AmCham Shanghai released its bilingual 2020 China Business Report on September 9, one of the longest running surveys of US business in China. This year’s survey was conducted between June 16 and July 16, 2020, and reflects the views and insights of 346 members. It measured trends in company performance, investment, the revenue impact of COVID-19, supply chain and sourcing movements, staff retention in light of US-China relations, as well as Chinese companies’ competitive advantages. The survey was conducted with the support of PwC China.
This year’s report shows that despite a rise in US-China tensions and a slowing economy in 2019, American businesses in China remained profitable, with 78.2% of companies reporting profits last year, marginally ahead of recent years. However, the global COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in early 2020 has impacted investment plans as well as profit expectations for the rest of the year. Nearly half (49.2%) of companies expect their China revenues to be lower than 2019 revenues, although a surprising 32.5% of companies expect 2020 revenues will be greater than in 2019.
Companies remain committed to the China market, with 78.6% of companies reporting no change in their investment allocations, a 5.1 percentage point increase compared to 2019. However, the percentage of those planning to increase their investment in China dropped from 47.2% in 2019 to 28.6% this year. One reason for the lower investments may be the mounting US-China trade tensions, which 26.9% of respondents expect to last indefinitely.
China’s regulatory environment continues to improve, particularly in areas such as obtaining required licenses, which this year 40.6% of companies said was difficult, down from 56.7% last year. Lack of IP protection and enforcement remain a top concern for members, with 53.6% of respondents citing it as a hindrance.
AmCham Shanghai and PwC China co-hosted a report launch in PwC’s Innovation Center on Wednesday, bringing together experts from across industries to discuss the report’s findings and share their perspectives on China’s business environment. The panelists were Tony Acciarito, president of Thermo Fisher Scientific China, Mark Gilbraith, management consulting leader at PwC China, Rebekah Lemm, APAC general manager and director of global customer experience at Intralox, and Simon Yang, president of Asia Pacific of Aptiv.
Gilbraith opened the event with a brief presentation detailing some of the report’s highlights. He highlighted that companies are keenly concerned about the state of US-China relations, which 71% of respondents said will be a top challenge over the next three to five years, followed by increased domestic competition and an economic slowdown.
Panelists discussed how their companies fared during the pandemic lockdown; all three executives noted the help and cooperation they received from local governments in helping them to resume production or bring workers back to the factories. Lemm said that throughout the tumultuous early weeks of the lockdown, it was challenging to stay abreast of the latest government directives, making it critical to have effective local leadership and to stay proactive.
Local talent was a key area that panelists said their companies are investing in, to ensure they have the right staff to help them continue to grow the China market. Business in the country has not only rebounded well since the year’s rocky start but China remains one of the most rapidly growing markets in the world; Lemm and Acciarito both noted that Thermo Fisher and Intralox are planning more investments.
COVID-19 accelerated a necessary consolidation in China’s automotive market, Yang noted, eliminating weaker players. However, he feels increasingly optimistic about the longevity of China’s economic recovery in recent months, with a V-shaped recovery in the country’s auto industry.
Adequate IP protection is Intralox’s key concern in the China market, said Lemm. In the past, she said the country’s consequences for IP infringers were too weak and failed to deter violators; however, that narrative is beginning to change and Intralox has more recently successfully won lawsuits against IP infringers.
In the months since AmCham Shanghai’s survey was conducted, Lemm and Acciarito said they’ve felt increased optimism about the state of China’s economic recovery. Despite the uncertainty that clouded the market early in the year, Lemm said it has become apparent that the market is rebounding. With a clear strategy on how to compete at the local level, all three panelists said their companies continue to see the growth and importance of the China market.