That dollar amount reflects a 32.5% increase since 2017 and an 18.6% uptick from 2020 to 2021.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2021, 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 China’s imports paid for in weaker US dollars in 2021 relatively more expensive when converted starting from charges in Chinese yuan.
From a continental perspective, 55.1% of mainland China’s total imports by value in 2021 were purchased from fellow Asian countries. European trade partners accounted for another 17.7% of imported goods bought by China.
Smaller percentage of overall Chinese imports came from suppliers in North America (8.5%), Latin America (7.6%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, Australia and other Oceanian sources (7%), then Africa (3.9%).
Given China’s population of 1.4 billion people, its total $2.439 trillion in 2021 imports translates to roughly $1,700 in yearly product demand from every person in the juggernaut Asian economy.
China’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in China’s import purchases during 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into China.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$604.5 billion (24.8% of total imports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $357.7 billion (14.7%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $254.6 billion (10.4%)
- Machinery including computers: $210.9 billion (8.6%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $99.7 billion (4.1%)
- Vehicles: $80.1 billion (3.3%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $75.7 billion (3.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: $71 billion (2.9%)
- Copper: $58.9 billion (2.4%)
- Organic chemicals: $54.9 billion (2.3%)
China’s top 10 imports account for over three-quarters (76.6%) of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.
Imported gems and precious metals posted the biggest increase among China’s top 10 import categories, up 123.5% from 2020 to 2021. China’s accelerated purchases of imported gold propelled the gems and precious metals category.
In second place was imported ores, slag and ash (up 41.4%) trailed by mineral fuels including oil (up 33.7%).
The most modest annual gain among China’s top import categories was for optical, technical and medical apparatus via a 0.6% increase from 2020 to 2021.
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.
China’s Top Imports of Electrical Products
In 2021, Chinese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electrical products including consumer electronics.
- Integrated circuits/microassemblies: US$390.3 billion (up 11.3% from 2020)
- Phone devices including smartphones: $49.9 billion (up 14.5%)
- Solar power diodes/semi-conductors: $30.4 billion (up 13.6%)
- TV/radio/radar device parts: $16 billion (up 13.7%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $15.9 billion (up 6.1%)
- Electrical converters/power units: $12.8 billion (up 11.2%)
- Electrical capacitators: $12.5 billion (up 11.1%)
- Printed circuits: $11.1 billion (up 2%)
- Electrical machinery: $6.5 billion (up 2.5%)
- Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels: $6.2 billion (down -3.5%)
Among these import subcategories, Chinese purchases of phone devices including smartphones (up 14.5%), television, radio and radar device parts (up 13.7%) then solar power diodes or semi-conductors (up 13.6%) grew at the fastest pace from 2020 to 2021.
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.
China’s Top Imports of Mineral Fuels and Related Products
In 2021, Chinese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of mineral fuels-related products.
- Crude oil: US$229.3 billion (up 30% from 2020)
- Petroleum gases: $61.9 billion (up 47.2%)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $22.9 billion (up 39.6%)
- Processed petroleum oils: $15.2 billion (up 28.5%)
- Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation): $9.2 billion (down -4.2%)
- Lignite: $7.7 billion (up 99.2%)
- Asphalt/petroleum bitumen mixes: $7 billion (up 84.7%)
- Petroleum oil residues: $3.5 billion (up 36.8%)
- Coke, semi-coke: $436.8 million (down -36.8%)
- Electrical energy: $220 million (up 23.9%)
Among these import subcategories, Chinese purchases of lignite (up 99.2%), asphalt or petroleum bitumen mixes (up 84.7%) then petroleum gases (up 47.2%) grew at the fastest pace from 2020 to 2021.
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.
China’s Top Imports of Ores, Slag or Ash
In 2021, Chinese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of ores, slag or ash.
- Iron ores, concentrates: US$173.6 billion (up 46% from 2020)
- Copper ores, concentrates: $50.6 billion (up 47.5%)
- Precious metal ores, concentrates: $5.2 billion (up 21.4%)
- Aluminum ores, concentrates: $4.6 billion (down -8.1%)
- Manganese ores, concentrates: $4.5 billion (down -8%)
- Nickel ores, concentrates: $4.2 billion (up 43.2%)
- Zinc ores, concentrates: $3.6 billion (up 44.4%)
- Chromium ores, concentrates: $2.4 billion (up 15.4%)
- Lead ores, concentrates: $1.7 billion (up 0.7%)
- Tin ores, concentrates: $1.2 billion (up 109.1%)
Among these import subcategories, Chinese purchases of tin ores or concentrates (up 109.1%), copper ores or concentrates (up 47.5%) then iron ores or concentrates (up 46%) grew at the fastest pace from 2020 to 2021.
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.
China’s Top Imports of Machinery Including Computers
In 2021, Chinese importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machines including computers.
- Computers, optical readers: US$37.7 billion (up 11.2% from 2020)
- Machinery for making semi-conductors: $37.5 billion (up 18.2%)
- Computer parts, accessories: $23.3 billion (up 17.6%)
- Miscellaneous machinery: $13.1 billion (up 6.3%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $9.7 billion (up 9.2%)
- Printing machinery: $6.8 billion (up 5.7%)
- Turbo-jets: $6.3 billion (up 3.4%)
- Air or vacuum pumps: $6.3 billion (up 12.6%)
- Transmission shafts, gears, clutches: $6 billion (up 10.9%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $5.6 billion (up 2%)
Among these import subcategories, Chinese purchases of machinery for making semi-conductors (up 18.2%), computer parts or accessories (up 17.6%) then air or vacuum pumps (up 12.6%) grew at the fastest pace from 2020 to 2021.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported machinery among Chinese businesses and consumers.
Searchable List of China’s Most Valuable Import Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of China’s most in-demand imported goods during 2021. Shown beside each product label is its total import value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2020.
|Rank||China's Import Product||2021 Value (US$)||Change|
|3||Iron ores, concentrates||$173,599,744,000||+46%|
|5||Copper ores, concentrates||$50,576,073,000||+47.5%|
|6||Phone system devices including smartphones||$49,874,619,000||+14.5%|
|10||Computers, optical readers||$37,737,282,000||+11.2%|
|11||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$37,544,648,000||+18.2%|
|12||Refined copper, unwrought alloys||$31,821,555,000||+4.1%|
|13||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$30,371,792,000||+13.6%|
|15||Liquid crystal/laser/optical tools||$24,882,922,000||-5.7%|
|16||Computer parts, accessories||$23,330,998,000||+17.6%|
|17||Coal, solid fuels made from coal||$22,870,055,000||+39.6%|
|18||Medication mixes in dosage||$21,523,562,000||+1.7%|
|20||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$18,520,856,000||+6.8%|
|22||TV/radio/radar device parts||$16,030,434,000||+13.7%|
|23||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$15,863,438,000||+6.1%|
|24||Processed petroleum oils||$15,156,832,000||+28.5%|
|25||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$14,689,828,000||+20.1%|
|26||Other measuring/testing machines||$14,651,895,000||+10.1%|
|27||Chemical woodpulp (non-dissolving)||$13,837,677,000||+15.2%|
|29||Electrical converters/power units||$12,844,481,000||+11.2%|
|32||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$11,432,373,000||+17.7%|
|33||Copper waste, scrap||$11,421,536,000||+151.8%|
|39||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$9,680,688,000||+9.2%|
|41||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$9,200,140,000||-8.8%|
|42||Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)||$9,188,496,000||-4.2%|
|46||Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates||$8,157,056,000||+2.9%|
|47||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$7,902,361,000||+5.6%|
|49||Chemical industry products/residuals||$7,632,081,000||+16.1%|
|54||Asphalt/petroleum bitumen mixes||$7,030,398,000||+84.7%|
|55||Iron or non-alloy steel products (semi-finished)||$7,008,246,000||+1.8%|
|61||Air or vacuum pumps||$6,287,095,000||+12.6%|
|62||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$6,192,535,000||-3.5%|
|63||Crustaceans (including lobsters)||$6,127,921,000||+3.7%|
|65||Miscellaneous fruits (fresh)||$6,071,544,000||+47.6%|
|66||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$5,981,574,000||+10.9%|
|68||Cases, handbags, wallets||$5,859,779,000||+33.3%|
|70||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$5,550,248,000||+2%|
|72||Liquid pumps and elevators||$5,438,059,000||+11.9%|
|75||Precious metal ores, concentrates||$5,229,849,000||+21.4%|
|76||Yarn (85%+ cotton)||$5,212,308,000||+30.5%|
|77||Ball, roller bearings||$4,956,993,000||+15.2%|
|78||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$4,670,488,000||-20.8%|
|79||Aluminum ores, concentrates||$4,643,783,000||-8.1%|
|80||Unrecorded sound media||$4,591,092,000||-8.6%|
|81||Manganese ores, concentrates||$4,512,496,000||-8%|
|83||Concentrated/sweetened milk, cream||$4,441,269,000||+33.3%|
|84||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$4,428,683,000||+10.8%|
|85||Electric storage batteries||$4,413,629,000||+1.5%|
|87||Electric motors, generators||$4,332,478,000||+13.5%|
|89||Nickel ores, concentrates||$4,154,279,000||+43.2%|
|91||Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers||$4,126,368,000||-11.4%|
|92||Miscellaneous plastic items||$4,083,346,000||+9.4%|
|94||Cotton (uncarded, uncombed)||$3,798,245,000||+6.6%|
|95||Lenses, prisms, mirrors||$3,741,728,000||-1.6%|
|96||Other food preparations||$3,691,768,000||-4.4%|
|98||Piston engine parts||$3,623,317,000||+1.3%|
|99||Zinc ores, concentrates||$3,569,245,000||+44.4%|
|100||Petroleum oil residues||$3,492,750,000||+36.8%|
These 100 imported goods were worth a subtotal of US$1.973 trillion or 80.9% by value for all products imported into mainland China during 2021.
See also China’s Top 10 Exports, China’s Top Trading Partners, Top Chinese Trade Balances and China’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on May 13, 2022
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National 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