SHANGHAI — Though its full details won’t be revealed until March, the Chinese government’s latest five-year plan is looking good for local e-commerce, but complicated for the international fashion sector.
In a broad-strokes sketch of the plan, released following the 18th plenum of Communist Party delegates and advisers in Beijing last week, a focus on online enterprises and innovation was seen as a plus for China’s massive e-commerce companies, which have benefited from a similar focus over the period encompassing the current five-year plan stretching from 2011 to 2015.
According to a report last week by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), China overtook the U.S. to become the world’s largest online retail market in 2014, with e-commerce revenues grossing $439 billion, the equivalent of 7 percent of the country’s GDP.
“IHS Global Insight forecasts that Chinese retail sales will grow at around 8 percent per year between 2016 and 2020, measured in real terms. The e-commerce market will grow even more rapidly, and this is supporting dynamic expansion in the logistics industry, as freight forwarding companies benefit from the strong growth in e-commerce,” said IHS Global Insight’s Asia-Pacific chief economist Rajiv Biswas.
But for the textile and apparel sector, Biswas believes the focus on higher value added in the manufacturing sector will have an impact, as will the government’s stated desire to see more Chinese brands go global.
“For the Chinese textiles industry, the 13th five-year plan will aim to develop higher value-adding segments of the textiles industry. In addition, the Chinese government [has announced plans to] encourage the development of Chinese brands globally. This means that multinationals may face greater competition from Chinese brands in the textiles industry over the next decade, both in China and globally,” he said, adding that the intention to encourage creative industries means that the government will likely give “priority to initiatives to make China a leading hub for fashion design.”
Thus far the plan, or what has been made public, balances much-needed reform without allowing the country’s economic growth to slide too far, too fast.
Many of the stated measures indicate the continued need to shift the economy away from exports, to be driven by domestic consumption, something some experts believe the government has already had success with, despite gloomy economic data in recent times.
“China has become the fastest-growing consumer market in the world today. Chinese consumers are buying everything from luxury goods to home products, personal care and health care. As the middle class has grown in China, domestic consumption has grown in China. We’ve seen a healthy replacement for manufacturing and GDP with domestic consumption in China,” said Michael Zakkour, vice president at Tompkins International.
Though revised GDP targets weren’t mentioned specifically in the communiqué released at the completion of the 18th plenum last week, Chinese premier Li Keqiang let slip the government’s new GDP goals during a meeting with South Korean business leaders in Seoul on Sunday. The meeting was held as part of tripartite talks between the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea.
“In terms of GDP, we need to maintain year-on-year growth of at least 6.5 percent to meet the goal,” he said. “China’s slowdown is at a gradual pace. The growth slowed from 8 percent, to 7.7 percent, 7.4 percent or about 7 percent. But the economic output was still increasing at an orderly pace.”
This was the first time a top Chinese leader had publicly admitted the country would lower its GDP target from the current level of 7 percent, and is still in line with the government’s stated goal of doubling 2010 GDP by 2020, which was mentioned specifically in last week’s communiqué and would require a growth rate of 6.5 percent.
President Xi Jinping’s trademark anticorruption campaign was mentioned specifically as a policy to be continued over the next five years, as was the reform of state-owned enterprises and the need to allow markets to have more influence.
One of the biggest hurdles to China’s continued, long-term economic success has long been regarded as demographic, with an aging population and a looming shortage of working-age people to support them. The lifting of China’s three-decades old one-child policy, the highest profile move so far revealed as part of the country’s 13th five-year plan, is one of the measures designed to alleviate that pressure. Another was the use of China’s state-owned enterprises to fund a universal old-age pension.
Both of these measures are seen as further boosting domestic consumption, which will need to continue to pick up the slack created by the weakening manufacturing sector.
China released its October purchasing managers index (PMI) data on Sunday and recent stimulus measures were not enough to boost the manufacturing sector, which contracted for the third month running. According to the data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), official PMI stayed steady at 49.8 last month, behind market expectations of 50.0 (a reading below 50 points indicates a contraction).
“Because of the recent weak recovery in the global economy and downward pressure in the domestic economy, manufacturers still face a severe import and export situation,” Zhao Qinghe, a senior statistician at the NBS, said in a statement accompanying the data.
The Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.7 percent at close on Monday, on the back of the poorer-than-expected PMI performance.