Employees work at a shoe factory in Lishui, Zhejiang province, China. Photograph: Lang Lang/Reuters
Combined total for imports and exports of Chinese goods hits $3.87tn, edging past the US for the first time
by Phillip Inman
China has become the world’s biggest trading nation in goods, ending ending the post-war dominance of the US, according to official figures.
China’s customs administration said the combined total for imports and exports in Chinese goods reached $3.87tn (£2.4tn) in 2012, edging past the $3.82tn trade in goods registed by the US commerce department.
The landmark total for Chinese trade indicates the extent of Beijing’s dependence on the rest of the world to generate jobs and income compared with a US economy that remains twice the size, and more self-contained. The US economy is worth $15tn compared with the $7.3tn Chinese economy.
The US not only has a large internal market for goods, but also dominates the trade in services. US total trade amounted to $4.93tn in 2012, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) with a surplus of $195.3bn.
But like most western nations, the US deficit in the trade of goods weighs heavily and is only expected to get larger.
The deficit in goods was more than $700bn compared with China’s 2012 trade surplus, measured in goods, which totalled $231.1bn.
Jim O’Neill, head of asset management at Goldman Sachs, said the huge market for western goods would disrupt regional trading blocs as China becomes the most important commercial partner for some countries. Germany may export twice as much to China by the end of the decade as it does to France, he told Bloomberg.
“For so many countries around the world, China is becoming rapidly the most important bilateral trade partner,” he said. “At this kind of pace by the end of the decade many European countries will be doing more individual trade with China than with bilateral partners in Europe.”