Review of China’s Foreign Trade in 2018

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


January 14, 2019



In 2018, under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, all provincial governments and departments of the central government have implemented a number of policies and measures boosting steady foreign-trade growth, in an effort to tackle the profound changes in the external environment. As a result, China’s foreign trade has developed in a steady manner with progress witnessed, reaching a record high in import and export volume. China is expected to keep its number-one position in the world in terms of trade in goods. According to China Customs statistics, in 2018, China’s foreign-trade volume reached RMB30.51 trillion, an increase of 9.7% compared to that of 2017 (similarly hereinafter). China’s exports arrived at RMB16.42 trillion, up by 7.1%. The imports stood at RMB14.09 trillion, which grew by 12.9%. The trade surplus was RMB2.33 trillion, shrinking by 18.3%. In USD terms, the trade volume reached USD4.62 trillion in 2018, an increase of 12.6%. China’s exports registered at USD2.48 trillion, increasing by 9.9%. The imports hit USD2.14 trillion, up by 15.8%. The trade surplus was USD351.76 billion, dropping by 16.23%. The details are as follows.


1. The annual import and export volume hit a new high. In 2005, China’s foreign trade volume, for the first time, exceeded RMB10 trillion. In 2010, it exceeded RMB20 trillion. In 2018, the trade volume went beyond RMB30 trillion, RMB2.7 trillion higher than 2017’s record.


2. The general trade volume rose rapidly and its proportion grew. In 2018, China’s general trade volume arrived at RMB17.64 trillion, an increase of 12.5%, accounting for 57.8% of the country’s total trade volume, 1.4 percentage points higher than 2017. The trade mode and structure were improved.


3. The trade volume with major trading partners increased, and trade with countries involved in the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) saw a good momentum. In 2018, China’s trade volume with its first three largest trading partners as the EU, the US and ASEAN countries went up by 7.9%, 5.7% and 11.2%, respectively, the combination of the three accounting for 41.2% of China’s total trade volume. In the same period, the country’s trade volume with BRI countries stood at RMB8.37 trillion, an increase of 13.3%, 3.6 percentage points higher than the growth rate of China’s total trade. The potential for trade cooperation between China and BRI countries is being continually unleashed, serving as a new engine propelling China’s foreign trade development. Among such countries, China’s trade volume with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Greece rose by 24%, 23.2% and 33%, respectively.


4. The trade of private sector increased in volume and proportion. In 2018, the trade volume of China’s private enterprises reached RMB12.1 trillion, an increase of 12.9%, accounting for 39.7% of the country’s total trade volume, 1.1 percentage points higher than 2017. The export volume of the private sector reached RMB7.87 trillion, an increase of 10.4%, making up 48% of the national export volume, up by 1.4 percentage points, remaining the largest among all market operators. The import trade volume of private sector arrived at RMB4.23 trillion, up by 18.1%. In 2018, the private sector contributed to more than half of the growth of the national imports and exports, becoming a highlight in China’s foreign trade development. In the same period, the trade volume of foreign-invested enterprises stood at RMB13 trillion, an increase of 4.3%, accounting for 42.6% of the country’s total trade volume. The trade volume of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) arrived at RMB5.3 trillion, up by 16.8%, accounting for 17.4% of the national trade volume.


5. The foreign trade in central-western regions and northeastern regions outpaced the national total, and the development was more coordinated among regions. In 2018, the foreign trade growth rate was 16.1% in the 12 western provinces and municipalities, 11.4% in the 6 central provinces and municipalities, and 14.8% in the 3 northeastern provinces, higher than the national rate by 6.4 percentage points, 1.7 percentage points and 5.1 percentage points, respectively. The foreign trade in the 10 eastern provinces and municipalities grew at the rate of 8.8%.


6. Electro-mechanical products covered a higher proportion in the exports and the export structure continued to improve. In 2018, electro-mechanical exports increased by 7.9% to RMB 9.65 trillion, taking up 58.8% of China’s total export value, 0.4 percentage points higher than 2017. Exports of automobiles and mobile phones increased by 8.3% and 9.8% respectively. Over the same period, exports of seven types of labor-intensive products, such as clothes and toys, rose by 1.2% to RMB3.12 trillion, accounting for 19% of the national export value.


7. Imports of major bulk commodities such as crude oil, natural gas and copper grew in both volume and price, while imports of iron ore and soybeans dropped in volume. In 2018, China imported 462 million tons of crude oil, up by 10.1%; 90.39 million tons of natural gas, up by 31.9%; 33.48 million tons of refined oil, up by 13%; 5.30 million tons of copper, up by 12.9%. Over the same period, China imported 1.064 billion tons of iron ore, down by 1%; 88.03 million tons of soybeans, down by 7.9%. Preliminary calculation showed that in 2018 China’s overall import price grew by 6.1%, with the average import price of crude oil, refined oil, natural gas and copper increasing by 30%, 20%, 22.9% and 3.2%, respectively.


In 2019, China Customs will try to achieve the aim of seeking improvement in stability, under the guidance of the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and in the spirit of the 19th CPC National Congress, the second and the third plenary sessions of the 19th CPC Central Committee, implementing the decision of the Central Economic Work Conference. China Customs will further advance its reformative measures to improve the country’s business environment and expand foreign trade, and improve the quality of foreign trade while ensuring its steady growth, in order to keep employment, the financial sector, foreign trade, foreign investment, external and domestic investment, and expectations all stable, and to better serve the country’s economic and social development.


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

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