How Donald Trump Emptied Grocery Shelves of American brands in Silvermine Bay, Hong Kong

Steven Knipp

 

Commentary:

 

Just last week, I was in my local supermarket when I noticed something strange and rather unsettling: the apparent mass arrival of a new brand of packaged goods.

 

Before going any further, I should mention that I’m an American expat living in Hong Kong. And the supermarket in question is on an island— one of more than 250 in China’s Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong. I’m located 30 minutes by high-speed ferry from the sprawling and teeming neon-lit metropolis that everyone thinks of when they hear “Hong Kong.”

 

The new brand which has suddenly made its appearance here in Silvermine Bay is called Tesco.  That name won't bang any gongs to most Americans.  But the company is huge in the UK; virtually every city and town across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has its own Tesco supermarket, fully stocked with its own house brands.  Think of the A&P in the 1960s and 1970s, and you get the picture.

 

Prior to Tesco’s appearance, I had only ever seen the iconic British brand in the Middle East -  when I lived there; and also in the Caribbean  - when I lived there.

 

Until this weekend, I hadn’t noticed the Tesco brand in Hong Kong -- even when it was a British crown colony, pre-1997. Yet, now I counted 16 different items with the Tesco brand in my little local supermarket. The famous British trademark was on all the usual food stuff – soups and salad dressings, pastas and popcorn, breads and cake mix, pot pies, frozen desserts, packaged frozen chicken thighs....

 

At the same time, all the more familiar U.S .prepared food brands that I was used to seeing - and which millions of Americans like me have probably grown up with - Birdseye, Kraft, Perdue ("It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken" - Frank Perdue), Hormel, etc., had suddenly vanished  from the shelves.

 

It was as if someone had snapped their fingers and switched the brands. It took me a full minute to figure out what was going on.

 

Then — like getting hit on the back of the head with a bag of brass doorknobs — it dawned on me.

 

Was this all due to Donald Trump?  And his bizarre decision to start a trade war with China by first placing tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports, and then placing import duties on another $200 million imports?

 

I’m so poor at economics that my wife says I would have to take my shoes and socks off to correctly count to more than 10. Yet, even I know that with a population of 1.4 billion people, hundreds of millions of whom are rapidly moving into the middle class, it's a dangerous direction.  Indeed, according to a study by McKinsey & Company, 76 percent  of China's urban population will be considered middle class by 2022; that’s up from just 4 percent in 2000.

 

 

China is a nation that only an idiot would want to get into a trade war with.

 

Because  China buys everything in  immense bulk and it can easily and quickly — in mere weeks, it seems — replace imported American products with those from a dozen other trade partners: in the UK, the EU, Eastern Europe, South America, and Australia.

 

The painful reality is that America needs China as a bulk buyer of its goods far more than China needs the U.S. as a produce supplier. And even as you read this, I bet that hundreds of thousands of other supermarkets all across China are already switching from their long-trusted American suppliers to other new suppliers all around the world.

 

Here’s just one example of what I mean.

 

After surveying my supermarket's produce aisles, I ambled over to the beer section. Despite Silvermine Bay’s tiny size (pop: 6,000), we’re well taken care of in terms of choice of beers. The supermarket sells all the best-known Asian brands – from the Philippines’ famous San Miguel, to Japan’s excellent Kirin and Asahi, to Vietnam’s “33” brand, and China’s own Tsingtao. It also sells a large selection of Western beers including England’s lovely Newcastle Brown Ale, Ireland’s illustrious Guinness, Belgium’s celebrated Chimay (famously brewed by Trappist monks), and America’s own Boston-brewed Sam Adams.

 

But wait. That stack of Sam Adams bottles which were once here are now gone. In their place was a strange new brand – of Polish beers.

 

This weekend, I tried the new Polish brew. Actually, it was quite good. And cheaper than the Sam Adams. By a lot. I’ll probably buy it again next weekend. And I’m actually a proud American.

 

Now think what the hundreds of millions of proudly patriotic Chinese beer drinkers will be doing.

 

Author Bio:

 

Steven Knipp is a journalist based in Hong Kong and a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

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