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Chinese manufacturers no longer need infant industry protection

Chinese manufacturers no longer need infant industry protection

By Daniel Gros, Director of the Centre for European Policy Studies.

BEIJING – Even as observers in developed countries criticize US President Donald Trump’s use of blunt tools such as tariffs against China, many believe that he is responding to a real problem. China, they argue, really is engaging in unfair trading practices. But is it?

One of the chief complaints against China is that it relies on what US authorities call “forced technology transfer”: foreign companies seeking access to the Chinese market are required to share their intellectual property with a domestic “partner.” But the word “forced” suggests a degree of coercion that does not make economic sense. American and European companies do not have to invest in China; if they choose to do so, knowing that it will require them to share their technology, it is because they still expect to earn a profit.

The technology-transfer requirement should help foreign companies secure better deals with Chinese firms, which will include the technology’s value in their overall appraisal of a foreign investor’s contribution to a joint venture. In exchange, the local partner and local government eager to foster growth would provide cheap land, infrastructure, tax exemptions, or loans on favorable terms.

In short, the transferred technology is priced into any foreign direct investment (FDI). This is reflected in the continued high profitability of companies with foreign investors.

It is only natural that American and European companies declare in surveys that they would be better off had they not been “forced” to transfer their technology. But these statements assume that the terms on which the initial investment was made would be the same without the technology transfer, and that is not the case.

Of course, if technology transfer were not a requirement, the most efficient investment deal in many cases would involve a licensing agreement or the payment of royalties. But that should be only a secondary consideration, because the present value of the foregone licensing fees or royalties would figure implicitly in any investment deal.

But while the costs to Western companies imposed by the technology-transfer requirement are probably being vastly overstated, so, too, are the benefits that the policy brings to China. So why do the Chinese authorities insist on linking market access to technology transfer?

China’s main official argument is that, as a developing country, domestic firms are at a disadvantage vis-à-vis foreign investors, which possess advanced technologies that the local companies do not understand. But while this argument may hold water in some of the less developed countries that use it to justify restrictive FDI regimes, China’s technological capabilities have exploded over the last couple of decades.

In fact, China’s expenditure on research and development is now higher both as a percentage of GDP and in absolute terms than the level in Europe and many other OECD countries. With the country’s capacity for indigenous R&D – not to mention technological absorption – having progressed substantially, there is little need to continue protecting Chinese “infant” industries.

It is this progress that has driven Western companies to become more vocal in their complaints about “forced” technology transfer. Previously, they were more willing to transfer their technology, based on the expectation that Chinese competitors would be unable to adapt and master it, anyway. With China now producing more graduates with bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering than the US and Europe combined, that expectation is no longer tenable.

Despite rising resistance to technology transfer, however, the Chinese authorities remain reluctant to abandon their policy, probably for much the same reason the US is angry: they overestimate its impact. They fail to recognize that Western companies might be offering worse terms to Chinese partners than they would if they could keep their technology and use licensing agreements instead.

Yet these other forms of technology transfer are already becoming increasingly prevalent: recorded royalties payments from China have skyrocketed, and now amount to close to $30 billion per year. With China now second only to the US in terms of paying for foreign technology, it is clear that a large and growing share of technology transfer is not “forced.”

For Trump, however, that may not be the point. What his administration is really worried about is that China is about to surpass the US and lock down technological leadership in a number of sectors considered critical for national security (on both sides of the Pacific). Yet forcing China to eliminate its technology-transfer requirements will not change this.

An end to that policy may actually be in China’s best interests. The US and China account for a large share of global trade, but they do not dominate the global economy. The bilateral trade war will be won by the side that can gain the support of the neutral powers (such as Europe and Japan) by appearing more reasonable. For China, this would mean abolishing all restrictions on foreign ownership, including the requirement that technology be shared, rather than licensed.

Such a move would underscore the strength of the Chinese economy, without costing China nearly as much as its leaders or US policymakers seem to think. Perhaps more important, it would force the US either to stop its China bashing or to admit that the underlying motivation is not economics, but geopolitical rivalry.


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.

www.project-syndicate.org


 

About The Author

Sanlam 2018 Annual Results

7 March 2019

 

Sanlam’s 2018 annual results provides testimony to its resilience amid challenging operating conditions and negative investment markets

Sanlam today announced its operational results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018. The Group made significant progress in strategic execution during 2018. This included the acquisition of the remaining 53% stake in SAHAM Finances, the largest transaction concluded in the Group’s 100-year history, and the approval by Sanlam shareholders of a package of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) transactions that will position the Group well for accelerated growth in its South African home market.

Operational results for 2018 included 14% growth in the value of new life insurance business (VNB) on a consistent economic basis and more than R2 billion in positive experience variances, testimony to Sanlam’s resilience in difficult times.

The Group relies on its federal operating model and diversified profile in dealing with the challenging operating environment, negative investment markets and volatile currencies. Management continues to focus on growing existing operations and extracting value from recent corporate transactions to drive enhanced future growth.

The negative investment market returns and higher interest rates in a number of markets where the Group operates had a negative impact on growth in operating earnings and some other key performance indicators. This was aggravated by weak economic growth in South Africa and Namibia and internal currency devaluations in Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Substantial growth in Santam’s operating earnings (net result from financial services) and satisfactory growth by Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) and Sanlam Corporate offset softer contributions from Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) and Sanlam Investment Group (SIG).

Key features of the 2018 annual results include:

Net result from financial services increased by 4% compared to the same period in 2017;

Net value of new covered business up 8% to R2 billion (up 14% on a consistent economic basis);

Net fund inflows of R42 billion compared to R37 billion in 2017;

Adjusted Return on Group Equity Value per share of 19.4% exceeded the target of 13.0%; and

Dividend per share of 312 cents, up 8%.

Sanlam Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ian Kirk said: “We are satisfied with our performance in a challenging operating environment. We will continue to focus on managing operations prudently and diligently executing on our strategy to deliver sustainable value to all our stakeholders. The integration of SAHAM Finances is progressing well. In addition, Sanlam shareholders approved the package of B-BBEE transactions, including an equity raising, at the extraordinary general meeting held on 12 December 2018. Our plan to implement these transactions this year remains on track.”

Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) net result from financial services declined by 5%, largely due to the impact of new growth initiatives and dampened market conditions. Excluding the new initiatives, SPF’s contribution was 1% down on 2017 due to the major impact that the weak equity market performance in South Africa had on fund-based fee income.

SPF’s new business sales increased by 4%, an overall satisfactory result under challenging conditions. Sanlam Sky’s new business increased by an exceptional 71%. Strong growth of 13% in the traditional individual life channel was augmented by the Capitec Bank credit life new business recognised in the first half of 2018, and strong demand for the new Capitec Bank funeral product. The Recurring premium and Strategic Business Development business units also achieved strong growth of 20%, supported by the acquisition of BrightRock in 2017. Glacier new business grew marginally by 1%. Primary sales onto the Linked Investment Service Provider (LISP) platform improved by 5%, an acceptable result given the pressure on investor confidence in the mass affluent market. This was however, offset by lower sales of wrap funds and traditional life products.

The strong growth in new business volumes at Sanlam Sky had a major positive effect on SPF’s VNB growth, which increased by 7% (14% on a comparable basis).

Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) grew its net result from financial services by 14%. Excluding the impact of corporate activity, earnings were marginally up on 2017 (up 8% excluding the increased new business strain).

New business volumes at SEM increased by 20%. Namibia performed well, increasing new business volumes by 22% despite weak economic conditions. Both life and investment new business grew strongly. Botswana underperformed with the main detractor from new business growth being the investment line of business, which declined by 24%. This line of business is historically more volatile in nature.

The new business growth in the Rest of Africa portfolio was 68% largely due to corporate activity relating to SAHAM Finances, with the East Africa portfolio underperforming.

The Indian insurance businesses continued to perform well, achieving double-digit growth in both life and general insurance in local currency. The Malaysian businesses are finding some traction after a period of underperformance, increasing their overall new business contribution by 3%. New business production is not yet meeting expectations, but the mix of business improved at both businesses.

SEM’s VNB declined by 3% (up 6% on a consistent economic basis and excluding corporate activity). The relatively low growth on a comparable basis is largely attributable to the new business underperformance in East Africa.

Sanlam Investment Group’s (SIG) overall net result from financial services declined by 6%, attributable to lower performance fees at the third party asset manager in South Africa, administration costs incurred for system upgrades in the wealth management business and lower earnings from equity-backed financing transactions at Sanlam Specialised Finance. The other businesses did well to grow earnings, despite the pressure on funds under management due to lower investment markets.

New business volumes declined by 13% mainly due to market volatility and low investor confidence in South Africa. Institutional new inflows remained weak for the full year, while retail inflows also slowed down significantly after a more positive start to the year. The international businesses, UK, attracted strong new inflows (up 57%).

Sanlam Corporate’s net result from financial services increased by 4%, with the muted growth caused by a continuation of high group risk claims experience. Mortality and disability claims experience weakened further in the second half of the year, which is likely to require more rerating of premiums in 2019. The administration units turned profitable in 2018, a major achievement. The healthcare businesses reported satisfactory double-digit growth in earnings, while the Absa Consultants and Actuaries business made a pleasing contribution of R39 million.

New business volumes in life insurance more than doubled, reflecting an exceptional performance. Single premiums grew by 109%, while recurring premiums increased by a particularly satisfactory 56%.

The good growth in recurring and single premium business, combined with modelling improvements, supported a 64% (71% on a comparable economic basis) increase in the cluster’s VNB contribution.

Following a year of major catastrophe events in 2017, Santam experienced a relatively benign claims environment in 2018. Combined with acceptable growth in net earned premiums, it contributed to a 37% increase in gross result from financial services (41% after tax and non-controlling interest). The conventional insurance book achieved an underwriting margin of 9% in 2018 (6% in 2017).

As at 31 December 2018, discretionary capital amounted to a negative R3.7 billion before allowance for the planned B-BBEE share issuance. A number of capital management actions during 2018 affected the balance of available discretionary capital, including the US$1 billion (R13 billion) SAHAM Finances transaction. Cash proceeds from the B-BBEE share issuance will restore the discretionary capital portfolio to between R1 billion and R1.5 billion depending on the final issue price within the R74 to R86 price range approved by shareholders.

Looking forward, the Group said economic growth in South Africa would likely remain weak in the short to medium term future, and would continue to impact efforts to accelerate organic growth. The outlook for economic growth in other regions where the Group operates is more promising. Recent acquisitions such as the SAHAM transaction should also support operational performance going forward.

“We remain focused on executing our strategy. We are confident that we have the calibre of management and staff to prudently navigate the anticipated challenges going forward,” Mr Kirk concluded.

Details of the results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018 are available at www.sanlam.com.