Prospects for China’s foreign trade remain challenging as rising protectionism and international political uncertainties, including US trade policy under Donald Trump’s presidency, will likely weigh on Chinese exports, officials said on Jan 13.
China’s total foreign trade volume declined by 0.9 percent year-on-year to 24.33 trillion yuan ($3.5 trillion) in 2016. Exports decreased by 2 percent from a year earlier to 13.84 trillion yuan, while imports grew by 0.6 percent to 10.49 trillion yuan, according to customs data.
“The rising trend of anti-globalization and protectionism has increased the uncertainties in the global economy,” said Huang Songping, spokesman for the General Administration of Customs, at a news conference.
But the encouraging signs are that China’s foreign trade started to recover in the third and fourth quarters, reversing the sharp decline in the first two quarters. Total trade volume increased by 3.8 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter.
The recovery in China’s foreign trade was supported by favorable government policies as well as improved external demand in Europe and the United States, Huang said.
Exports to emerging markets, in particular countries covered by the Belt and Road Initiative, saw double-digit growth in the past year, the data showed.
Huang said China’s trade could face headwinds generated by rising international political uncertainties, including the fallout from Brexit and major elections in Europe and the ROK. The government is also paying close attention to US trade policy under the administration of Trump, who will take office on Jan 13.
“The challenges facing China’s trade are not in the short term. But the economy is resilient enough to handle them,” he said.
Wang Tao, chief China economist at UBS Group AG, said the Trump administration will likely adopt more trade protectionist measures against China, although the likelihood of an all-out trade war is slim.
“There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding Trump’s trade policy. But a trade war is very unlikely, since it would be a lose-lose situation and would also hurt the interest of US companies,” Wang said.
Chinese exporters are also preparing for rising uncertainties in the global markets and are expecting more supportive policies from the government to help them win back orders from competitors in Southeast Asia.