Will the Tiger See RMB Becoming King of the Jungle?
Thoughts on RMB cross-border trade settlement
by Helen Sanders, Editor
Since July 2009, companies with locations across South East Asia have been able to settle cross-border trade transactions with eligible firms in China in RMB. Most of the major international banks operating in the region have been quick to acquire the necessary licence and processing capability to enable their customers to take advantage of this opportunity. But as we start the Chinese Year of the Tiger, with all its associations of power and courage, what is this project likely to mean for companies trading in China, both now and in the future, and are we likely to see the Chinese authorities forging ahead to achieve full RMB convertibility and creating a world currency of the future? In this article, we showcase the views of four key experts in this field on the project today and the future potential of the RMB.
Pilot project progress
Banks supporting their clients’ trade activities in China have generally been optimistic about the scheme and its implications for their clients. With only a few months since the scheme was launched, it is perhaps too early to gauge its success, and initial optimism has had to be tempered with realism. Chris Lewis, Head of Trade and Supply Chain - Greater China, HSBC, sees the expansion of the scheme since it was first launched as a significant indication of success,
“The launch of the RMB trade settlement pilot project was a major event for us during 2009 and considerable progress has been made. It took a while to come to fruition but it has gone smoothly since. When the scheme was originally established, there were 365 MDEs that were authorised by the PBOC to conduct cross-border trade in RMB, initially in Hong Kong and Macau and latterly the ASEAN countries. Now, there are over 5,000 MDEs and additional cities, and further expansion is likely.”
Neil Daswani, Head of Transaction Banking, Northeast Asia, Standard Chartered Bank, concurs,
“There has been substantial progress in the expansion of the RMB pilot scheme since the first RMB cross-border trade transaction in July 2009. The number of MDEs (Mainland Designated Enterprises) was limited initially but this is expected to increase as more MDEs receive approval from the authorities, hence expanding the number of pilot cities in China.”
Lisa Robins, Treasury & Securities Services China Executive, J.P. Morgan, is more cautious, however, noting that,
“Although the project has been a success so far, adoption of RMB as a trading currency has not been as rapid as some anticipated. There are various ways that this could be accelerated; for example, the Chinese government needs to encourage companies to export/import in RMB, e.g., through tax incentives. In addition, their trading counterparties need to be comfortable with RMB risk. Even though the RMB is appreciating, risk is still an issue, even for an apparently strong currency.”
William Mor, Treasury and Trade Solutions Product Head for China, Citi, takes a similar view,
“The project is still in its infancy where it will take some time for corporates and financial institutions to adapt to the idea that RMB is an international currency. 2009 settlement flow remains low and estimated to be around in USD22m, a fraction of overall import and export settlement flows of over USD2.5 trillion.”