Suitcase Trading in the Pearl River Delta

A fifth article for a forthcoming special issue on Checkpoint Politics in Cross-border Exchanges is now available at the publisher’s site for JCA.

Eva Hung

By the special issue’s guest editors Eva P. W. Hung of the Department of Social Science, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong and Tak-Wing Ngo of the Department of Government and Public Administration, University of Macau, Macau, “Organised Informality and Suitcase Trading in the Pearl River Delta Region” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1546888) discusses the extensive cross-border trading on China’s borders with its Special Administrative Regions.

The abstract for the paper states:

Tak-Wing Ngo

Suitcase trade is a common activity along state borders in Asia. Existing scholarship has often viewed such suitcase trade as locally embedded activities characterised by informality. This article contends that this perception underestimates the diversity and complexity of suitcase trade. This is illustrated with a case study of the Pearl River Delta region of southern China, where thousands of suitcase traders carry goods across the borders between mainland China and its two Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao. Several patterns of operation run in parallel, ranging from petty traders working alone to highly-organised group operators. While each individual transaction is small scale and based on informal networks, the entire chain of operations is run by syndicates that are highly organised, commercial, with well-defined divisions of labour, and on a large scale. We describe such a combination of organisational competence and informal networks as “organised informality.” The concept allows us to expand the analytical horizon to cover those cross-border exchanges that incorporate modern commercial practices in otherwise non-formal settings. It also bridges the oft-criticised dichotomies of formal-informal and licit-illicit.

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