Located in East Asia near key trading partners including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, India and Singapore, the People’s Republic of China shipped US$2.499 trillion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 9.9% gain since 2015 and a modest 0.2% increase from 2018 to 2019.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the Chinese yuan has depreciated by -10.9% against the US dollar since 2015 and retreated by -4.4% from 2019 to 2019. China’s weaker local currency make Chinese exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 60.2% of products exported from China were bought by importers in: the United States (16.8% of the global total), Hong Kong (11.2%), Japan (5.7%), South Korea (4.4%), Vietnam (3.9%), Germany (3.2%), India (3.0%), Netherlands (3%), United Kingdom (2.5%), Taiwan (2.2%), Singapore (also 2.2%) and Malaysia (2.1%).
Applying a continental lens, about half (49%) of Chinese exports by value in 2019 were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 20.1% were sold to North American importers. China shipped another 19.9% worth to clients in Europe. Smaller percentages of China’s total exported goods arrived in Africa (4.5%), Latin America (4.2%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean then Oceania (2.3%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given China’s population of 1.4 billion people, its total $2.499 trillion in 2019 exported products translates to about $1,800 for every resident in the East Asian economic powerhouse.
China’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Chinese global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from China.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$671 billion (26.9% of total exports)
- Machinery including computers: $417 billion (16.7%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: $99.5 billion (4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $84.4 billion (3.4%)
- Vehicles: $74.4 billion (3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $73 billion (2.9%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $71.4 billion (2.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $69.6 billion (2.8%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $66.8 billion (2.7%)
- Toys, games: $62.8 billion (2.5%)
China’s top 10 exports accounted for approximately two-thirds (67.6%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Toys and games was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 10.7% from 2018 to 2019. In second place for improving export sales was articles made from iron or steel via a 6.1% gain. China’s shipments of plastics and articles made from plastic posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 5.3%.
The leading decliner among China’s top 10 export categories was unknit and non-crocheted clothing or accessories thanks to a -6.5% drop year over year
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of China’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
Overall, China posted a $429.6 billion trade surplus in 2019 up by 18.6% from $359.2 billion in black ink during 2018 but down by -27.7% from $593.9 billion five years earlier in 2015.
The following types of Chinese product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports. In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Machinery including computers: US$226.7 billion (Down by -0.4% since 2018)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $174.2 billion (Up by 21.9%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: $96 billion (Up by 3.8%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $67.8 billion (Down by -3.4%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $62.3 billion (Down by -7.4%)
- Toys, games: $60.3 billion (Up by 10.3%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $59.7 billion (Up by 8.9%)
- Footwear: $42.2 billion (Down by -0.7%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: $27.4 billion (Up by 0.3%)
- Leather/animal gut articles: $25.6 billion (Down by -3%)
China has highly positive net exports in the international trade of machinery including computers. In turn, these cashflows indicate China’s strong competitive advantages under the machinery-related category.
Below are exports from China that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country China’s goods trail Chinese importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$296.6 billion (Down by -1.5% since 2018)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$161.8 billion (Up by 20.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: -$39.7 billion (Down by -5.1%)
- Oil seeds: -$37.3 billion (Down by -8.3%)
- Copper: -$34 billion (Down by -16.4%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$25.7 billion (Down by -17.4%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$24.4 billion (Up by 28.4%)
- Woodpulp: -$19.1 billion (Down by -20%)
- Meat: -$18 billion (Up by 77.3%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -$15.5 billion (Down by -40.6%)
China has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products particularly crude oil, petroleum gas and coal.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate China’s competitive disadvantages in the international mineral fuels-related market, but also represent key opportunities for China to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Chinese Export Companies
China placed about 150 corporations on the Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Chinese export companies that Forbes included:
- PetroChina (oil, gas)
- Sinopec-China Petroleum (oil, gas)
- SAIC Motor (cars, trucks)
- Dongfeng Motor Group (cars, trucks)
- BYD (cars, trucks)
- Gree Electric Appliances (household appliances)
- Midea Group Co. Ltd. (household appliances)
- Tsingtao Brewery (beverages)
- Sinopharm Group (pharmaceuticals)
- Aluminum Corporation of China (aluminum)
- Dongfang Electric (electrical equipment)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following smaller companies are also examples of leading Chinese exporters:
- APLL (beddings, clothing)
- UPS SCS China (chairs, beddings)
- Winners Products Engineering (cooking appliances, sheets, charcoal)
- Maersk Logistics China (footwear, bedding, clothing)
- Carven Industries (furniture, building stone)
Searchable List of China’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from the People’s Republic during 2019. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2018.
|Rank||China's Export Product||2019 Value (US$)||Change|
|1||Phone system devices including smartphones||$224,069,819,000||-6.8%|
|2||Computers, optical readers||$148,463,426,000||-3.7%|
|4||Processed petroleum oils||$38,345,208,000||+7.3%|
|5||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$34,599,090,000||+19.1%|
|7||Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs||$33,197,800,000||+8.5%|
|8||Computer parts, accessories||$32,435,243,000||-28.4%|
|9||Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys||$31,342,495,000||+23.1%|
|12||Electrical converters/power units||$27,711,364,000||+3.8%|
|13||Cases, handbags, wallets||$27,366,964,000||-0.1%|
|14||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$26,440,993,000||+1.9%|
|15||Liquid crystal/laser/optical tools||$23,841,330,000||-7.4%|
|17||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$21,846,389,000||+3.5%|
|18||Miscellaneous plastic items||$21,439,700,000||+9.9%|
|19||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$21,302,500,000||-7.3%|
|20||Footwear (rubber or plastic)||$20,594,733,000||+3%|
|21||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$18,922,634,000||+4.4%|
|22||Electric storage batteries||$16,888,731,000||+14.2%|
|24||Air or vacuum pumps||$16,344,121,000||+6.3%|
|26||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$16,269,415,000||+1.1%|
|28||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$16,237,582,000||-2.3%|
|29||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$15,474,854,000||-8.1%|
|31||Synthetic yarn woven fabrics||$15,136,156,000||+11.6%|
|32||Rubber tires (new)||$14,804,334,000||-2%|
|34||TV/radio/radar device parts||$13,632,588,000||+3.5%|
|36||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$13,373,224,000||+16.4%|
|38||Women's clothing (knit or crochet)||$13,263,151,000||-9.1%|
|39||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$12,777,154,000||-7.5%|
|40||Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)||$11,747,993,000||-5.1%|
|41||Table games, bowling equipment||$11,531,136,000||-13.8%|
|42||Electric motors, generators||$11,442,450,000||-3.4%|
|44||Pneumatic hand tool||$11,064,276,000||+2.6%|
|46||Plastic tableware, kitchenware, toiletry||$10,250,538,000||+11%|
|47||Base metal mountings, fittings||$10,187,409,000||+6.4%|
|48||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$9,829,905,000||+6.3%|
|49||Other than warp-knit fabrics||$9,785,852,000||+1.3%|
|50||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$9,777,269,000||-9%|
|51||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$9,556,390,000||+5.8%|
|53||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$9,330,491,000||+4%|
|56||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$8,794,458,000||+28.2%|
|58||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$8,535,584,000||-0.6%|
|59||Iron and steel tables, household items||$8,354,534,000||+15.9%|
|60||Liquid pumps and elevators||$8,222,397,000||+3.9%|
|63||Ceramic sinks, washbasins, baths||$7,984,884,000||+35.8%|
|65||Flat-rolled other alloy steel products||$7,707,534,000||-16.6%|
|67||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$7,600,894,000||-2.5%|
|68||Light vessels, fire boats, floating docks||$7,590,445,000||+23.1%|
|69||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$7,421,497,000||+11.5%|
|70||T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)||$7,414,910,000||-7.4%|
|71||Women's coats, jackets (not knit or crochet)||$7,172,757,000||-12.1%|
|72||Carnival items, magic tricks||$7,142,449,000||+19.5%|
|73||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$7,001,310,000||+7.6%|
|74||Miscellaneous articles, dress patterns||$6,809,000,000||+6%|
|75||Electromechanic domestic appliances||$6,770,675,000||+13.1%|
|76||Woven cotton fabrics||$6,707,831,000||-11.1%|
|77||Specially designed containers||$6,684,858,000||-35.9%|
|79||Porcelain tableware, kitchenware||$6,519,214,000||+11.5%|
|80||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$6,443,172,000||-0.2%|
|81||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$6,325,932,000||-11.7%|
|83||Stockings, hosiery (knit or crochet)||$6,215,943,000||+0.8%|
|84||Plastic tile or roll coverings||$6,073,753,000||+8.4%|
|85||Piston engine parts||$5,717,549,000||-4.6%|
|86||Synthetic filament yarn||$5,663,384,000||+1.8%|
|87||Iron or steel tubes, pipes||$5,626,671,000||+3.6%|
|88||Men's coats, jackets (not knit or crochet)||$5,526,092,000||-11.6%|
|89||Plastics-impregnated textile fabrics||$5,417,486,000||-1.2%|
|90||Women's underwear, pajamas (knit or crochet)||$5,376,693,000||-0.8%|
|91||Electric motor parts||$5,358,167,000||+11.8%|
|92||Paper containers, cellulose wadding||$5,151,617,000||+13.6%|
|93||Ball, roller bearings||$5,131,980,000||-8.2%|
|96||Rubber/plastic article making machines||$5,014,077,000||+14.9%|
|97||Men's suits,trousers (knit or crochet)||$5,003,896,000||-14.3%|
|98||Tracksuits, swimwear (not knit or crochet)||$4,939,389,000||+23.7%|
|100||Furskin clothing and accessories||$4,904,017,000||+18.5%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$1.7 trillion or 68% by value for all products exported from China during 2019.
In macroeconomic terms, China’s total exported goods represent 9.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($27.309 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 9.1% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2019 compares to 9.9% for 2018. This seems to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for China’s total economic performance albeit based on short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. China’s average unemployment rate was 3.8% for 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund.
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See also China’s Top 10 Imports, China’s Top Trading Partners, Top Chinese Trade Balances, China’s Top 10 Major Export Companies and China’s Exported Services
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Wikipedia, China. Accessed on July 15, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of China. Accessed on July 15, 2020
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on July 15, 2020