China’s exports slump for the first time in seven years

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

China’s exports slump for the first time in seven years
China’s exports slump for the first time in seven years

Exports measured in US dollar terms stood at $3.38 trillion in 2023, down by 4.6% compared to the year before, according to Chinese customs figures released on Friday. In 2022, Chinese exports increased by 7% from the year earlier.

The last time China registered a decline in overseas shipments was in 2016, when exports fell 7.7% in the face of weak demand.

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

“The global economic recovery has been weak in the past year,” Lyu Daliang, a spokesperson for the General Administration of Customs, told a Friday press conference in Beijing. “Sluggish external demand has hit China’s exports.”

He expects 2024’s exports to continue facing “difficulties,” as global demand is likely to remain weak and “protectionism and unilateralism” will hinder the sector’s growth, he added.

There is a silver lining, though. In December, exports rose 2.3% from the same month a year ago, marking a second straight month of growth and suggesting a slight improvement in the global appetite for Chinese goods. The country’s exports had dropped for six consecutive months before November.

The United States remained China’s largest single-country trading partner in 2023, as bilateral trade accounted for 11.2% of total trade. However, that value was down 11.6% from the 2022 total.

China’s exports slump for the first time in seven years
China’s exports slump for the first time in seven years

ASEAN, the 10-member bloc in Southeast Asia, and the European Union accounted for 15.4% and 13.2% of total trade with China, custom figures showed.

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

By volume, China shipped 5.22 million vehicles in 2023, up 57% from 2022. That’s in part thanks to surging growth in electric vehicles, said Lyu.

“One out of every three cars exported by China is an electric passenger vehicle,” he said at the press conference.

“Looking to the future, we believe that China’s auto 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 group said the country is “certain” to have surpassed Japan to become the world’s largest car exporter last year, driven by strong demand in Russia and growing global appetite for EVs.

The rankings will be confirmed once Japan’s official annual figures are released, which are expected in the next few weeks.

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