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Investment News and Commentary from Emerging Markets in Asia - China, India and ASEAN

About discusses business and investment news rising from the geopolitical relations of China and India, and the interactions these two countries have with the rest of emerging Asia.

Dragon & Tiger: Wealth Creation in China, GDP Growth in India

Chris Devonshire-Ellis and The Economist’s Ross O’Brien Debate China/India Development

Mar. 1 – The French Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong held a seminar this morning entitled “India – Past Performances and Present Challenges” at which Chris Devonshire-Ellis, principal of Dezan Shira & Associates, and Ross O’Brien, of the Economist Corporate Network, both presented.

Interestingly, statements made by both presenters concerning the growth of India were complimentary, with Devonshire-Ellis detailing the demographic dividend that has seen India begin to inherit the cheap labor supply that China’s population demographics were able to provide 20 years ago.

Named the “Lewisian Turning Point” (after Nobel prize winning economist Arthur Lewis) the theory suggests that China may have reached the point at which the excess labor in the subsistence sector is fully absorbed into the modern sector, and where further capital accumulation begins to increase wages. This theory has recently gained wide circulation in the context of economic development in China.

Devonshire-Ellis noted that the average age of a Chinese worker is now 37, with O’Brien agreeing that some 50 million workers in China will leave the workforce due to retirement over the next five years. The implications, both suggested, are that Chinese labor is becoming progressively more expensive, and this will impact on certain manufacturing sectors, which will seek to look at alternative destinations for cheaper labor.

India, with an average worker age today of 23, will provide over the next 20 years a workforce of 250 million, and will become the global factory for manufacturing products, particularly at the low-end spectrum. O’Brien noted that Chinese wealth, however, will continue to accelerate and is expected to overtake that of the United States by 2018. India will remain behind, with far more to do in lifting millions out of poverty; a fact that collectively diminishes India’s per capita income. India will not be expected to see a J curve in mass wealth creation of the type that China will experience until the late 2030s.

China’s middle class population, currently about the same size today of India’s at 200 million, will see massive increases, whereas India’s overall middle class growth will remain static as the nation concentrates on its poverty issues at the lower end.

Although China’s work force is becoming more expensive, O’Brien said, they are also moving upmarket and into added value production. Noting that China today buys more automated computer technologies than Germany and Japan combined, the type of manufacturing conducted in China is becoming more sophisticated, and increasing wealth creation in China means that Chinese consumers – on a national basis – will continue to purchase increasingly sophisticated products.

Devonshire-Ellis concurred with that, stating that both markets are now appropriate for foreign investment in terms of developing domestic consumers, although China’s is poised for faster growth at the top end. Notwithstanding that, he cautioned against a China slowdown which could impact upon the transition of the economy to a consumer-based society. India’s wealth, he suggested, is more old-money style than China’s, and he quoted an Economic Times report suggesting that India is now the second largest country, after the United States, in possessing consumer wealth. Some 3 million Indian households are now considered “affluent” – more than any other country, including China – although the latter’s is expected to grow. It was noted that China and India now possess greater consumer wealth than the European Union.

Devonshire-Ellis then made comparisons between China and India in terms of ease of business, summarizing that the differences essentially boil down to the different political regimes, resulting in different frustrations, but at similar levels of creating uncertainty in both markets.

O’Brien commented that of interest geographically is that China’s wealth has been concentrated on its eastern seaboard (centered around Shanghai), while India’s is to its West (centered around Mumbai). He also noted differences in foreign policy between the two, especially in terms of influences in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, where China has grabbed headlines mainly through large, commodity-based development contracts. He stated that India’s influence in these other emerging markets has been underestimated. In particular, he noted the Indian overseas diaspora is more firmly entrenched in the Middle East and Africa and overseas Indians repatriate far more money back home than the Chinese do.

India’s contributions to foreign aid are also significantly larger than China’s O’Brien said, which tends to be linked to commodities purchases. His opinion is that this issue will become a dominant feature over the coming years as both nations compete for resources and business overseas – especially in other emerging markets.

Devonshire-Ellis agreed, stating that Indian executives tend to be more innovative and entrepreneurial than their Chinese counterparts. Some 90 percent of China’s biggest companies are state-owned, he mentioned, and their executives have political as well as commercial considerations to take into account. India’s executives are freer and the government far less interfering in the business aspects of India. O’Brien further noted that market access in India is in some ways superior to China, noting that India has more mobile phone users now than China per capita.

A business summary concluded that Singapore is developing as a regional hub for companies wishing to operate in both markets, not least as it is the de facto financial center for ASEAN, but that both China and India have double tax treaties with ASEAN. Overall, the seminar established that while growth in each country will develop along slightly different paths, consumer wealth is now being created in China, whereas GDP growth and development will be higher in India.

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4 Responses to Dragon & Tiger: Wealth Creation in China, GDP Growth in India

  1. Antony says:

    I was there. An excellent presentation by two speakers who really know their stuff.

  2. The_Observer says:

    There has never been a country like China with such a large population going upmarket. Did any of the speakers say what impact this would havae on the developed world, most of whom are currently under financial duress? The USA has intentionally missed out on the Chinese boom by refusing Chinese investment as well as declining to export high-tech goods to China. But countries like Australia, Germany, Japan, S. Korea, Switzerland all run trade surpluses with China. Here in Australia, the country has been riding the China boom for the last 15 years, mostly exports commodities (including softs) but a few clever businessmen, like Packer, are also tapping into the Chinese love of gambling.

  3. The_Observer says:

    And while India has a potential demographic dividend, that has still to be nutured. That would require pre- and post natal care, better child nutrition and the provision of educational opportunities and training. At the moment India is one of the worst places to be born into because of child malnutrition, premature death and poor education. See:

  4. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    @Observer : “There’s never been” doesn’t mean it won’t happen, for either China or India. As for the India issue, they need to have policies in place to milk the demographic dividend, and being a democracy it won’t be quite as spectacular as China. But none of this means or is justification for suggesting that neither markets are sustainable, because the demographic fit within a globalised world dictates it will. As for the US, they’re ridden the China boom for a long time, buying cheap products and reselling them at many multiples of their manufacturing value. American manufacturing jobs are now in the servcie industry with many of them sourcing or trading; something that wasn’t so prevalent 20 years ago. All these markets are evoloving, and none will stay the same. But to get an idea of the likely track ahead, look to the demographics. – CDE

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