Trade data shows resilience of the Chinese economy
In yet another sign of the resilience of the Chinese economy, the country’s foreign trade reached a historic high of 30.51 trillion yuan ($4.62 trillion) in 2018, an increase of 9.7 percent from the previous year, according to figures from the General Administration of Customs released on Monday.
That is indeed remarkable given the rising protectionism globally and the ongoing trade frictions between China and the United States, and it reflects how well China has adapted itself to the fast-changing and complicated external situation, with the government providing timely policy support.
Measures already taken range from the “significant” lowering of tariffs on imports such as vehicles and auto parts, moves to broaden market access and reforms to improve the business regulatory environment. The recent World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report, which ranks economies based on how easy it is to do business in them, identified China as one of the top 10 improvers in business regulation, rising to 46th compared to 78th last year.
But despite the overall positive picture, pessimists have pointed to the December figures — which show both exports and imports fell, by 4.4 percent and 7.6 percent, from a year earlier — as an indication China’s economy may be losing momentum due to weakening overseas markets and cooling domestic demand.
But it is not the first drop in the monthly figures, as the growth rates of exports and imports fluctuate due to seasonal factors, global commodities prices or base figures for the corresponding month of previous year. Actually, China’s foreign trade increased quarter-on-quarter in 2018, suggesting a healthy trend.
Of course, uncertainties abound, especially in external demand from traditional overseas markets such as the US and the European Union. That is why China has sought in recent years to explore opportunities in new markets, especially along the Belt and Road routes. Trade with such countries registered faster-than-average growth of 13.3 percent in 2018, indicating they have become a new “driving force” for the foreign trade of the world’s largest trading nation.
Its trade frictions with the US may continue to be a source of worry — as accentuated by the latest figure that suggests the trade surplus between the two countries rose to $323 billion last year, the highest since 2006. But the impact it will have on its economic well-being is likely to be limited because China’s dependence on exports has been declining over the years — from 70 percent in 2007 to less than 20 percent nowadays as the country seeks to shift its economic growth from export-oriented to domestic demand-driven.
And all the economic indicators suggest a healthy Chinese economy — for example, it has registered economic growth in the 6.7 percent to 6.9 percent range for 12 consecutive quarters.
This, together with the latest trade figures, should instill optimism in the prospects for the country’s economy in 2019.