China exported more to the rest of the world last year than ever before, despite the global COVID-19 pandemic-related recession, figures from the country’s customs administration showed on Thursday. The trade surplus hit a historic high of $78 billion in December.
- Exports grew by double digits for the third consecutive month, up 18.1% in dollar terms in December from a year earlier, on the back of strong sales of medical goods and pandemic-related products such as home computers.
- This happened despite a steep recession in the country’s European and American markets, and the 6% rise of the Chinese currency against the dollar in 2020.
- China underwent a steep industrial recovery starting in April, after vigorous measures taken to control the COVID-19 pandemic that started in the Wuhan region. Imports also rose strongly in December, up 6.5% on the month.
- The Chinese economy was the only one among the world’s major powers to grow in 2020. Official gross domestic product numbers will be released next week and, according to most forecasts, should show growth of around 2% last year. That compares to a 4% decline for the global economy.
The outlook: Economists expect China’s exports growth to slow in the coming months if and when western economies manage to control the COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave and resume normal activity. But, as shown by the rise of imports, China’s domestic market and the country’s consumers may then help sustain growth — if that happens.
The strength and resilience of the Chinese economy would then be a blessing for recovering Europe and the U.S., whose exporters will benefit from a fast-growing market. That should help soften a possible protectionist backlash, especially since the administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to be as strident about Chinese trade as its predecessor.
From the archives (December 2020): China’s ‘unstoppable’ global luxury-market share nearly doubles amid pandemic