China Beats U.S. as Top Market for Asia-Pacific Firms, HSBC Says

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China has overtaken the U.S. as the top foreign market for companies across Asia-Pacific, according to a new survey that underscored several ways the pandemic is accelerating tectonic shifts in the global economy.

The U.S. was the biggest trading partner among 28% of firms polled, just behind China’s share, which rose to 29%, according to the survey released Tuesday by HSBC Holdings Plc. The overall outlook for trade is holding up well given Covid-19 disruptions that fueled calls for shorter supply chains, with 72% of respondents holding a positive view over the next few years, compared with 81% a year ago.

China Beats U.S. as Top Market for Asia-Pacific Firms, HSBC Says

Washington’s trade war with Beijing over the past two years was supposed to blunt China’s rise to the benefit of companies and workers in the U.S. The survey from HSBC, the biggest player in trade finance globally, shows that not only is decoupling from China not happening the way the Trump administration intended, production is dispersing into regional hubs rather than being repatriated.

“That regional shift from west to east and the rise of Asia has just accelerated through this,” said Natalie Blyth, HSBC’s global head of trade finance. “There is this tipping point,” with intra-regional trade continuing its rise through a period of U.S. protectionism and the pandemic, she said.

The trend is like to continue after 15 Asia-Pacific nations in November signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is aimed at further boosting regional trade as 3 billion people shift into the middle-income ranks, she said.

HSBC surveyed about 10,400 companies in 39 countries from Sept. 11 to Oct. 7 -- when signs of a second spike were just emerging across Europe, prospects were bleak for a U.K.-European Union deal on Brexit, and before Joe Biden won the Nov. 3 election in the U.S.

China Beats U.S. as Top Market for Asia-Pacific Firms, HSBC Says

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • 93% of respondents are concerned about their supply chains, with tariff- or sanction-related instability in supplier countries cited as the biggest threat.
  • 34% of companies in Asia-Pacific said they’re diversifying their supplier base, compared with 19% that are reducing it; in Europe, 21% of companies said they’re diversifying supply chains, versus 20% that said they’re reducing them
  • Expectations of sales in Asia-Pacific over the next year declined to 60% of businesses compared with 77% surveyed a year ago; 62% of companies see sales in China growing in the next 12 months versus 86% in last year’s survey

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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