China 'Overtakes US' As World's Top Trader

China's annual trade in goods passed the $4trn (£2.4trn) mark for the first time in 2013, official data has revealed, confirming its position as the world's biggest trading nation.

Exports from the world's number two economy rose 7.9% to $2.21trn (£1.34trn), while imports increased 7.3% to $1.95trn (£1.18trn), the General Administration of Customs (GAC) announced.

The trade surplus stood at $259.75bn (£157bn), up 12.8% from 2012.

Total trade came to $4.16trn, an increase of 7.6%, just below the government's 8% target.

The total was a record high and effectively confirmed a historic geo-economic shift, making China the world's biggest trader of physical goods, not including services.

Reports last February said the United States' total trade in goods was lower than China's in 2012, but GAC said due to differences in calculation methods the change happened for the first time in 2013.

Further confirmation of the new status is expected to come when full US data for the year is released.

Customs spokesman Zheng Yuesheng said: "It is very likely that China overtook the US to become the world's largest trading country in goods in 2013 for the first time."

The European Union was China's biggest trading partner, GAC said, followed by the United States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Hong Kong and Japan.

Between them, the traditional markets of the EU, US and Japan accounted for 33.5% of China's trade, down 1.7%, suggesting emerging markets' share of business was growing.

"Generally speaking, the environment for trade to grow in 2014 is likely to be better than 2013," Mr Zheng said, citing improvements in international demand and domestic economic factors.

However, China's trade surplus in December fell 17.4% to $25.64bn (£15.5bn), below expectations.

Exports increased 4.3% to $207.74bn (£125bn) last month, while imports climbed 8.3% to $182.1bn (£110bn).

China's 2013 trade performance came as the economy turned in a mixed performance, slowing during the first half of the year before showing some vigour in the final six months.

A government report last month cited in state media suggested GDP grew 7.6% in 2013, from the 7.7% in 2012, which was the worst performance in 13 years.

President Xi Jinping, who assumed office in March after becoming head of the ruling Communist Party in November 2012, wants to transform the economy to one in which domestic demand is the key growth driver, rather than public investment.

China's yuan currency gained more than 3% against the dollar last year, hitting a series of record highs since Beijing launched its modern foreign exchange market in 1994.

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