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Asia Economy Last Updated: Jan 13, 2014 - 7:39 AM

China became world's top goods-trading nation in 2013
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Jan 10, 2014 - 7:46 AM

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The heads of two CRH380A high-speed trains are seen in the manufacturing plant of Qingdao Sifang Co. Ltd., in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, Jan. 03, 2014. With the highest speed of 380 km/hour, the model of CRH380A is the fastest train currently in operation in the world, according to Xinhua, the official new agency. It also says that the CRH380A train differs from relevant foreign products in four key aspects: locomotive external shape, bogie, car body sealing, and network control and trailing systems. It was designed according to international standards and in some areas even stricter, said Deng Xiaojun, deputy chief engineer of Qingdao Sifang. Photo: Xinhua

China's exports rose 7.9% year on year to US$2.21tn in 2013, while imports increased 7.3% to $1.95tn, customs data revealed on Friday. So last year the country's total foreign trade value surpassed $4tn for the first time to reach 4.16tn, an increase of 7.6% year on year -- marking a milestone in overtaking the United States as the world's top goods-trading nation.

This week, US trade data showed that exports hit a record in November and total US goods trade was valued at $3.57tn in the 11 months from January to November 2013. So when the full-year US data will be available next month, it's a virtual certainty that China will have the crown.

China became the world's top exporter in 2009 and in 2012 China was just $15bn below the value of US goods trade according to World Trade Organisation data.

US services trade is worth more than $1tn and China's level is less than half of that.

China's Qing dynasty was overthrown after 267 years in power by a republican revolution in 1911. It was a colonial power with the Manchus from northeast China ruling the majority Han people. Technological advances stalled and in 1793, the emperor rejected the request of a British delegation led by George Macartney, an Irishman, to open diplomatic relations with the British.

Macartney wrote in his journal: "The Empire of China is an old, crazy, first-rate Man of War, which a fortunate succession of and vigilant officers have contrived to keep afloat for these hundred and fifty years past, and to overawe their neighbours merely by her bulk and appearance. But whenever an insufficient man happens to have the command on deck, adieu to the discipline and safety of the ship. She may, perhaps, not sink outright; she may drift some time as a wreck, and will then be dashed to pieces on the shore; but she can never be rebuilt on the old bottom."

Emperor Qianlong in a letter to King George III said: “we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and I have no use for your country’s manufactures.”

In 1990, before economic reforms took hold, China accounted for a mere 3% of global manufacturing. The US manufacturing sector accounts for 13% of GDP (gross domestic product or economic output) compared with 34% in China, South Korea's 29% manufacturing share of GDP, Germany's 24% and the UK's share at 14%.

China was the world's leading manufacturer for about 1,800 years up to about 1840, when Britain became the world’s biggest manufacturer after its Industrial Revolution.

Finfacts 2014: China's manufacturing slowed in December; Overcapacity in several sectors

Finfacts 2010: Globalization and Asia’s return to economic supremacy

Finfacts 2011: China remains a 'workbench' economy

In December, Chinese trade reached a record monthly high of $390bn with exports rising 4.3% from a year earlier to $208bn and imports up 8.3% from the same month in 2013 to $182bn.

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

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

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

China's trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), its third-largest trading partner, rose 10.9% year on year to $443.6bn.

Its trade with Japan meanwhile contracted 5.1% year on year, to $312.55bn.

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