China and Cuba Trade, Labor, and Migration
“Foot Soldiers of China’s Shopping Boom” (New York Times, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, p B1, online as For Couriers, China’s E-Commerce Boom Can Be a Tough Road, Jan. 31), looks at the low wages and long hours for Chinese delivering packages:
But for the couriers — who are largely unskilled workers from China’s interior — the work can be low-paying and difficult. It is coming under scrutiny from labor activists and legal experts who say many couriers face punishing hours and harsh working conditions.
Nearly one-quarter of them work more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week… A majority work more than eight hours a day each day of the week.
Migrants from rural China also work long hours at low wages at factories making goods for export to the United States. Should U.S. trade agreements include minimum wages and maximum hours for workers in China, Mexico, or Cuba?
A challenge for international trade agreements is scope. What issues should be on the table when negotiators from two governments hammer out what trade rules are relevant and reasonable?
China Daily reports on a new study “Profile of deliveryman: Male, rural, earns $307-1,200,” (May 6, 2015)
Smashing the illusions, the report shows that 53.4 percent earn a monthly salary of between 2,001 to 4,000 yuan, 28.6 percent 4001-6000 yuan, and only a few earn more than 8,000 yuan.
Of all the logistics employees, about 80 percent are from the countryside.
The report also points out that more than 70 regions across the country still impose a ban on electric bikes and tricycles, which are primary working vehicles for deliverymen. The ban makes their work harder, leading to a wave of job quitting.
And “Courier Services in China Get Ready Ahead of Alibaba’s Singles’ Day Shopping Bonanza on Friday,” (Yibada, Nov 10, 2016)
Alibaba’s Singles’ Day event has overshadowed other similar events in the U.S. such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Last year, about $13.5 billion worth of goods were sold by Alibaba on its online payments platform.
Yunda Express, a China courier firm has added about 10,000 delivery vehicles to adapt with the additional demand, the report said.
In Mexico, China, and Cuba, labor rates are far lower than in the United States. And not just labor rates, but rules about how many hours a day or a week employees can work, and what benefits employers are required to pay.
NSDA debaters have a US/China engagement topic, and the February Public Forum topic is:
Resolved: The United States should lift its embargo against Cuba.
The last days of the Obama Administration ended the long-standing wet-foot/dry-foot policy for Cubans (see below), and the Trump Administration wants to build a bigger wall along the Mexican border, renegotiate trade agreements between the US and Mexico (NAFTA), and also with China. The stated goal is to restore jobs lost as companies automated and shifted manufacturing operations to Mexico and China.
Lifting the trade embargo with Cuba would open doors to similar job displacements as US firms open new factories and upgrade agriculture in Cuba. Cubans are very poor after a half-century of communist rule, so Cuban demand for goods produced in the US will be minimal.
China and Mexico posed similar trade and investment costs and benefits. US consumers buy lower-cost imported goods but US workers fear manufacturing work shifting south of the border or overseas to China. Factories closing in the US are easy to spot and report on the evening news. Families are hurt when jobs disappear. Harder to see and report are the widespread gains from less expensive clothes, furniture, appliances, and cars lower and middle income Americans can purchase. The gains are disbursed and rarely appear on the evening news or morning New York Times.
Cheap goods were imported from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s, made by very poor people working long hours for low wages. But these jobs allowed tens of millions to escape poverty to relative prosperity. The same prosperity gains are in process now in Mexico and China, though not yet in Cuba.
Johan Norberg‘s 2003 documentary looks at the dynamics of international trade in Taiwan, Vietnam, and Kenya. This first segment shows some of the history of Taiwan where:
…just thirty years ago people…were poorer than many Africans today. Malnutrition was widespread and there were no natural resources. Today its people are as rich as the Spanish.
The New York Times article cited above quotes a courier from rural China about his job and long hours:
“I’m here to make money,” said Mr. Zhang, a 28-year-old former coal miner from Shanxi Province who is saving money to build a home, widely seen in the countryside as indispensable in attracting a wife. “If I’m not diligent now, I’m going to regret it. I’m almost 30 and still single.”