China Economy Overview
Modern China dominates world trade following major reforms, introduced in 1978, that were more focused on market-oriented economic development.
The country’s economy is ranked #2 in the world after the United States, but China has been the world’s biggest exporter of goods since 2009.
In this guide, we give you an overview of China’s economy, including the country’s primary imports and exports.
China’s Top Exports
Here is a breakdown of the most important products exported by China, both commodities and other notable exports.
- Refined petroleum – $31.2 billion
- Cotton – $13.7 billion
- Plywood – $4.79 billion
- Petroleum gas – $1.95 billion
- Tea – $1.67 billion
If you’re interested in trading some of these commodities, you can jump to our list of recommended regulated brokers in at the end of the page.
Other Notable Exports
- Broadcasting equipment – $224 billion
- Computers – $147 billion
- Office machine parts – $100 billion
- Integrated circuits – $90.9 billion
- Telephones – $55.3 billion
Hong Kong and the United States are also the fastest-growing export markets, with the Netherlands in the third place.
China’s Top Imports
Here is a breakdown of the most important products imported by China, both commodities and other notable imports.
- Crude petroleum – $208 billion
- Iron ore – $59.2 billion
- Petroleum gas – $44.2 billion
- Gold – $36.9 billion
- Soybeans – $33,8 billion
Other Notable Imports
- Integrated circuits – $133 billion
- Cars – $45.2 billion
- Copper ore – $31.7 billion
- Vehicle parts – $28.5 billion
- Planes, helicopters, and/or spacecraft – $28.3 billion
Total imports of $1.61 trillion make China the second-largest trade destination in the world. This represents a growth of $23.4 billion compared to total imports of $1.59 trillion in 2013.
China’s agricultural sector has become increasingly more dependent on imports over the last decade, in particular oil-bearing crops such as soybeans.
GDP of China
China’s GDP is estimated at $13.6 trillion, which ranks it at number 2 in the world behind the United States at $20.5 trillion. The country’s GDP per capita is $9,771. Between 2008 and 2018, the GDP grew by 196%.
Details on China’s Imports & Exports
China is the largest cotton spinner in the world. Its textile industry is also the biggest globally in terms of overall production and exports. Twenty-four Chinese provinces grow cotton. The industry is responsible for employing about 300 million people.
The Asia Pacific region is the largest tea producer and China plays a pivotal role in global tea production.
Bad weather and cold temperatures can have a notable impact on tea production and has affected growth rates in certain years.
The Chinese government abandoned its system of quotas and licensing restrictions on tea exports in 2006. This has seen a rise in private companies in the market alongside state-owned companies.
The annual production of rice accounts for almost half of the country’s total grain output.
China is responsible for about 30% of global rice production. Rice yields in China have risen significantly since the introduction of scientifically-bred high-yield dwarf rice that has proven resilient in cold and adverse weather conditions. Even so, China is also the world’s biggest importer of rice – to the value of $1.61 billion annually.
China is now emerging as one of the biggest importers of soybeans and has signed contracts that maintains its commitment to import billions of dollars of soybeans from the United States.
China is the biggest importer of iron ore by some margin. Imports total around $59.2 billion annually, which is over 67% of total global iron ore imports.
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Sources and Further Reading
- All numbers are based on OEC 2018 calculations and projections unless otherwise stated.
- Learn more about the state of world government debt from our country debt clock pages.
- See our global economic indicator guide to more than 45 other countries.
- Learn more about the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange (ZCE), a securities exchange in China that operates a marketplace for trading, clearing, and settling agricultural and other commodities futures and options.
All currency is reported in US dollars.