The People’s Republic of China imported US$2.056 trillion worth of goods from around the globe in 2020. That dollar amount reflects a 29.4% increase since 2016 but a -0.6% downtick from 2019 to 2020.
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 China’s imports paid for in stronger US dollars in 2020 relatively more expensive when converted starting from Chinese yuans compared to 2016.
From a continental perspective, 56.3% of China’s total imports by value in 2020 were purchased from fellow Asian countries. European trade partners accounted for 18% of imported goods bought by China. Smaller percentage of overall Chinese imports came from suppliers in North America (8.5%), Latin America (7.2%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, then Australia and other Oceanian sources (6.4%) and Africa (3.5%).
Given China’s population of 1.4 billion people, its total $2.056 trillion in 2020 imports translates to roughly $1,500 in yearly product demand from every person in the Asian behemoth.
China’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in China’s import purchases during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into China.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$548.7 billion (26.7% of total imports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $267.6 billion (13%)
- Machinery including computers: $192 billion (9.3%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $180 billion (8.8%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $99.1 billion (4.8%)
- Vehicles: $74 billion (3.6%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $71 billion (3.5%)
- Copper: $48.5 billion (2.4%)
- Organic chemicals: $45.6 billion (2.2%)
- Oil seeds: $45 billion (2.2%)
China’s top 10 imports account for over three-quarters (76.4%) of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.
Imported copper posted the biggest increase in cost among China’s top 10 import categories, up 19% from 2019 to 2020. In second place was imported oil seeds (up 12%) trailed by electrical machinery and equipment (up 10.4%).
Leading the annual declines among China’s top import categories was mineral fuels including oil (down -22.1%) and organic chemicals (down -21.2%).
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more detailed view of imported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the product category tabs plus the section Searchable List of China’s Most Valuable Import Products further down near the bottom of this article or under the adjacent product category folder tabs.
In 2020, Chinese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electrical products including consumer electronics.
- Integrated circuits/microassemblies: US$350.8 billion (up 14.7% from 2019)
- Phone system devices including smartphones: $43.5 billion (up 2.3%)
- Solar power diodes/semi-conductors: $26.7 billion (up 2.3%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $15 billion (up 2.3%)
- TV/radio/radar device parts: $14.1 billion (up 21.4%)
- Electrical converters/power units: $11.6 billion (down -1.6%)
- Electrical capacitators: $11.3 billion (up 16.1%)
- Printed circuits: $10.9 billion (down -3.3%)
- Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels: $6.4 billion (up 13.9%)
- Electrical machinery: $6.3 billion (up 2.6%)
Among these import subcategories, Chinese purchases of television, radio or radar device parts (up 21.4%), electrical capacitators (up 16.1%) then integrated circuits and microassemblies (up 14.7%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported electronics among Chinese businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Chinese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of mineral fuels-related products.
- Crude oil: US$176.3 billion (down -26.1% from 2019)
- Petroleum gases: $42.1 billion (down -19.6%)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $16.4 billion (down -13.4%)
- Processed petroleum oils: $11.8 billion (down -30.9%)
- Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation): $9.6 billion (up 29.1%)
- Lignite: $3.9 billion (down -13.2%)
- Asphalt/petroleum bitumen mixes: $3.8 billion (up 486.3%)
- Petroleum oil residues: $2.6 billion (down -23.9%)
- Coke, semi-coke: $691 million (up 468.2%)
- Electrical energy: $177.7 million (down -4.5%)
Among these import subcategories, Chinese purchases of asphalt or petroleum bitumen mixes (up 486.3%), coke and semi-coke (up 468.2%) then high temperature distilled coal tar oils (up 29.1%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported fossil fuel among Chinese businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Chinese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machines including computers.
- Computers, optical readers: US$33.9 billion (up 11% from 2019)
- Machinery for making semi-conductors: $31.8 billion (up 19.3%)
- Computer parts, accessories: $19.8 billion (up 2.1%)
- Miscellaneous machinery: $12.3 billion (down -2.5%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $8.9 billion (up 2.4%)
- Printing machinery: $6.4 billion (down -14.9%)
- Turbo-jets: $6.1 billion (down -24.1%)
- Air or vacuum pumps: $5.6 billion (down -2.7%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $5.4 billion (down -5.2%)
- Transmission shafts, gears, clutches: $5.4 billion (down -2.7%)
Among these import subcategories, Chinese purchases of machinery for making semi-conductors (up 19.3%), computers including optical readers (up 11%) then taps, valves and similar appliances (up 2.4%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported machinery among Chinese businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Chinese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of ores, slag or ash.
- Iron ores, concentrates: US$118.9 billion (up 19.1% from 2019)
- Copper ores, concentrates: $34.3 billion (up 0.6%)
- Aluminum ores, concentrates: $5.1 billion (down -1.7%)
- Manganese ores, concentrates: $4.9 billion (down -23.1%)
- Precious metal ores, concentrates: $4.3 billion (up 8.6%)
- Nickel ores, concentrates: $2.9 billion (down -26.3%)
- Zinc ores, concentrates: $2.5 billion (down -2.1%)
- Chromium ores, concentrates: $2 billion (down -22.8%)
- Lead ores, concentrates: $1.7 billion (down -19.8%)
- Niobium/zirconium ores, concentrates: $1 billion (down -14.2%)
Among these import subcategories, Chinese purchases of iron ores and concentrates (up 19.1%), precious metal ores and concentrates (up 8.6%) then copper ores and concentrates (up 0.6%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported ores and concentrates among Chinese businesses and consumers.
Searchable List of China’s Most Valuable Import Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of China’s most in-demand imported goods during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total import value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||China's Import Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|3||Iron ores, concentrates||$118,944,291,000||+19.1%|
|5||Phone system devices including smartphones||$43,543,983,000||+2.3%|
|8||Copper ores, concentrates||$34,297,835,000||+0.6%|
|9||Computers, optical readers||$33,925,166,000||+11%|
|10||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$31,752,584,000||+19.3%|
|11||Refined copper, unwrought alloys||$30,578,619,000||+35.9%|
|12||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$26,738,285,000||+2.3%|
|13||Liquid crystal/laser/optical tools||$26,400,117,000||-6.2%|
|15||Medication mixes in dosage||$21,163,267,000||-0.1%|
|17||Computer parts, accessories||$19,836,502,000||+2.1%|
|18||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$17,335,751,000||+31%|
|19||Coal, solid fuels made from coal||$16,385,099,000||-13.4%|
|20||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$14,950,718,000||+2.3%|
|21||TV/radio/radar device parts||$14,103,026,000||+21.4%|
|22||Other measuring/testing machines||$13,307,049,000||+6.3%|
|24||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$12,232,572,000||+12.9%|
|26||Chemical woodpulp (non-dissolving)||$12,006,688,000||-9.5%|
|28||Processed petroleum oils||$11,793,688,000||-30.9%|
|29||Electrical converters/power units||$11,553,007,000||-1.6%|
|34||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$10,088,314,000||+8.8%|
|36||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$9,714,528,000||-1%|
|37||Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)||$9,586,508,000||+29.1%|
|39||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$8,866,303,000||+2.4%|
|43||Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates||$7,923,476,000||+0.6%|
|46||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$7,485,520,000||+4.9%|
|49||Iron or non-alloy steel products (semi-finished)||$6,886,348,000||+475.8%|
|50||Chemical industry products/residuals||$6,576,478,000||+14.6%|
|51||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$6,416,619,000||+13.9%|
|57||Crustaceans (including lobsters)||$5,908,141,000||-15.9%|
|58||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$5,898,384,000||+0.9%|
|61||Air or vacuum pumps||$5,583,230,000||-2.7%|
|62||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$5,442,532,000||-5.2%|
|63||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$5,394,404,000||-2.7%|
|65||Aluminum ores, concentrates||$5,052,142,000||-1.7%|
|66||Unrecorded sound media||$5,025,504,000||+6.7%|
|67||Manganese ores, concentrates||$4,904,341,000||-23.1%|
|68||Liquid pumps and elevators||$4,860,198,000||-2.3%|
|69||Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers||$4,656,801,000||+19.3%|
|70||Copper waste, scrap||$4,535,923,000||-39.4%|
|71||Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$4,397,523,000||+80.2%|
|72||Cases, handbags, wallets||$4,395,894,000||+23.7%|
|73||Electric storage batteries||$4,350,083,000||-6.4%|
|74||Precious metal ores, concentrates||$4,309,663,000||+8.6%|
|75||Ball, roller bearings||$4,301,316,000||+20.4%|
|79||Miscellaneous fruits (fresh)||$4,113,921,000||+30.5%|
|81||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$3,998,648,000||-1.5%|
|82||Yarn (85%+ cotton)||$3,994,362,000||-13.7%|
|83||Whole fish (frozen)||$3,925,432,000||-20.5%|
|84||Other food preparations||$3,861,920,000||+22.7%|
|86||Electric motors, generators||$3,818,113,000||+2.7%|
|88||Asphalt/petroleum bitumen mixes||$3,805,867,000||+486.3%|
|89||Lenses, prisms, mirrors||$3,802,412,000||-12.3%|
|91||Miscellaneous plastic items||$3,733,346,000||-1.4%|
|94||Piston engine parts||$3,575,433,000||+0.8%|
|95||Cotton (uncarded, uncombed)||$3,562,312,000||-0.1%|
|98||Concentrated/sweetened milk, cream||$3,331,361,000||+4.8%|
|99||Cast/rolled glass in sheets||$3,079,641,000||+11.4%|
These 100 imported goods were worth a subtotal of US$1.643 trillion or 79.9% by value for all products imported into the People’s Republic during 2020.
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on April 15, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on April 15, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on April 15, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on April 15, 2021