Review of China’s Foreign Trade in the 1st Quarter, 2019


According to China Customs statistics, in the first quarter (Q1) of 2019, China’s foreign trade volume stood at RMB7.01 billion, an increase of 3.7% year-on-year (similarly hereinafter). Exports increased by 6.7% to RMB3.77 trillion and imports grew by 0.3% to RMB3.24 trillion. The trade surplus increased by 75.2% to RMB 529.67 billion.

In USD terms, the trade volume reached USD1.03 trillion in Q1, a decrease of 1.5%. The exports hit USD551.76 billion, up by 1.4%. The imports registered USD475.45 billion, down by 4.8%. The trade surplus was USD76.31 billion, an increase of 70.6%. The details are as follows.

1. The trade volume grew rapidly in March and in particular, the export reached double-digit growth. In March this year, China’s foreign trade stood at RMB2.46 trillion, an increase of 9.6%, being the biggest contributor to trade recovery in Q1. Exports totaled RMB1.34 trillion, a rapid growth of 21.3%. Imports reached RMB1.12 trillion, dropping by 1.8%. 
In USD terms, the trade volume reached USD364.7 billion in March, an increase of 3.1%. China’s exports hit USD198.67 billion, up by 14.2%. The imports registered USD166.03 billion, down by 7.6%.      

2. The general trade increased in value and proportion. In Q1 this year, China’s general trade rose by 6% to RMB4.17 trillion, taking up 59.6% of the overall trade volume, 1.3 percentage points higher than the previous year, which reflected an improved structure of the trade mode. The exports increased by 11.7% to RMB2.2 trillion, and the imports increased by 0.3% to RMB 1.97 trillion.

3. The trade volume with major partners such as the EU, ASEAN and Japan increased. In Q1 this year, China’s trade volume with the EU stood at RMB1.11 trillion, an increase of 11.5%, accounting for 15.8% of the national trade volume. The trade volume with ASEAN arrived at RMB934.55 billion, up by 8.1%, taking up 13.3% of the national total. China’s trade volume with the US registered RMB815.86 billion, a decrease of 11%, accounting for 11.6% of the national total. The trade volume with Japan totaled RMB505.55 billion, increasing by 3.2%, accounting for 7.2% of the national total.

4. China’s trade with countries involved in the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) grows faster than the country’s total trade. In Q1 of 2019, the trade volume with BRI countries reached RMB2 trillion, an increase of 7.8%, 4.1 percentage points higher than the overall trade growth rate, making up 28.6% of the national foreign trade volume (1.1 percentage points higher than last year). The trade with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt went up by 9.8%, 33.8% and 18.3%, respectively. 
China’s trade relations with BRI countries have witnessed growing potential and become new engines for the country’s foreign trade development.

5. The trade of private sector increased in volume and proportion. In Q1, the trade volume of China’s private enterprises arrived at RMB2.84 trillion, up by 9.9%, accounting for 40.6% of the country’s total trade volume, 2.3 percentage points higher than the same period of last year. 
The export volume stood at RMB1.86 trillion, up by 13.8%, accounting for 49.3% of the national export volume. The import volume reached RMB985.31 billion, an increase of 3.2%, making up 30.4% of the national import volume. 
Over the same period, foreign-invested enterprises marked RMB2.89 trillion of foreign trade, down by 0.7%, accounting for 41.3% of the national trade volume; state-owned enterprises (SOEs) witnessed RMB1.24 trillion of foreign trade, up by 1%, making up 17.7% of the national trade volume.

6. The trade growth in central-western regions and north-eastern regions outpaced the national total, with regional development getting more coordinated. In Q1 of 2019, the foreign trade growth rate was 14.5% in the 12 western provinces and municipalities, 6.9% in the 6 central provinces and municipalities, and 5.1% in the 3 northeastern provinces, higher than the overall growth rate by 10.8 percentage points, 3.2 percentage points and 1.4 percentage points, respectively. Over the same period, the foreign trade in 10 eastern provinces and municipalities grew by 2.3%, 1.4 percentage points lower than the overall growth.

7. The exports of electro-mechanical products and labor-intensive products grew in tandem. In Q1 this year, electro-mechanical exports increased by 5.4% to RMB2.21 trillion, taking up 58.8% of China’s total export volume. Portable computer exports and automobile exports increased by 8% and 15.1%, respectively. Over the same period, exports of seven types of labor-intensive products, such as clothes and toys, rose by 6.5% to RMB685.53 billion, accounting for 18.2% of the total export volume.

8. Imports of major bulk commodities such as crude oil and natural gas grew, while imports of iron ore, coal and soybeans dropped. In Q1 this year, China imported 121 million tons of crude oil, up by 8.2%; 24.27 million tons of natural gas, up by 17.8%; 8.72 million tons of refined oil, up by 5.8%. Over the same period, China imported 261 million tons of iron ore, down by 3.5%; 74.63 million tons of coal, down by 1.8%; 16.75 million tons of soybeans, down by 14.4%. Preliminary calculation shows that China’s overall import price grew by 3.5% in Q1 this year, with the import price of iron ore, soybeans and natural gas up by 12.8%, 8.8% and 28.2%, respectively.

9. The trade in comprehensive bonded zones was active. In Q1 this year, the foreign trade in comprehensive bonded zones grew by 11.7% to RMB526.23 billion, 8 percentage points higher than the overall trade growth. The export volume grew by 8.4% to RMB311.18 billion, 1.7 percentage points higher than the overall trade growth. The import volume rose by 16.7% to RMB215.05 billion, 16.4 percentage points higher than the overall trade growth. 

In general, China’s foreign trade situation was smooth in Q1 of 2019. However, there are uncertainties coming from weaker momentum of global economy and trade growth, and complex global environment as well. Despite the challenges, China Customs will further advance its reformative measures and improve the cross-border business environment for trade facilitation and security in the interest of national economic and social development.

Guided by the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the Customs will continue to work hard to implement the decisions of the Central Economic Work Conference and tasks assigned by the 2019 Government Work Report in line with 19th CPC National Congress, and the second and the third plenary sessions of the 19th CPC Central Committee.

Source: China Customs