Review of China’s Foreign Trade in 2016


According to China Customs statistics, China’s foreign trade volume stood at RMB24.33 trillion, a drop of 0.9 percent year-on-year (similarly hereinafter) in 2016. Exports decreased by 2 percent to RMB13.84 trillion and imports grew by 0.6 percent to RMB10.49 trillion. As a result, the trade surplus shrank by 9.1 percent to RMB3.35 trillion. The detailed information is as follows:


1. Foreign trade witnessed quarter-on-quarter recovery with both imports and exports growing in the fourth quarter of 2016. In 2016, the volume of China’s foreign trade experienced steady recovery. In the first quarter, the volume of foreign trade, exports and imports declined by 8.2 percent, 7.9 percent and 8.6 percent respectively. In the second quarter, the volume of foreign trade, exports and imports decreased by 1.1 percent, 0.8 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. In the third quarter, the volume of foreign trade and imports increased by 0.8 percent and 2.3 percent respectively while exports declined by 0.3 percent. In the fourth quarter, the volume of foreign trade, exports and imports grew by 3.8 percent, 0.3 percent and 8.7 percent respectively.


2. Both the volume and proportion of general trade have increased. In 2016, China’s general trade expanded by 0.9 percent to RMB13.39 trillion, accounting for 55 percent of China’s total foreign trade over the same period, 1 percentage point higher than 2015, which reflected an improved structure of trade modes.


3. Exports to some countries along the “Belt and Road” have registered growth. In 2016, China’s exports to Pakistan, Russia, Poland, Bangladesh and India increased by 11 percent, 14.1 percent, 11.8 percent, 9 percent and 6.5 percent respectively. Over the same period, China’s exports to the EU and the US rose by 1.2 percent and 0.1 percent respectively while that to the ASEAN declined by 2 percent, altogether taking up 46.7 percent of China’s total export value.


4. The proportion of exports by private enterprises remained the highest. In 2016, the imports and exports by private enterprises grew by 2.2 percent to RMB9.28 trillion, accounting for 38.1 percent of the total national figure. Exports by private enterprises declined by 0.2 percent to RMB6.35 trillion, accounting for 45.9 percent of the total export value, the proportion of which has remained the highest. Imports by private enterprises increased by 8.1 percent in 2016.


5. Electro-mechanical products and traditional labor-intensive products remained the major exported goods. In 2016, exports of electro-mechanical products decreased by 1.9 percent to RMB7.98 trillion, taking up 57.7 percent of the total export value over the same period. Exports of medical instrument and equipment, and storage batteries increased by 6.1 percent and 4 percent respectively. Over the same period, exports of traditional labor-intensive products dropped by 1.7 percent to RMB2.88 trillion, accounting for 20.8 percent of the total export value. Growth was seen in the export of textiles, toys and plastic products.


6. The import volume of major bulk commodities such as iron ore, crude oil and copper maintained growth, while the prices of major import commodities remained low with a narrowed decline size. In 2016, the import of iron ore, crude oil, coal, steel and copper hit 1024 million tons, 381 million tons, 256 million tons, 13.21 million tons and 4.95 million tons respectively, which increased by 7.5 percent, 13.6 percent, 25.2 percent, 3.4 percent and 2.9 percent respectively. The import of refined oil stood at 27.84 million tons, declining by 6.5 percent. Over the same period, the import prices witnessed an overall decline of 2.1 percent, where the average import prices of iron ore, crude oil, refined oil, coal, copper and steel decreased by 0.5 percent, 18.6 percent, 10.8 percent, 0.1 percent, 6 percent and 5.5 percent respectively, with a narrowed decline size compared with that in the first half of the year and that in the first three quarters of the year.


7. China’s Export Leading Index kept increasing in December, 2016. In the fourth quarter of the year 2016, China’s Export Leading Index has kept rising for three consecutive months to 37.4 in December, increasing by 0.5 points, which showed that the export pressure  in 2017 might be relieved. Data from an online survey showed that China’s Export Managers’ Index was 39.4, down by 0.6 points while the New Export Order Index was 41.9, up by 0.6 points, and the Manager Confidence Index was 43.5, declining by 2 points, and the Enterprise Comprehensive Cost Index was 23.9, decreasing by 1.6 points.


At present, there remain some obstacles facing China’s foreign trade development. For example, imports and exports by foreign-invested enterprises and state-owned enterprises reduced by 2.2 percent and 5.6 percent respectively, and imports and exports under processing trade dropped by 4.9 percent.


Faced with severe and complex international trade environment, China Customs will adhere to a tone of seeking progress on the basis of steady development, implement the policies and measures for a steady growth in foreign trade, focus on the establishment of a new open economic system, comprehensively deepen reform, carry out customs reform measures, advance the steady recovery of foreign trade, and better serve the economic and social development of the nation.


The English version is only for reference. In the event of any discrepancy between the Chinese and English versions, the Chinese version shall prevail.




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General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China

Address: No.6. Jianguomennei Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China        Postcode: 100730