BEIJING: China’s total trade volume fell 7 percent year-on-year to 24.59 trillion yuan (around $3.74 trillion) in 2015, Customs said on Wednesday, hit by slowing growth in the world’s second-largest economy and plunging commodity prices.
The figure was far below the government’s target of 6 percent and marks the fourth year in a row that external commerce had missed its goal.
China’s imports slumped 13.2 percent on the previous year to 10.45 trillion yuan, Customs said, while exports were down 1.8 percent to 14.14 trillion yuan.
Imports have been hit by low prices for commodities such as oil and iron ore and the slowdown in China’s infrastructure boom, while exports have had to struggle with weakness in partner economies.
The figures put in doubt China’s title as the world’s biggest trader in goods. US trade figures will not be released until February, but for the first 11 months of the year US trade amounted to $3.48 trillion on a total balance of payments basis, according to figures from the US census bureau.
However, overall global trade contracted last year, Bloomberg News reported, so that China’s export performance was relatively strong.
“China actually outperformed the rest of the world in exports, with its share in global exports rising,” it cited Larry Hu, head of China Economics at Macquarie Securities in Hong Kong, as saying in a report ahead of the data.
A spokesman for China’s Customs said in a statement that “foreign trade of private enterprises shows vitality.”
“Progress has been made in efforts to diversify trade partners,” the spokesman added. The European, United States and the Association of South-East Asian Nations are China’s top three trading partners.
China’s annual trade surplus leaped 56.7 percent to 3.69 trillion yuan, Customs said.
Better than expectations
December’s figures offered a rare bright spot for the economy. Exports rose 2.3 percent year-on-year to 1.43 trillion yuan, Customs said, well ahead of economists’ forecasts of a 4.1-percent fall, according to Bloomberg News.
China has lowered the value of its yuan currency in recent weeks and months, which should make its exports more competitive on world markets.
“The economy has shown signs of stabilisation. The export figures came in better than expectations,” Ma Xiaoping, a Beijing-based analyst at British bank HSBC, told Agence France-Presse.
“The depreciation of yuan helped with exports and overseas demand also strengthened with increasing new export orders. But it’s still uncertain whether this recovery is sustainable or not.”
Imports fell 4.0 percent to 1.05 trillion yuan in the month, an improvement on the pace of decline in November. The December trade surplus jumped 24.7 percent to 382.05 billion yuan.
Global investors have been alarmed by slowing growth in the world’s second-largest economy, which is expected to have expanded last year at its slowest pace in a quarter of a century.
Official data on fourth-quarter and annual growth is due to be released next week.
Beijing is seeking to transition the country’s growth model away from reliance on exports and fixed-asset investment towards a consumer-driven economy, but the reform is proving bumpy.
China logged its worst economic performance since the global financial crisis in the third quarter of 2015, with gross domestic product rising just 6.9 percent—its lowest level in six years.