Review of China’s Foreign Trade in the First Quarter of 2020

General Administration of Customs

Peoples Republic of China

April 14, 2020

The first quarter of 2020 witnessed the sudden outbreak of COVID-19. China, under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with President Xi Jinping at the core, has made great efforts to control the disease while ensuring socioeconomic development. Further progress has been made in containing the pandemic. Measures were rolled out to promote stable foreign trade development. Business resumption is accelerating.

According to Customs statistics, Chinas foreign trade volume in goods in the first quarter reached RMB6.57 trillion, down by 6.4% year-on-year (similarly hereinafter). Exports dropped by 11.4% to RMB3.33 trillion and imports fell by 0.7% to RMB3.24 trillion. The trade surplus decreased by 80.6% to RMB 98.33 billion.

The details are as follows.

1. Imports and exports recovered in March.

Chinas foreign trade in March was RMB2.45 trillion, a decrease of 0.8%, shrinking by 8.7 percentage points compared to that in February. Exports went down by 3.5% to RMB1.29 trillion and imports increased by 2.4% to RMB1.16 trillion.

2. ASEAN surpassed EU to become Chinas biggest trading partner.

In the first quarter, trade with ASEAN registered RMB991.34 billion, an increase of 6.1%, accounting for 15.1% of Chinas total trade volume with the world, making ASEAN Chinas biggest trading parter.

Trade with EU arrived at RMB875.93 billion, down by 10.4%. Trade with US registered RMB668.01 billion, down by 18.3%. Trade with Japan totaled RMB465.68 billion, down by 8.1%.

Trade with countries involved in Belt and Road Initiative reached RMB2.07 trillion, an increase of 3.2%, 9.6 percentage points higher than the countrys overall trade growth rate.

3. Imports and exports in private sector witnessed slight decrease but covered a bigger proportion.

In the first quarter of 2020, Chinas private businesses registered RMB2.78 trillion in foreign trade, a decrease of 2%, accounting for 42.4% of the countrys total foreign trade volume, 1.9 percentage points higher year on year.

Exports stood at RMB1.71 trillion, down by 7.3%, accounting for 51.4% of Chinas total exports. Imports reached RMB1.07 trillion, an increase of 7.9%, taking up 33.1% of the countrys total imports.

Foreign-invested enterprises marked RMB2.6 trillion in foreign trade, accounting for 39.6% of the countrys total foreign trade volume. State-owned enterprises witnessed RMB1.16 trillion in imports and exports, taking up 17.7% of the total foreign trade volume.

4. Ordinary trade volume accounted for 60% among all trade regimes.

In the first quarter of 2020, ordinary trade dropped by 5.7% to RMB3.94 trillion, making up 60% of Chinas total foreign trade volume. Exports fell by 11.3% to RMB1.95 trillion. Imports rose by 0.5% to RMB1.99 trillion.

Processing trade fell by 12.4% to RMB1.56 trillion, accounting for 23.8% of the countrys total foreign trade volume.

5. The mostly exported are electro-mechanical products and labor-intensive products.

In the first quarter of 2020, China exported RMB1.95 trillion of electro-mechanical products, down by 11.5%, taking up 58.5% of the countrys total exports.

Exports of seven types of labor-intensive products such as textiles and clothes fell by 15.3% to RMB596.98 billion, accounting for 17.9% of the countrys overall exports.

6. Imports of bulk commodities, such as iron ore, crude oil and coal, and essential products such as meat increased rapidly.

For bulk commodities, in the first quarter of 2020, China imported 260 million tons of iron ore, up by 1.3%; 130 million tons of crude oil, up by 5%; 95.778 million tons of coal, up by 28.4%; 24.656 million tons of natural gas, up by 1.8%.

For essential products, in the first quarter of 2020, China imported 17.792 million tons of soybeans, up by 6.2%; 951,000 tons of pork, an increase of 1.7 times; 513,000 tons of beef, up by 64.9%.

Imports of medical material and pharmaceuticals rose by 14.8% to RMB61.91 billion, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With the COVID-19 spreading worldwide, the global economy faces mounting downward pressure. Uncertainties are on the rise. Chinas foreign trade is encountering bigger difficulties.

China Customs, guided by Xi Jinpings Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, will constantly make hard efforts to contain the cross-border spreading of the disease and facilitate social and economic development in line with the requirements of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. 

At the same time, the Customs will continue to support businesses in exploring global market by making trading across borders easier. The Customs will make its due contributions to ensuring stable foreign trade development, promoting openness at a higher level, and achieving the countrys social and economic goals for this year.


( This is the translated English version and the Chinese version shall prevail. )


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

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