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Considering China’s Renminbi for International Settlement and Forex Trading

By Bill Camarda

On October 1, 2016, the International Monetary Fund added China's renminbi1 (RMB) to its elite Special Drawing Right (SDR) basket of currencies, alongside the U.S. dollar, euro, yen and British pound. IMF said the change reflected China's progress in reforming its monetary, foreign exchange and financial systems, and improving its financial market infrastructure.2 Short-term, this means countries can now include RMB assets in official FX reserves, making it easier for them to meet IMF guidelines.3 Beyond this, however, inclusion in SDR is a symbol of RMB’s emergence as an international currency for forex trading and settlement of global business transactions.

RMB’s ongoing progress is an important consideration for businesses involved in any FX trading, and particularly for those whose business or currency trading activities involve China.


RMB Usage Grows in Trade and Currency Trading


IMF's decision arrives in the context of growing RMB usage in trade finance, international payments, and forex trading. In trade finance, RMB is now second amongst world currencies, reflecting enormous international trade with China.4


Since 2013, according to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication’s (SWIFT's) monthly Renminbi Tracker, China's currency has risen from ninth to fifth worldwide in total payments sent and received by value, not counting payments by central banks. During that period, it surpassed the Swedish Krona (SEK), Canadian Dollar (CAD), Swiss Franc (CHF), Australian Dollar (AUD) and, briefly during summer 2015, even the yen (JPY). RMB use is growing slowly in some markets (such as France, Switzerland and Germany), and is rapidly accelerating in others (e.g., the United Arab Emirates).5 SWIFT has elsewhere reported that 50 countries now use RMB for 10 percent or more of their trade with China.6


Meanwhile, according to the Bank for International Settlements' (BIS’) September 2016 Central Bank Survey, RMB has doubled its share of OTC currency trading transactions since 2013. It has surpassed Mexico's peso to become the most active developing market currency on forex trading exchanges, and is now eighth in FX trading amongst all currencies worldwide. BIS's report notes that "as much as 95 percent of renminbi trading volume was against the U.S. dollar."7


Building the Global Infrastructure for an Internationalized Currency


To promote RMB usage abroad, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) – China's central bank – has authorized 18 new official clearing banks worldwide since December 2012. These have opened in locations including Toronto, Buenos Aires, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Sydney, Seoul and Taipei.8 In September 2016, PBOC announced the first RMB clearing and settlement services in the U.S.9


Domestically, China has eliminated a cap on the number of enterprises permitted to carry out cross-border RMB settlements. Any company permitted to engage in import-export business may settle in RMB, unless it appears on a "black name list" (in which case its transactions may be reviewed individually).10 Restrictions have also been relaxed on RMB-denominated investments by foreigners.11


As Yu Yongding of the Asian Development Bank Institute has pointed out, China is the only country that has ever decided on its own to make internationalizing its currency a national priority.12 In determining how far RMB's internationalization will go, China's authorities appear to be balancing the benefits and risks of liberalization,13 carefully timing their decisions accordingly.


They face significant obstacles, not least the continuing downward pressure on the value of China's currency on forex trading exchanges since it peaked against the U.S. dollar in early 2014. Some market observers believe RMB faces bank sector headwinds that might require a government bailout,14 as well as increased protectionist pressures in the U.S.15 and elsewhere. If these events lead to further reductions in RMB’s value, China could face accelerating capital flight,16 deepening internal opposition to the full elimination of capital controls.


Transacting in RMB


China’s reforms have made it easier for companies that do business in China to settle their transactions in RMB if they so desire. Many of their Chinese trading partners would welcome this, and some may even offer discounts if they can invoice in RMB.17 China's central bank has estimated that transacting in U.S. dollars may add 2-to-3 percent in administrative expenses alone.18


The risk of currency fluctuation, however, remains a significant issue. Hedging vehicles exist; of course, these have their own costs. In making the decision about whether to transact business in RMB or another currency, companies may wish to make careful and timely assessments about currency risk.



As China's financial and market reforms move forward, RMB is emerging as a leading international currency. It has become far easier for international businesses and currency traders to transact in China’s home currency. International businesses may wish to carefully consider currency risk in developing their own plans for RMB forex trading and settlement.

Bill Camarda - The Author

The Author

Bill Camarda

Bill Camarda is a professional writer with more than 30 years’ experience focusing on business and technology. He is author or co-author of 19 books on information technology and has written for clients including American Express Private Bank, Ernst & Young, Financial Times Knowledge and IBM.


1. Renminbi is the name of China’s currency; yuan is the primary unit of the Renminbi. This sometimes creates confusion for readers in countries like the U.S., whose currency and its primary unit have the same name (dollar).
2. "IMF Launches New SDR Basket Including Chinese Renminbi, Determines New Currency Amounts", International Monetary Fund;
3. "RMB joins the SDR basket", Euromoney;
4. "Bank of China chairman on RMB internationalization: moving from strength to strength", Central Banking;
5. "RMB Tracker: September 2016", SWIFT;
6. "Chinese Renminbi Internationalization: Guide To Recent Developments", PNC Bank;
7. Triennial Central Bank Survey: Foreign exchange turnover in April 2016, Bank for International Settlements;
8. "RMB Tracker: September 2016", SWIFT;
9. "The Working Group on U.S. RMB Trading and Clearing Applauds Designation of U.S. Clearing Bank", The Working Group on U.S. RMB Trading and Clearing;
10. "Current RMB Business Trends", Mizuho Bank;
11. Ibid.
12. "How Far Can Renminbi Internationalization Go?", Asian Development Bank Institute;
13. "China’s muddled FX policy sows reform doubts", Euromoney;
14. "China Bank Bailout Calls Growing Louder, Survey Shows", Bloomberg News;
15. "RMB trading fix at six-year low following US election", China Economic Review;
16. "Goldman on RMB and capital flight: Nice currency basket and all but it’s still the dollar that matters", FT Alphaville (;
17. "Conducting business in China: When to use renminbi instead of the U.S. dollar", Wells Fargo;
18. "Chinese Renminbi Internationalization: Guide To Recent Developments", PNC Bank;

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