In 2013, China became the world’s leading trading nation, surpassing the United States. China’s total imports and exports reached 31.5 trillion yuan in 2019. The goods import trade value that year exceeded two trillion U.S. dollars, which accounted for nearly 14 percent of the global imports, making China the second largest importing nation worldwide.
Among the country’s major import products are machines and electronics such as integrated circuits, mineral products (crude oil, iron ore, etc.), vehicles, metallurgical products, chemicals, rubber, plastic in primary forms, and textile. China’s agricultural sector has been increasingly relying on imports in the last few years as well. China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans and meat and among the leading importers of dairy, wine, and other food products and beverages. In terms of service trade, travel and transportation-related service imports take up around 75 percent of all service imports in China.
As of 2019, China’s major import partners were the ASEAN countries, the European Union, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Imports from the United States, while still amounting to over 100 billion U.S. dollars annually, have been decreasing since 2017 as a result of the ongoing trade war and import tariffs between the two countries.
Despite the upward trend in China’s imports, the country’s exports surpass its imports by a wide margin, creating the largest merchandise trade surplus in the world. In 2019, China had a positive trade balance exceeding 420 billion U.S. dollars. However, in contrast to merchandise trade, trade in services show a deepening deficit as service imports to China outperform the exports by nearly 300 billion U.S. dollars annually. Amid the global economic turmoil of 2020, the debate on whether China’s major economic partners can expect an increased trade symmetry in the nearest future remains an open question.