Thursday, September 15, 2005
The Chinese Pencil Industry & World Reaction: Part 2
My last post covered some of the competitive developments in our industry as a result of the large growth in the Chinese pencil industry.
While I mentioned that about 52% of the world’s pencils are now produced in China, the reality is that the Chinese share has grown to this level from about 22% in 1990 and 37% in 1995.
When you consider that China also exports pencil slats (including our own company’s product) the Chinese production share of wood or alternate material for pencil casings is much higher than pencils alone. Similar conclusions also apply for other pencil input materials such as graphite cores, ferrules and erasers. To a large degree the US pencil industry (and other countries) itself has become more one of “Assembled in USA” vs. “Made in the USA” although the legal definition of “Made in the USA” as applied to pencils is a technical matter in itself best reserved for a future Timberlines Post.
There are two key trade policies in China that seem to support Chinese producers to achieve their increasing advantage in world pencil industry. The first is the treatment of Value Added Tax (VAT) in terms of a VAT rebate that exported products receive. All goods sold within China are subject to a 17% VAT tax which is not dissimilar to many countries that impose VAT taxes. This applies to raw materials, labor and other services and inputs into the manufactured good. However when these goods are exported into foreign markets, the exporting manufacturer often receives a rebate of up to 13% of the export value. This in essence becomes an export subsidy to the Chinese producer.
In the past two years these VAT rebates have been eliminated on certain intermediate products such as our pencil slats while they have been retained or only slightly reduced for finished goods. In our case it made our pencil slats sales to our customers around the world more expensive due to the elimination of a rebate originally calculated into our cost structure. This simply adds further incentive and competitive pressure for foreign pencil companies to displace manufacturing to China. Unfortunately, such changes have the counter point of demonstrating inconsistent or changing rules that can serve to deter the foreign investment it is designed to attract. Such changes get lumped together with other concerns about unequal application of safety, tax and environmental regulations to foreign owned companies in China vs. local Chinese companies.
Finally, the pegging of the yuan to the dollar previously mentioned in a prior post has made Chinese pencils and other goods increasingly competitive with pencils produced in other parts of the world. This has also contributed to the growing imbalance of trade with China in many products including strengthening the Chinese pencil industry world market position. Recent efforts to begin slowly relaxing these constraints towards a floating currency will increase the relative costs of Chinese exported pencils, but you can be assured this is an issue the Chinese government will manage in a careful controlled fashion for the ultimate benefit of their own country.
Given these many issues, practices and policies I don’t expect an end any time soon to efforts by pencil companies throughout the world to take actions they view as helpful to their ultimate goals. The challenge for the world’s pencil producers, whether Chinese or otherwise country remains how do we continue to evolve our business strategies, products and practices in a profitable manner that works to our own competitive advantage. There certainly may be common issues and industry standards where collaboration is a benefit to the industry as well as to the ultimate consumer as a whole. However competitive differences will likely always exist.