Is Outsourcing In China Still An Economically Viable Option?

Wednesday November 1st, 2017 | Jennifer Jäger | Industry News

China is one of the top outsourcing destinations worldwide, but is manufacturing in China still the best outsourcing option?


Manufacturing costs increased in China

Manufacturing costs, as well as labour and CAPEX / OPEX costs, have steadily increased in most of China’s Special Economic Zones over the past few years. This has, in turn, created a rethinking of the manufacturing strategies for foreign enterprises some of which have relocated their operations back to their home countries or to other perceived competitive regions such as Eastern Europe and South East Asian countries.


Technological competitive advantage in global markets

However, the range and scope of the physical infrastructure and logistical networks available within most of the developed areas in China are still unparalleled amongst the emerging countries leading to a competitive advantage for local supply chains. The quality and reliability of products from China are constantly improving while the local Chinese manufacturers look to automation and to the basic concepts of Industry 4.0 to respond to the ever-increasing demand for more efficient and sophisticated manufacturing systems. Chinese industries have also increased their R&D investments exponentially over the past decade in order to develop products and systems leading to technological competitive advantages over other global brands. Such shifts in policy and strategy adopted by many Chinese suppliers have further decreased the perceived risk factors in outsourcing away from the home markets.


Long-term relationships

Continuing cost reductions obtained from sourcing in The Middle Kingdom are still viable through already qualified and tested supply chains. Master Purchase/Manufacturing Agreements, while of fundamental importance when doing business in China, need to be accompanied by long-term, mutually trusting relationships with all suppliers in the chain to ensure the acceptance of mutually beneficial goals and objectives.


 long-term strategy

Sourcing in China must be integrated into the long-term strategy of the company

Image Source: Freepik



Companies must meet certain requirements

When is outsourcing and contract manufacturing really to be considered beneficial to a company’s overall production strategy? One or more of the following points must apply:


1. Global Strategy

When they are part of an integrated strategy aimed at focusing on core processes and corporate functions rather than diluting resources to non essential activities.


2. Cost Saving

When there are measurable, sustainable, medium-to-long term cost savings. Additional costs derived from transport of goods and relevant import duties, when applicable, must be also factored in when calculating the per-unit price.


3. Large production quantities

When the monthly production quantities are substantial. Full run productions are what Chinese suppliers focus on rather than prototyping or small run. High volume / low mix is certainly required in order to achieve maximum savings as set up costs are spread over higher numbers.


4. NPI (New Product Introduction)

When the ability of starting new projects, New Product Introduction (NPI), can benefit from freeing up internal resources.


5. Local Sales

When local sales are an integral part of the global strategy of the company. Local production facilities, along with after sales and maintenance capabilities, are seen by potential Chinese customers as a definite benefit.


6. Risk sharing

Risk sharing is also a factor in the corporate decision to outsource as the responsibilities associated with procuring parts, components, sub-assemblies are shifted to the local vendor.



Risks related to outsourcing to China

There are some potential risks in outsourcing to China, including:


1. Legalities

Legalities (local regulatory environment policy); outsourcing and manufacturing master agreements (implementation and compliance).


2. Social responsibility

Ethical considerations (unacceptable working conditions, compliance of by-products disposal, lack of supply chain social responsibility and commitment).


3. Quality issues

Poor or lack of quality mostly due to the use of sub standard raw materials or manufacturing short-cuts on the supplier’s production lines.


4. Shipment Delays

Delays in delivery as a result of supplier’s under capacity or customers’ order back log. Also, goods border inspections at the China/Hong Kong border, the most employed point of transit for goods exported overseas from  China, may be time-consuming and at times very discretionary and could result in goods being detained for long periods of time.


5. Poor packaging

Poor or inadequate packaging due to cost saving activities by the supplier or strict regulations on packaging material in force at the destination country.


6. Custom duties

Tariff and non tariff barriers where protectionist measure are seen as the only way to gain or retain a competitive advantage. A typical example of such barriers is the recent attempt by the Trump administration to levy high import duties on the imports of steel and aluminum from China as they were seen as to be sold at lower than cost prices.


7. Production scheduling

Synchronisation of the production and delivery of goods in China as outsourced components. Parts and sub-system will have to timely fit in a final assembly and testing process at the country of destination. Internal production orders, their frequency and lot quantity as well transit times must reflect the requirement of the new overall production paradigm.



Chinese vs. Western business culture

A successful outsourcing strategy involving Chinese vendors most importantly requires an intimate understanding of the Chinese business culture where expectations and goals may differ from those normally accepted and followed in the Western business culture.



Strategy is everything



Implement Risk Management Strategy

A risk mitigation and management strategy though offer a way to avoid or minimise such risks with constant monitoring at the suppliers premises. Risk mitigation strategy cannot be underestimated or taken lightly as it offers an essential tool for a successful outsourcing strategy that delivers constant cost savings over time.





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Written by:


Roberto Astorri

China Procurement and Contract Manufacturing Professional



Roberto Astorri has been a Telecoms professional for over 25 years working in the UK, Italy, the United States and Hong Kong. He designed and implemented International sales and distribution strategies for software applications (OSS Operations Support Systems) as well as hardware solutions, including calling cards platforms, switching and network facilities and related services. Roberto is a full member of the UK Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply Chain.