China’s biggest export products by value in 2020 were mobile phones, computers, electronic integrated circuits, solar power diodes, semi-conductors and automotive parts or accessories. In aggregate, those major exports account for 22.4% of the China’s overall exports sales. The commodities themselves suggest a range of exported goods rooted in technology.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Chinese yuan has depreciated by -3.9% against the US dollar since 2016 but increased by 0.1% from 2019 to 2020. China’s weaker local currency compared to 2016 make Chinese exports paid for in relatively stronger US dollars relatively less expensive.
China ranks among world-leading nations for exporting cell phones, electronic circuit components and automotive parts or accessories.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 60.7% of products exported from China were bought by importers in: United States (17.5% of the global total), Hong Kong (10.5%), Japan (5.5%), Vietnam (4.4%), South Korea (4.3%), Germany (3.4%), Netherlands (3%), United Kingdom (2.8%), India (2.6%), Taiwan (2.3%), Singapore (2.2%) and Malaysia (also 2.2%).
From a continental perspective, 47.6% of China exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 20.8% were sold to North American importers. China shipped another 20.7% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Africa (4.4%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (4.1%) and Oceania led by Australia (2.5%).
Given China’s population of 1.4 billion people, its total $2.591 trillion in 2020 exported products translates to about $1,850 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 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from China.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$710.1 billion (27.4% of total exports)
- Machinery including computers: $440.3 billion (17%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $109.4 billion (4.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $96.4 billion (3.7%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $80.2 billion (3.1%)
- Vehicles: $76.3 billion (2.9%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: $75.6 billion (2.9%)
- Toys, games: $71.5 billion (2.8%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $71.1 billion (2.7%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $62.3 billion (2.4%)
China’s top 10 exports accounted for over two-thirds (69.2%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Miscellaneous textiles and worn clothing was China’s fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 170.9% from 2019 to 2020. In second place for improving export sales was plastics including articles made from plastic via a 14.2% gain. China’s shipments of toys and games posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 13.9%.
The lone decliner among China’s top 10 export categories was unknitted and non-crocheted clothing and accessories thanks to a -6.7% 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, mainland China posted a $535 billion trade surplus in 2020 up by 24.5% from $429.6 billion in black ink during 2019.
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$248.3 billion (Up by 9.5% since 2019)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $161.4 billion (Down by -7.3%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $106.5 billion (Up by 11%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: $74.2 billion (Up by 170.4%)
- Toys, games: $69.2 billion (Up by 14.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $61.6 billion (Up by 3.1%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $58.7 billion (Down by -13.4%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $57.6 billion (Down by -7.6%)
- Footwear: $32.1 billion (Down by -23.8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $25.4 billion (Up by 98.1%)
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-$235.4 billion (Down by -20.6% since 2019)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$178.1 billion (Up by 10.1%)
- Copper: -$42.4 billion (Up by 24.5%)
- Oil seeds: -$42.1 billion (Up by 12.9%)
- Meat: -$29.6 billion (Up by 64.3%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$21.7 billion (Down by -11.2%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$18.9 billion (Down by -26.5%)
- Woodpulp: -$16.8 billion (Down by -12.1%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: -$15.3 billion (Up by 49.2%)
- Gems, precious metals: -$13.3 billion (Down by -66.5%)
China has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products particularly crude oil, petroleum gas and coal.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate China’s competitive disadvantages in the international mineral fuels-related market, but also represent key opportunities for China to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Chinese Export Companies
China placed about 150 corporations on the Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Chinese export companies that Forbes included.
- PetroChina (oil, gas)
- Sinopec-China Petroleum (oil, gas)
- SAIC Motor (cars, trucks)
- Dongfeng Motor Group (cars, trucks)
- BYD (cars, trucks)
- Gree Electric Appliances (household appliances)
- Midea Group Co. Ltd. (household appliances)
- Tsingtao Brewery (beverages)
- Sinopharm Group (pharmaceuticals)
- Aluminum Corporation of China (aluminum)
- Dongfang Electric (electrical equipment)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following smaller companies are also examples of leading Chinese exporters.
- APLL (beddings, clothing)
- UPS SCS China (chairs, beddings)
- Winners Products Engineering (cooking appliances, sheets, charcoal)
- Maersk Logistics China (footwear, bedding, clothing)
- Carven Industries (furniture, building stone)
Searchable List of China’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from the People’s Republic during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||China's Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|1||Phone system devices including smartphones||$223,217,114,000||-0.4%|
|2||Computers, optical readers||$170,176,156,000||+14.6%|
|4||Miscellaneous articles, dress patterns||$55,225,956,000||+711.1%|
|5||Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs||$37,615,304,000||+13.3%|
|6||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$35,685,059,000||+3.1%|
|7||Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys||$33,485,634,000||+6.8%|
|10||Computer parts, accessories||$31,536,476,000||-2.8%|
|12||Electrical converters/power units||$29,986,066,000||+8.2%|
|13||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$29,143,009,000||+10.2%|
|14||Miscellaneous plastic items||$28,912,645,000||+34.9%|
|15||Processed petroleum oils||$25,473,643,000||-33.6%|
|16||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$24,975,726,000||+14.3%|
|18||Liquid crystal/laser/optical tools||$22,522,828,000||-5.5%|
|19||Cases, handbags, wallets||$20,639,455,000||-24.6%|
|20||Electric storage batteries||$20,162,996,000||+19.4%|
|22||Air or vacuum pumps||$18,077,587,000||+10.6%|
|23||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$17,765,410,000||-16.6%|
|25||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$17,371,886,000||+6.8%|
|26||Footwear (rubber or plastic)||$16,553,010,000||-19.6%|
|28||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$16,079,428,000||-15%|
|29||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$16,051,035,000||-1.1%|
|31||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$15,215,033,000||-1.7%|
|33||TV/radio/radar device parts||$14,925,593,000||+9.5%|
|34||Garments from special fabric (not knit or crochet)||$13,327,204,000||+244.8%|
|36||Rubber tires (new)||$13,279,370,000||-10.3%|
|37||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$13,211,963,000||-1.2%|
|38||Synthetic yarn woven fabrics||$12,465,423,000||-17.6%|
|40||Table games, bowling equipment||$12,412,631,000||+7.6%|
|41||Pneumatic hand tool||$12,177,385,000||+10.1%|
|42||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$11,902,353,000||+21.1%|
|43||Women's clothing (knit or crochet)||$11,780,631,000||-11.2%|
|44||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$11,574,957,000||-9.4%|
|45||Plastic tableware, kitchenware, toiletry||$11,519,778,000||+12.4%|
|46||Base metal mountings, fittings||$11,315,071,000||+11.1%|
|47||Electric motors, generators||$11,235,011,000||-1.8%|
|48||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$11,158,733,000||+26.9%|
|49||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$10,835,835,000||+10.8%|
|50||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$10,221,910,000||+9.6%|
|52||Electromechanic domestic appliances||$9,978,220,000||+47.4%|
|54||Iron and steel tables, household items||$9,761,347,000||+16.8%|
|55||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$9,413,838,000||+10.3%|
|57||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$8,932,543,000||-6.5%|
|59||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$8,904,373,000||+20%|
|60||Liquid pumps and elevators||$8,805,862,000||+7.1%|
|61||Ceramic sinks, washbasins, baths||$8,756,132,000||+9.7%|
|64||Carnival items, magic tricks||$8,157,565,000||+14.2%|
|66||Other than warp-knit fabrics||$7,908,366,000||-19.2%|
|67||Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)||$7,803,698,000||-33.6%|
|71||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$7,581,309,000||+8.3%|
|74||Specially designed containers||$7,367,078,000||+10.2%|
|76||Plastic tile or roll coverings||$7,225,970,000||+19%|
|77||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$7,158,878,000||-5.8%|
|78||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$6,962,031,000||+8.1%|
|80||T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)||$6,289,291,000||-15.2%|
|82||Woven cotton fabrics||$5,784,805,000||-13.8%|
|83||Porcelain tableware, kitchenware||$5,696,597,000||-12.6%|
|84||Flat-rolled other alloy steel products||$5,530,537,000||-28.2%|
|85||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$5,515,096,000||-12.8%|
|86||Paper containers, cellulose wadding||$5,426,902,000||+5.3%|
|87||Women's coats, jackets (not knit or crochet)||$5,365,860,000||-25.2%|
|89||Women's underwear, pajamas (knit or crochet)||$5,301,095,000||-1.4%|
|90||Other measuring/testing machines||$5,295,651,000||+22.2%|
|91||Piston engine parts||$5,206,956,000||-8.9%|
|93||Stockings, hosiery (knit or crochet)||$5,092,191,000||-18.1%|
|95||Rubber/plastic article making machines||$5,029,727,000||+0.3%|
|96||Light vessels, fire boats, floating docks||$5,017,357,000||-33.9%|
|97||Monument/building stones, art||$4,997,104,000||+8.4%|
|98||Electric motor parts||$4,996,528,000||-6.7%|
|100||Iron and steel stoves, barbecues||$4,961,161,000||+21%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$1.795 trillion or 69.3% by value for all products exported from China during 2020.
In macroeconomic terms, China’s total exported goods represent 10.7% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($24.143 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 10.7% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2020 compares to 9.1% for 2019. This seems to indicate a relatively increasing 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 5.5% at February 2021, down from 5.9% one year earlier according to Trading Economics.
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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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