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HSBC warns that firms risk missing out on China’s infrastructure boom

Teh Eng Koon | AFP | Getty Images

More and more companies might be using the renminbi (yuan) to do business with China, but few are capitalizing on the government's new infrastructure initiatives and are missing out on potential business opportunities, according to a new survey by HSBC.

Of the 1,600 senior executives across 14 countries asked by the bank's commercial arm, 24 percent confirmed that their business was using the currency, up 7 percent on an equivalent survey last year.

While 41 percent of survey respondents were aware of the business opportunities presented by the Chinese government's "belt and road" strategy, only 7 percent of these were implementing new means of capitalizing on the development.

"Belt and road" is the Chinese government's coinage for the policy and infrastructure framework which it hopes will spur $2.5 trillion of international commerce per annum, a figure Chinese state news agency Xinhua attributes to President Xi Jinping in 2015. Introduced in 2013, "belt and road" is intended to develop two trade corridors between China and the rest of the world.

"Belt" refers to the historic overland Silk Road trading routes linking China to Europe and the Middle East. Meanwhile, "road" refers to the country's maritime connections in its south with Africa, India and Southeast Asia. According to HSBC, the project will impact trade in 65 countries, home to nearly two thirds of the world's population.


Of the firms aware of the strategy, HSBC's survey revealed that those in Europe and North America are most likely to have first mover's advantage. 12 percent of "aware" businesses in Europe are putting together strategies, whilst the equivalent figure for North America fell at 9 percent.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the Asia-Pacific region outside of China saw just 6 percent of "aware" companies making plans. But Stuart Tait, HSBC's regional head of commercial banking in Asia-Pacific, told CNBC via e-mail that "we see many projects initiated by ASEAN countries such as Thailand or Malaysia taking place."

As "belt and road" progresses, HSBC asserted that the strategy is likely to encourage international renminbi usage. In order to track global perception of China's trade and currency, the bank compared its 2016 survey with data collected under similar parameters last year. This revealed that number of companies employing the currency for international commerce had risen from 17 percent to 24 percent.

One reason behind this uptick is that businesses are finding the renminbi much easier to use, HSBC's 2016 survey showed.

Following news earlier this month that the Chinese currency has been added to the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) special drawing rights basket, Tait said that "we're expecting (that) this internationalization will continue to accelerate." The IMF's special drawing rights currencies are those held in its international reserves; to qualify, a currency must be judged "freely usable."

He added that, "(it's) a trend businesses are ready to capitalize on, with our survey showing that 43 percent globally are expecting to see an increase in RMB business over the next twelve months."

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