Chinese exports surge as global demand recovers from virus

Chinese exports surge as global demand recovers from virus
Police officers use sniffer dogs to check on Tiananmen Square before the opening session of China’s National People’s Congress on Friday. China’s exports surged more than 60% in the first two months of the year compared with the same period of last year (Ng Han Guan/AP)

China’s exports surged 60.6% year-on-year in the first two months of 2021 after factories reopened and global demand started to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Exports rose to 468.9 billion dollars (£339 billion), according to customs data released on Sunday, accelerating from December’s 18.1% gain and nearly double the growth expected by forecasters. Imports jumped 22.2% to 365.6 billion dollars (£264 billion), up from December’s 6.5% increase.

Chinese authorities combine trade data for the first two months to compensate for fluctuations due to the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls at different times each year in January or February. Factories shut down for up to two weeks, then restock after they reopen.

87.3% Year-on-year rise in China's exports to the US in the first two months of 2021

Exporters benefited from the relatively early reopening of China’s economy after the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the disease last March, while foreign competitors still face anti-virus controls.

Forecasters say the Chinese export surge should decelerate as demand for masks and other medical supplies eases and overseas competitors return to global markets. Trade officials have warned that the global situation still is “grave and complex”.

Exports to the United States soared 87.3% over last year to 80.5 billion dollars (£58.16 billion) in January and February despite former President Donald Trump’s tariff hikes imposed in a fight over trade, technology and security. They have been left in place by his successor, Joe Biden, who took office in January.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaking during the opening session of China’s National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday (Andy Wong/AP)

Economists and political analysts expect few changes under Mr Biden due to widespread frustration in Washington with China’s trade and human rights records and complaints about technology theft and spying.

On Friday, China’s top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, announced plans to accelerate technology development and reduce reliance on other countries.

That threatens to worsen strains with Washington and Europe, which complain Beijing violates its market-opening pledges by shielding its suppliers from competition.

The latest trade figures look especially dramatic compared with early 2020, when the ruling party shut factories to fight the virus and trade plunged.

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