Chinese firms learn to adapt as US trade war rages

Export numbers, however, still show a harsh decline

Slashing prices, moving production abroad, creating new domestic markets and even rebranding goods are just a part of the actions that export-reliant Chinese companies are undertaking in order to survive the escalating trade war with the United States.

Factories along the eastern coast, fish processors in the south, apple juice exporters in central China and farmers in the northeast have all been forced to change their business models since US President Donald Trump launched the conflict more than a year ago, hitting everything from motorcycles to MRI machines.
But no matter what the survival tactic, times are tough and set get worse with newly threatened tit-for-tat tariffs meaning that virtually all trade between the world's two biggest economies would be covered.

"It's impacted all of us exporters... we include the tariffs in our quotes now," a sales manager at Shaanxi Hengtong Fruit Juice, who gave his surname as Liu, told AFP.

Chinese apple juiceexports, for example have nosedived 93% in the first half of the year since Trump hit them with tariffs in September last year. Shaanxi Hengtong Fruit Juice, which sends almost all of its product abroad, and some of its subsidiaries had to pledge shares as collateral for loans last year. One of its juice plants also put up dozens of its machines and appliances as collateral for another loan.

The fish processing industry has been hit hard too. China is the main supplier of frozen tilapia to the American market, but those exports are also down this year and fish farmers have been forced to look inward.

"The United States is taking advantage of its market position and bullying the many scattered Chinese tilapia suppliers," the Hainan Tilapia Sustainability Alliance said on its WeChat account.

"The trade war is the last straw to crush the industry."

The trade group has been brainstorming how to grow sales at home, but different domestic tastes mean it has its work cut out for it. 

In the meantime, firms in other hard-hit industries have simply had to absorb some of the tariff pain.
"We've dropped our prices for the US market to cover some of the tariffs," said Andy Zhou of Anytone, which makes radio handsets, adding that he is now looking to Asian and European markets to boost sales.

Some struggling low-end radio manufacturers nevertheless have been forced into drastic measures such as attempting to dodge US tariffs by swapping customs codes - where a product is incorrectly labelled to evade levies when it arrives in America. But the numbers speak for themselves - radio exports to the US were down to just $33m in the first six months, from $230m a year before.

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