China-US trade tension dominates opening day of Bloomberg New Economy Forum

Henry Kissinger (L) speaks with Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore. (AFP)
Updated 06 November 2018
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China-US trade tension dominates opening day of Bloomberg New Economy Forum

  • China vice president firmly against 'unilateralism'
  • Mandelson says WTO at a 'crossroads'

SINGAPORE: World trade issues dominated the opening day of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum (NEF) in Singapore, with some speakers at the event expressing optimism that rising tensions between the US and China might not prove a stumbling block to global growth.
Wang Qishan, vice president of China, defused worries with an apparent olive branch offered to US President Donald Trump. “Both sides will gain from co-operation and will lose from confrontation,” he said in the keynote address.
“On trade, China will stay calm and will be open to negotiation. China is ready to have discussions with the USA on areas of mutual concern, and reach a solution satisfactory to both sides,” he added.
In the opening speech, Michael Bloomberg, founder of the global media group that has organized the NEF, quoted Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state who was also at the event; “Talk is good. If you’re talking, you’re not fighting.”
The Chinese politician underlined, however, that his country was “firmly against unilateralism and trade protectionism” — terns that have become a coded reference to the tariffs erected by Trump on Chinese imports. He also condemned the “cold war mentality and power politics,” in another veiled reference to the US.
“Such rapid changes have split some countries and societies. The polarization of right-leaning populism has manifested itself in political demands, which has led to unilateral policies against globalization and seriously affected the international political ecosystem,” Qishan added.
Peter Mandeslon, a former British trade minister, said that the World Trade Organization — the global regulatory body under attack by Trump — was “at a crossroads” but that it was not necessarily doomed. “There is a risk of collapse but we are not quite at that point yet,” he said.
He said that the reasons the WTO was in trouble was as much for political as of economic reasons. “People are turning against trade because they feel they are not getting their fair share of the pie. The politics has got to work better if we’re going to restore confidence in trade,” he said.
Mandelson said that China was a “huge issue” for world trade.
DBS Group, the Singaporean bank that is one of the biggest trade finance facilitators in Asia, downplayed the effects so far of US-China confrontation on trade.
Piyush Gupta, the DBS chief executive, said: “The direct effect will not be very material. It is very hard to shift supply chains,” adding that fears of a trade war between the two biggest economies in the world had been “somewhat overblown.”
A session on the Chinese “belt and road” initiative also heard fears about the spreading influence of China in its dealings with central Asia, the Middle East and Africa via the huge infrastructure investment program it has launched.
Some countries — including Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan — have expressed fears over the leverage China had on their economies as a result of the initiative.
Robert Blackwell, former US ambassador to India, said China should work more closely with partner governments to alleviate the concerns and employ more local labor. “But will they do that? I doubt it,” he added.


UK shoppers rein in spending as Brexit nears

Updated 6 min 31 sec ago
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UK shoppers rein in spending as Brexit nears

  • Retail sales volumes fell 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter after a 0.2 percent rise in the three months to November
  • Businesses are also cutting investment before Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU in late March

LONDON: British shoppers cut back on spending in the three months to December for the first time since last spring, adding to evidence of a consumer slowdown as Brexit approaches, data showed on Friday.
Retail sales volumes fell 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter after a 0.2 percent rise in the three months to November, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Friday’s data chimed with other signs that consumer spending is cooling after a strong summer.
Businesses are also cutting investment before Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union in late March, leaving the overall economy growing at a snail’s pace.
In December alone, retail sales fell 0.9 percent, recoiling after November’s Black Friday splurges, but were 3.0 percent higher than a year earlier. Both readings were below economists’ forecasts in a Reuters poll.
“A major concern for retailers will be that already cautious consumers further limit their spending in the near term at least due to the heightened uncertainties over Brexit,” economist Howard Archer from the EY ITEM Club consultancy said.
Sterling and British government bonds were little changed after the data.
The ONS said the value of sales fell for the first time in three years in the three months to December, underlining a squeeze on retailers’ profit margins as they battle for customers.
A survey last week from the British Retail Consortium showed retailers failed to increase Christmas sales for the first time since the depths of the global financial crisis a decade ago.
Supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Morrison missed Christmas sales forecasts though Tesco beat them. Clothing retailer Next and department store John Lewis reported a late surge in demand.
The ONS data showed a drop in sales of carpets and floor coverings, possibly reflecting a stalling housing market.
While disarray over Brexit has weighed on consumer confidence, there has been some comfort for households recently with the fastest underlying pay growth since 2008 and inflation falling to an almost two-year low of 2.1 percent.
Highlighting the easing of inflation pressures, the ONS’s measure of annual price increases in stores cooled to 0.6 percent in December from 1.3 percent in November, the smallest uptick in more than two years.