Data, Report and Analysis of China’s Foreign Trade in 2020

In 2020, under the ravages of the Covid-19 epidemic, the global economy was deeply affected, with major economies experiencing severe economic recession. Thanks to the control of the epidemic, strong macro policy measures, and rapid recovery of production and consumption in China, the Chinese economy has bucked the trend and become one of the few economies in the world to maintain positive economic growth. China’s foreign trade also showed a “V” shape reversal, which was not only better than expected, but also set a new historical record, due to the supply gap caused by the shutdown of enterprises abroad because of the spread of the epidemic and the huge increase in the demand for epidemic prevention materials.

Overview of China’s foreign trade in 2020

In 2020, in terms of US dollars, China’s total foreign trade reached US $4.646257 trillion, up 1.5% over 2019, of which exports reached US $2.590646 trillion, up 3.6%. Imports reached 2.055612 trillion U.S. dollars, down 1.07 percent from 2019; The trade surplus for the whole year reached US $535.034 billion, up 26.9 percent from 2019.

1. The scale of China’s trade in 2020 set a new record

In 2020, faced with the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic, Chinese governments at all levels introduced a series of unconventional foreign trade stabilization policy measures, which promoted the stability and recovery of China’s trade. From the perspective of trade scale, the foreign trade in 2020 has broken the historical record of foreign trade created in 2018, and created a new high in China’s export scale. The previous year, China’s total foreign trade was US $4622.443 billion.

2. China’s foreign trade realized “V” shape reversal

In January 2020, due to the epidemic and the Spring Festival holiday, the foreign trade of China in that month fell by 7.3% year-on-year. In February, foreign trade fell 16.7 percent year-on-year and 39.5 percent month-on-month. Losses narrowed in March, falling 4.3 percent year on year; They fell further in April and May; In June, China’s foreign trade ended five straight months of declines and posted positive growth for the first time, rising 1.1% from a year earlier. Since then, China’s foreign trade has been improving month by month, walking out of a “V” shaped reversal path.

3. China’s share in international trade has further increased

According to data released by the WTO and other countries, in the first 10 months of 2020 alone, China’s share of imports and exports, exports and imports in the international market reached 12.8 percent, 14.2 percent and 11.5 percent respectively, hitting a record high. Previously, China’s imports and exports, exports and imports accounted for 11.9 percent, 13.1 percent and 10.7 percent of the international trade market, respectively, in 2019. According to the data of the whole year of 2020, China’s share in global trade has increased by 1 percentage point on average compared with that of 2019. China has not only become the only major economy in the world that has achieved positive growth in trade in goods, but also further consolidated its position as a major trading country in goods.

Analysis of foreign trade structure of China in 2020

In terms of trade structure, although the proportion of primary products in China’s exports was getting smaller and the proportion of industrial products was getting larger, China’s exports were still dominated by basic manufactured products. The import quota of equipment manufacturing equipment and high-tech products was still high, and the structural imbalance was still quite prominent. In addition, China’s imports of grain and non-staple food such as pork also increased greatly in 2020. In terms of exports, new energy vehicles, pharmaceuticals and other materials increased significantly.

1. The share of exports of industrial products increased

In 2020, the share of industrial products in the composition of foreign trade products further expanded. The export scale of industrial products in the whole year reached US $2,475.146 billion, an increase of 4.6% year on year. Industrial products accounted for 95.5% of the total export volume, an increase of 1.1 percentage points compared with 2019. The export of primary products was only US $115.47 billion, down 13.8% year-on-year, and primary products accounted for only 4.5% of exports.

2. Export scale of mechanical transportation equipment continued to expand

In 2020, China’s total export of machinery and transportation equipment reached 1,258.31 billion US dollars, up 5.3% year on year, and machinery and transportation equipment accounted for 48.6% of the total export, up 0.8 percentage points compared with 2019. Imports of machinery and transportation equipment reached US $828.588 billion, accounting for 40.3 percent of the total. In the foreign trade of machinery and transportation equipment, the trade scale of mechanical and electrical equipment was the largest. In 2020, China’s export volume of mechanical and electrical products and accessories reached 395.82 billion US dollars, ranking the first in the export category, and telephone, communication and audio products ranked the second in the export category, reaching 310.36 billion US dollars. Office machinery and automatic data processing equipment were the third largest export category, with exports of US $217.426 billion. In the category of imported goods, the import scale of mechanical and electrical products and accessories also reached 476.9 billion US dollars, exceeding the export scale of China’s mechanical and electrical products, followed by petroleum, petroleum products and raw materials, metal ore and waste, the import scale reached 204.285 billion US dollars and 188.76 billion US dollars respectively.

3. The export of new energy vehicles and medical materials increased, and the import of grain vaccine chips increased significantly

In 2020, the export of protective materials such as masks drove the export of spinning fabrics. In 2020, the export of spinning fabrics reached 154.186 billion US dollars, an increase of 28.9% year on year, among which the export of textile products such as masks reached 94.389 billion US dollars, an increase of 104.8%. Exports of medicinal materials and pharmaceuticals also reached US $23.03 billion, up 26.6 percent from 2019. Among them, the annual export of Chinese medicinal materials was 131,000 tons, up 8.1% year on year. Exports of Chinese patent medicines were 12,500 tons, down 0.9% year on year; Antibiotics export 83,700 tons, down 4.2% year on year; The export of medical dressings was 217,000 tons, down 0.9 tons year-on-year. Due to the rising export price of pharmaceuticals, although the export quantity of some pharmaceuticals and medicinal materials has decreased, the total trade scale has increased greatly.

In addition, from March 2020 to the end of 2020, China’s customs inspected and exported 224.2 billion face masks, 2.31 billion pieces of protective clothing, 289 million pairs of goggles and 2.92 billion pairs of surgical gloves. In terms of medical instruments, 271,000 ventilators, 663,000 patient monitors and 119 million infrared thermometers were exported. In addition, 1.08 billion copies of Coronavirus detection kits were exported.

In terms of the growth range of imported goods, in terms of grain and food, sorghum imports increased the most in 2020, with a year-on-year growth of 501.2%. Pork imports reached 12.04 billion US dollars, up 157.6 percent; Corn imports increased by 134.5%; Wheat imports increased by 134%; In terms of medical products, imports of human vaccines increased by 61.5 percent. In terms of materials, imports of aluminum and steel increased by 116.3% and 64.4% respectively. In terms of quantity, imports of machine tools grew by 18.8 percent, imports of central processing units by 32 percent, imports of semiconductor manufacturing equipment by 29.8 percent, capacitors by 40.9 percent, and integrated circuits by 22.1 percent. High dependence on imports of high-tech products was high. In addition, the import of paper pulp and waste paper increased by 40 percent as the country implemented a total waste paper import ban in 2021 and many businesses increased their import efforts ahead of the ban.

Analysis of trade main bodys and trade modes

According to statistics from overseas, private enterprises have maintained their position as China’s largest foreign trade player after becoming the country’s largest in 2019, while state-owned enterprises’ share of trade has been declining. Affected by the epidemic, exports of equipment contracted to foreign countries and imports of equipment invested by foreign investors in China have dropped significantly. General trade was still the dominant mode of trade.

1. The volume of trade created by private enterprises has further expanded

In 2020, according to Chinese customs, the private enterprise imports and exports totaled $2.09917 trillion, among them, the private enterprise exports $1.40089 trillion, up 12.8% from a year earlier, imported $698.28 billion, up 9.4% from a year earlier, the private enterprises accounted for 45.2% of the total amount of China’s foreign trade import and export, was increased by 4.1% in 2019, show a strong trade activity. In 2020, the total import and export volume of state-owned enterprises was about US $665.71 billion, down 13.8% year on year, accounting for 14.3% of China’s total foreign trade, and the share fell 2.6 percentage points compared with that of 2019. The total import and export volume of foreign-invested enterprises was about US $1,977.59 billion, down 1.4 percent year-on-year, accounting for 38.7 percent of China’s foreign trade share.

2. The mode of trade was mainly general trade, and duty-free goods have increased significantly

In 2020, in terms of the scale of different trade modes, general trade was still the main mode of foreign trade. In 2020, general trade reached US $2,799.66 billion, an increase of 2.9% over the previous year, accounting for 59.8% of the total foreign trade. The import and processing trade reached US $961.41 billion, down 2.4% year on year, accounting for 20.7% of the total foreign trade. Total inbound and outbound goods from the bonded free trade and special customs supervision zones totaled US $563.66 billion, an increase of 8.4% year on year. US $10.55 billion of goods exported from contracted projects, down 25.5% year on year; The amount of equipment and goods imported by foreign-invested enterprises as investment was US $2.789 billion, down 47.4% year on year. From the perspective of growth range, the scale of duty-free goods was $3.97 billion, with an increasing range of 21.7, the highest growth range.

3. Cross-border e-commerce continues to maintain high growth

In 2020, offline commodity trading was greatly affected by the epidemic, and cross-border e-commerce ushered in new development opportunities. Meanwhile, local governments in China regarded cross-border e-commerce as an important part of model and format innovation, and strive to build it into an important force for stabilizing foreign trade. As the main body of foreign trade, enterprises pay more and more attention to cross-border e-commerce, and cross-border e-commerce became an important channel for foreign trade enterprises to open up new markets. According to Chinese customs statistics, in 2020, B2B simplified declaration goods of cross-border e-commerce alone reached US $658 million. In 2020, the import and export of cross-border e-commerce reached 1.69 trillion yuan (RMB), up 31.1 percent, according to the International Business Daily, citing a customs spokesman.

Analysis of trade areas

1. The trade performance of different regions in China was obviously differentiated, and Guangdong continues to maintain its position as a major foreign trade province

In 2020, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Beijing, Shandong, Fujian, Sichuan, Tianjin and Henan ranked the top 10 in terms of import and export scale of foreign trade consignees and consignors. Among them, although the total foreign trade of Guangdong Province, where consignees and consignors were located, decreased by 1.3% compared with 2019, the total foreign trade of Guangdong Province still accounted for 22% of the total foreign trade, reaching US $1,023.634 billion. Foreign exports reached US $628.37 billion, down 0.2% year-on-year, and imports reached US $395.36 billion, down 2.9% year-on-year. In terms of the growth rate of import and export of consigners and consignors, Guizhou Province saw the largest increase, with a year-on-year growth rate of 20.4%. However, the total amount of Guizhou Province was not high, only 7.909 billion US dollars, ranking the 27th among 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in the Chinese mainland. The second-largest increase was in Sichuan province, with a total import and export volume of US $116.8 billion in 2020, up 18.7 percent year on year. The biggest declines were in Tibet, Ningxia and Qinghai, with 55.8 percent, 49 percent and 39.4 percent, respectively.

2. The foreign trade regions were concentrated in Asia and Europe, and the regional imbalance was aggravated

According to the statistics of China’s customs, in 2020, from a regional perspective, Asia was the main region of China’s foreign trade. The annual trade volume reached 2,366.56 billion US dollars, accounting for 51.4% of China’s total foreign trade, with a year-on-year growth of 0.8%. Among them, the export to Asian countries and regions was 1,231.06 billion US dollars, with a year-on-year growth of 0.9%. Imports from Asian countries and regions reached US $1.155505 billion, up 0.8% year on year. In 2020, China’s total trade with Europe reached US $907.557 billion, up 3.5% year on year. Exports to Europe reached US $535.9 billion, up 7.2% year on year, and imports from Europe reached US $371.656 billion, down 1.4% year on year. Trade between China and the United States has grown rapidly. In 2020, the total bilateral trade between China and the United States reached US $586.72 billion, an increase of 8.3 percent year on year, among which China’s exports reached US $451.812 billion, an increase of 7.9 percent year on year, and China’s imports from the US reached US $134.91 billion, an increase of 9.8 percent year on year. Japan and the ROK were China’s second and third largest trading partners. In 2020, the bilateral trade volume between China and Japan and the ROK reached US $317.537 billion and US $285.26 billion respectively, up 0.8% and 0.3% year on year respectively. Trade in Africa and Latin America has not increased significantly.

3. “Belt and Road” trade continues to grow

According to information released by the spokesperson of the General Administration of Customs of China, China’s total imports and exports to countries along the “Belt and Road” routes reached 9.37 trillion yuan (RMB) in 2020, an increase of 1 percent from 2019.

Analysis of major countries trading with China

1. The U.S.

In 2020, although bilateral relations between China and the United States continued to be strained, bilateral trade between China and the United States has maintained rapid growth in the past year, based on the trade agreement reached at the end of 2019 and the economic structure of the two sides, as well as the impact of the epidemic on the American economy. Despite the increase in imports from the US, China’s trade surplus reached US $316.905 billion, accounting for 59.23 percent of China’s foreign trade surplus.

As mentioned above, in China’s foreign trade, the United States was still China’s largest single trading partner.

The trade situation between the two countries since the outbreak of the trade war in 2018 showed that although China’s imports from the United States fell due to the imposition of high tariffs, the overall balance of China’s exports was still relatively balanced. In January 2020, due to the impact of the trade war and the outbreak of the epidemic in China, bilateral trade between China and the US dropped sharply. In that month, bilateral trade was only US $41.488 billion, down by 9.6% year on year. China’s exports and imports fell by 11.4% and 2.7% respectively. By February, bilateral trade had fallen further to US $19.08 billion, down 21 percent year-on-year and 54 percent month-on-month. Exports fell 27.6 percent year-on-year and 67.8 percent month-on-month, reaching the lowest level in nearly three years. However, imports of medical substances led to a 2 percent increase in February from a year earlier. In March, the decline in bilateral trade narrowed from the previous month, but the year-on-year decline was still huge. In March, bilateral trade fell 20.1 percent, while China’s exports fell 25.2 percent and imports fell 3.7 percent. Since then, the decline in both imports and exports of bilateral trade has narrowed. By October 2020, China-US trade achieved positive growth. In the same month, bilateral trade volume reached 56.28 billion dollars, up 1.9 percent year on year. Exports reached 43.83 billion dollars, up 1.6 percent year on year. China’s imports reached 12.45 billion dollars, up 3.3 percent year on year. By December, bilateral trade had grown by a cumulative 8.3 percent, and China’s imports were up nearly 10 percent.

In terms of trade structure, China’s exports to the US were mainly mechanical and electrical products. In 2020, China exported 206.61 billion US dollars of mechanical and electrical products to the US. Furniture, toys and other miscellaneous products were the second largest category of goods exported from China to the US. In 2020, the export volume reached US $56.993 billion; Exports of textile raw materials and textile products amounted to US $50.6 billion; Exports of plastic and rubber products reached US $24.43 billion. In general, China’s exports to the US were mainly basic manufactured goods.

China’s main imports from the United States were mechanical and electrical products, chemical products and agricultural products. In 2020, China imported US $37.75 billion of electromechanical, audio-visual products, US $17.15 billion of chemical products and US $14.69 billion of plant products such as oilseeds and fodders from the US, among which corn, sorghum and other grains and soybeans saw a significant increase.

2. The European Union

In 2020, due to Brexit, the trade data between China and Britain has been removed from the trade statistics between China and the EU. Therefore, from the data point of view, the EU falls to the second place in China’s foreign trade, after ASEAN. Bilateral trade between China and the EU for the whole year was US $649.528 billion, an increase of 4.9% over 2019 (excluding the UK). Trade with the EU accounted for 13.9% of China’s foreign trade. Of this, China’s exports to the EU reached US $399.978 billion, up by 6.7% year on year. China imported US $258.55 billion from the EU, up 2.3% year on year.

In terms of trade structure, the mix of China’s exports to the EU has been further optimized, expanding from traditional labor-intensive products to high-tech products, of which machinery and transportation equipment accounted for over 50%. At the same time, China has also become a major export market for EU general machinery, office equipment, computers, communication equipment, electronic equipment, ships and luxury goods.

The main products that China exported to the EU were electric motors and electrical equipment, machinery and appliances, furniture, toys, clothing and clothing accessories, optical equipment and parts, plastics and their products.

The main products that China imported from the EU include machinery and appliances, automobiles and auto parts, electrical machinery and electrical equipment, optical equipment and parts, aircraft and other aircraft, pharmaceuticals, plastics and their products.

3. Australia

In 2020, under the influence of many factors, such as Sino-US relations, accusations of China “concealing the epidemic” and crackdown on Huawei and other companies, the relationship between China and Australia was increasingly tense, which was transmitted to the field of economic and trade cooperation, and trade frictions continued.

In terms of bilateral trade, the total value of trade between China and Australia in 2020 was about US $168.32 billion, down 0.7% from 2019. Among them, China’s export to Australia was US $53.48 billion, up 10.9% year on year. China imported US $114.84 billion from Australia, down 5.3% year on year. Australia ranked eighth among China’s single trading partners.

In terms of the category of exporters, China’s exports to Australia in 2020 were mainly mechanical and electrical equipment, furniture and building materials and other miscellaneous products, textile raw materials and products, and base metal products, which accounted for 67% of China’s total exports to Australia.

In terms of the type of importer, China’s imports from Australia in 2020 were mainly iron ore, coal, live animals and products, metal products, wool and frozen beef, etc. The scale of imports of these products reached US $105.423 billion, accounting for 91.8% of China’s total imports from Australia.

In general, since August 2020, China-Australia trade has taken a turning point. In particular, the scale of China’s imports from Australia has been shrinking, which has affected the growth of China-Australia bilateral trade.

In terms of specific products, taking mineral products, Australia’s largest export product to China, as an example, in July 2020, Australia’s mineral exports to China reached an annual peak of 9.168 billion US dollars. Since then, due to the tension between China and Australia, China’s imports of Australian mineral products have continued to decline, reaching about 96.8 billion US dollars for the whole year.

In general, thanks to the effective control of the epidemic, China’s foreign trade saw a bucking growth in 2020, which provided a great boost to China’s economic growth. According to the current global epidemic prevention and control situation, China’s foreign trade may continue to maintain relatively high growth in 2021. On the one hand, it is difficult to find a better substitute than Chinese products in the short term for the supply gap caused by foreign epidemics. On the other hand, the signing of the RCEP and BIT between China and Europe will further clear the way for China’s foreign trade. Combined with China’s continued policy measures to stabilize foreign trade, its foreign trade will continue to perform well in 2021.

Source: China’s Belt and Road Website (Original link not found)

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