Stephen Gelb, Linda Calabrese and Jun Hou, October 2017
Chinese manufacturers, in particular in labour-intensive industries, are striving hard for ways to withstand the pressures emerging during the ‘New Normal’ transition– such as slowing economic growth, labour force shortages and rising factor costs. As a result, many are in the process of, or at least considering, relocation of production to other low-cost destinations, or replacing workers with machines by upgrading technological capability levels. The relocation of Chinese manufacturing is forecast to open up major employment opportunities for low-cost regions and countries, with the potential for one to become the new global centre for manufacturing.
Light manufacturing offers growth solutions for under-developed regions and economies as it is driven by low-factor costs and an abundant workforce. These background papers, which have informed the direction of a large-scale survey of Chinese firms currently underway and led by SET and the Centre for New Structural Economics, look at light manufacturing in China across four sub-sectors: clothing and footwear, toys, household appliances and information and communication technology. The first paper explores the patterns of the shift of light manufacturing employment within China, focusing on regional and industrial disparities, while the second focuses on the enabling factors in Africa and Asia that are driving this change. The summary paper brings these themes together and concludes that there remain low-cost opportunities for manufacturers within China, and that if other developing countries are to capitalise on the current opportunity, they must seek to address the challenges associated with their location-specific costs, while also engaging directly with Chinese firms in relevant sectors.
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