Japan’s trade with China

I don’t trust the figures, but did you know that China’s per capita income has been estimated at $890 a year, circa 2002, well under that of Guatemala ($1670) or Morocco ($1180)? Guest blogger Russ Roberts cites a slightly higher and more recent figure of about $1000.

That being said, how might you expect growing trade between China and Japan to affect the Japanese economy? The wage differential for semi-skilled labor is about a factor of twenty. Russ also cites worries that trade with China will weaken or impoverish the United States.

Here are a few simple facts:

1. In 2003 Japan’s trade with China, including Hong Kong, rose by nearly a third to $162 billion.

2. Exports to China leaped 40 percent in this same year.

3. A few years ago accepted wisdom was that trade with China would destroy Japan’s manufacturing base. Now observers say that “Even Japan’s “old economy” industries, such as steel, pulp, chemicals, shipbuilding and construction equipment, have been handed a new lease of life.” (Financial Times, March 30, “Crossing the Divide” ($)).

4. Trade with China is widely viewed as bailing out Japan, which was otherwise stuck in more than a decade of virtually zero growth. Japan buys cheap Chinese inputs, and supplies the Chinese manufacturing boom.

5. It is estimated that only about 20 percent of Japanese and Chinese products compete in the same markets. For the most part the two countries produce complementary goods.

The information is from the Financial Times article cited, here is a related link with some roughly comparable statistics.

My take: Won’t any facts convince individuals of the merits of free trade? Surely if any set-up would lead to falling wages in Japan, trade with China should do the trick. In reality it has been a godsend to the Japanese economy. That being said, the Japanese should expect more volatility. In the long run I am bullish on China, but I expect a bubble to burst within the next five years. Has any country made the climb into modernity without a collapse along the way?


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