China’s trade sector demonstrates strong resilience, surpassing 10 trillion yuan in imports and exports in early 2024

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12th April 2024 – (Beijing) China’s trade sector has shown remarkable resilience, with total imports and exports exceeding 10 trillion yuan ($1.38 trillion) in the first quarter of 2024 — the highest ever for this period and the quickest growth in over a year and a half. The General Administration of Customs (GAC) released data on Friday pointing to a robust start that could signal a significant recovery for the world’s second-largest economy.

Despite facing external pressures including a slowdown in global demand and political challenges from Western policies aimed at reducing dependence on Chinese supply chains, China’s trade figures have climbed. In the first three months of the year, trade grew by 5 percent year-on-year, marking the fastest increase in six quarters. This included a 4.9 percent rise in exports and a 5 percent increase in imports.

Although there was a slight dip in March with a 1.3 percent year-to-year decrease in total foreign trade, officials remain optimistic. “China’s foreign trade had a strong start and good momentum in the first quarter, laying a solid foundation for achieving the goal of improvement in quality and stability in quantity,” remarked Wang Lingjun, deputy head of the GAC, at a press briefing.

The boost in trade was notably led by mechanical and electrical products, which saw a 6.8 percent increase and made up nearly 60 percent of the total export value. Noteworthy too were the significant jumps in exports of automobiles and ships, which surged by 21.7 percent and 113.1 percent respectively.

The private sector also showed vigorous growth, with imports and exports expanding by 10.7 percent, accounting for over half of China’s total trade. Zhu Qiucheng, CEO of Ningbo New Oriental Electric Industrial Development, highlighted the vibrant cross-border e-commerce sector, “For many businesses in Jiangsu and Zhejiang, they are all seeing growth,” he told the Global Times.

Further underscoring the economic upswing, China’s trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grew by 6.4 percent, though trade with the European Union and the United States saw declines. Nevertheless, exports to the US did grow by 2.1 percent, while imports from the US decreased.

The resurgence in China’s manufacturing sector is supported by other economic indicators. The official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) returned to expansion in March, and a private survey indicated that factory activity expanded for the fifth consecutive month and at the fastest pace in a year.

Hu Qimu, deputy secretary-general of the digital-real economies integration Forum 50, pointed to the strong recovery momentum, “This latest data demonstrated that China’s manufacturing industry and the real economy are recovering.”

Despite the challenges posed by geopolitical tensions and trade protectionism, Chinese officials are optimistic about the future. Wang Lingjun noted, “While unfavourable factors still exist, many favourable factors are also emerging, including an expected rebound in global trade this year.”