Not proven

One of the few good reasons to buy the South China Morning Post these days is to read Jake van der Kamp's "Monitor" column. I've only met him once, but he struck me as a nice guy and he takes a refreshingly independent view on most issues, normally backed up with facts and figures.

I was hoping that today he was going to de-bunk the government's theory that tourists from the PRC are what are boosting Hong Kong's economy, but instead he is discussing the US imposition of tarrifs on TV sets from China. Under the somewhat misleading headline Perspective gives clearer view on TV row, Jake van der Kamp tries to get a clearer picture of what is happening.

Unfortunately for him, there aren't enough facts and figures to form a clear judgement. The figures seem to show that China has significantly increased its exports of TVs, but is still a long way behind Japan, and that their prices have dropped significantly (by about 20% in the last 18 months).

He says that local government in China has a significant shareholding in TV manufacturers (on what basis, I am not sure), and that it is therefore "just possible" that these companies may be less interested in their P&L and simply want to earn US dollars.

Well, maybe, but that hardly amounts to proof that China is "dumping" TV sets at below cost price.

The point I would expect Jake to make is that the whole idea of tarrifs and quotas is inconsistent with US policies on free trade, and probably unhelpful to their economy. How can it possibly be beneficial to the US to stop other countries exporting cheap televisions? It's not a strategically important sector and there is no leading-edge technology involved. This is protectionism, pure and simple. Instead his conclusion is that we should "wait a little before proclaiming that the US case is utterly without justice". Blimey.

Open skies?

Hong Kong and Britain have agreed to end all restrictions on passenger and cargo services between the two destinations in the most liberal air services agreement ever signed by the SAR.

Not quite as liberal as it may sound, because it doesn't actually open up the route to all-comers. Oh, no! Instead we are promised some extra 'code-sharing':

The pact also grants Hong Kong and British airlines codeshare rights that could see British Airways codesharing on Cathay flights to Asia and elsewhere. It would also allow Virgin to codeshare with Dragonair once Hong Kong's No2 airline secures rights to Sydney. Virgin has an interlining* agreement with Dragonair.

Code-sharing is a nasty trick played by airlines on unsuspecting customers. You book a flight on Cathay Pacific and then when you turn up at the airport you find that the flight is being operated by Air Bangladesh, and, I'm sorry sir, but unfortunately that means you won't be getting any Asia Miles.

* I thought interlining was something you used to make a shirt? What is an interlining agreement?

I am not aware of any benefit to customers from code-sharing, but I guess it sounds good to the accountants. Airline "alliances" are almost equally worthless - yes, I know that you can theoretically earn more miles and have a wider choice of lounges if you qualify for that sort of thing, but real competition between the airlines would be much better for passengers.

Yes, there is some benefit to customers from increased competion on the Hong Kong to Sydney route, especially as Virgin isn't part of either of the large alliances, but I don't suppose it'll make that much difference.

I'm not quite sure why, but I still choose to fly Virgin from Hong Kong to London even though the quality of service is very variable. I suppose the reason is that I see BA and Cathay as monolithic corporations whereas Virgin is relatively small and does seem to care about its customers.

Perhaps one reason is that my very first trip to Hong Kong was in Virgin's Upper Class, which was quite an experience for me at the time (limousines to take you to and from the airport at both ends, decent food, etc.) whereas a later trip in Cathay's business class was quite disappointing. Since then Cathay and BA have probably moved ahead of Virgin as far as seats are concerned, though I don't think they offer the full limousine service at both ends. Sadly, after those two trips several years ago I haven't been able to persuade anyone to pay for me to travel business class again!

I have to admit that I still admire Richard Branson - I know he's done some dodgy things in his time, but he seems to be a real entrepreneur who is willing to have a go. The amazing thing is that after all these years he can still get publicity for his new ventures (even if he does have to take his clothes off or put on a wedding dress). His autobiography and the companion volume by Tom Bower are both worth reading, and taken together they give a fairly balanced account of his life and career.

More on the new agreement here.

More on bras

From Bloomberg (via the SCMP):

I thought this was interesting but rather confusingly written, so I have paraphrased it. Then I concluded that perhaps it wasn't so interesting...

Before China joined the World Trade Organisation in December 2001, how many brassieres sold in the United States did the mainland make - three out of five? Two? One? Actually, the number was only 4%. Meanwhile American manufacturers share was 40%, down from 50% in 1998.

After import quotas were lifted at the start of last year, the mainland's share increased to 17% and domestic manufacturers share fell again to 43%. So the administration of George W. Bush has come to the aid of "America's workers", as Commerce Secretary Donald Evans put it. The argument is that Chinese exporters are using unjust state subsidies and an undervalued yuan to drive US brassiere makers out of business.

The American Textile Manufacturing Institute says China is stealing brassieres from other manufacturers by keeping an undervalued yuan pegged against a falling dollar.

But how does this complaint square against the loss of market share of Mexican manufacturers? The Mexican peso has weakened 7 per cent against the dollar this year, on top of a 12 per cent decline last year. Similarly, how is the dollar-linked yuan a threat to brassiere exporters in Haiti, whose own currency has fallen almost 10 per cent against the dollar this year? It declined 40 per cent last year.

In other words, the share of the market held by American manufacturers is in long-term decline, but in recent years China has replaced imports from Mexico and Haiti even though their currencies are weaker against the US Dollar. Basically China gets the blame for everything these days!