s chief economist Richard Jerram.

In the first presidential debate on September 26, Trump said: “You look at what China’s doing to our country ... they’re devaluing their currency and there’s nobody in our government to fight them ... They’re using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China.”

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Such views have now been endorsed by American voters.

“This [a Trump win] is hugely negative for Hong Kong because Hong Kong is so dependent on exports,” Kevin Lai, chief economist for Asia at Daiwa Capital Markets, told the Post.

Lai wrote in an earlier report “imposing a 45 per cent tariff on China would lead to a US$420 billion or 87 per cent decline in exports from China to the US on an annual basis... The ultimate impact would be a 4.82 per cent loss of GDP.”

“A loss of GDP or a slowdown in GDP growth of this scale would be staggering,” Lai said in a telephone interview.

Should a trade war develop, Hong Kong, officially the world’s freest economy, is vulnerable in areas beyond just trade and logistics.

“If concerns over Trump’s protectionism and a deteriorating relationship with China spark global financial market turmoil, this would be hugely detrimental to Hong Kong’s financial services sector and property markets,” Normura said in a report published before the election result.

The impact upon China is likely to be more industry dependent.

“If Trump were to execute his policies this would have a direct effect on the Chinese economy, particularly imports and exports, on which Hong Kong is also highly dependent,” said Frank Lee, acting chief investment officer at DBS.

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In 2015, about 16 per cent of textiles, 21 per cent of rubber and 13 per cent of base metal exported from China went to the US.

“Exporters like some textile companies listed in Hong Kong will definitely get battered,”said Hannah Li, a strategist with UOB Kay Hian.

China’s steel sector, is also vulnerable, as well as providing a warning to other industries about the impact of US tariffs.

“Already, the slew of anti-dumping and countervailing duties that the US has slapped on Chinese steel imports has seen it fall in the ranking of top Chinese steel buyers to 15th last year from sixth a year earlier,” said a commentary from S&P Global Platts.

The fear is that other industries in China may suffer a similar fall if hit by tariffs, while steel exports could drop even lower.

“Trump’s strong trade protectionist stance may further hit China’s steel sector,” said Hong Kong-based Argonaut Securities metals and mining analyst Helen Lau, “though the policies he suggested during the election will likely be watered down ... by Congress.”

Both the US Senate and House of Representatives were retained by the Republican Party, however, party orthodoxy is much more in favour of free trade than Trump himself. DBS’ Lee says that he thinks this will prevent Trump pursuing his policies in the manner he described in the campaign.

Meanwhile, Lai said new policies that would be damage to trade were to be expected.

“Trump and his administration may compromise with a watered-down version of tariffs. Even so, if we input 15 per cent and 30 per cent instead of 45 per cent, the ultimate GDP impact would still be a loss of 1.75 per cent and 3.81 per cent, respectively,” he said.

The net result is uncertainty.

“In China, as I suspect in many places around the world, I believe there will be a wait-and-see approach to see whether Trump will carry out some of the more controversial promises he made while campaigning,” said Zhang Yu, assistant professor of management at the China European International Business School.

He added that attempts by China to redirect the economy towards domestic consumption and away from manufacturing would help to soften the impact of a more protectionist America.

“If those [protectionist] policies are put in place, their drag on China’s GDP growth rate will not be too significant as its weight in GDP is quite moderate compared to domestic investment and consumption,” said Yang Yuting, greater China chief strategist at ANZ.

According to the Trade Development Council, trading and logistics accounted for 23.4 per cent of Hong Kong’s GDP in terms of value-added in 2014.

Additional reporting by Eric Ng, Celine Ge, Sarah Zheng and Cathy Zhang