Mobile phones and computers represent major factors behind China’s highest trade surpluses by product, while the United States and Hong Kong placed first and second respectively among trade partners with which the People’s Republic posted the highest positive balances.
China’s total trade balance for all products equaled a positive US$359.2 billion in 2018, more than doubling from a $155 billion surplus during 2011. Year over year, China’s recent $359.2-billion trade surplus reflects a -14.4% reduction from a $419.6 billion surplus for 2017.
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 $525.9 billion for China in its global trade during 2018. Metrics listed below highlight China’s strongest competitive advantages over worldwide trading partners for these specific goods.
- Phone system devices including smartphones: US$191.5 billion (Up 86.7% since 2011)
- Computers, optical readers: $122.9 billion (Up 0.2%)
- TV receivers/monitors/projectors: $32.8 billion (Up 10.7%)
- Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs: $30.1 billion (Up 147.2%)
- Miscellaneous furniture: $26.8 billion (Up 31.7%)
- Computer parts, accessories: $26.3 billion (Up 99.5%)
- Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys: $24.8 billion (Up 133.7%)
- Cases, handbags, wallets: $24.5 billion (Up 8.4%)
- Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs): $24.3 billion (Up 56.1%)
- Women’s clothing (not knit or crochet): $21.9 billion (Up 39.7%)
The top product delivering the greatest surplus growth from 2011 to 2018 was lamps, lighting and illuminated signs (up 147.2%). In second place were models, puzzles and miscellaneous toys (up 133.7%) followed by computer parts and accessories (up 99.5%) then phone system devices including smartphones (up 86.7%).
The 10 major products below accumulated a deficit subtotal of -$798.4 billion for China in international trade during 2018. China has demonstrated the severest competitive disadvantages in the exports and imports of the following commodities.
- Crude oil: -US$238 billion (Up 22.1% since 2011)
- Integrated circuits/microassemblies: -$228.1 billion (Up 65%)
- Iron ores, concentrates: -$74.2 billion (Down -34%)
- Petroleum gases: -$48.2 billion (Up 313.2%)
- Gold (unwrought): -$45 billion (no 2011 data)
- Cars: -$41 billion (Up 10.1%)
- Soya beans: -$38 billion (Up 28.5%)
- Copper ores, concentrates: -$32.7 billion (Up 113.3%)
- Machinery for making semi-conductors: -$28.1 billion (Up 72%)
- Miscellaneous aircraft, spacecraft (e.g. helicopters, launchers): -$25.1 billion (Up 123%)
China’s red ink in global trade expanded at the fastest rate for the following products: petroleum gases (up 313.2%), miscellaneous aircraft or spacecraft (up 123%), copper ores and concentrates (up 113.3%) then machinery for making semi-conductors (up 72%).
In 2018, China generated a surplus subtotal worth $870.4-billion with the following 10 trading partners.
- United States: US$323.7 billion (Up 60.3% since 2011)
- Hong Kong: $294.4 billion (Up 16.6%)
- Netherlands: $60.8 billion (Up 19.6%)
- India: $58 billion (Up 113.6%)
- United Kingdom: $33.1 billion (Up 11.9%)
- Mexico: $30.1 billion (Up 106.0%)
- Vietnam: $19.9 billion (Up 10.9%)
- Poland: $17.3 billion (Up 94.5%)
- Bangladesh: $16.8 billion (Up 127.9%)
- Spain: $16.3 billion (Up 33.7%)
Surpluses from the following trade partners grew at the fastest pace from 2011 to 2018: Bangladesh (up 127.9%), India (up 113.6%), Mexico (up 106%) and Poland (up 94.5%).
China experienced a losing international trade relationship with some countries. All told, the following 10 trade partners created a -$490.5 billion deficit subtotal in 2018 from exchanging exports and imports.
- Taiwan: -US$128.7 billion (Up 43.3% since 2011)
- South Korea: -$95.5 billion (Up 19.7%)
- Australia: -$57.5 billion (Up 18%)
- Brazil: -$43.4 billion (Up 111.2%)
- Switzerland: -$34.6 billion (Up 46.8%)
- Japan: -$33.2 billion (Down -28.4%)
- Germany: -$28.35 billion (Up 73.6%)
- Saudi Arabia: -$28.34 billion (Down -18.1%)
- Angola: -$23.4 billion (Up 5.8%)
- Malaysia: -$17.5 billion (Down -49%)
Swelling 111.2% from 2011 to 2018, China’s deficit with Brazil grew the fastest. China’s negative net exports with Germany rose 73.6% trailed by a 46.8% expansion in Chinese red ink with Switzerland and a 43.3% increase with Taiwan.
China saw its country-specific deficits shrink with three top trade partners: Malaysia (down -49%), Japan (down -28.4%) and Saudi Arabia (down -18.1%).
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
External Debt (for specified countries), CEIC Data. Accessed on August 7, 2019
Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on August 7, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 1, 2019
The World Factbook, Field Listing: World, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 1, 2019
Wikipedia, Economy of China. Accessed on March 1, 2019