In the run-up to this weekend’s G20 meeting in Huntsville, Ontario, much ink has been spilled regarding the value of the Chinese currency. Economists, pundits and observers of all stripes have taken positions on various sides regarding the question of how much and how fast the yuan (or Renminbi, if you prefer) needs to appreciate against other major currencies. And, of course, how willing Chinese authorities are to allow this to happen.
Hypothetical scenarios projected in some circles of a rapid appreciation of 40% have China’s export competitors salivating. Basic trade theory holds that by hiking the value of the yuan, Chinese exports become more expensive, making competing products made in countries such as Mexico that much more cost competitive. Gaining ground of this type is seen as critical in the hotly disputed U.S. market for goods such as appliances and electronics. Trade data for 2009 suggests that Mexico is already gaining some overall market share from China in the United States, and we have touched on the relative cost competitiveness between Mexico and China in this space before.
Mexican observers were quick to imagine their Christmas stockings filling up with export gains as the international media flooded with projections of a dearer yuan. A recent report in Reforma cited an academic pundit in ticking off the potential benefits to Mexico: Increased exports to the United States, a rise in world oil prices, and even a possible bump in Chinese tourism to Mexico. Much like Mexico’s hopes of defeating Argentina in the upcoming World Cup knockout match, however, a lot of unlikely things would really have to go right for this to work out. The yuan itself, when ostensibly released from its dollar-pegged bondage by Chinese banking authorities last week, mostly behaved like a squirrel in the middle of the road: it moved hesitantly back and forth with no clear direction as the traffic of the G20 summit loomed.
Early feedback from G20 countries on China’s claims of a free-floating yuan reflects a good measure of skepticism about the true intentions of the Asian giant with regard to their currency. As always, only time will tell what the outcome will be. But if there is any significant appreciation of the yuan at all over the next year, it will be more than welcome in Mexico. As would a dignified showing against Argentina, even if our fantasies of a stunning victory, or a 40% increase in manufacturing exports, go unfulfilled in the end.