James Chan On Chinese Furniture And Wood Panels Industry

An Expert's View about Forestry, Logging and Wood Products in China

Posted on: 10 Mar 2010

James Chan delivered a China presentation at the 2005 Wood Components Manufacturers Association (WCMA) including Q&A with leaders of the association.

?Taking the China Market by the Horns? James Chan, Ph.D., President Asia Marketing and Management (AMM) 2005 WCMA Annual Meeting & Wood Technology Expo Monday, April 25, 2005 8:00 ? 11:30 a.m. Follow-up Q&A Session: 1:30 ? 3:00 p.m. This material is custom-prepared for a closed-door, management presentation on the new challenges and opportunities of the China th market at the 76 Annual Meeting & Wood Technology Expo of the Wood Component Manufacturers Association (WCMA) held at the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort in Destin, Florida on April 25. The China market is both a threat to the U.S. and Canadian furniture and woodworking industries and an opportunity for forward-looking companies that are willing to evolve to prosper in a new global economy. China can be viewed as a competitor, source of supply and potential customer for WCMA companies. Mr. Steve Lawser, Executive Director of WCMA, solicited the following questions on the China market from WCMA members and their colleagues. The following are my written responses?to be disseminated by Steve to you before the April 25 meeting. I hope that these answers will pique your imagination and lead to more specific questions that you will bring up in person. We?d like our one-day seminar to be interactive, lively and rewarding to all of us. I. The rise of China and what it means to you Question 1: The U.S. trade deficit with China in 2004 reached an all-time high of $162 billion. This is not good for either country and cannot continue in the long term. Will China ever start buying finished goods to reduce this deficit? James Chan: The U.S. Government has been urging the Chinese to buy more American products and services because we have a huge trade deficit with them. The Chinese said that our trade deficit with them in 2004 was only $80 billion. They don?t count exports from Hong Kong and American-owned companies that are based in China. To effectively balance the trade deficit, we need to find new ways to sell more American products and services in the China market, or to take advantage of the China market to manufacture goods for sale worldwide. Chinese consumers do feel that American products are superior to China-made products. We excel in quality, design and styling. Export-oriented countries like Japan, the U.K. and Germany have historically done a better job in promoting their products in China. If North American companies focus their attention on China, I believe that we would be just as successful and competitive. Our exports to China went up 80 percent in recent years. The Chinese government promised to pass more legislation to help North American companies export more products to China. However, individual North American companies, especially small and midsize companies, must beef up sales efforts there to get results. We can?t rely just on our own governments to sell our products in any market, let alone rely on China. Question 2: Are China?s companies subsidized by the Chinese government? How and to what extent? James Chan: No, if you?re talking about privately-held companies and companies formed by Chinese entrepreneurs. Privately-held companies account for 30 percent of the Chinese economy compared to less than 1 percent 25 years ago. They are not subsidized by the Chinese government. In fact, entrepreneurs and privately-held companies have long complained about the inability to get bank loans from Chinese banks, which favor state-owned companies. Whether or not state-owned companies are subsidized by the government is a moot point. They are arms of the government. The suspicions that China is flooding the North American markets with unreasonably cheap products are rooted in China?s status as a ?non-market economy.? Being a non- 2 market economy, China?s local prices and costs won?t be honored by Western nations to determine whether it is dumping cheap exports in their markets. Instead, Western nations will compare China?s prices and costs with those in a third country?such as India, which is considered a market economy?to determine if China is guilty of dumping and to calculate the penalties. In short, Chinese manufacturers are given very little say to defend themselves. China wants to be considered a market economy to reduce dumping allegations. But to qualify, the Chinese government has to stop controlling its economy. It has to set corporate governance practices and accounting rules so that information can be trusted to evaluate dumping charges. The government must stop controlling its banks and implement bankruptcy and property rights laws and to enforce these laws effectively. Until these conditions are met, China will be viewed by North America and the EU as a non-market economy, and dumping cases are likely to happen in the future. In 2003, 0.5 percent of Chinese exports to the EU were subject to antidumping charges. When China became a member of the World Trade Organization, the latter agreed that the U.S. would not have to re-consider China?s non-market status until 2015. Not all nations consider China a non-market economy. The Chinese government claims that 37 nations have accepted China as a market economy, including such countries as New Zealand and Thailand. It is asking India to follow suit. The EU is showing signs that it might consider China as a market economy. Question 3: Is there a difference between China?s state-owned enterprises and privately- held companies? James Chan: State-owned enterprises can get bank loans much more easily than privately-held companies. Some industries in China are monopolized by state-owned companies only. An obvious example is the defense industry. A less obvious example is the publishing industry. The Chinese government controls the printing and publishing of books and newspapers. All books imported into China must go through a government approved import-export company. In the woodworking industries, privately-held companies and foreign-funded enterprises compete successfully with state-owned companies. I know of a leading state-owned timber import-export that went bankrupt because it could not repay the loans it had borrowed from state-owned banks. Some of its employees set up their own companies helping Western companies do business in China. With the exception of high-ranking cadres, the wages of employees in state-owned companies are lower than wages in privately-held enterprises or foreign-funded enterprises. A successful entrepreneur once said to me: ?state-owned companies are a dead end street,? a sentiment that reverberates among many successful Chinese entrepreneurs. 3 State-owned companies still account for 70 percent of the Chinese economy. This is one reason why Western governments are not ready to offer China the ?market economy? status. Question 4: We know that Taiwan moved much of their furniture production to Southern China to take advantage of China?s lower labor and production costs. What percent of China?s woodworking factories are owned or operated by the Taiwanese? James Chan: Taiwan moved their furniture production to China beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s. About 10 percent to 15 percent of China?s woodworking factories are owned or operated by the Taiwanese. Question 5: China is seen as both a challenge and opportunity for wood component manufacturers. What do you see as our major challenges and opportunities? James Chan: The challenges are: 1. China?s wage advantage. The $1 per hour wage rate in China versus $10 per hour in the U.S. is hard to beat. 2. Cross-cultural communication problems. Because of lack of shared experience, in addition to language and cultural differences, things take much longer to work out. 3. The Chinese mindset. The Chinese political system does not encourage transparency. The culture in general does not foster the ?tell-it-like-it-is? way of behavior that we in North America take for granted. 4. Import substitution. There is a penchant for the Chinese to ?digest? foreign technologies so that they can make ?Western? products on their own and not buy from the ?outside? world. Despite these daunting challenges, China is indeed growing rapidly and the marketplace is filled with new opportunities for Western companies and leaders who are optimistic and cautious: 1. It has become increasingly easier for Western companies to enter the Chinese market. By 2006, China has to open a number of service industries to the West such as the retail, banking and distribution industries according to World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements. 2. Chinese consumers admire and want North American-made furniture, especially among well-heeled, upwardly mobile Chinese and rich entrepreneurs. High-end furniture stores have opened in large Chinese cities. 3. China will become a global furniture manufacturing center, including new furniture designs. These products can be made in China more competitively and sold worldwide through your own international distribution networks. 4. North American companies have begun exporting wood component products to China. As the Chinese furniture industry comes of age, the more efficient manufacturers will realize the advantages of buying quality components instead of making everything from scratch. 4 5. High status of North American hardwood species in the China market. The Chinese are already enamored with American hardwood products. By raising the status of American hardwood, we can help increase the sales of both materials and North American-made furniture in the China market. Question 6: What is the Chinese mindset in doing business with foreign countries or suppliers? James Chan: The Chinese are self-centered in the way they look at foreign countries and suppliers. They are trying to raise the economic well-being of the country by exporting to the West, especially to an America that is used to buying imported goods. China wants to re-create the West within its own national boundaries. If a Chinese entrepreneur finds a product he considers new, marketable or worthwhile, he will find a way to duplicate the product at home. Unlike Japanese business people, who adapt quickly and willingly to the habits and quirks of other cultures in which they do business, the Chinese are less skillful in this regard. Question 7: What have been the effects of the U.S. antidumping decision on the Chinese bedroom furniture industry? James Chan: Some impact, but not enough to alter the ongoing trend of Chinese furniture gaining market share in the North American markets. As many of you already know, the original 198 percent punitive duties have been negotiated down to an average of an additional 10 percent to 15 percent. While this may have an adverse impact on low- cost, low-margin bedroom furniture makers in China, such additional duties are not going to deter their success. For low-end bedroom furniture that sells at $500 per 5-piece bedroom set, where the profit margin is anywhere from 3 percent to 10 percent, the additional duties might deter production for a few manufacturers. However, Chinese suppliers are likely to share the costs with their American importers. After spending a great deal of time, anguish, research and legal costs taking the Chinese to task, we are not saving many, if any, jobs at home. Rather, furniture retailers are at odds with furniture manufacturers; and some are outsourcing in countries such as Vietnam. Commenting on the impact of the decision, a Chinese furniture maker said to me: ?It is still the same wine but in a different bottle.? Question 8: What challenges does China face in its quest for continued growth? For example, labor shortages, costs and availability of raw materials, shipping, labor unrest, financial and political stability, WTO compliance, and antidumping issues. James Chan: Despite China?s phenomenal rise of more than 8 percent growth in gross domestic product per year over the last 25 years, the country faces a host of internal economic, social and political problems. 5 Labor shortages do occur. The Guangdong provincial government surveyed 33,000 enterprises last month and found that the majority are in need of skilled workers. The shortage is causing a rise of 3 percent to 5 percent in wages as we speak. The rising costs of doing business in large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are evident. The rise of Suzhou City, about 45 miles west of Shanghai, is an example. Western businesses invested $12.5 billion in Suzhou in 2003, more than they invested in Shanghai because of the high costs of doing business there. The costs of doing business in Suzhou, an hour?s ride on an express train, are one-third or lower than those in Shanghai. China faces shortages of various raw materials. There is a shortage of food grains. Local governments are converting rural land into factories and high rises. People in the rural area flee to the cities in search of higher-paying jobs. Chinese farmers switch to growing more profitable cash crops from growing food grains. China produces a quarter of the world?s steel and it is the world?s largest consumer and importer of iron ore. China imported 208 million tons of iron ore in 2004, an increase of 40 percent over 2003. Labor unrest is a troubling issue to the government. State-owned companies are laying off 8 million to 9 million people per year. In November 2004, some 10,000 people in Bengbu City, Anhui Province blocked street traffic demanding a raise in pensions which their factories had promised them. The local authorities caved in and raised their monthly pension by $7, or a total of $50 per month, which is a meager sum even by Chinese standards. I have repeatedly witnessed street protests during my travels to China. China?s courts recorded 4 million street incidents in 2003. A Chinese lawyer said under conditions of anonymity that: ?The reliable structure of the old society that took care of people from birth to death is gone and now people must depend on themselves to survive. But the new society doesn?t provide people with individual rights and legal ways to protect themselves,? (The Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2004, p. A11). Chinese banks are state-owned entities. Bankers don?t ?answer? to the people. They listen to their government bosses. The result is a banking sector with bad loans accounting for 40 percent of all loans. One estimate states that it would take $241 billion to help bail out Chinese banks from insolvency. China must open its banking industry to Western companies by 2007 under WTO terms. But to what extent the Chinese will comply with these terms in reality is a different issue. Western business people in China are complaining that the PRC government is backpedaling on the terms of WTO membership. The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China issued a 345-page paper on the subject. Many of you are well aware of the antidumping case brought by the U.S. Government and wood products manufacturers against Chinese bedroom furniture makers. The Chinese are learning to fight back by taking on American and Europeans, alleging that 6 they too dump their products in the China market. China?s non-market economy status makes it almost impossible for Chinese manufacturers to prove that the low prices are not the result of government subsidies. The United States and the European Union filed 96 antidumping cases against China in 2003 and 2004 covering the textile, television and wooden bedroom furniture industries, which together accounted for 20 percent of Chinese exports in 2004. Question 9: Regarding Chinese consumer markets, we understand there is a growing upper-income class in China. How fast is the market growing for high-end furniture and cabinetry made from solid hardwoods? How large is this market? James Chan: There are an estimated 236,000 millionaires in US dollar terms in the People?s Republic of China (The U.S. has 430,000 households each having at least $10 million in net worth). Chinese-language websites in the woodworking industries are publishing stories about high-end furniture stores being opened in large and mid-sized cities. There are villas in Shanghai that cost one million U.S. dollars or more per villa. These people are not going to buy cheap furniture. An article in the Chinese-language website, www.sina.com.cn dated December 19, 2004 described the opening of a high-end furniture store in Wuhan City in central China. The store carries imported furniture from the U.K. Prices range from $14,600 for a ?3x2x1? sofa; $12,200 for a dining room set; and $18,300 for a set of master bedroom furniture. The buyers are middle-aged owners of privately-held businesses and their executives, professors in prestigious universities and Westerners who live and work in China. Question 10: What are the major advantages China has over North American wood product manufacturers? How can we overcome these advantages? James Chan: Low wages and a lax regulatory environment are two key advantages that Chinese manufacturers enjoy over their North American counterparts. The first step to overcome these advantages is mental, namely, to recognize that the China market is here to stay and we must do something about it, not just simply talk about it. This means taking a number of measures including: spending time and effort to study the Chinese market personally, understand the Chinese mindset, educate Chinese customers on both the desirability of North American hardwood species and high-end furniture and come up with new designs or manufacturing processes through new research and development. Other alternatives include building a factory in China to compete with domestic Chinese manufacturers and to sell China-made products worldwide. A few North American companies are already doing that. One advantage that North American companies keep forgetting that they have is their sophistication in sales and promotion. The Chinese landscape is dotted with 50,000 furniture manufacturers, many of them small and inefficiently run companies. 7 Very few domestic Chinese furniture makers or retailers know how to sell. The Chinese retail sector is due to open to Western investors under WTO terms. North American companies can consider setting up sales and distribution facilities in the China market to get a share of the business. China?s Furniture Association estimated the size of the Chinese furniture market at $25 billion in 2003. China?s Building Decoration Association estimated the size of their industry at $52 billion in the same year. This is a huge market if you care to participate in it. In my personal opinion, the majority of Chinese companies don?t know how to sell. The quality of sales personnel is minimal. I had a private conversation with a furniture maker in Shanghai in the summer of 2003. The man used to work for a state-owned company but he quit his position to start his own furniture company because he saw the tremendous opportunities in front of him. He told me that he didn?t like to hire marketing companies to help him. He would rather hire his own people and groom them from scratch. He does not trust the quality of sales people on the open market. Question 11: Why doesn?t China allow their currency to float on the open market as all other countries do? What are the chances this will change? What would it take to change it? How much of a difference would it really make if China allowed its currency to float? What will be the effect on US/China trade? If China?s currency is allowed to float, will furniture imports from China suddenly become more expensive? James Chan: China does not feel that it is in its self interest?or feel confident?to float the yuan (Renminbi or RMB). Eventually, the Chinese currency will become an internationally convertible currency. We just don?t know when that will happen. In the meantime, the Chinese government is resisting western pressure, especially from the United States, to ask it to do something. I don?t see that it would make a big difference on our trade deficit with China even if the Chinese currency becomes convertible. I can think of at least three reasons. The value of the U.S. dollar has fallen 54 percent against the Euro since February 2002, and our trade deficit with Western Europe increased from $100 billion to $114 billion. If this is not enough of an argument, consider Canada. The value of the U.S. dollar has fallen 25 percent against the Canadian dollar since February 2002, but our trade deficit in Canada increased from $124 billion to $162 billion just in last year alone. Secondly, if the value of the American dollar goes down, the Chinese will find North American logs and lumber cheaper to import and that would balance off a corresponding rise in the value of their exports to us. Thirdly, I began helping U.S. companies market and sell products to China in 1981. There were times in the 1980s when the value of the yuan was $1 to 4 yuan versus the current exchange rate of about $1 to 8 yuan. During those times when the 8 value of the yuan was higher, I didn?t find it easier or harder to sell U.S. products in the China market. A rise in the value of the yuan may help increase North American exports to China. But I have a nagging feeling that our trade deficit will not decline because the forces that influence our trade deficit with China are not based on just currency values and, in my opinion, cannot easily be ?corrected? by adjusting the currency. Our trade deficit with China will still be enormous. China will continue to become a global manufacturing center, especially in the furniture industry. Furniture imports from China will still be very competitive in price, especially for mass-produced commodities. Question 12: Now that China is a member of the WTO, is China playing by the same rules required by WTO members? If not, why not? Will they honor their WTO commitments and ease trade restrictions to allow easier access for North American manufactured goods? James Chan: China submitted its membership application to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the predecessor of WTO, in 1987 and became a member of the WTO nearly 15 years later, on December 11, 2001. Since China?s accession to the WTO, it has revised more than 2,300 national laws and regulations that used to run counter to WTO rules. Average import duties have declined from 15 percent to 10 percent. The government is gradually opening up the country?s service sector to global companies including banking, securities, distribution, legal services, tourism and education. A survey of 1,000 foreign-owned companies in Shanghai, conducted by two Shanghai agencies, showed that 93 percent of these companies are satisfied with China?s performance in measuring up to WTO rules. Foreign direct investments in China have continued to reach record levels, rising from $40 billion in 2003 to $57 billion in 2003 and a record $61 billion in 2004. Despite China?s attempt to attract foreign capital, and its subsequent successes, the China market is still beset by deep-seated problems. More so than the U.S. market, the Chinese market tends to be much more protective. The government is not as comfortable, outgoing and savvy in interacting with the Western world at large. Problems such as transparency, piracy, a ?zero sum? mentality plague the psyche of both rulers and the ruled. The Chinese government wants to make it easier for Western companies to enter the China market and for China to be a respected and accepted member of the world trade community. On the other hand, realistically speaking, the success of the foreign company depends more on its own ability and creativity to adapt to Chinese conditions to get what it wants than to wait for the Chinese government to come to its aid. Question 13: How can smaller companies deal with China in a beneficial way or do we have to simply avoid being stepped on by the ?elephant?? 9 James Chan: Many small companies?including companies with only a handful of employees?have done business successfully in China. Granted, not everyone should do business in China. You need to have a product or know-how that the market wants. You can start an import business using products made by Chinese suppliers and sell them either in the American market or other overseas markets. Many Chinese small and midsize companies in fact prefer to work with small and midsized North American companies. They prefer the flexibility of dealing with owners to navigating the bureaucracies of multinationals. If you?re manufacturing price-sensitive, commodity-type products, you will run into severe challenges. You may need to re-think your business strategy. You may want to identify new business niches in which you?ll become a specialty supplier. Or, you can form an alliance with a partner in China. China is not the only ?elephant.? India is the next one. This is why all businesses, large and small, need to constantly find new ways to evolve and to prosper. Question 14: How strong or stable is China?s banking system? We?ve heard reports that China?s banks will have to write-off billions of bad debts. Is this a time bomb for China? James Chan: Anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of all Chinese bank loans are non-performing. It would take an estimated $241 billion to bail out Chinese banks from insolvency. Yet, by 2006, the Chinese government must open the China market for Western banks to conduct yuan-based transactions. The banking system is a time bomb for China. Ironically, there seems to be no shortage of banking professionals and companies wanting to get into the China market. China?s official English-language newspaper recently announced that ?Morgan Stanley allowed to invest more in China.? The news blurb said that ?the world?s second-largest securities firm by capital won (government) approval to invest US$100 million more in yuan-denominated shares and bonds as China opens its markets to overseas investors,? (The China Daily, March 11, 2005). Question 15: Is China dumping wood products into North America to gain market share and then, will they raise prices when we are all out of business? James Chan: The U.S. Government and a group of bedroom furniture manufacturers already took China to court on dumping of China-made bedroom furniture in the American market. Even though the outcome was in favor of U.S. bedroom manufacturers, in the long term, it is not going to reverse the inroads Chinese bedroom furniture makers have made in the American consumer market, namely, about 48 percent of bedroom furniture sold in the U.S. are made in China, to the tune of $1.2 billion of imports in value. Secondly, the anti-dumping suit pitted bedroom manufacturers against furniture retailers, who would likely switch sourcing from China to Vietnam and Malaysia. This is not going to help save jobs and resurrect the past. Mainland Chinese furniture makers have been known to invest in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. In the end, the same clique of people might still be in control of the market. 10 Finally, a March 10, 2005 article posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy of China quoted Terence Stewart, a Washington lawyer who testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, this February saying: "The likely reason that there have been no new (antidumping) petitions in the past year is not because there has been a decrease in Chinese imports (which have continued to increase rapidly) ? but because U.S. industries have observed the results of the first five (antidumping) cases and have judged that the prospective relief to be gained from a petition is not worth the costs and time to bring it." Question 16: How does China plan to deal with their insatiable need for energy and power? We hear about brown-outs and power shortages in Chinese factories. Has the high price of oil hurt China?s profits? James Chan: The International Energy Agency in Paris said that China accounted for one million barrels of the 1.8 million-barrel increase in daily oil use globally in the first quarter of 2004. China edged out Japan as the second largest consumer of oil in 2004. It will consume more than 100 million tons of crude oil in 2005. While increases in oil imports do reduce profits or eat into its trade surpluses, China now has accumulated a record foreign exchange reserve of $643 billion. China invested $37 billion in overseas countries, half of which in Latin America, and mostly on acquiring iron ore mines. Unlike the U.S., China is bent on raising its economic well being by exporting to the world. The Chinese savings rates of some 40 percent have resulted in China having 11 trillion yuan in savings deposits ($1.3 trillion). No wonder North American banks and financial institutions want to get into the Chinese market. At this moment of Chinese economic history, the nation is definitely spending within its means. A consumer society is still dawning in today?s China. Question 17: Who is financing China?s huge economical growth and expansion? James Chan: Take a look at this chart (Figure 1) in a congressional report by Thomas Lum (CRS Report for Congress, November 19, 2004), which displays China?s merchandise trade from 1982 to 2003. Notice that China?s import and export trade grew more or less in tandem over time. China maintains a trade surplus each year in the range of $20 billion to $50 billion. Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and many Latin 11 American countries have run a surplus with China. On the other hand, take a look at the next chart (Figure 2), which shows trade between the United States and China from 1981 to 2004. U.S. trade with China was relatively insignificant until the Tiananmen Incident in 1989. Somehow, the nature of trade between the two countries changed. Since 1990, the U.S. has consistently recorded a trade deficit with China, and the deficit has continued to increase, especially over the last five years, to a record $162 billion in 2004. The Chinese Government claims that China?s trade deficit with the U.S. was only $80 billion last year. It does not count exports from Hong Kong ($9 billion in 2004) and exports from China-based, American-owned companies. This means that each year, American-owned companies have successfully put China to work for them, thus financing the ever growing Chinese economic rise. Companies, of course, are doing this out of their own self interest. And the Chinese are eager, willing and able to go along. 250 200 150 100 50 0 1981 1985 1990 1995 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 Exports Imports Figure 2. U.S. Merchandise Trade with China: 1981 to 2004 (US$ billions) About 12 percent of Chinese exports to the United States go into the 3,500 Wal-Mart stores across the country. Wal-Mart buys in excess of $15 billion of goods each year made by 4,800 Chinese suppliers. Wal-Mart?s purchases from China make up about 1 percent of China?s annual gross domestic product. We live in a global economy, where companies seek low wages wherever they can find them and sell their products wherever they can get the highest prices. 12 II. China?s woodworking industries Question 18: Are there many solid, hardwood furniture makers in China? James Chan: Solid, hardwood furniture manufacturers are a minority among Chinese furniture makers. They are furniture makers that devote themselves into producing high- end, hand-crafted furniture sold at very high prices to a discerning clientele including professors in prestigious universities, media and entertainment celebrities, high-ranking officials and the nouveau riche people who live in newly-built North American-style villas. There are 236,000 millionaires (in U.S. dollars) in China. They are among the potential buyers of solid, hardwood U.S. and Canadian-made furniture that uses components. Question 19: What percent of Chinese furniture factories produce solid wood versus engineered wood furniture? Are the solid wood furniture factories located in any specific area? James Chan: The owner of a solid-wood furniture factory estimates that the percent of solid wood furniture makers in China is rather small, somewhere between 2 percent to 5 percent of all Chinese furniture makers. The majority of furniture makers in China use solid wood components in what they call ?ying mu? or ?hardwood furniture?. The term ?ying mu jia ju? (???? or ?hardwood furniture?) as it is used in China is a misnomer. Perhaps about 20 percent of Chinese furniture makers produce hardwood veneered furniture and furniture with solid-wood parts (the so-called ?ying mu or solid-wood? furniture). Another 60 percent of Chinese furniture manufacturers produce engineered wood furniture. To verify that you?re using the same definition when it comes to defining the meaning of ?hardwood furniture? in China, you must add the Chinese word for ?100 percent? or ?chun ying mu? (??? 100 percent solid, hardwood) to ensure that you on the same page with your contact. The leading furniture producing region in China is Guangdong Province in southern China, which leads the whole country with more than 6,000 furniture makers producing one-third of China?s furniture products and accounting for more than 43 percent of China?s total furniture exports of $10.35 billion in 2004. Dongguan (see diagram to the left) is the epicenter of this furniture making region, where you?ll find a concentration of Taiwanese-owned and operated, export-oriented furniture companies. The second is Zhejiang Province in east-central China south of Shanghai, which has more than 2,300 furniture 13 manufacturers. The City of Wenzhou is a thriving furniture town. Fujian Province ranks third, in which Xiamen City is a prosperous industrial town with furniture and other industries. Fujian Province is also the leading producer of bamboo furniture. Liaoning Province in northeastern China ranks fourth, in which Shenyang City, the provincial capital, has many furniture manufacturers. Shanghai is a large furniture producing center too. In the Fengxian District of Shanghai, one can find 700 furniture makers. Beijing and Tianjin in north China have many furniture manufacturers. I?ve found in my travels that solid, hardwood furniture (?chun ying mu jia ju) manufacturers tend to predominate in China?s Northeast region and northern Chinese cities such as Qingdao and Dalian. Guangdong and the southern China tend to specialize in mass-produced, low- to mid- price-range furniture products that contain some hardwood parts and components or hardwood-veneered furniture. Question 20: I have been told by two different brokers representing multiple Chinese companies that: (a) China has an abundant supply of acceptable native hardwoods that are adequate substitutes for hard maple, red oak and cherry; (b) China has zero resources of hardwoods and all lumber has to be imported from the US to manufacture orders. James Chan: The Chinese government severely limits logging; and it does not have abundant supply of native hardwoods that can replace American hard maple, red oak and cherry. Based on my many face-to-face, telephone and e-mail communications with Chinese contacts, I?ve learned repeatedly that Chinese consumers prefer American hardwoods but consider them too expensive. The Chinese appreciate the color, grain, density and the look of American cherry, oak and hard maple. American walnut is now the status wood. China does have hardwood resources. But domestic hardwoods are for use in low-price- point furniture products. In addition, China imports relatively inexpensive hardwood species from Russia and from Southeast Asia for use to make low-end products for export or for domestic consumption. The Chinese use imported, American hardwood species to manufacture high-end furniture. I believe it is crucial that WCMA members work hand-in-hand to further raise the desirability and status of solid-hardwood furniture made with North American hardwoods, which are not available in China. Chinese consumers appreciate the beauty and status of North American hardwood species. They also appreciate the environmental quality of your additives. How we get them to buy from us will be discussed later. Question 21: Would you elaborate on China?s supply of hardwood lumber? How much is supplied from China?s forests? James Chan: China?s own hardwood forests can supply 20 percent to 30 percent of domestic requirements. This level of supply has been declining steadily at an annual rate of around 2 percent. 14 For long term purposes, the Chinese government has already put up to 50 percent of land that can be covered by forests to be planted with various hardwood and softwood species, especially with fast-growing species. Question 22: How many board feet of hardwoods did China import in the last five years? James Chan: China?s rapidly growing construction and interior decoration industries have fueled the growth of its furniture making industry. The size of the Chinese furniture industry in 1985 was a meager $365 million. By the year 2000, it grew to $14.5 billion. In 2004, it grew another 70 percent to $25 billion. At the same time, the Chinese interior decoration industry grew from $30 billion in 2000 to $52 billion in 2004. Figure 3 Source: Tony Halstead, FAS, US Department of Agriculture, 2005. The U.S. alone exported $217 million worth of hardwood lumber species to China in 2004. It accounted for 42 percent of total wood exports (or $513 million) to China including Hong Kong. A March 2005 article, ?U.S. Wood Exports to China Continue Growth? by Tony Halstead, Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has an excellent summary of related facts, figures and trends (see Figure 3, ?Top 5 U.S. Hardwood Lumber Species Exported to China.? Red oak was the leading species by value ($35 million on volume of 62,500 cubic meters). In terms of volume, western red alder topped the list, with exports of 122,800 cubic meters valued at $34 million. Other leading hardwood lumber species exported to China include yellow poplar ($31 million), maple ($26 million) and walnut ($20 million). My travels in China confirm Mr. Tony Halstead?s figures, namely, the Chinese find walnut to be the high-status hardwood species. This explains why the export of American 15 walnut to China increased 20 times from 1999 at $1 million to 2004 at $20 million in just 6 years. Another chart in Mr. Halstead?s report shows China has become one of the top five th importers of U.S. wood products. In 1999, China ranked 8 in the top ten export markets. In 2004, it surpassed Mexico to become the third largest export market (see Figure 4). Figure 4 Source: Tony Halstead at FAS. Contact: tony.halstead@fas.usda.gov or call (202) 720-1592. The official English-language Chinese newspaper, The China Daily, announced on March 5, 2005 that China exported $10.35 billion worth of furniture products worldwide in 2004, up 41 percent from 2003. Furniture exports from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong along accounted for more than 40 percent by value or $4.46 billion in 2004, up 22 percent from 2003. Question 23: Of the amount imported, what percentage of their requirement does this represent? James Chan: More than 50 percent. Question 24: How many board feet (or dollar shipments) of lumber in product did China ship to the U.S.? James Chan: China shipped an estimated $4.5 billion worth of lumber in product to the U.S. alone, according to my contact in China. He told me that China manufactured 1.3 billion pieces of furniture in 2004, or one piece of furniture per person. 16 Question 25: Is China likely to be trying to import lumber into the US & Mexico in the near future? James Chan: It is not likely that China would export lumber to the U.S. and Mexican markets. Question 26: Where does China get most of its logs and lumber for their wood product industries? Please break down by country and volume. James Chan: China gets most of its logs and lumber for their wood product industries from Russia, Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and North America. I don?t have the China data and their break down by country and volume. Question 27: Does China own or operate any timberlands or sawmills in Russia or any other countries? James Chan: Yes, there are Chinese companies that own and run timberlands and sawmills in Russia. Question 28: Does China buy much certified lumber? Do they have a preference for the certification program ? FSC or SFI? James Chan: Yes, my contact told me that China has purchased certified lumber. People in China prefer the FSC program. Question 29: What percent of furniture manufactured in China is solid wood versus engineered wood? What markets are targeted with each type? James Chan: Less than 5 percent of Chinese furniture is made of pure, solid hardwood. About 20 percent of all Chinese furniture is made with some hardwood parts and components. About 40 percent is made of engineered wood. Another 10 percent is metal furniture. The balance is furniture made of a wide range of materials including rattan, bamboo, leather, reed and other materials. Question 30: Now that China has captured much of North America?s furniture business, to what extent will China target other wood products such as flooring, cabinetry, moldings, millwork, staircase and related wood products? Are we just seeing the ?tip of the iceberg?? James Chan: Chinese exporters are not likely to use imported American hardwood lumber species to target the non-furniture segment of the woodworking industries in North America. However, they may target all other segments, such as flooring and others, using cheaper hardwood species that they import from Southeast Asia or other third- world countries. 17 In his speech to members of the Shenyang Furniture and Decoration Industry Association in 2003, Mr. Cui Weijian, vice chairman of the association and chairman of the Shenyang Zhengfa Wooden Co., Ltd., said: ?(our) entry into the WTO brings limitless business opportunities. Our products occupy absolute price advantage either on the international or domestic market. Although we have become a large furniture production country, we are not yet a furniture export country.? Yes, you are seeing only the ?tip of the iceberg.? Question 31: Does China plan to sell their wood products throughout the EU and Eastern Europe? Will our market access to the EU become more competitive because of China? James Chan: China is selling their wood products throughout the EU and Eastern Europe. They find that the size of the Eastern Europe market for their products is rather limited. The rise of China as a global furniture maker is a real and continuing trend. If you?re competing on price alone in the European market with same-quality Chinese products, you?re going to face an uphill battle there too. North American companies must find new niches, differentiate themselves from China furniture and develop new products. Question 32: Who are China?s primary competitors in the global marketplace? James Chan: Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia are China?s primary competitors. These countries have plentiful forestry resources and their labor costs are just as low if not lower than China?s. Question 33: What other Asian countries will become wood manufacturing powerhouses? Has China expanded their production into these countries? James Chan: My key contact believes that Vietnam will become a wood manufacturing powerhouse. He said that many Chinese furniture makers have already built factories in Vietnam. Vietnam has many citizens, who are ethnically Chinese, the result of centuries of emigration from southern China. Chinese-Vietnamese maintain strong commercial ties with their relatives and friends in Mainland China. This is true for all industries, not just in the wood business. You shouldn?t be surprised to find out that what seems to be a Vietnamese company is in reality a Mainland Chinese firm in disguise. Question 34: How profitable are China?s woodworking factories? Do they really earn a profit or is the main goal to employ as many people as possible? James Chan: Chinese woodworking factories are profitable. I was told that the majority make reasonable to meager profits. No matter what the profit level, no Chinese furniture factory wants to feed workers for no reason. We visited the factory and showroom of a nouveau riche Chinese furniture entrepreneur in Shenyang in 2003, who told us that he used to have 1,800 workers but had downsized his company, which now has 1,200 workers. He is closely tied to local government 18 authorities; but his obvious dependence on local politicians for economic survival and prosperity in that gritty city of northeast China does not make him feel that he has to feed his own people. Chinese state-owned companies routinely lay off 8 to 9 million workers each year. The days of cradle-to-grave employment with one company in China is history. While their productivity per worker is lower ($50,000 per employee based on annual revenues among the most productive Chinese furniture makers) compared to that in Europe (an average of $150,000 per employee) or North America ($146,000 per employee on average), Chinese furniture companies continue to find ways to cut costs. Some don?t even pay their workers. Others abuse their rights and benefits. TV broadcasts in China are filled with such horror stories. The number of workers being ?dumped? by their employers is causing public protests and street riots, which I experienced firsthand while traveling in China. If you still think that China is a welfare state, think again. Question 35: How much do China?s furniture factory workers actually get paid - in money, room & board, uniforms, etc.? Do they get any benefits? How many hours do they typically work in a day and week? How do you compare this to the $10.40 per hour plus benefits that the average production worker for WCMA members receives? James Chan: If you pay $10 per hour to a U.S. wood worker, your counterpart in China pays $1 per hour plus free lodging. Uniforms are free, as are soap and towels. Food is not free. The Chinese government withholds about 4 percent of a worker?s wages to cover unemployment, medical insurance and retirement. On top of this, the Chinese employer pays 12 percent in corporate taxes to also help cover the costs of government benefits. The average technical workers in the Chinese furniture industry are paid 1,800 RMB to 2,000 RMB per month ($219 to $244 per month). People work a normal 8-hour day five days a week. Workers are allowed to work overtime. Some may work up to 11 hours per day and they?ll get overtime pay. Supervisors are paid more than the $244 per month wages. While workers get 12 monthly payments per year, supervisors get 13 payments. These numbers are real numbers from an established, law-abiding, export-oriented, high- end furniture manufacturer. The same furniture maker told me that there are many furniture makers in China who don?t do things by the book. In other words, there are many incidents of companies paying workers less than market rates. Some stiff their workers. Others lengthen their work hours without compensation. Still others don?t pay taxes. In a recent discussion on Vietnam as China?s competitor because of its lower wages, a Chinese salesman who is specialized in selling North American lumber said to me: ?Chinese furniture makers are tough capitalists. They stiff their workers. They get hardwired with local government authorities so that the workers? grievances fall on deaf ears. And if they quit because they are not paid, the employers know that there are 19 thousands of other people waiting in line to work for them.? ?As for Vietnam,? he continued, ?the quality of the workforce can?t compete with us, even though their wages may be lower. Our people work harder and we are smarter. Some of our own people tried setting up factories in Vietnam but they returned to Guangdong because they found that workers in Vietnam were less efficient.? Question 36: ?Of the 17 percent VAT tax on wood components imported into China and the 13 percent VAT on logs and lumber, what percent is rebated to manufacturers who use these materials to produce finished products for re-export?? James Chan: The government reimburses 13 percent in VAT tax to the manufacturer if all imported materials have been turned into finished products for export, regardless of whether or not they were originally imported as wood components or logs and lumber. 20 III. Intellectual property rights and piracy issues Question 37: ?The Chinese have no conscience. They will copy any item with disregard to patents and copyrights. How come the U.S. government does not enforce its own laws?? James Chan: ?Piracy? in China is a chronic and nettlesome problem. I saw intellectual property rights violations first hand as early as 1982. I was the China manager for a Fortune 500 publishing company. My contacts in China told me that every book or journal title that sold for more than 75 copies would automatically be pirated. Some of the products, which sold for $5,000 per subscription per year, would be printed without our permission and sold at the equivalent of $500. Not only that, Chinese customers could buy them in RMB without going through the hassles of converting the yuan and remit funds through government-designated import-export companies to us. Responding to pressures from the U.S. Government and private industry, the Chinese government has tried to curb rampant piracy. The severity of piracy in China might have subsided somewhat in one industry but it might also have intensified in another industry. For example, I?ve seen more original American books and journals in Chinese libraries, especially the prestigious universities that have exchange programs with the West. However, more than 90 percent of all copyrighted products sold in China are counterfeit. Piracy of copyrighted music CDs, computer software and movies cost U.S. companies alone $2.6 billion in lost sales. It is crucial for you to know that Chinese companies pirate one another?s products all the time. The behavior is not aimed only at Americans or Canadians. A successful furniture maker in Shanghai came out with a best-selling, American-style, cherry-veneered wardrobe and the product was so successful that the ?pirates? copied it and made ever- cheaper, ?look-alike? wardrobes that drove the inventor out of business. Despite rampant piracy, you must not get paralyzed by the fear of piracy and not attempt to sell in the China market. There are many ways to make handsome profits if you?re able and willing to conquer the ?fear factor? in entering a new market. America today is no longer the America of the 1950s. At that time, the U.S. was far ahead of Europe and Japan industrially and technologically. Europe and Japan have now caught up with us. At the January 2005 World Economic Forum?s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft, said: ?China is going to be the change agent for the next 20 years.? The impact of the China market on the U.S. and world economy is unavoidable and deepens each day. We?ve got to innovate and re-invent ourselves and take the China market by the horns. 21 Question 38: We know piracy is a major problem in China. How can we protect our product designs if we have product made in China? How do we outsmart the ?pirates?? James Chan: A friend of mine in Shanghai is the China marketing director of a million- dollar-a-piece, American-made medical equipment that involves using robotics for surgery. The equipment is sold to hospitals. I asked her: ?Aren?t you worried that the equipment will be copied in a few years?? She replied, laughing: ?Are you kidding? They?ll pirate it in a few months!? The same friend told me that she was engaged by the owner of a furniture plaza developer in Shanghai to help him recruit a new management team. She was surprised why on her first day of service the owner?s secretary would sit next to her assiduously writing down every single word she spoke. It soon dawned on her that the owner thought, by copying every word she had to say, he could absorb all of her knowledge and wisdom and therefore would have no need for her service in the future. The following are ways and methods that people have tried in protecting their designs, trade secrets, know-how, technology and procedures in the China market. Put it in writing. Make sure that you have a written agreement (or order) with a Chinese partner. Even though law enforcement is shaky in China, it is good to prove that your rights have been violated. Chinese do fear losing face in public. But you must be willing to wash dirty linen in public. One customer wanted not to pay us thinking that we wouldn?t go after them. We threatened to show our agreement to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. We got paid immediately. Register your trademark. You can apply for trademark, copyright and other forms of intellectual property rights protection in China. This procedure may not give you complete protection. But it can deter potential offenders. Don?t put all your eggs in one basket. A high-end, solid hardwood furniture maker in China told me that his designs are often copied by pirates, who sell cheaper versions overseas. In the end, he prevails. The pirates can only imitate the look, not the craftsmanship. Still to protect his designs, he spreads his know-how among craftsmen in different departments. A pirate will have to hire his entire top-management and craftsman team to truly duplicate his designs. Hold on to your core secret. A major U.S. multinational has a joint venture with a Chinese partner to manufacture cable equipment used with television sets. Everything is made in China except a crucial technical element, which the joint venture company must import from the U.S. multinational. Sell what the Chinese cannot duplicate. I?ve helped a specialty bearing manufacturer market very sophisticated, high-ticket bearings for use in power generation since 1984. We know that the Chinese are able to duplicate our low end bearings. But they 22 are unable to duplicate our newest, energy-saving designs. Not only that, we know that there is a specialty metal that the Chinese simply can?t make. To protect our high-end products, we combine both our latest designs plus using this metal alloy that cannot be purchased in China. Be mindful of what the Chinese ask you. Perhaps the most effective way to protect your secrets is to be mindful at all times that your customers in China will ask you technical questions that might make you give your store away. They will ask for your source codes, machine tolerances, machining procedures or software that you use. You or your salespeople must be awake at all times and stop answering those questions. Turn the pirate into a partner. I gave a China presentation at the American Management Association in Brussels, Belgium and a pharmaceutical executive told me his story on dealing with the pirates. For decades, a Chinese pharmaceutical company was able to duplicate his tablets and they sold them in the Chinese market at such a low price that the European company could not compete. The European company sought out the pirate and offered to form a joint venture with the Chinese company and to even teach them how to perfect the manufacturing process. The condition is: the European company will market the China-made tablet in Western markets in which they have effective legal controls. Turn the pirate into a distributor. This happened in Taiwan. I used to sell books and journals to Asia and I knew this one pirate in Taiwan who used to print Western- language scientific, technical and medical books and sold them all over Taiwan. As copyright laws improved in Taiwan, and as more students and professors could afford to buy the real, imported books, we signed him up as a distributor. After decades of selling pirated copies, he has the perfect customer list! Find and groom an agent whom you could trust. If you want things to work in China, you must find and groom an agent who can be your eyes and ears on the ground. Without this person feeding you information from the marketplace, you?ll be at a loss. We?ll discuss how to do this in the next section. Send the best and brightest people to China. If you make up your mind to do business in China for the long haul, you must deploy the best and brightest people at your company to tackle the China market. You need people who are not just smart and intelligent; but who are also able to understand warped minds and read character. The China market is not for amateurs. North American companies cannot afford to be paralyzed by the fear of piracy and not enter the China market. Each company has its unique background and each one has to come up with a unique way to outsmart the pirates. 23 IV. Exporting your products to China Question 39: Is there any opportunity for WCMA companies in selling wood component products in the China market? James Chan: There are many opportunities to sell U.S. and Canadian-made wood component products in the China market. For one thing, North American wood species cannot easily be cultivated in China. Even the ?pirates? can?t duplicate your products. WCMA members would be well advised to raise the status of high-quality wood components. The emerging ?upper class? and upwardly mobile people in China crave for imported and high-ticket, U.S. and Canadian-made products that they cannot buy at home. There are your natural advantages. According to Steve Lawser, Executive Director of WCMA, dimension and component exports from WCMA members to China surged into third place and accounted for 9 percent of WCMA shipments. Figure 5. Major Export Markets for Components Source: Steve Lawser, WCMA (wcma@woodcomponents.org), 2005. This rather abrupt increase in component sales to China compared to a meager 1.6 percent to 2 percent in the recent past. In his new market study (see Figure 5), Mr. Lawser said: ?The United States was the number one export market among WCMA exporting members (from Canada) in 2004, with 32.3% of dimension & component export sales. Canada took over the number two spot accounting for 13.4% of export sales. China surged into third at 9%, followed by the United Kingdom (8.8%); Germany (7%); 24 Ireland (3.9%); Spain (3.3%); and Japan (3.2%).? Contact Steve Lawser at: wcma@woodcomponents.org or call (770) 565-6660 for more details. Question 40: Is selling North American wood component products in China automatic? James Chan: Nothing, including wood component products, can be sold in China without finding the right person or company that you can work with to help you. Our travels in China trying to sell wood component products made us keenly aware that the majority of Chinese furniture manufacturers are not aware of the advantages of buying wood components. It is up to us to educate potential buyers. We have to let them touch and use the products before they understand why they shouldn?t only buy logs and lumber. The Chinese mindset is such that people think and feel that they can make their own wood components by paying workers $1 an hour in wages instead of our paying our workers $10 an hour. Question 41: Why are the Chinese buying logs and lumber and not wood components? James Chan: There are many reasons for the Chinese ?obsession? in importing only logs and lumber as opposed to importing wood component products. Their mindset is one reason. Another equally important reason is that there are still very few Chinese furniture makers who are making 100 percent solid-hardwood furniture (????? chun shi mu jia ju) for sale within the domestic Chinese markets. The lion?s share of rather inexpensive (some people would call them cheap) furniture that we see in retail stores in China are referred to misleadingly as ?solid-wood? when in fact they are made with veneers along with a combination of MDF parts, metal parts and solid wood pieces (for use around the edge of a dining room table or legs). The Chinese call these furniture ?shi mu jia ju? (???? or ?solid-wood furniture?), which is a misnomer. Question 42: Has anyone ever sold North American-made dimensions to China? James Chan: Yes, we have. And, as Steve Lawser has already reported (see above), export sales of North American dimensions have started growing. It took us a great deal of determination and perseverance in educating a furniture maker, who has now ?seen the light? on the advantages of buying wood components. He understands the concept of surge capacity. He understands value as opposed to transactions. He wants to make sure that the quality of the components that we?ll supply him is consistently good, not just good once. Chinese customers have their fears too when they buy from American companies that they don?t know well. They are afraid that once they make a prepayment to an American firm, they will get a bad shipment. Like all of us in North America, the Chinese face the same issues dealing with people in a different culture who are far away. For example, the Chinese love pistachio nuts; and they have to be imported. Some Chinese buyers imported containers of pistachio nuts only to find out that they were stale. 25 Question 43: Is there any import duty for U.S. and Canadian-made wood components versus logs and lumber in China? James Chan: I?ve verified with a furniture maker in China who exports more than 100 containers of high-end furniture abroad each year. There is an 8 percent import duty for wood components. In addition to the import duty, all Chinese importers must pay an additional 17 percent ?value added tax? (VAT) to Chinese customs. Of course, this 17 percent VAT tax is passed along to end customers if the sales are made within the domestic Chinese market. However, a portion of the 17 percent VAT tax will be reimbursed, if the Chinese furniture maker can prove that the raw material that was imported has been turned into furniture for export. By showing Chinese Customs the shipping documents, the Chinese furniture exporter pays only 13 percent VAT. Furthermore, since the imported raw material is exported, the same Chinese furniture can get the import duty reimbursed too. There is no import duty on logs and lumber; and the VAT tax is only 13 percent. This is another reason why log and lumber sales to China are greater than other wood products. Question 44: What types of component products have potential for export into China? Which regions should be targeted for North American components? James Chan: American hardwoods such as walnut, red oak, hard maple, soft maple and cherry enjoy a stable and regular demand in the China market. The Chinese are enamored with the quality of American hardwood. The metropolitan areas of China are the natural targets. In addition to Chinese millionaires and wealthy entrepreneurs, Chinese households with incomes exceeding $12,000 per year are potential targets. We estimate that there are between 2 percent to 5 percent of all households in large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Tianjin that are in this income bracket or above. While the national average per capita income is $3,052 (or 3,700 Canadian dollars), the average per capita income in Shenzhen City is $10,000. Other cities such as Hangzhou (a resort town with many villas), Wenzhou (a hotbed of entrepreneurs), Xiamen, Chongqing, Chengdu, Qingdao, Dalian are othe
Posted: 10 March 2010

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