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March 8, 2021

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Foreign trade up 32% in 2 months

Despite the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday and the epidemic, China’s foreign trade increased significantly in January and February, thanks to strong external demand, a recovering domestic economy and a low base last year due to strict COVID-19 control measures, the country’s customs authority said yesterday.

China’s total goods imports and exports expanded 32.2 percent year on year to 5.44 trillion yuan (US$838.16 billion) in the first two months of 2021, sustaining growth momentum in previous months.

Exports jumped 50.1 percent while imports rose 14.5 percent in yuan terms, according to the General Administration of Customs.

In February alone, China’s foreign trade totaled 2.42 trillion yuan, climbing 57 percent from a year ago, the GAC said.

“Due to the impact of the new coronavirus, overall trade (in yuan terms) in January-February last year fell 9.7 percent, and the low base was one of the reasons for the larger increase this year,” customs said. “But even when compared with normal years, such as the comparable periods in 2018 and 2019, growth in China’s overall trade was around 20 percent.”

Chinese authorities combine trade data for the first two months to compensate for fluctuations due to the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls at different times each year in January or February. Factories shut down for up to two weeks, then restock after they reopen.

Exports in dollar terms skyrocketed 154.9 percent in February compared with a year earlier, while imports gained 17.3 percent, the most since October 2018. The data did not include figures for January alone.

In the January-February period, exports jumped 60.6 percent from a year earlier to US$468.9 billion, when lockdowns to contain the pandemic brought economic activity to a near halt.

Strong exports, which benefited from China’s success in largely containing the public health crisis, have helped fuel the country’s recovery.

The surge was driven by a rebound in foreign demand, customs said in a statement on its website, citing improvements in manufacturing industries in the European Union and the United States, and their increased imports of Chinese products thanks to fiscal stimulus measures.

“In addition, a majority of manufacturing employees (in China) chose to stay put over the Lunar New Year holidays,” the statement said. “Our survey showed a lot of firms in export-oriented provinces stayed open, and orders that usually only get delivered after the New Year had been delivered normally.”

Chinese factory activity usually goes dormant during the Lunar New Year break as workers return to their hometowns. This year, the government appealed to workers to avoid traveling to curb the risk of a spread of the coronavirus.

In January-February, imports increased 22.2 percent from a year earlier to US$365.6 billion, above the 15 percent forecast, partly due to stockpiling of semiconductors and energy products, according to customs.

China posted a trade surplus of US$103.25 billion for the first two months, compared with a US$7.1 billion deficit in the same period last year.

The country saw double-digit growth in foreign trade volumes with major trading partners in the January-February period. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations remained China’s largest trading partner during the period, with the combined trade volume rising 32.9 percent year on year.

Other major trading partners such as the European Union, the United States and Japan saw trade volumes with China surge 39.8 percent, 69.6 percent and 27.4 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, China’s foreign trade with countries along the Belt and Road amounted to 1.62 trillion yuan in the first two months, up 23.9 percent year on year.


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