By Joe McDonald, AP Business writer
BEIJING (AP) – China’s exports soared in 2020 despite pressure from the tariff war with Coronovirus and Washington, raising its politically volatile trade surplus to $ 535 billion, the highest reported ever.
Exports increased by 3.6% to $ 2.6 trillion in 2019, an improvement over the previous year’s 0.5% gain, customs data showed on Thursday. Imports declined 1.1% to just over $ 2 trillion, but growth was strong in the second half after China’s epidemic became the first major economy to revive.
Exports to the United States rose 7.9% in 2019 to $ 45.2 billion in 2019, despite tariff increases on most Chinese goods by the Trump administration over technology and security in Beijing. US commodity imports rose 9.8% to $ 13.5 billion as Beijing’s promise to fight to buy more US soybeans, natural gas and other exports.
China’s exporters benefited from the relatively early reopening of their economy and demand for masks and other Chinese-made medical supplies.
Exporters have taken market share from foreign rivals, who still face anti-virus restrictions, but that gain is expected to fade as the coronovirus vaccine is rolled out and other economies return to normal. The demand for medical goods is also declining.
“The current strength of exports is unlikely to continue indefinitely,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report. He added that imports are “likely to be lower” as the government reduces high expenditure and other support for economic activities.
Global exports rose 18.1% in December to $ 281.9 billion from a year earlier. Imports rose 6.5% to $ 203.7 billion, reflecting rebound in Chinese consumer demand after the ruling Communist Party reopened factories, shopping malls, offices and auto dealerships.
In December, exports to the United States totaled $ 4.6 billion. US goods imports totaled $ 1.6 billion, giving China a surplus of $ 3 billion.
“In 2020, China made outstanding achievements in foreign trade, which did not come easy,” the General of China’s Customs Administration said in a statement. It warned against complacency, stating that the global economic situation was “still grave and complex.”
The election of Joe Biden to succeed President Donald Trump has raised questions about the future of Trump’s battle with Beijing. Economists and political analysts expect some changes because of China’s record on trade and human rights and widespread frustration in Washington with complaints of technology theft and espionage.
Beijing promised to buy more US exports in a “Phase 1” agreement reached in January last year with the aim of ending the tariff war. The two governments agreed to postpone planned tariff increases on each other’s goods, but penalties on imports of billions of dollars remain.
China lagged behind to fulfill those commitments, but caught up as demand picks up.
China is on its way to being the only major economy to grow in 2020, with activity in the United States, Europe and Japan.
The world’s second-largest economy shrunk to 6.8% in the first three months of 2020 from a year earlier. Growth reached 3.2% in the second quarter and increased to 4.9% in the three months ending in September.
Chinese imports are growing faster than price as the prices of oil and other commodities reflect global demand for travel and trade.
Also in 2020, exports to Europe increased 6.7% to $ 39.1 billion despite anti-virus controls that shut down travel and trade in major markets. European goods imports rose 2.3%, giving China a surplus of $ 13.3 billion.
General Administration of Customs of China (in Chinese): www.customs.gov.cn
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