The US-China Future: Meet Vietnam, Thailand, Colombia, Mexico, Malaysia, India, Indonesia,Taiwan, Turkey, and the Philippines

1. Many Companies Want Out of China

A China lawyer I know was asked by a reporter whether business relationships between the United States and China will return to normal if a trade deal is reached. His response was as follows (per an email):

No deal between China and the US will cause everyone on both sides to say, “bygones.” The tariffs and the arrests and the threats and the heightened risk have impacted companies and those things are not going to be forgotten. Many companies that could quickly reduce their dependence on China have done so or are continuing to put things in place to do so, no matter what happens on the trade deal. Many want to get out of China as fast as possible no matter what.

Many Americans living and working in China say they feel “hated” there and that makes them uncomfortable. Many Canadian companies (and American companies as well, but to a lesser extent) have curtailed their travels to China out of sheer (and justified) fear. This will lead to many curtailing their China business as well. People are seeing China for what it really is and they don’t like it and they want out. Add in the fact that wages and costs in China just keep rising and you have the perfect storm for foreign companies to leave China or at least reduce their presence there.

2. Where Companies Leaving China are Going

The international lawyers at my law firm are hearing the same sort of things from our own clients. More importantly, we are being tasked with helping our clients reduce or eliminate their presence in China and working with them on the legal side of doing business with other countries. What countries? So far we are seeing/hearing the following:

1. Thailand is very much open for business.

2. Vietnam is very much open for business, but it has become so “busy” on so many fronts that manufacturing lead times can be quite slow.

3. Mexico is very much open for business. Some companies refuse even to consider Mexico because of security fears. but there are plenty of safe areas in Mexico. The same holds true for Colombia and Peru.

4. The Philippines is very much open for business and we have been shocked at the breadth and depth of the manufacturing there.

5. Malaysia is very much open for business.

6. Taiwan. We have seen many companies that used to be in Taiwan return to Taiwan. Taiwan is a very easy country in which to do business, but it does tend to be more expensive than China.

7. Turkey. I am hearing of a few companies — mostly European — looking at Turkey. I find this very interesting because I did a year of foreign study there and learned Turkish and I have friends from that time who are lawyers there.

8. India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka.  Mostly clothing, at least so far.

9. Poland, Portugal and Spain. We see a lot of Spain interest because we have lawyers there, but very little of that is related to China. We are seeing nascent interest in Poland and Portugal, especially for tech (software).

3. China Will NOT Just Go Away

The days of so many companies having stars in their eyes about China are over and this newfound realism can only be a good thing. Will American, European, Japanese, and Australian companies continue to do business with China? They will, but in lower numbers than previously. I anticipate a steady decline in foreign companies doing businesss in or with China over the next five to ten years. China will remain a big and important country, and that should not be discounted. But many companies that in the past would have simply checked the China box, are now looking elsewhere.

What are you seeing out there?