Changing pattern of China's trade in 2021: trade with emerging markets gaining traction
By Liu Chunsheng
A view of the port of Lianyungang in east China's Jiangsu Province, January 3, 2022. /CFP

A view of the port of Lianyungang in east China's Jiangsu Province, January 3, 2022. /CFP

Editor's note: Liu Chunsheng is an associate professor at the Central University of Finance and Economics. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN, and this article was translated from Chinese.

China on Friday released its 2021 foreign trade data. In terms of RMB, the total amount of China's trade in goods reached 39.1 trillion yuan, up 21.4 percent year on year. In U.S. dollar terms, China's total import and export reached $6.05 trillion, exceeding $6 trillion for the first time.

The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of China's accession to the World Trade Organization. China has accumulated a lot of experiences in its opening up and achieved fruitful results. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the global industrial and supply chains faced major tests. The latest figures show the resilience of China's foreign trade is once again demonstrated, which is of great significance to the stabilization and improvement of the Chinese economy and the recovery of the world economy.

Belt & Road trade up significantly 

Compared with 2020, China's top five major trading partners remain Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union, the United States, Japan and South Korea. Except for Japan, China's import and export trade with the above countries has all achieved a double-digit year-on-year growth rate. On the one hand, the total trade volume of traditional trading partners continues to increase, and on the other hand, China's trade with emerging markets saw many highlights.

In 2021, China's total trade with countries along the Belt and Road routes reached 11.6 trillion yuan, up 23.6 percent year on year. Belt and Road from initiative to construction is showing great vitality, and the concept of extensive consultation, joint construction and sharing are creating win-win results. Up to now, China has signed seven free trade agreements with 13 countries along the Belt and Road. Chinese customs strengthened cooperation with relevant departments at home and abroad, signed the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) mutual recognition agreement with 31 "Belt and Road" countries. The AEO recognition system gives each enterprise preferential convenience measures, and can significantly improve the two countries' cross-border customs clearance efficiency, compress customs clearance time, reduce trade costs. It will further facilitate trade among China and countries along the Belt and Road. 

With the unique advantages of China-Europe freight trains, which mainly serve countries along the Belt and Road, the number of trains and goods across Eurasia increased rapidly. In 2021, 15,000 freight trains were departed from China, with 1.46 million standard containers being sent, up 22 percent and 29 percent year on year, respectively. China-Europe freight trains are becoming the most closely inter-connected transportation system to benefit China's dual circulation, smooth trade between China and Europe and connect countries along the "Belt and Road". China-Europe freight trains have become an iconic brand of "Belt and Road" construction, changing from an early "new choice" to a "stabilizer" for corporate cooperation and a "reassurance" for free trade.

Trade with RCEP members more promising

In 2021, ASEAN has become China's largest trade partner for two consecutive years. The China-ASEAN trade in goods has maintained a rapid growth of 5.67 trillion yuan, up 19.7 percent year on year. In 2020, the China-ASEAN trade index was 241.09 points, up 19.64 percent from 2019 and 141.09 percent from the establishment of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Zone in 2010. From the five dimensions of trade connectivity, trade quality, trade potential, trade vitality and trade environment, the manufacturing connection between China and ASEAN countries continues to strengthen, and China and ASEAN countries are jointly developing into the world manufacturing base.

As of January 1, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world's largest population and largest trade zone, had come into force in 10 of the 15 member states. From that day on, the immediate zero-tariff ratio between China, ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand has exceeded 65 percent of total trade. China and Japan have newly established free trade relations, and zero tariff rates will reach 25 percent and 57 percent, respectively. The goal of RCEP is to achieve zero tariffs on more than 90 percent of the goods trade among member states in the future. Therefore, both the trade creation effect and the economies of scale effect of countries in the region will be gradually released, which will surely become a new sample of multilateralism and economic globalization in the current international environment.

In 2021, China and other BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries generally maintained a relatively strong growth momentum. In April and May, the total trade between China and BRICS countries increased by 69.7 percent and 75.8 percent year on year, respectively, much better than in the previous quarter. Due to the continued recovery of Chinese trade with BRICS countries, the proportion of trade between China and other BRICS countries in China's total Chinese trade rose again to 8.2 percent in May, the highest point since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the vaccination rate increases, China's trade with other BRICS countries has a promising future.

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