Mobile phones and computers represent major factors driving China’s highest trade surpluses by product, while the United States and Hong Kong placed first and second respectively among trade partners at the expense of which the People’s Republic posted its highest positive trade balances.
China’s total trade balance for all products equaled a positive US$429.6 billion in 2019, almost doubling a $230.6 billion surplus during 2012 via an 86.3% expansion. Year over year, China’s recent $429.6 billion trade surplus reflects a 19.6% increase from a $359.2 billion surplus for 2018.
To put China’s trade surplus metric into perspective, the country’s total external debt encompassing both public and private red ink equaled -$1.972 trillion at March 2019. China’s external debt is the equivalent of roughly 5 times the magnitude of its positive international trade balance.
Top Chinese Trade Balances by Product and Country
The following 10 leading products generated a surplus subtotal of $510.1 billion for China in its global trade during 2019. Metrics listed below highlight China’s strongest competitive advantages over worldwide trading partners for these specific goods.
- Phone system devices including smartphones: US$181.5 billion (Up 59.1% since 2012)
- Computers, optical readers: $117.9 billion (Down -8.3%)
- Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs: $32.6 billion (Up 71.4%)
- Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys: $30.6 billion (Up 173.7%)
- TV receivers/monitors/projectors: $30.4 billion (Up 12.1%)
- Miscellaneous furniture: $26.6 billion (Up 1%)
- Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs): $25.1 billion (Up 23.5%)
- Cases, handbags, wallets: $23.8 billion (Up 0.03%)
- Processed petroleum oils: $21.3 billion (Reversing an -$11.7 billion deficit)
- Women’s clothing (not knit or crochet): $20.2 billion (Up 29.1%)
The top product delivering the greatest surplus growth from 2012 to 2019 were models, puzzles and miscellaneous toys (up 173.7%). In second place were lamps, lighting and illuminated signs (up 71.4%) followed by phone system devices including smartphones (up 59.1%).
In addition, China went from -$11.7 billion in red ink during 2012 to posting a $21.3 billion product surplus in 2019.
The 10 major products below accumulated a deficit subtotal of -$786.4 billion for China in international trade during 2019. China has demonstrated the severest competitive disadvantages in the exports and imports of the following commodities.
- Crude oil: -US$238.3 billion (Up 9% since 2012)
- Integrated circuits/microassemblies: -$203.7 billion (Up 46.3%)
- Iron ores, concentrates: -$98.4 billion (Up 2.9%)
- Petroleum gases: -$50.4 billion (Up 177.4%)
- Gold (unwrought): -$42.8 billion (Up 8.9%)
- Cars: -$38.4 billion (Down -5.7%)
- Soya beans: -$35.3 billion (Up 1.8%)
- Copper ores, concentrates: -$34.1 billion (Up 101.4%)
- Machinery for making semi-conductors: -$24.4 billion (Up 303%)
- Refined copper, unwrought alloys: -$20.6 billion (Down -19%)
China’s red ink in global trade expanded at the fastest rate since 2012 for the following products: machinery for making semi-conductors (up 303%), petroleum gases (up 177.4%), copper ores and concentrates (up 101.4%) then integrated circuits or microassemblies (up 46.3%).
In 2019, China generated a surplus subtotal worth $850.3 billion with the following 10 trading partners.
- United States: US$295.3 billion (Up 35.1% since 2012)
- Hong Kong: $270.6 billion (Down -11.5%)
- Netherlands: $62.7 billion (Up 25%)
- India: $57 billion (Up 97.2%)
- United Kingdom: $38.4 billion (Up 30.4%)
- Vietnam: $33.9 billion (Up 88.7%)
- Mexico: $32 billion (Up 74.5%)
- Philippines: $20.6 billion (Reversing a -$2.9 billion deficit)
- Poland: $20 billion (Up 92.2%)
- Singapore: $19.7 billion (Up 61.5%)
Surpluses at the expense of the following trade partners grew at the fastest pace from 2012 to 2019: India (up 97.2%), Poland (up 92.2%), Vietnam (up 88.7%) and Mexico (up 74.5%).
China experienced a losing international trade relationship with some countries. All told, the following 10 trade partners created a -$442.7 billion deficit subtotal in 2019 from exchanging exports and imports.
- Taiwan: -US$117.7 billion (Up 23.4% since 2012)
- Australia: -$71.5 billion (Up 52.7%)
- South Korea: -$62.6 billion (Down -22.8%)
- Brazil: -$43.7 billion (Up 131.8%)
- Saudi Arabia: -$30.3 billion (Down -16.7%)
- Japan: -$28.3 billion (Up 8%)
- Germany: -$25.3 billion (Up 11.5%)
- Switzerland: -$22.9 billion (Up 17.9%)
- Angola: -$21.3 billion (Down -28%)
- Malaysia: -$19.1 billion (Down -12.1%)
Swelling 131.8% from 2012 to 2019, China’s deficit with Brazil grew at the fastest pace. China’s negative net exports with Australia rose 52.7% trailed by a 23.4% expansion in red ink with Taiwan and a 17.9% increase caused by Switzerland.
China saw its country-specific deficits shrink with three top trade partners: Angola (down -28%), South Korea (down -22.8%) and Saudi Arabia (down -16.7%).
See also China’s Top 10 Imports, China’s Top Trading Partners, China’s Top 10 Exports and China’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
CEIC Data, External Debt (for specified countries). Accessed on March 14, 2019
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 14, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 14, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 14, 2019
Wikipedia, Economy of China. Accessed on March 14, 2019