China is no longer the sole player in supplying certain products (such as textiles and low end consumer products). The rise of the South East Asian countries for recent years can not go unnoticed, and in the upcoming years they will be more dominant. China has been growing and the wealth is visible at especially the coastal cities. The buying power of the Chinese citizens is increasing day by day. Labor cost in coastal China has skyrocketed, not only for the skilled workers but also for the basic workers. As Chinese wages soar, buyers are looking elsewhere. South-East Asia could be the next big thing. Speaking of the garment industry specifically, China still dominates the business. It supplies nearly half of the European Union’s garment imports and 41% of America’s. But more orders are shifting to lower-wage economies such as Cambodia and Vietnam, which is already the second-largest supplier of clothes to America.
Southeast Asian container shipments to the U.S. and Europe are rising as much as 10%, as manufacturers move production from China because of lower costs, according to cargo-booking technology provider Inttra. Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand are among Southeast Asian countries to have benefited from trade shifts. They increased their production of consumer goods and of components that are shipped to other countries for final assembly. Low-cost manufacturers have been moving from China because the yuan has strengthened about 7% against the dollar in the past two years. In terms of labor costs, the cost to company per employee is increasing across China due to uneven supply, high demand, inflationary pressure, organized labor demands, and growing social spending requirements. But Western China still offers very reasonable wages for skilled and semi-skilled labor. China’s complex supply chain, developed infrustructure, waterways, developed ports, huge ocean and air shipping options, increase in skilled labor and better quality products are its biggest advantage against other countries. Although cost wise it is losing its advantage it will take years for South East Asian countries to catch up with the Chinese infrastructure. Chinese exporters of manufactured goods are also taking advantage of the massive local market. The demand for new plants, equipment and infrastructure has created economies of scale. The size and growth of China’s manufactured goods market is in effect supporting a self-sustaining cycle of cut-throat competition that features innovation, capacity expansion and upgrading, and ‘learning by doing’. Suppliers compete with each other but an engineering talent pool and the related innovation usually travels freely and contributes to China’s overall manufacturing competitiveness. They take advantage of excellent transport infrastructure, especially in coastal regions, and generally supportive government policies favoring Chinese high value added manufacturing. Although for the recent years, South East Asian countries have been increasing their export volumes, they still have a long way to go. Some of the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have to import fabrics from China, hence their transport costs are high. For competitive buyers such as textile and garment importers, it is hard to beat China’s mix of scale, speed and flexibility. In order for ASEAN to compete with China or to attract more buyers, they need to create a regional supply chain. Among the ASEAN countries one country may not produce a specific product whereas the other country may produce it. In order to increase the economies of scale, ASEAN countries might allow tariff free exportation between their countries. To compete with China, ASEAN needs to make it easier to move goods around. New roads and railways, faster customs clearance and more flexibility will help. It goes without saying that infrastructure must be an investment priority. China will continue its domination for coming years, however the shift towards the ASEAN countries has already started. In the next decade or so we will be speaking about how Vietnam has become the leader of basic export goods, or how Thailand’s manufacturing is surpassing China’s.