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China’s foreign trade sees stable and improved performance in first quarter of 2021

By Du Haitao, Wang Ke, People’s Daily

China’s foreign trade got off to a good start at the beginning of the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) period, with the total volume of imports and exports of goods reaching 8.47 trillion yuan (about $1.31 trillion) in the first quarter of 2021, up 29.2 percent year on year, according to official data.

In the first three months this year, China’s exports of goods rose 38.7 percent from the same period last year to 4.61 trillion yuan, and its imports of goods expanded 19.3 percent year on year to 3.86 trillion yuan, suggested data released by the country’s General Administration of Customs (GAC).

The scale of China’s foreign trade in the first quarter not only far exceeded that of the same period last year, but showed growth rates of 25.3 percent and 20.5 percent compared to the first quarter of 2018 and 2019, respectively, as the official data indicated.

“In the first quarter, China’s foreign trade achieved a great increase unseen for many years, showing strong resilience and vigorous vitality,” said Liang Ming, head of foreign trade research institute under the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.

China has constantly expanded imports of high-quality goods to meet the huge domestic demand. In the middle of last year, China’s Ministry of Finance, the GAC, and the State Taxation Administration jointly released a notice to raise the annual offshore duty-free shopping quota for outbound tourists in south China’s Hainan province in a bid to meet the needs of consumption upgrading.

During this year’s Spring Festival holiday that lasted from Feb. 11 to 17, the combined sales volume of offshore duty-free shops in Hainan exceeded 1.5 billion yuan, doubling that achieved during the Spring Festival holiday in 2019.

The continuous and stable economic recovery in China has given a boost to the import of new and high-tech products and basic materials including energy products. Customs data showed that the country imported 155.27 billion units of integrated circuits in the first quarter this year, up 33.6 percent from the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the country’s crude oil and copper imports grew by 9.5 percent and 11.7 percent year on year to 139 million tons and nearly 1.44 million tons, respectively.

While promoting stable growth in the volume of foreign trade, China has tried to improve the value-added of exports by optimizing the structure of export goods.

A vast number of foreign trade firms have made great efforts to bring into better play their core competitive advantages in such aspects as technology, brand, and service, improve the quality and structure of export products, and foster new strengths in export.

In the first three months of 2021, China exported 2.78 trillion yuan worth of mechanical and electrical products, which marked a growth rate of 43 percent and accounted for 60.3 percent of the country’s total export volume in the period.

During the period, the country saw its exports of automatic data processing equipment and its parts and accessories, mobile phones, and automobiles (including chassis) increase by 54.5 percent, 38.5 percent, and 98.9 percent, respectively.

“This is our newest computer numerical control (CNC) precision machining center. You put raw materials in it and get finished products. The precision of its holes and screws can reach one hundredth the size of a human hair,” said Hu Lijun, general manager of a foreign trade company based in Cixi, east China’s Zhejiang province.

According to Hu, the production lines of his company have never stopped running since the beginning of this year, and the orders the company has received are scheduled for April 2023.

Hu’s company mainly produces braking systems of high-end bicycles. Its products have been sold to Europe and South America. Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19, some countries encourage citizens to shift from their previous transportation means to bikes, leading to a significant surge in the market demand for bikes. Although Hu’s company is running at full capacity, it still can’t meet the huge demand of oversea markets.

“The reason why we can seize the great opportunity for foreign trade now is that we have been continuously increasing financial input in the research and development of products and technological transformation,” Hu explained.

“We spend more than 50 percent of our annual profits on research and development every year. Since last year, we used an additional 30 million yuan to upgrade our equipment, which enabled us to reduce the error rate of the equipment to around one thousandth and reach the advanced level in the industry,” said Hu.

Recently, a food company based in Huanghua, north China’s Hebei province, sent 100 cases of local winter jujubes it processed to Brunei, one of the countries along the routes of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It was the first time the company exported products to Brunei.

“During the pandemic, relevant government departments actively reached out to us to help. They came to our company for multiple times to conduct investigations and surveys and helped us find new markets and stabilize foreign trade orders,” said an executive of the company.

At the beginning of this year, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOC) proposed promoting Silk Road e-commerce so as to boost the integrated development of new business forms and models like cross-border e-commerce and the BRI and add new driving forces to the Chine-Europe freight trains and the construction of major foreign trade channels including the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor.

In the first quarter this year, China’s foreign trade with countries along the routes of the BRI totaled 2.5 trillion yuan, an increase of 21.4 percent year on year. In particular, foreign trade between China and countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, and Poland enjoyed fast growth.

Various parts of China have made active efforts to attract leading enterprises through such platforms as comprehensive bonded zones and comprehensive cross-border e-commerce pilot zones, and eventually bring together a good number of upstream and downstream firms in and near these zones.

From January to March, comprehensive bonded zones across the country witnessed an increase of 41.1 percent in imports and exports, while the country’s pilot free trade zones logged an 28.4-percent growth in foreign trade and the volume of duty-free goods imported by Hainan free trade port rose by 162.5 percent.

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