China Claims Title of Top Trading Nation

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China reported that total imports and exports surpassed $4 trillion in 2013, placing it ahead of the United States as the largest trading nation. Data from the General Administration of Customs say that in 2013, trade increased 7.6 percent year over year, totaling $4.16 trillion.

The gains are slightly below previous projections of 8 percent for the year. Exports grew by 7.9 percent ($2.21 trillion) for the year, while imports rose 7.3 percent ($1.95 trillion).

The BBC ran remarks by Zheng Yuesheng, a spokesman for China’s customs administration.”It is very likely that China has overtaken the U.S. to become the world’s largest trading country,” Yuesheng said.

The United States has not issued trade data for 2013; it will be published in February. Trade for the first 11 months of the year amounted to $3.5 trillion. There are concerns that the figures reported by the Chinese are misleading because exporters may be overstating shipments to circumvent restrictions placed on trade by the government.

Sun Junwei, HSBC’s China economist in Beijing, said to Reuters that this is expected to be “relatively contained this year compared with last year.” Rajiv Biswas, the chief economist of Asia-Pacific at IHS, told the news outlet he thinks a trade gap between the U.S. and China is likely. Biswas predicted a $250 billion difference in 2013, which is likely to grow larger in 2014.

Zheng also said the trade surplus gained 12.8 percent year over year at $259.75 billion. Per the BBC, he said China’s largest trading partner was the European Union ($559.1 billion), followed by the U.S. ($521 billion). This represents gains of 2.1 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.

Chinese trade with Japan was down 5.1 percent compared to 2012, to $312.55 billion. Lu Ting, chief China economist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, did not make a concrete forecast for the year following the data. ”Today’s trade data make us quite comfortable with our neither bullish nor bearish 2014 GDP and trade forecasts,” Lu told the BBC.

Based on December trade data from China, analysts are speculating about improvement in the Chinese economy domestically. Imports grew 8.3 percent, better than what was predicted, according to Lu. Junwei, per Reuters, called the increase “the biggest surprise” and that it “suggests China’s domestic demand is continuing to improve.”

Overall, Zheng thinks improvements worldwide in 2014 will lift Chinese trade higher. “The strengthening recovering of developed economies will likely gradually lead the global economy out of the financial crisis, which will improve the external environment of China’s exports,” he said during a news conference, according to the BBC.

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