Foreign trade tops US$4 trillion for first time

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China's total exports and imports surpassed $4 trillion for the first time to reach $4.16 trillion in 2013, up 7.6 percent year on year, customs data have shown.

The growth rate, however, is slightly lower than the government's full-year target of 8 percent, published in the beginning of 2013.

China's 2013 exports rise 7.9%, imports up 7.3%

China's exports rose 7.9 percent year on year to $2.21 trillion in 2013, while imports increased 7.3 percent to $1.95 trillion, customs data revealed on Friday.

The foreign trade surplus widened to $259.75 billion in 2013, an increase of 12.8 percent from a year earlier, said Zheng Yuesheng, spokesman for the General Administration of Customs.

In December, China's foreign trade value hit a new high of $389.8 billion, an increase of 6.2 percent from a year earlier.

December's exports amounted to $207.7 billion, an increase of 4.3 percent, significantly lower than the 12.7-percent growth in November and also lower than the 5.6 percent in October. Import growth rose to 8.3 percent year on year in December from 5.3 percent in November.

"Export growth slowdown in December was in line with market expectations, while import growth was better than expected," said Lu Ting, chief China economist with the Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

According to Zheng, trade with the European Union (EU), China's biggest trade partner, edged up 2.1 percent year on year to $559.1 billion in 2013. China exported $339 billion worth of goods to the EU, while importing $220.1 billion worth of goods from the EU.

Trade with the United States, China's second-biggest trade partner, rose 7.5 percent year on year to $521 billion. China's exports to the United States amounted to $368.4 billion, while imports from the country stood at $152.6 billion.

China's trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, its third-largest trading partner, rose 10.9 percent year on year to $443.6 billion.

Its trade with Japan meanwhile contracted 5.1 percent year on year, to $312.55 billion.

"Today's trade data make us quite comfortable with our neither bullish nor bearish 2014 GDP and trade forecasts," Lu said.

Exports, along with retail sales and investment, have been one of the three main drivers for China's rapid economic growth. External demand supports about 12 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and absorbs some 35 percent of industrial output.

Lu predicted stronger tailwinds, thanks to faster US and European growth, than headwinds, owing to weak emerging markets and the strong Renminbi, for China's exports.

But headline export growth could still drop from 7.9 percent in 2013 to 7.6 percent in 2014 due to fake reporting of exports during January to April 2013, as some people took advantage of arbitrage opportunities in early 2013 over different exchange rates between the US dollar and the onshore and offshore Renminbi, he said.

Lu forecast China's annual export growth could rise to 9.6 percent in 2014, contributing about 40 basic points to GDP growth. Headline import growth could tick up from 7.0 percent in 2013 to 7.9 percent in 2014 on robust domestic demand including some restocking of raw materials.

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