BEIJING — China’s foreign trade stabilized and returned to growth in the fourth quarter last year, with total foreign trade value up 3.8 percent in the three-month period, data from the General Administration of Customs (GAC) showed on Jan 13.
In the fourth quarter of 2016, China’s exports were up 0.3 percent from a year ago, while imports climbed 8.7 percent, compared with a 0.3-percent decrease in exports and a 2.3-percent rise in imports in the third quarter, according to GAC spokesperson Huang Songping.
The country’s exports in yuan-denominated terms dropped 2 percent to 13.84 trillion yuan (about $2 trillion) year on year in 2016, while imports rose 0.6 percent from the 2015 level to 10.49 trillion yuan.
The total export and import value decreased 0.9 percent year on year to 24.33 trillion yuan, Huang said at a press briefing.
In 2015, the country’s total export and import values decreased 7 percent year on year to 24.59 trillion yuan.
China’s foreign trade surplus narrowed to 3.35 trillion yuan in 2016, down 9.1 percent from a year earlier, according to GAC data.
Huang attributed the trade recovery to supportive policies, a rebound in external demand and a stabilizing domestic economy.
Despite the sluggish world economy and shrinking trade activity in the past year, some economic indicators slowly improved, Huang said, citing the purchasing managers’ indexes in developed economies, which suggested expansion in the last quarter.
Boosted by growing domestic demand, crude oil imports in 2016 rose 13.6 percent to 381 million tonnes while iron ore imports climbed 7.5 percent to 1.024 billion tonnes, the GAC reported.
Trade with countries along the “Belt and Road” witnessed growth, Huang said. China’s exports to Pakistan, Russia and India rose 11 percent, 14.1 percent and 6.5 percent year on year.
Meanwhile, China’s exports to the European Union, the country’s biggest trade partner, increased 1.2 percent. Exports to ASEAN, the third-largest partner, were down 2 percent.
Huang also highlighted the strong performance of Chinese private firms, which recorded 9.28 trillion yuan or 38.1 percent of the total foreign trade volume last year, compared with 37 percent in the previous year.
But foreign firms and State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are still facing difficulties in trade, he said, citing figures that total foreign trade value of foreign firms and SOEs dropped 2.2 percent and 5.6 percent respectively in 2016.
Huang said while it was “not easy” for China to see stabilizing signs in foreign trade in 2016, the new year will continue to bring new challenges and uncertainties.
In addition to the extended world economic downturn and China’s restructuring efforts, which could hamper trade growth in some traditional sectors, the rise of trade protectionism is a growing restraint on China’s exports, he said.
Chinese exporters faced a record number of 119 trade remedy probes initiated by 27 countries or regions in 2016, a 36.8-percent increase year on year, data from the commerce ministry showed.