China Trade: Exports to decline in 2023 for first time in seven years

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A cargo ship prepares at the container terminal of Lianyungang Port in east China's Jiangsu Province on December 6, 2023.

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China's full-year exports fell for the first time since 2016 as global demand weakened.

According to Chinese customs data released on Friday, exports measured in US dollar terms will reach $3.38 trillion in 2023, down 4.6% from the previous year. In 2022, Chinese exports 7% increase from previous year.

China's overseas exports slumped in 2016, when exports fell 7.7% due to weak demand.

Last year, imports fell 5.5% to $2.56 trillion. It became the world's second largest economy with a trade surplus of $823 billion.

“The global economic recovery has been weak in the past year,” said Liu Daliang, spokesman for the General Administration of Customs, at a press conference in Beijing on Friday. “Slow External Demand Hits China's Exports.”

He expects exports in 2024 to face “difficulties” as global demand remains weak and “protectionism and unilateralism” will hamper the sector's growth.

However, there is a silver lining. In December, exports rose 2.3% from the same month a year ago, marking the second straight month of growth and a slight improvement in global appetite for Chinese goods. The country's exports fell for six straight months before November.

The US was China's largest single-country trading partner in 2023, with bilateral trade accounting for 11.2% of total trade. However, that value is down 11.6% from the 2022 total.

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BYD electric cars wait to be loaded onto a ship at the international container terminal of Taicang Port, located in China's eastern Jiangsu Province.

ASEAN, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union account for 15.4% and 13.2% of total trade with China, respectively, according to custom figures.

The country recorded a surge of 69% in the total value of automobile exports last year, the highest among all categories.

In terms of volume, China is expected to ship 5.22 million vehicles in 2023, up 57% from 2022. That's thanks in part to the development of electric vehicles, Liu said.

“One out of every three cars that China exports is an electric passenger vehicle,” he told a press conference.

“Looking to the future, we believe that China's automotive industry still has a strong comprehensive competitive advantage and can continue to provide more and better innovative products to meet the needs of global consumers,” he added.

Earlier this week, a major Chinese car industry conglomerate said The country is “certain” to overtake Japan as the world's biggest car exporter last year thanks to strong demand from Russia and a global appetite for EVs.

The ranking will be confirmed once Japan's official annual statistics are released, expected in the next few weeks.

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