China poised to surpass US as top trader

Updated: 2013-09-25 10:46

By Li Jiabao in Beijing and Amy He in New York (China Daily)

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World economies still mend, as Beijing optimizes exports

Thanks to a recovery in the global economy and reform at home, 2013 is likely to see China replace the United States as the world's largest trader, a Ministry of Commerce spokesman said on Tuesday.

"The primary force for trade improvement comes from the government's efforts at stabilizing the economy and boosting foreign trade with supportive measures," Shen Danyang said at an economic seminar in Beijing.

He added that China's share of global exports will keep increasing after expanding from 10.3 percent in 2010 to 11.5 percent in the first half of this year.

Data from the General Administration of Customs showed that the nation's total volume of imports and exports in 2012 amounted to $3.86 trillion, second only to the US, which it trailed by $15.64 billion, according to the World Trade Organization.

China's foreign trade has regained steam in recent months. The first eight months saw China's trade rise 8.3 percent from a year earlier with exports up 9.2 percent and imports increasing 7.3 percent, according to the ministry.

"The trade improvement will extend into the fourth quarter of this year, though fluctuations from the holidays, such as September and October, may technically distort the monthly trade figures," Shen said.

At the end of July, the State Council introduced measures to simplify customs clearance, cut administrative fees and increase financial aids.

The recovery of the world economy as well as the US economy improved the external environment while China's efforts on upgrading its foreign trade "enhanced the comprehensive competitiveness of enterprises", Shen noted.

He added that China's foreign trade was "splendid" in the first half of the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-15), with export structure significantly optimized, export markets diversified, trade pattern improved and imports enlarged.

Markets outside the US, the European Union and Japan accounted for 62 percent of China's overall exports in 2012, compared with 55 percent in 2010.

Private enterprises made up 42 percent of China's total exporters in export volume in the first half of this year, compared with 32 percent in 2010.

Trade with major partners is more balanced as imports registered $1.8 trillion in 2012, up 30 percent compared with 2010.

Reforms and opening-up were the major reasons for the strong performance of China's foreign trade in recent years, Shen said.

China signed free trade agreements with 18 economies to reduce tariffs and facilitate trade and investment, which greatly boosted the country's trade.

The special economic zones, including the free trade zone being piloted in Shanghai, also helped drive trade growth, according to Shen.

"In the next two years, China's foreign trade will be more splendid than the first half of the 12th Five-Year Plan," Shen said.

"The domestic economy will bring more support to the country's trade development as the government deepens reform and further opens up the market. Policies of stabilizing trade and encouraging the strategic emerging industries will also be in favor of trade development," Shen added.

The country's drive to establish a global free-trade network, including the China-Japan-South Korea FTA, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and the China-Australia FTA, which is in negotiations, will speed up the country's trade growth, according to Shen.

"It's sure that China will be the world's largest trader, but the added value of its exports is still much lower than the US," said Wang Haifeng, a researcher with the Institute for International Economic Research at the National Development and Reform Commission.

Joshua Meltzer, a fellow in Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institution, echoed Wang's sentiments. If China were to overtake the US in import and export volume, it would be a "milestone", Meltzer said, but it would "possibly reveal some of the challenges that China's going to be facing, given the composition of its growth".

Meltzer said he believes that it's clear to top leadership in China that the country needs to transition the economy away from being overly dependent on exports, and invest in one that relies more on domestic consumption.

He said the upcoming free trade zone establishment will help Chinese trade. "Free trade, loans, and these processing zones, it's something that a lot of economies in Asia have developed over the years, which have certainly boosted trade," he said.

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(China Daily USA 09/25/2013 page1)