China flag China: Economic and Political Overview

Foreign trade figures of China

Foreign Trade in Figures

Thanks to its enormous trade surplus over the past few years, China has become the world's largest exporter and ranks second among the world’s largest importers. Despite its strict policies, the country is fairly open to foreign trade, which represented 35% of its GDP in 2020 (World Bank, 2022). China's main exports include Electrical and electronic equipment (27%), machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers (17%), furniture, lighting signs, prefabricated buildings (4,2%), plastics (3,7%), optical, photo, technical, medical apparatus (3,1%), vehicles other than railway, tramway (2.9%), other made textile articles, sets, worn clothing (2,9%). On the other hand, the country mainly imports Electrical and electronic equipment (27%), Mineral fuels, oils, distillation products (13%), machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers (9,3%), iron ores slag and ash (8.8%), optical, photo, technical, medical apparatus (4,8%), vehicles other than railway, tramway (3.6%). The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is forecasting a rebound of 5.7% in the volume of exports of goods and services of this country in 2022, after an increase of 4% in 2020; and an increase of only 3.2% of its imports in 2022 after a jump of 10.9% in 2021 and 0% in 2020 (IMF Country Report, 2021).

The country's main partners include the United States, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Australia and Germany. Tensions in the U.S. - China economic relationship have heightened business uncertainties in 2020 and 2021, given that the US is the country's main trade partner (China's 2020 trade surplus with the U.S. was USD 255.5 billion after an all-time record of 323.3 billion in 2018). Similar tensions were at play with Australia although with less consequences for China. However, the Chinese government has been adopting looser economic policies to mitigate mounting risks to future growth. On the 15th of November 2020 China has signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with 14 other Indo-Pacific countries. This free trade agreement is the largest trade deal in history, covering 30 per cent of the global economy. It includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN : Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and ASEAN’s free trade agreement partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and Republic of Korea). The RCEP covers goods, services, investment, economic and technical cooperation. It also creates new rules for electronic commerce, intellectual property, government procurement, competition, and small and medium sized enterprises.

Trade has become an increasingly important part of China’s overall economy, and it has been a significant tool used for economic modernisation. As reported by WTO in 2021, exports of goods in 2020 were USD 2,590.2 billion and imports USD 2,057.2 billion, while exports and imports of services in 2020 reached USD 278 billion and USD 377.5 billion respectively. China reported an overall 5% increase in exports and 8% decrease in imports for 2020. According to the World Bank data of 2021, China's trade surplus for goods stood at USD 535,37 billion in 2020, an increase from USD 425.2 billion in 2019. The overall trade balance (including services) was USD 369.67 billion in 2020, from 131.84 billion the previous year.

 
Foreign Trade Values 20162017201820192020
Imports of Goods (million USD) 1,587,4311,843,7932,135,7482,078,3862,057,217
Exports of Goods (million USD) 2,098,1612,263,3452,486,6952,499,4572,590,221
Imports of Services (million USD) 453,014464,133520,683496,967377,528
Exports of Services (million USD) 208,488226,389269,697281,651278,084

Source: World Trade Organisation (WTO) ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Indicators 20162017201820192020
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 36.937.637.535.834.5
Trade Balance (million USD) 488,883475,941380,074392,993515,000
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) 255,737217,01087,905131,844369,673
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 17.317.918.317.316.0
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 19.619.719.118.518.5

Source: World Bank ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20212022 (e)2023 (e)2024 (e)2025 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) 19.74.64.83.83.8
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) 19.18.55.84.54.1

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook ; Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

 
International Economic Cooperation
China is a member of the following international economic organisations: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (dialogue partner of ASEAN Plus Three), G-20, G-24 (observer), G-5, G-77, IMF, Pacific Alliance (observer), WTO, among others. For the full list of economic and other international organisations in which participates China click here. International organisation membership of China is also outlined here.
Free Trade Agreements
China is a member of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed on 15 November 2020. The complete and up-to-date list of Free Trade Agreements signed by China can be consulted here.
 

Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
2020
United States 17.5%
Hong Kong SAR, China 10.5%
Japan 5.5%
Vietnam 4.4%
South Korea 4.3%
See More Countries 57.8%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
2020
Japan 8.5%
South Korea 8.4%
United States 6.6%
China picto information 6.1%
Australia 5.6%
See More Countries 64.8%

Source: Comtrade, 2022. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

Main Products

2,590.6 bn USD of products exported in 2020
Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line...Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line telegraphy, incl. line telephone sets with cordless handsets and telecommunication apparatus for carrier-current line systems or for digital line systems; videophones; parts thereof 8.6%
Automatic data processing machines and units...Automatic data processing machines and units thereof; magnetic or optical readers, machines for transcribing data onto data media in coded form and machines for processing such data, n.e.s. 6.6%
Electronic integrated circuits and microassembliesElectronic integrated circuits and microassemblies 4.5%
Made up articles of textile materials, incl. dress...Made up articles of textile materials, incl. dress patterns, n.e.s. 2.1%
Lamps and lighting fittings, incl. searchlights...Lamps and lighting fittings, incl. searchlights and spotlights, and parts thereof, n.e.s; illuminated signs, illuminated name-plates and the like having a permanently fixed light source, and parts thereof, n.e.s. 1.5%
See More Products 76.7%
2,055.6 bn USD of products imported in 2020
Electronic integrated circuits and microassembliesElectronic integrated circuits and microassemblies 17.1%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 8.6%
Iron ores and concentrates, incl. roasted iron...Iron ores and concentrates, incl. roasted iron pyrites 5.8%
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 2.2%
Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line...Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line telegraphy, incl. line telephone sets with cordless handsets and telecommunication apparatus for carrier-current line systems or for digital line systems; videophones; parts thereof 2.1%
See More Products 64.3%

Source: Comtrade, 2022. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

To go further, check out our service Import Export Flows.

 

Main Services

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, 2021. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

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Latest Update: June 2022