China’s Top 10 Exports

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China shipped US$2.119 trillion worth of goods around the globe in 2016, up by 76.3% since 2009 when the Great Recession kicked in but down by -7.1% from 2015 to 2016

China’s top 10 exports accounted for about two-thirds (67.6%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Based on statistics from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database, China’s total Gross Domestic Product amounted to $21.3 trillion as of October 2016. Therefore, exports accounted for about 10% of total Chinese economic output.

From a continental perspective, 49.8% of Chinese exports by value are delivered to other Asian countries while 21.2% are sold to North American importers. China ships another 18.5% worth to clients in Europe with 4.4% arriving in Africa.

Given China’s population of 1.374 billion people, its total $2.119 trillion in 2016 exports translates to roughly $1,500 for every resident in that country.

China’s unemployment rate was 4.02% as of December 2016 down from 4.05% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.

China’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Chinese global shipments during 2016. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from China. On the more granular 4-digit HTS code basis, China’s number one export is cellular phones.

  1. Electrical machinery, equipment: US$557.1 billion (26.3% of total exports)
  2. Machinery including computers: $344.8 billion (16.3%)
  3. Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: $89.5 billion (4.2%)
  4. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $75 billion (3.5%)
  5. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $72.8 billion (3.4%)
  6. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $67.9 billion (3.2%)
  7. Plastics, plastic articles: $64 billion (3%)
  8. Vehicles: $60.4 billion (2.9%)
  9. Articles of iron or steel: $53.1 billion (2.5%)
  10. Footwear: $47.8 billion (2.3%)

Plastics and plastic articles represent the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up 153.4% for the 7-year period starting in 2009.

In second place for improving export sales was the furniture, bedding, lighting, signs and prefab buildings category which rose 129.9%.

Made-in-China vehicles posted the third-fastest gain in value up 116.3%, followed by electrical machinery and equipment up by 85%.

The slowest-growing among the top 10 Chinese exports was knit or crochet clothing and accessories which was up by 39.6%.


Overall in 2016, China posted a $530.3 billion trade surplus up 170.4% since 2009.

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 is 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.

  1. Machinery including computers: US$197.1 billion (Up by 75.5% since 2009)
  2. Electrical machinery, equipment: $142.7 billion (Up by 148.9%)
  3. Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: $86.3 billion (Up by 132.5%)
  4. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $72.6 billion (Up by 36.7%)
  5. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $69.2 billion (Up by 51.4%)
  6. Footwear: $44.7 billion (Up by 64.9%)
  7. Articles of iron or steel: $43.5 billion (Up by 75.1%)
  8. Toys, games: $42.4 billion (Up by 66.6%)
  9. Iron, steel: $26.6 billion (Down by -285.2%)
  10. Leather/animal gut articles: $25.8 billion (Up by 79.4%)

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.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$149 billion (Up by 43.8% since 2009)
  2. Ores, slag, ash: -$92.9 billion (Up by 33.9%)
  3. Oil seeds: -$35.6 billion (Up by 85.6%)
  4. Copper: -$27.4 billion (Up by 5.7%)
  5. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$24.8 billion (Down by -11.8%)
  6. Aircraft, spacecraft: -$19.4 billion (Up by 102%)
  7. Woodpulp: -$17.1 billion (Up by 62.3%)
  8. Pharmaceuticals: -$13.7 billion (Up by 428.3%)
  9. Vehicles: -$11.1 billion (Up by 2461.5%)
  10. Meat: -$9.4 billion (Up by 898.1%)

China has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products particularly crude oils, 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 149 corporations on the Forbes Global 2000 for 2015. 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)

China’s capital city is Beijing.

Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.

See also China’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, Top Chinese Trade Balances, Highest Value Chinese Export Products, China’s Top 10 Imports and Highest Value Chinese Import Products

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 31, 2017

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 31, 2017

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on March 31, 2017

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 31, 2017

Wikipedia, List of Companies of China. Accessed on March 31, 2017

Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 31, 2017

Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on March 31, 2017