China says that last year it became the world’s largest trading nation – taking that title away from the United States.
Beijing called it a “a landmark milestone” that its annual trade in goods topped four trillion dollars for the first time.
That number comes from adding exports – which rose 7.9 percent – and imports, which were up 7.3 percent.
The full-year figure for the US is not yet available, but it was 3.5 trillion for the first 11 months of the year.
However analysts, who have long been sceptical about China’s official trade figures, point out that if you include services as well as goods, the US is still well ahead.
In addition a lot of the shipments counted by China’s custom service to reach the totals are actually goods transported from one mainland port to another and passing through Hong Kong.
Finally, many Chinese exports – for example iPhones and iPads – include high-value components made outside the country which means their value added is lower than goods produced in the US.
The customs service said China’s biggest trading partner during 2013 was the European Union.
The United States was second, followed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Hong Kong and Japan.
Outlook for 2014
Uncertain global demand, a stronger yuan currency and rising labour costs have recently taken their toll on Chinese exporters, but analysts believe sales could pick up modestly in 2014 due to improved demand from the United States and Europe.
“China’s exporters are facing pressures from rising costs, including increasing labour costs and yuan currency appreciation,” customs spokesman Zheng Yuesheng told a news conference, adding that trade is entering a “stabilisation and development stage” in 2014.
“The strengthening recovering of developed economies will likely gradually lead the global economy out of the financial crisis, which will improve the external environment of China’s exports,” said Zheng.
China’s Commerce Ministry has pledged to maintain steady trade growth this year and further balance its trade structure by increasing imports of raw materials and energy products.