With China having superceded Japan as Australia’s biggest trade partner last year, the proposed Chinalco investment in mining giant Rio Tinto, could soon be part of a much larger strategic effort by the two nations, that ultimately could be a threat to the US dollar. Today, The Australia China Business Council released an independent study that shows a successful bilateral trade agreement with China would boost Australia’s gross domestic product by A$146bn ($114bn) over 20 years.
China has been on an extended spending spree for the last 18 months, with it making strenuous efforts to acquire shares in strategic assets regarding mineral & energy deposits. With China making investments in operations in South America, Africa, Australia & Central Asia, all paid for with USD from its estimated $1 Trillion cashpile.
“The Australia China Business Council has long advocated increased liberalisation between Beijing and Canberra, and this report confirms our view that a comprehensive agreement would yield major results for the Australian economy,” ACBC national chairman Frank Tudor said in a statement.
China became Australia’s largest trading partner in 2008, with two-way merchandise trade totaling A$57.92 billion. Australian exports of agricultural, mineral & energy products were valued at A$26.93 billion while imports from China of A$31.00 billion comprised manufactured products including computer & electrical equipment, industrial products & clothing. Canberra and Beijing have held 13 rounds of talks on a trade agreement over the past four years, with both parties seemingly keen to expand trade.
As we reported a few weeks ago, China is now looking to accelerate its nuclear energy program, with officials announcing they would begin construction of an additional five extra power plants this year on top of the 24 already under construction and 11 already in operation. As we previously noted, both Rio Tin to & BHP Billiton would be the major benefactors in any increase in uranium requirements from China. With uranium channeling higher on global markets, analysts are bench marking $70 per pound later this year, uranium exports from Australia could be worth $12 Bn a year in the near future.
Beijing has recently put in place currency swaps with Hong Kong, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Argentina & now Brazil. The purpose of the swaps varies from county to country. But the main benefit is that China can conduct more of its trade using its own currency and not the USD. It could also be argued that it is operating vendor financing deals in which China supplies currency to countries from which it buys a huge amount of commodities. Nouriel Roubini wrote an interesting piece recently in the New York Times, where he argues that the renminbi, although not an internationally traded currency, seems to have aspirations to become one.
Any uptick in Ozzie-Sino trade would seem to make a currency swap deal a foregone conclusion, Australia is now inextricably tied to the Chinese economy, as exports to China have increased on average by 24.8 percent annually over the last 10 years. Lets not forget that Chinalco is a government owned operation & the proposed deal would be China’s largest Foreign Direct Investment, worth a potential $19.5 Bn.
To conclude, each factor on it’s own is not enough to spark off fears that the renminbi will be all powerful in the very near future. However, where I come from there is a saying “many a meikle makes a muckle” & the Chinese strategy should not wholly be ignored. If, as I contend, Australia & China head down the path of trading in each others currency, this will be the start of something big.