The Pit­falls of ‘Made in China’

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Glob­al­i­sa­tion heav­ily con­trib­utes to fast and easy com­mu­ni­ca­tion, trade and busi­ness, yet it has its fair share of com­pli­ca­tions and draw­backs. The reg­u­la­tion and gov­er­nance of in­ter­na­tional trade, busi­ness and in­vest­ment has be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult, leav­ing con­sid­er­able space for dam­age, stem­ming from con­sumers buy­ing prod­ucts with la­tent de­fects.

Over the past decade, China has ben­e­fit­ted im­mensely by thor­oughly util­is­ing the ad­van­tages glob­al­i­sa­tion of­fers. The phrase ‘Made in China’ has po­larised con­no­ta­tions at­tached to it. The rea­son be­hind this is the fact that China caters to all sorts of mar­kets, rang­ing from price-con­scious to qual­ity-con­scious con­sumers. Due to this rea­son, the coun­try pro­vides devel­oped coun­tries with high qual­ity prod­ucts whereas de­vel­op­ing coun­tries such as Pak­istan re­ceive ex­tremely low qual­ity prod­ucts at cheap­est pos­si­ble rates.

De­spite the fact that Chi­nese prod­ucts un­dergo strict qual­ity con­trol checks in the west­ern mar­kets, re­cent scan­dals re­gard­ing the qual­ity and safety of Chi­nese prod­ucts prove that Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ers also try to cut cor­ners. China was con­stantly crit­i­cised for ex­port­ing con­tam­i­nated seafood, pet food in­gre­di­ents, tooth­pastes plus toxic toys and de­fec­tive tyres. As the west­ern me­dia raised its voice against the de­fects of Chi­nese prod­ucts, the qual­ity of the com­modi­ties sup­plied to the devel­oped coun­tries im­proved and also man­aged to main­tain its stan­dards.

Li Yuan­ping, a reg­u­la­tory of­fi­cial said, “99 per­cent of the food ex­ported to the United States was up to safety stan­dards over the past 2 years, which is a very high per­cent­age.” This high fig­ure fur­ther adds to the grow­ing be­lief that poor qual­ity prod­ucts are dis­trib­uted in the less devel­oped coun­tries, whereas the first world coun­tries, with a pow­er­ful me­dia in ad­di­tion to health-con­scious and ed­u­cated con­sumers, re­ceive high qual­ity prod­ucts and ser­vices.

In a na­tion­wide sur­vey, the Chi­nese government stressed on the fact that 80.9 per­cent of their food and other prod­ucts met safety stan­dards. How­ever, the government re­frained from pro­vid­ing any de­tails re­gard­ing the ex­tent to which the re­main­ing 20 per­cent can be harm­ful for end-users across the globe. The government did ac­cept the fact that baby cloth­ing and baby for­mu­las were un­safe, an­i­mal feed and fer­tilis­ers were con­tam­i­nated and agri­cul­tural equip­ment was faulty.

Con­sid­er­ing the ex­tent to which west­ern con­sumers worry over the neg­li­gi­ble safety fail­ure rates, con­sumers from the un­der­de­vel­oped na­tions must be aware of the qual­ity of Chi­nese prod­ucts they con­sume. De­spite the safety, dura­bil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues, Chi­nese prod­ucts are able to com­pete quite com­fort­ably with lo­cal prod­ucts in the Pak­istani mar­ket. The fact is that Chi­nese prod­ucts are in­ex­pen­sive, which at­tracts con­sumers from low so­cio-eco­nomic seg­ments. One can­not even blame th­ese price-con­scious in­di­vid­u­als, who would will­ingly com­pro­mise on qual­ity, thereby, favour­ing the ri­val Chi­nese mar­ket. Pak­istani im­porters of Chi­nese prod­ucts are also par­tially to blame as the mas­sive in­flow of adul­ter­ated prod­ucts is a re­sult of ab­sence of strict qual­ity con­trols which has led to al­most 90 per­cent of Chi­nese prod­ucts be­ing of sub­stan­dard qual­ity. Pak­istani law does not re­quire a prod­uct to be in­spected for a la­tent de­fect. It also does not warn lo­cal con­sumers of the pos­si­ble harm­ful ef­fects of buy­ing de­fected prod­ucts.

De­spite th­ese ma­jor is­sues, the get-richquick ethos has al­lowed the Chi­nese mar­ket to pros­per and bloom over the years. There are other fac­tors too which con­trib­ute to their im­me­di­ate success. They en­sure cheap­est in­put cost by us­ing low qual­ity prod­ucts. More­over, they be­lieve in mass pro­duc­tion as it al­lows them to pro­duce more goods with less ex­pen­di­ture. The cheaper prices com­bined with mass pro­duc­tion, guar­an­tees ex­ces­sive sales. Fur­ther­more, the Chi­nese do not spend their cap­i­tal on re­search and in­no­va­tion. In­stead, since it is less risky to in­vest in un­cer­tain tech­nolo­gies, they have mas­tered the art of copy­ing and re­pro­duc­ing es­tab­lished brands at a cheaper price. They also re­frain from spend­ing ex­ces­sively on ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing. The au­thor of Poorly Made in China, Paul Mi­dler, says, “Many man­u­fac­tur­ers are not in­ter­ested in mak­ing a qual­ity prod­uct and build­ing a long-term rep­u­ta­tion.”

The trend of Pak­istani mar­kets be­ing flooded with Chi­nese prod­ucts be­gan when Pak­istan signed the Free trade Agree­ment (FTA) with China in Novem­ber 2006. Although the agree­ment was sup­posed to equally ben­e­fit both coun­tries, yet Pak­istan’s trade bal­ance with China re­mained in deficit for many years. The re­cent 23% in­crease in ex­ports to China serves as good news for Pak­istan.

Since the Chi­nese mar­ket is also flooded with low qual­ity prod­ucts, the lo­cals largely de­pend on for­eign prod­ucts as they are much more durable and re­li­able. The pop­u­lar­ity of im­ported goods soared up af­ter the 2008 melamine-tainted milk scan­dal which killed 6 in­fants and left 290,000 oth­ers with se­vere kid­ney dam­age. Their in­abil­ity to un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of build­ing a long-term rep­u­ta­tion and the government’s in­abil­ity to up­root il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing food and other prod­ucts, has led to Chi­nese con­sumers be­com­ing highly dis­sat­is­fied with their lo­cal prod­ucts. The ex­ces­sive de­pen­dence of the lo­cals on for­eign prod­ucts cre­ates a per­fect sce­nario for Pak­istani prod­ucts to win the Chi­nese lo­cal mar­ket. Ma­sood Khan, Pak­istan’s Am­bas­sador to China says, “If we have more ex­portable sur­plus, the vast Chi­nese mar­ket will be able to ab­sorb our com­modi­ties and ser­vices.”

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