The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 has frozen the global economy and disrupted global supply chains in the first half of 2020, exposing the frailties of global cooperation. What difficulties have the foreign-funded enterprises in Guangdong faced during the pandemic? Does foreign investment remain optimistic about the Chinese market? Why is global cooperation key to solving the problems?
Dr. Harley Seyedin, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in South China, shared his views on these questions in an exclusive interview with Newsgd.com.
Dr. Harley Seyedin is in an interview with Newsgd.com. (Photo: Steven Yuen)
Q: Could you please describe the current situation about your member enterprises’ business in South China? What difficulties have you faced with?
A: Every company in China and around the world has experienced some difficulties with their supply chain, workers and restarting of their operations. Fortunately, China reacted quickly. What I'm happy to say is that whatever difficulties we've had to be reported to local government departments have been resolved almost immediately in less than 24 hours. Most of our executives have been back to work. All our companies are back in operation. Many companies are actually working 24 hours and over time in order to catch up for the time that was lost during the shutdown. We are now at nearly 95% of full operations in almost all of our factories.
The Chinese government has been very cooperative and done a great job in resolving a lot of the issue.When we first began to open up any of the factories like mask or other that were necessary for production, the government worked with us very quickly to provide the supplies that we needed. We were short on the staff initially, and the government arranged for special buses and trains to help us bring back to full staffing as needed. We are experiencing some difficulties now with the shipping products to US and Europe because of commercial aircraft are rare now. The government has been very supportive on how we can get the supply chain back to full operation.
Q: There was a sound in western countries that persuades their enterprises to move out China. What's your view on that?
A: Well it has been said, but very little has been done actually. When China opened, most of those productions moved to China. China has now evolved as a country with experienced workers and technology as well as a very large consumer-base that's expanding on a regular basis. In 2003, less than 23% of our companies were actually selling what they made in south China to China.Today, 71% of our companies are here primarily focused on producing goods and services in China for the Chinese market.
I'm not concerned about companies moving because companies are always attracted to markets. China is going to evolve as a major consumer market in the world, and our companies are extremely competitive. So am I worried about people moving away from Chinese market? No.
Q: Do you think enterprises moving out China is for protectionism or is a normal phenomenon?
A: We believe in free market economy. And I do believe that regardless of what the governments will offer, business is going to do what is best for the consumer and what is best for the business itself. Business thrives on competition.
China represents potentially the largest consumer market in the world is one that cannot be overlooked, one that we need to support. Competition is going to decide who will win, who will survive, who will expand, and who will prosper. I think we are leaving it up to the free market to decide what is best for business.
Q: Will you encourage more American enterprises to set up branches in China?
A: Absolutely. As I said, China is going to be the largest consumer market in the world which is constantly expanding. If you are coming here to expand and produce higher-end products for the Chinese market, you bring with you your technology, investment, know-how and you employ a lot of people.
More than half of our companies have actually less than five foreign employees. The vast majority of our companies are now run by Chinese executives. So everything that we do is to encourage our companies, whatever you invest, do that investment with the hope that investment will be able to give their children a better life. Our entire focus is to give our next generation better life. And that's what we hope for.
Q: The Chinese government has launched a series of measures to support the enterprises. How have these measures helped your member companies?
A: We know that the governments at both provincial and municipal levels have offered significant benefits and incentives. We've had experts analyzed those incentives and offered solutions to our members. A lot of our members are taking advantage of those solutions. Every day we look at this situation to see what new difficulty may arise. And together we are with the Chinese government. We are making progress.
One of the things is that the Guangdong government has been very responsive, very reactive. In fact, there will be a meeting with Guangdong Department of Commerce, which I will be attending together with some other chambers, just to discuss the difficulties and to see how much more the province and the government can do to help us survive through the COVID-19 and prosper. We want to make sure that everyone stays on the win-win situation, because this is when we need cooperation.
Q: You have been in Guangzhou for nearly 30 years and experienced both SARS and COVID-19. What are the main differences as regards businesses during the two outbreaks?
A: I think the reaction of the government has been tremendously different. I remember that with SARS, even though before summer as SARS had already disappeared and everything was literally open and operational, things did not return to normal until late of October. I think the government learned a lot from that. We learned a lot from it.
We need to work very hard to try to get the economy restarted as fast as possible. We release every Friday an notice to let our members and the community know what facilities have opened, what deals and discounts people can get in order to go out and spend some money. So we are doing everything we can because I think at this point it is time for people to begin to spend time and money to go out and shop and restart the economy.
Q: Are you confident about Chinese economy to recover from the COVID-19 outbreak and why?
A: The reality is that the Chinese citizens are very committed and hardworking. And I saw how the Chinese community pulled together in order to come out and revive the economy during the SARS outbreak.
I'm sure we can do it very easily. The question is doing it in a safe way to prevent a second outbreak. But I think there's a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel and we will get there together. We will get there.
Q: Will the American Chamber of Commerce in South China help the recovery of the economy in China?
A: Absolutely. We have continued to pay the salaries of our employees throughout the shutdown. We are buying products and services from other companies in order to produce what we need for export and for the domestic market. Now 95% of our companies are at full operation, the rest are catching up. And that is how we can contribute to make sure the economy is revived through full operation. We will make sure that we will continue to contribute.
At the same time, we'll offer our assistance and services to other companies that want to set up in China. We think there's always opportunities here for us to continue to set up, prosper and expand in China.
Q: Why do you think the world should work together to tackle the difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: COVID-19 has no borders covered, nationalities, color, race, nor religion. I think everyone in the world has a responsibility to make sure that they don't transmit their infection to another person. I need to make every step possible to make sure that I don't catch it. And in the process, I want to make sure that no one else catches it.
That is a common goal with every country. If one country continues infected, the whole world will always be endangered. We have to wipe this out from every country in the world. To do that, we have to work together, share Information, knowledge, technology, know-how and if a vaccine has ever been developed.
Q: Do you think global cooperation will make global economic recovery faster?
A: We will need world cooperation. The global supply chain will always be there. I think what we need to do is to work together in a way that everybody wins and no one suspects the other person from trying to get a better life for their people. I think we need to be fair, honest and transparent. And I think with openness and transparency, everybody will understand what the other one needs, and we can always find a win-win situation.
I think if we leave the business part to a free market, allow business to strive and work through a free market, that will benefit everyone in the world from every country.
Interviewed by Keane
Edited by Monica & Keane