RMB's appreciation 'to remain gradual'

Updated: 2011-09-13 09:04

By Wei Tian and Hu Yuanyuan (China Daily)

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Excessive strengthening could hit exports as world economy weakens

BEIJING - The appreciation of Chinese currency will continue to follow a gradual pace despite the upcoming push of visiting French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe for a faster speed of the renminbi's rise, economists said on Sept 12.

Juppe will visit Beijing on Sept 14 for talks ahead of the G20 summit in France in November. The summit will discuss the global economic crisis and high levels of sovereign debt owed to China.

On Sept 10, Juppe told reporters through an interpreter in the Australian capital of Canberra that he believes "that the yuan is undervalued at present", according to a report by the Associated Press.

The Chinese government has been under pressure from Washington and other trading partners to ease currency policies and other measures that they complain keep the yuan undervalued and swell China's trade surplus.

But Wei Jianguo, secretary-general of the China Center for International Economic Exchange, said too rapid appreciation of the renminbi will chill the country's exports next year, especially when the global economy is expected to slow down.

"Next year will be a critical period for China's trade, as the ongoing debt crises in the European Union and United States reduce their demand while yuan appreciation and ever-increasing trade protectionism hit China's exports," said Wei, who was a former vice-commerce minister.

While China's exports to emerging economies grow rapidly, they account for just one-third of those lost to developed economies, Wei said.

He forecast China's trade surplus will decrease to less than $100 billion for 2011 from last year's $183 billion.

Customs data showed China's imports growth surged to 30.2 percent in August, up from July's 22.9 percent, showing that Chinese demand remained robust despite government efforts to steer economic growth to a more sustainable level.

Zhou Xiaochuan, China's central bank governor, said in February that the yuan's appreciation will not compromise to foreign pressure, and China will write its own ticket on the pace of its currency's appreciation. On Aug 11, the yuan strengthened beyond 6.4 versus the dollar for the first time in 17 years, and visited its all-time trading peak in August 30 to 6.38.

Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said last week that inflation was "the most important" issue for China, and he suggested the yuan appreciation would help ease inflation, because "an appreciated currency lowers prices at home of the foreign goods".

But Lian Ping, chief economist at the Bank of Communications, said that to curb inflation should not be entirely dependent on the yuan's appreciation.

"To lower the domestic inflationary pressure via the yuan's appreciation will have to require sharp increase in a short term," Lian said.

"It will be undoubtedly at the cost of a sharp decline of the export and loads of jobs lost - the loss outweighs the gain."

Liu Ligang, chief China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd in Hong Kong, wrote in an online research note that there is not enough evidence showing the yuan's appreciation is accelerating.

"Generally speaking, the market's expectation for the yuan's appreciation in 2011 is between 4.5 and 5.5 percent," Liu said.

The currency has already appreciated 3.35 percent since the beginning of the year. Judging from the current pace, the year-round will be between 5 and 5.5 percent, which is still within expectations, he said.

The key goal of exchange rate reform is to reduce the intervention of the "invisible hand", which has brought exchange rate stability but also brings steady the market expectations of the yuan's appreciation, Liu said.

"While following a steady and progressive appreciation strategy, the authorities should consider increasing the elasticity of exchange rate, so as to lower the one-sided expectation of yuan appreciation," Lian said.