Asia’s Resilient Export Engines Succumb to Global Slowdown

According to the World Shipping Council’s top 50 ranking by 2018 container volume, seven are in China, another is in Singapore, one is South Korean and No. 10 is in United Arab Emirates. Rotterdam comes in at No. 11 for the Netherlands and it’s not until 17th place that the U.S. gets on the board with Los Angeles.

The point is, to understand where rising tariffs and trade wars are taking their biggest toll, look to Asia — and not just China. Numbers this week show the region’s factory hubs are pitched in a steady descent.
  • South Korean exports, a bellwether for global trade, plunged again in October. Shipments declined 15% from a year earlier, pushed down by a slide in semiconductor and petrochemical shipments. Imports also fell 15%.
  • Purchasing manager indexes for Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia remained in contraction territory while Taiwan also moved below 50, the dividing line between contraction and expansion.
  • Even Vietnam, which has been more resilient than many of its peers, slid to the dividing line. Thailand joined Vietnam on the edge of decline.
  • IHS Markit said India’s October manufacturing purchasing managers’ index fell to 50.6 from 51.4 in September.
  • China’s Caixin index — which is more weighted toward private manufacturers — rose to 51.7 from 51.4, but an official gauge released Thursday dropped to its lowest level since February.

“The impact of the trade war becomes increasingly visible,” said Chang Shu, chief Asia economist for Bloomberg Economics. Even economies that had been holding up better “have started to wobble.”

That sounds promising until you realize that, to pressure China into finishing the remaining 40%, Asia and the rest of the world may have to live with U.S. tariffs on Chinese products for the foreseeable future.