WASHINGTON — The Chinese renminbi’s recent designation as an International Monetary Fund reserve currency will change China’s relationship with emerging markets such as those in Latin America – but exactly how remains to be seen, a Hong Kong University professor said Tuesday.
The reemergence of China as a major world trading partner – and with it, the use of its currency internationally – causes “challenges for the global market,” Douglas Arner, a former consultant to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, said at an Atlantic Council briefing
Last weekend, the RMB joined the dollar, euro, pound and yen as one of the IMF reserve currencies. In September, China hosted the G20 summit in Hangzhou, its first. These events mark major benchmarks on China’s journey as a global financial superpower – and create questions about the future of the world’s finances.
China’s two-way trade with Latin America has increased by 2,500 percent since 2000, according to Gerardo Mato, chairman of HSBC’s Global Banking. Mato noted that the RMB’s new status will make exchanges between the regions more seamless and offer transaction cost savings to Latin American markets.
Other experts agreed that the RMB’s new status is not simply a technical issue. China has pushed currency swap agreements to encourage the international exchange of the RMB with countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile that have long traded mostly in dollars. But nobody is quite sure what the long-term implications of these changes will be, Georgetown professor Barbara Kotschwar said.
“China’s interactions in Latin America have really been leading up to this,” Kotschwar said.
Kotschwar, who also serves as a senior investment policy officer at the World Bank, noted that if Latin American companies can further break into the Chinese markets, the exchange can be more equalized.
Though China’s reemergence into global markets in the ‘90s was marked by large amounts of foreign direct investment into the country, 2015 marked the first year in which China’s foreign investments were greater than investments in it. Most notable have been China’s increasing investments, mostly in natural resources and infrastructure, in Latin America and Africa, known to critics as “Chinese neo-colonialism.”
Luis Miguel Castilla, the former Peruvian ambassador to the U.S., said that the Chinese were “very aggressive” in his country. He noted that China’s approach is different across Latin American countries.
In 2010, over 40 percent of Latin America’s exports went to the U.S. while less than 10 percent went to China, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. The U.S. has long been Latin America’s top trading partner, but China’s presence in the region is growing: the same report shows that between 2000 and 2013, the region’s trade with China increased 22 times over, compared to just three times over with the world.
The dollar’s world dominance is not going to be lost, but China’s growth has set it on track to be possibly the number two currency, said Heiwei Tang, a professor from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
However, the panelists showed concern for increasing protectionism in the U.S. and around the world in the face of an ever-globalizing economy.
They also noted that China’s heavy government restrictions scares off some investors, and noted that changes could be on the horizon for the Chinese economy.
“There is scope for an acceleration of reforms going forward,” said Clyde Wardle, HSBC’s senior emerging markets foreign exchange strategist.
But Arner said that “for the past 20 years we’ve been five years away” from such changes, and called for caution in assuming that China will quickly pursue legal and financial market reforms.