That dollar amount reflects a 33.2% gain since 2017 and a 16.8% increase from 2020 to 2021.
According to exchange rate metrics from the International Monetary Fund, the Chinese yuan has appreciated by 4.6% against the US dollar since 2017 and increased by 6.5% from 2020 to 2021. China’s stronger local currency makes Chinese exports paid for in relatively weaker US dollars more expensive than in the prior years.
Mainland China’s biggest export products by value in 2021 include mobile phones, computers, electronic integrated circuits, lighting products, and solar power diodes and semi-conductors. In aggregate, those major exports account for over one-fifth (20.7%) of the China’s overall exports sales. The commodities themselves suggest a relatively diversified range of exported goods.
China ranks among world-leading nations for exporting cell phones, electronic circuit components and automotive parts or accessories.
Given China’s population of 1.4 billion people, its total $3.026 trillion in 2021 exported products translates to about $2,150 for every resident in the East Asian economic powerhouse.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 59.8% of products exported from China were bought by importers in: United States of America (17.2% of the global total), Hong Kong (10.3%), Japan (5%), South Korea (4.5%), Vietnam (4.2%), Germany (3.4%), Netherlands (3%), India (2.9%), United Kingdom (2.6%), Taiwan (2.3%), Malaysia (also 2.3%) and Thailand (2.1%).
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%).
China’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Chinese global shipments during 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from China.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$804.5 billion (26.6% of total exports)
- Machinery including computers: $492.3 billion (16.3%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $126.3 billion (4.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $118.1 billion (3.9%)
- Vehicles: $108.9 billion (3.6%)
- Toys, games: $94 billion (3.1%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $88.8 billion (2.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $85.4 billion (2.8%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $78.2 billion (2.6%)
- Organic chemicals: $73 billion (2.4%)
China’s top 10 exports accounted for over two-thirds (68.4%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Vehicles represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 42.8% from 2020 to 2021.
In second place for improving export sales was toys and games via a 31.4% gain.
China’s shipments of organic chemicals posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 28.1%.
Year over year, the most modest increase among China’s top 10 export categories was for optical, technical and medical apparatus thanks to a 10.7% expansion.
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.
Products Creating China’s Greatest Trade Surpluses
Mainland China posted an overall $587.5 billion trade surplus in 2021 up by 9.8% from $535 billion in black ink during 2020.
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$281.4 billion (Up by 13.3% since 2020)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $200 billion (Up by 23.9%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $123.4 billion (Up by 15.9%)
- Toys, games: $91.3 billion (Up by 31.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $75.6 billion (Up by 22.8%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $74 billion (Up by 26%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $57.8 billion (Up by 0.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $42.4 billion (Up by 67.2%)
- Footwear: $40.1 billion (Up by 24.9%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: $37.9 billion (Down by -49%)
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.
Products Causing China’s Biggest Trade Deficits
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$318.5 billion (Up by 35.3% since 2020)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$250.4 billion (Up by 40.6%)
- Oil seeds: -$51.7 billion (Up by 22.9%)
- Copper: -$49.3 billion (Up by 16.5%)
- Gems, precious metals: -$45 billion (Up by 237.9%)
- Meat: -$28.4 billion (Down by -4%)
- Woodpulp: -$18.7 billion (Up by 11.2%)
- Cereals: -$17.4 billion (Up by 108.2%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: -$16.4 billion (Up by 7%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$12.3 billion (Up by 25.2%)
China has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products particularly crude oil, petroleum gas and coal.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate China’s competitive disadvantages in the international mineral fuels-related market, but also represent key opportunities for China to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Mainland China’s Major Export Companies
China placed about 150 corporations on the Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Chinese export companies that Forbes included.
- Aluminum Corporation of China (aluminum)
- BYD (cars, trucks)
- Dongfang Electric (electrical equipment)
- Dongfeng Motor Group (cars, trucks)
- Gree Electric Appliances (household appliances)
- Midea Group Co. Ltd. (household appliances)
- PetroChina (oil, gas)
- SAIC Motor (cars, trucks)
- Sinopec-China Petroleum (oil, gas)
- Sinopharm Group (pharmaceuticals)
- Tsingtao Brewery (beverages)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following smaller companies are also examples of leading Chinese exporters.
- APLL (beddings, clothing)
- UPS SCS China (chairs, beddings)
- Winners Products Engineering (cooking appliances, sheets, charcoal)
- Maersk Logistics China (footwear, bedding, clothing)
- Carven Industries (furniture, building stone)
Searchable List of China’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from the People’s Republic during 2021. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2020.
|Rank||China's Export Product||2021 Value (US$)||Change|
|1||Phone devices including smartphones||$226,655,452,000||+1.5%|
|2||Computers, optical readers||$182,933,616,000||+7.5%|
|4||Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs||$44,666,570,000||+18.7%|
|5||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$43,841,190,000||+22.9%|
|6||Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys||$42,015,657,000||+25.5%|
|9||Electrical converters/power units||$35,482,543,000||+18.3%|
|11||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$33,943,551,000||+16.5%|
|12||Computer parts, accessories||$32,856,466,000||+4.2%|
|13||Miscellaneous plastic items||$32,251,648,000||+11.5%|
|14||Processed petroleum oils||$30,043,243,000||+17.9%|
|15||Electric storage batteries||$29,607,440,000||+46.8%|
|16||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$29,312,268,000||+17.4%|
|17||Liquid crystal/laser/optical tools||$28,501,299,000||+26.5%|
|19||Cases, handbags, wallets||$24,906,794,000||+20.7%|
|20||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$24,200,438,000||+557.9%|
|21||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$22,908,626,000||+29%|
|23||Air or vacuum pumps||$21,713,436,000||+20.1%|
|25||Specially designed containers||$21,031,764,000||+185.5%|
|27||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$20,557,167,000||+18.3%|
|28||Footwear (rubber or plastic)||$20,287,081,000||+22.6%|
|29||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$19,362,521,000||+67.3%|
|31||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$19,112,019,000||+18.9%|
|33||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$18,748,651,000||+16.8%|
|35||TV/radio/radar device parts||$17,447,261,000||+16.9%|
|36||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$17,415,120,000||+14.5%|
|37||Women's clothing (knit or crochet)||$16,530,494,000||+40.3%|
|38||Table games, bowling equipment||$16,163,535,000||+30.2%|
|39||Rubber tires (new)||$15,139,245,000||+14%|
|40||Synthetic yarn woven fabrics||$15,122,903,000||+21.3%|
|41||Pneumatic hand tool||$15,003,658,000||+23.2%|
|43||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$14,349,956,000||+8.6%|
|44||Electric motors, generators||$13,725,466,000||+22.2%|
|45||Plastic tableware, kitchenware, toiletry||$13,710,740,000||+19%|
|46||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$13,512,893,000||+32.2%|
|47||Miscellaneous articles, dress patterns||$13,437,081,000||-75.7%|
|48||Base metal mountings, fittings||$13,372,902,000||+18.2%|
|50||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$12,687,292,000||+6.6%|
|51||Carnival items, magic tricks||$12,621,867,000||+54.7%|
|53||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$11,971,359,000||+10.5%|
|55||Electromechanic domestic appliances||$11,798,911,000||+18.2%|
|56||Iron and steel tables, household items||$11,602,824,000||+18.9%|
|58||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$10,983,478,000||+16.7%|
|59||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$10,975,022,000||-1.6%|
|63||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$9,950,034,000||+11.4%|
|64||Other than warp-knit fabrics||$9,935,114,000||+25.6%|
|65||Liquid pumps and elevators||$9,866,446,000||+12%|
|67||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$9,076,843,000||+1.9%|
|69||Flat-rolled other alloy steel products||$8,950,282,000||+61.8%|
|70||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$8,901,411,000||+24.3%|
|72||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$8,841,687,000||+16.6%|
|73||Ceramic sinks, washbasins, baths||$8,800,722,000||+0.5%|
|75||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$8,292,415,000||+19.1%|
|76||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$8,199,320,000||+48.7%|
|77||Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)||$8,152,960,000||+4.5%|
|79||Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)||$8,044,932,000||+71.9%|
|80||Plastic tile or roll coverings||$7,811,771,000||+8.1%|
|81||T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)||$7,737,976,000||+23%|
|85||Electric motor parts||$7,174,722,000||+43.6%|
|87||Women's coats, jackets (not knit or crochet)||$6,985,787,000||+30.2%|
|88||Women's underwear, pajamas (knit or crochet)||$6,869,665,000||+29.6%|
|89||Piston engine parts||$6,684,072,000||+28.4%|
|90||Porcelain or China household items||$6,661,980,000||+16.9%|
|91||Iron and steel stoves, barbecues||$6,539,704,000||+31.8%|
|92||Artificial flowers, foliage, fruits||$6,528,626,000||+33.3%|
|93||Flat-rolled stainless steel items||$6,441,320,000||+82.2%|
|94||Paper containers, cellulose wadding||$6,440,936,000||+18.7%|
|96||Synthetic filament yarn||$6,218,617,000||+35%|
|97||Other measuring/testing machines||$6,142,472,000||+16%|
|99||Ball, roller bearings||$6,052,654,000||+30.3%|
|100||Men's suits,trousers (knit or crochet)||$6,022,538,000||+29.1%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$2.07 trillion or more than three-quarters (68.4%) by value for all products exported from mainland China during 2021.
In macroeconomic terms, China’s total exported goods represent 11.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product at April 2022 ($27.206 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 11.1% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2021 compares to 10.7% for 2020. Those percentages suggest 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 5.8% at March 2022, up from an average 4.9% calculated at October 2021 by the International Monetary Fund.
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, Taiwan’s Top 10 Exports, Macau’s Top 10 Exports and Hong Kong’s Top 10 Exports
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on May 13, 2022
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on May 13, 2022
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (Domestic Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on May 13, 2022
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on May 13, 2022
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on May 13, 2022
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on May 13, 2022
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on May 13, 2022
Wikipedia, China. Accessed on May 13, 2022
Wikipedia, List of Companies of China. Accessed on May 13, 2022
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on May 13, 2022
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