China's exports rose in 2020 despite pressure from the coronavirus pandemic and a tariff war with Washington, boosting its politically volatile trade surplus to $535 billion, one of the highest ever reported.
Exports increased 3.6% over 2019 to $2.6 trillion, an improvement on the previous year's 0.5% gain, customs data showed Thursday.
Imports edged down 1.1% to just over $2 trillion, but growth was strong in the second half.
"Faced with a grim and complex situation at home and abroad as well as the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic, our foreign trade performance beat expectations," said Li Kuiwen, spokesperson of the General Administration of Customs of China.
"China was the only major economy that achieved positive growth in commodity trade," Li added.
Exports to the United States rose 7.9% over 2019 to $45.2 billion, despite tariff hikes on most Chinese goods by the Trump administration in a feud with Beijing over technology and security.
Imports of U.S. goods rose 9.8% to $13.5 billion, boosted by Beijing's promise as part of a truce in that conflict to buy more more American soybeans, natural gas and other exports.
China's exporters benefited from the relatively early reopening of its economy and demand for masks and other Chinese-made medical supplies.
Exporters have taken market share from foreign competitors that still face anti-virus curbs, but that advantage is expected to fade as coronavirus vaccines are rolled out and other economies return to normal. Demand for medical goods is receding.
Global exports surged 18.1% in December over a year earlier to $281.9 billion. Imports rose 6.5% to $203.7 billion, reflecting a rebound in Chinese consumer demand after the ruling Communist Party reopened factories, shopping malls, offices and auto dealerships.
China is on track to be the only major economy to grow in 2020 while activity in the United States, Europe and Japan falls.
The world's second-largest economy shrank by 6.8% from a year earlier in the first three months of 2020. Growth rebounded to 3.2% in the second quarter and accelerated to 4.9% in the three months ending in September.
Chinese imports are growing faster by volume than by value because prices of oil and other commodities sank after anti-virus curbs on travel and business depressed global demand.
Also in 2020, exports to Europe rose 6.7% to $39.1 billion despite anti-virus controls that shut down travel and business in major markets. Imports of European goods rose 2.3%, giving China a surplus of $13.3 billion.
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