International trade in China took off since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. Twelve years since, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s leading trading nation. China’s total imports and exports have grown nearly steeply since 2001 and amounted to nearly 40 trillion yuan in 2021. The goods import trade value that year exceeded 2.6 trillion U.S. dollars, making China the second-largest importing nation worldwide.
In terms of service trade, transportation-related service imports took up the largest share of all service imports in China in 2021. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, China’s travel imports have decreased drastically, as a travel ban was imposed. On the other hand, telecommunication, computer, and information services imports to China increased at a rapid pace.
China’s import partners
Impacted by the escalating economic and political conflicts with the western world, China continuously shifted its trade focus to Asia. As of 2021, China’s major import partners were the ASEAN countries, the European Union, Taiwan, and South Korea. Besides, China has been focusing on strengthening its trade relationship with the belt-and-road initiative countries as part of its new trade roadmap. As of 2021, 142 countries have signed the initiative, and the total import value from BRI countries surpassed five trillion yuan.
Nevertheless, thanks to the ease of the U.S.-China trade war, imports from the United States shot to a historical high at around 151 billion U.S. dollars amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite an upward trend in China’s imports, the country’s exports surpass its imports by a wide margin, creating the largest merchandise trade surplus in the world. In 2021, China had a positive trade balance exceeding 676.7 billion U.S. dollars. However, in contrast to merchandise trade, trade in services show a constant deficit as service imports to China outperform exports by nearly 100 billion U.S. dollars annually.
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Research expert covering e-commerce and FMCG in Greater China