China’s imports of industrial robots from Japan continue to slide amid US-China trade war
- China is the largest importer of Japanese-made industrial robots, sucking in over a 40 per cent share of exports of these goods in 2018
Japan’s industrial robots industry has become the latest victim of the trade war between the US and China, indicating just how interconnected the global hi-tech supply chain is.
A profits squeeze amid a slowing economy has seen Chinese manufacturers reduce their orders for Japanese robots, said Ma Shugen, a professor at the department of robotics at Ritsumeikan University in Japan, in an interview last month.
“The trade war has lifted tariffs for Chinese manufacturers … so companies are unwilling to make investments to build new product lines and import new machinery,” said Ma.
Exports to China decreased by 28 per cent in the April to June 2019 quarter alone compared to a year ago, according to the September report, which blames the drop-off on the unfavourable economic environment created by the US-China trade war, which is holding back capital investment.
The yuan has also weakened by around 7 per cent against the Japanese yen year on year as of August, which makes Japanese imports more expensive for Chinese manufacturers.
The robot makers affected include FANUC, headquartered at the foot of Mount Fuji and one of the largest industrial robot manufacturers in the world. It reported a 48 per cent drop in consolidated net income for the April to June 2019 quarter compared with the same period a year ago.
It attributed the fall to decreased demand in China and caution on capital investment in the automobile and general industries in Europe.
A FANUC spokesman declined to comment.
A Yaskawa spokesman declined to comment.
China wants to upgrade its manufacturing industry and move up the value chain by 2025 and this has boosted demand for industrial robots in the country. Robot sales in China have increased more than twofold in just two years since the “Made in China 2025” national policy plan was announced in 2015, according to the China Robot Industry Alliance.
The Chinese government has been giving subsidies to the domestic robotics industry since 2014 but due to the complexity and capital-intensive nature of the industry – and Japan’s early lead – importing the specialised robots remains the first choice for many Chinese manufacturers.