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What are China’s key exports and imports?

While the US remains the world’s largest economy, it is undoubtedly China that is in pole position when it comes to trade. China emerged as the top exporter back in 2009 and overtook the US as the largest trading nation in the world (including imports and exports) in 2013. Let’s take a look at the country’s top exports and imports, and their effect on global trade. 

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China’s top exports and imports

China isn’t called the world’s factory for nothing. Its top exports are all manufactured goods, with electrical machinery and equipment and computers accounting for more than half the total. This includes everything from iPhones to smart TVs and beyond. It’s also the world’s leading furniture exporter and a major player in the global plastics and vehicle manufacturing market. 

China's top five exports by dollar value:

  1. Electrical machinery and equipment
  2. Machinery, including computers
  3. Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs and prefab buildings
  4. Plastics and plastic articles
  5. Optical, technical and medical apparatus.

Interestingly, China’s import list is also dominated by electronic equipment and machinery. While the country dominates the production of many mass-produced items, it still relies on trading partners in a number of mostly high-tech areas such as aircraft and medical devices. However, the country also imports huge volumes of oil and other fuels to keep itself running, as well as metal ores to provide the raw materials for its factories.

China's top five imports

  1. Electrical machinery and equipment
  2. Mineral fuels including oil
  3. Machinery including computers
  4. Ores, slag and ash
  5. Optical, technical and medical apparatus.

Where do China’s imports come from and where do its exports go?

The US/North America

Despite the underlying animosity between the two nations, the US and China do a lot of business with each other. In fact, the US is China’ best single customer – buying almost $400 billion in goods in 2020, and selling $110 billion in return. This is the trade deficit former President Donald Trump often complained about, and this imbalance has a significant impact on both economies.

US consumers are big contributors to this imbalance, with smartphones, computers, furniture and TVs among China’s biggest cross-Pacific exports. By contrast, the major US exports are centered on industries where the country has a technological edge, like aircraft and integrated circuits, as well as commodities​ like soybeans and crude oil.

Asia

Japan and South Korea are China’s most important trading partners in Asia, but the country also does substantial trade with nations such as Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. In 2020, the ASEAN bloc of south-east nations even overtook Europe for the first time in imports from China. Almost half of China’s exports go to Asian nations, with a wide range of goods including everything from air conditioners to t-shirts. Smartphones were at the top of the list for a number of nations in the region.

China’s list of imports again included a mix of advanced technological goods – mainly coming from Japan and South Korea – and raw commodities, with Vietnam accounting for almost half of all China’s rice imports.

Europe

China’s major trading partners in Europe include Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Once again, most of this trade is in manufactured goods, especially vehicles and machinery, which top both the import and export list between the European Union and China.

Other

In terms of raw commodities, China’s biggest trading partners include Russia, which is the top supplier of oil to the country, and Australia, which dominates in terms of both coal and iron ore. 

How will China’s imports and exports change in the future?

Four decades of economic growth have transformed China from an agrarian society to an increasingly urbanised one, dragging millions out of poverty along the way. As its middle class continues to grow, experts expect China’s economy to become less dependent on manufacturing and more on domestic consumption.

Ultimately, that should lead to a greater number of consumer goods being imported into China. This trend is already underway, and has been for some time, especially among producers of premium products. High-end fashion houses in Europe and premium wine and spirit producers across the world have reported significant growth in their China sales over the past decade, while producers of meat and dairy products – especially infant formula – have also benefited.

The shift of focus to consumption may also have an impact on Chinese exports. Following the pattern of other developed economies, there is likely to be an increased focus on high-end manufacturing while rising wealth and incomes may undermine China’s competitive advantage in lower-value exports like textiles.

Challenges and opportunities for China’s trading partners

China has disrupted the established order of global trade over the past 40 years, first by becoming the world’s factory and, more recently, by becoming one of its top consumers. That trend is likely to continue as the country’s wealth and influence continues to grow, creating opportunities and challenges for the countries it does business with.

What’s ahead for China’s gold market?

As its economy continues to grow, China is likely to become an increasingly powerful player in the global gold market. Already the world’s largest gold miner and consumer, the country is now working to increase its global influence via the Shanghai Gold Exchange while its central bank is buying up gold at a fast pace and is expected to continue to do so for some time as it tries to diversify away from its US dollar holdings. As with everything China does, global investors are watching closely.

FAQS

What are China's major exports and imports?

China's key exports and imports include:

Top three exports by dollar value are:

  • 1. Electrical machinery and equipment.
  • 2. Machinery, including computers.
  • 3. Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs and prefab buildings.

Top three imports by dollar value are:

  • 1. Electrical machinery and equipment.
  • 2. Mineral fuels including oil.
  • 3. Machinery including computers

Learn how to trade commodities today.

What is China's largest import?

China's key exports and imports are mainly manufactured goods. In fact, China’s largest import by dollar value is electrical machinery and equipment. Learn more about forex trading.

Who is China's largest trading partner?

When it comes to trade, China's key exports and imports are closely tied to the United States. In fact, the US is China’ best single customer – buying almost $400 billion in goods in 2020, and selling $110 billion in return. Learn more about forex trading.

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