Exports. Imports. Majestically fuzzy bamboo-loving roly-poly panda antics. Tariffs. Which of these is not like the others? According to a growing trend in Chinese economics, none of them.
Giant pandas, cuddly ambassadors and unofficial mascots of China, are factoring heavily in recent trade dealings. It works sort of like this: Everyone loves/wants pandas. China has something of a (very important) monopoly on them. If you’ve got a resource/technology/export that China requires, they’ll trade you pandas as part of the deal! Why can’t the rest of the economic world be that adorably, beautifully simple?
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Okay, the reality may be a bit more complex, but pandas are quickly becoming an increasingly prominent part of Chinese international trade. While loaning pandas isn’t an entirely new concept (diplomatic gifting of pandas has been around for quite some time), pandas have played an increasingly important role over the last 30 years of international economic dealings in China.
Scotland, France, Thailand, and Canada are just a few of the countries to receive pandas in recent years, as part of multi-billion dollar exchanges for resources such as uranium and renewable energy technology. Not every country is afforded this panda privilege, however. The decision to gift pandas relies heavily on the Chinese concept of guanxi, a relationship built on respect, loyalty, trust and reciprocity.
Even after the pandas are given, there are still lofty fees and upkeep to consider. Zoos housing them pay a fee of about a million dollars a year per panda pair, usually over the term of a ten-year contract. Any cubs born while in captivity carry an additional 600k per year. These costs are offset somewhat by crowds attracted to the massive appeal and extreme scarcity of pandas (there are only four zoos housing them in the US), but it’s often been the case that zoos are unwilling or unable to renew these pricey contracts. China also reserves the right to recall pandas at their discretion, whether it’s for breeding purposes or over diplomatic disputes.
Despite the costs and complexities of hosting them, demand for pandas remains high. With a substantial portion of contract fees being allocated for conservation efforts and research, this increasing proliferation of pandas could hopefully serve as a catalyst to resurgence in their numbers worldwide. I mean, the only thing better than pandas, really, is MORE pandas.