China’s foreign trade volume hit a historic high in 2018, a sign that the economy remained resilient despite growing external uncertainties.
“China effectively tackled profound changes in the external environment last year, and foreign trade maintained steady and positive growth, reaching a historic high in import and export volumes,” General Administration of Customs spokesman Li Kuiwen said yesterday.
China’s foreign trade rose 9.7 percent year on year to a historic high of 30.51 trillion yuan (US$4.5 trillion) in 2018.
The value was 2.7 trillion yuan higher than in 2017, according to the customs.
Exports rose 7.1 percent year on year to 16.42 trillion yuan last year, while imports grew 12.9 percent to 14.09 trillion yuan, resulting in a trade surplus of 2.33 trillion yuan, which narrowed by 18.3 percent.
“China is expected to keep its No. 1 position in the world in terms of trade in goods,” Li said.
He attributed the growth to sound and steady economic fundamentals and a number of policies and measures boosting steady foreign trade growth, including lower import tariffs, higher export tax rebates and improvement in the business environment.
Behind the strong foreign trade figures, China’s shifting engines of economic growth are revealed.
Exports and imports of products under the general trade category, which have a higher added value than the processing trade, surged 12.5 percent year on year to 17.64 trillion yuan, accounting for 57.8 percent of total foreign trade, 1.4 percentage points higher than in 2017.
China’s trade with the European Union, the United States and ASEAN increased 7.9 percent, 5.7 percent and 11.2 percent, with their combined trade volume accounting for 41.2 percent of China’s total foreign trade.
China’s trade with the US totaled 4.18 trillion yuan in 2018, up 5.7 percent year on year.
Exports to the US rose 8.6 percent year on year to 3.16 trillion yuan last year, while imports from the US dropped 2.3 percent to 1.02 trillion yuan, resulting in a trade surplus of 2.14 trillion yuan, which widened by 14.7 percent.
“The widened trade surplus in 2018 shows China and the US are in different development stages and both are economically complementary,” Li said.
Trade with countries along the Belt and Road registered faster-than-average growth, with the trade volume standing at 8.37 trillion yuan, up 13.3 percent year on year.
“Trade cooperation with Belt and Road countries has become the new driving force of China’s foreign trade development,” Li said.
Private enterprises played a bigger role, accounting for 39.7 percent of the total foreign trade, up 1.1 percentage points compared with 2017.
Private firms posted total imports and exports of 12.1 trillion yuan last year, an increase of 12.9 percent.
“Private enterprises contributed more than half to China’s foreign trade growth in 2018,” Li said.
Electro-mechanical products remained a pillar of exports. Exports of metal-working machines, cell phones and automobiles grew 19.2 percent, 9.8 percent and 8.3 percent.
Trade growth is more balanced among regions. Less developed regions, including central and west China and northeast China, all outpaced the national average.
Yesterday’s data also showed China’s December exports fell 4.4 percent from a year earlier. Imports shrank 7.6 percent in December alone.
“The fluctuation of the import and export growth rate is common. It is related to the domestic and international economic situation, international commodity prices, and the import and export rhythm of foreign trade enterprises,” said Li.
For China’s foreign trade outlook in 2019, the spokesman said the biggest challenge is the severe and complicated external environment, rising protectionism and unilateralism, and slowing global economic growth that will drag down multinational trade and investment.
“China’s foreign trade growth would slow in 2019 off a high base,” Li said.
But generally speaking, he said, China’s steady and positive growth momentum would lay a solid foundation for the development of foreign trade this year.
As the country continues to push forward supply-side structural reform and opening-up, the structure of China’s exports and imports will be further optimized with both quality and efficiency improved, Li said.
Source: Shanghai Daily, January 15. 2019