Australia and China: an unbalanced relationship.

I think this must be the most-seen three-word phrase in the history of humanity:

Made in China

Unlike liberte, egalite fraternite, or love thy neighbour, Made in China crosses national boundaries with ease, creating only a minimum of tension.

Australia, however, is in the unusual position of running a merchandise trade surplus with China.

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This graph shows merchandise imports and exports from Australia’s perspective. Somewhere around 2009, our exports to China started growing much much faster than our imports from China.

So far, so nice. But the imbalance in our relationship has another aspect.

Far more Chinese visit Australia than Australians visit China. This is intriguing.

Should we be worried about this? What does it imply about our level of interest in our #1 customer?

Do Australians not even care about the culture and the people of China?

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Or is this just the result of there being 60 times more Chinese people than Australian people in the world? Certainly it is the case that the 23 million richest Chinese are richer on average than the 23 million richest Australians. (That’s all of us).

What will be interesting to see is if there is any correlation between the exports of merchandise and the exports of tourism services. When the taste for our iron ore drops off, will our hotels suddenly lie empty?

IN the meantime, I strongly recommend Beijing, especially if you can get there on a day when it’s not too smoggy.DSC00552 DSC00631 DSC00707 DSC00834


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Buy Australian: About as sensible as F*ck Off We’re Full.

Dick Smith Foods is at risk of closing down. 

The not quite-iconic Australian brand has seen sales halve and its future is cloudy. But Aussies are voting with their feet. They are happy to buy from overseas.

Is this bad? Shouldn’t we buy Australian?

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I say buy it if the quality or price is good. But not if you have to trade off price or quality. I think this is an example of how global markets are actually a powerful force for good. Let me explain.

I like to think of myself as socially aware. But I take a Rawlsian approach to social justice. I think support is wasted unless it is aimed at the worst off. The very rich giving money to the merely rich is not really charity, in my view.

This is why I support the charity rating system Givewell. And also why I support global trade.

Trade with poor countries helps people who might otherwise live on $1 day, while buying Australian might be the difference between someone driving a car and catching the bus. Trade has helped 1 billion people move out of poverty in the last 20 years.  Those people aren’t under our nose, so its easy to forget about them when you’re considering whether to buy jeans made in China or jeans made in Australia.

The only reason to value the welfare of Australians above those of foreigners is unexamined subconscious bias. I think that bias should be brought into the open and tested for how it impacts our actions and how our actions impact the lives of others.

Here’s a little argument I got involved in online today, in response to someone noting that their crumbed fish fillets had been caught in NZ, crumbed in China and sold in Australia.:

A: Apparently that is cheaper than just doing everything in the same country

B: Oh nooooo, that would be more jobs for our people, and we’d have to pay them gasp!

Me: “our people”

C: Get back to us on this when you’re a gen Y uni graduate with no job, work experience or any connections.

So, Do you buy Australian? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.