How Chinese competition has turned European industry upside down

It gives a little cold in the back, and this is precisely the desired effect. The imposing chandelier is made entirely of human bones made of black glass, where we can see skulls, vertebrae and skeletal hands, the middle fingers of which are raised in the middle finger provocatively. In his Murano workshop, where glassblowers are active, Adriano Berengo speaks with pride about this surprising creation: “We designed it with Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist from Beijing, for an exhibition, explains the talkative Venetian, with a smile on his face. It’s a nice revenge on China, isn’t it? “

Without a doubt. In spite of everything, many in Murano will find it bitter. On this Italian island, glass craftsmanship, blown here since the 13th centurye century, was in fact brutally shaken when China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. Imitations of traditional vases and knick-knacks, made at low cost near Beijing or Shanghai, then flooded into the markets. shops in the lagoon, where they made up 70% of the items sold to tourists. A tidal wave, of which many glassmakers have not recovered. Since the 1990s, the number of employees in the sector has plummeted from 6,000 to just over 700 today. Those who survived have bet on moving upmarket, like Berengo, which is increasing its collaborations with renowned artists. “At least the parts they produce cannot be counterfeit”, he says.

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“The Italian economy has been particularly affected by Chinese competition since 2001, and even before”, explains Giovanni Foresti, economist at Intesa Sanpaolo. She’s not the only one. Like the glassmakers of Murano, many traditional sectors in France, Spain, Belgium and the United Kingdom have also struggled to cope. “In particular those specializing in end-of-cycle products, or those who had already faced deindustrialisation since the 1970s, particularly in France”, analysis Jean-Marc Siroën, economist at Paris-Dauphine University.

This “Chinese shock”, as economists have called it, was of a magnitude unmatched until then: in barely two decades, the Middle Empire has become the world’s leading exporter of goods, with 16, 1% market share in 2019, according to Eurostat, ahead of the European Union (EU, 15.4%) and the United States (10.6%). Third destination for European exports (10.5%), after the United States (18.3%) and the United Kingdom (14.4%), it is today one of our main trading partners. Above all, 22.4% of goods imported into the EU come from China, far ahead of those produced in the United States (11.8%) and the United Kingdom (9.8%).

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How Chinese competition has turned European industry upside down