China has leapfrogged the US to become the world’s biggest trading nation, bringing an end to the US’s post-war dominance of global commerce.
The total value of US exports and imports in 2012 was $3.82 trillion (£2.4 trillion), the US Commerce Department has revealed. China’s customs administration has already announced that the country’s total trade last year was worth $3.87 trillion.
“It is remarkable that an economy that is only a fraction of the size of the US economy has a larger trading volume,” Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, told Bloomberg. “The surpassing of the US is not because of a substantially undervalued currency that has led to an export boom,” Mr Lardy said, pointing out that Chinese imports have grown at a faster rate than exports since 2007.
Not only has China managed to post a larger total trading figure, but the breakdown of imports compared with exports also makes for favourable reading in Beijing. China had a full-year trade surplus of $231.1bn with the US posting a total 2012 trade deficit of $727.9bn.
Indeed, the Asian powerhouse looks set to table an even better performance in 2013, as trade accelerated substantially last month. Exports jumped 25pc on a year-on-year basis and imports were up 29pc in January, beating analysts’ expectations. However, the data is distorted by the timing of the Chinese New Year festivities.
Last year’s Lunar New Year shutdown began in January, leaving fewer work days and boosting this year’s figures by comparison.
However, activity across the Chinese economy was impressive, with sales of passenger cars over the month soared to their highest ever. China’s auto sales jumped 46.4pc compared with January 2012 to a record monthly high of 2.03m units, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said. Vehicle output also hit a new monthly high, surging 51.17pc to 1.96m units.
The data is helping to ease fears that China could face a slump. These worries remain despite an acceleration of growth in the country.
French bank Société Générale said last month there still is a chance of a “hard landing,” with growth dropping below 6pc, which would be dangerously low for China.
“A deceleration is likely by the end of the year if further stimulus measures are not forthcoming, which they probably won’t because of latent inflation pressures,” Alaistair Chan, an economist at Moody’s said last week. “Exports are expected to record moderate growth as the global economy recovers.”
However, the data has reassured some.
“Overall this says there is no need to worry about the strength of China’s recovery,” Sun Junwei, China economist at HSBC in Beijing, said
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