China's trade surplus soared by almost half last year to a record US$382 billion, the government announced today, but the world's second-largest economy again missed its trade growth target due to weakness overseas.
Exports increased 6.1 per cent to US$2.34 trillion in 2014, while imports rose 0.4 per cent to US$1.96 trillion, the General Administration of Customs said on its website. That translated into a trade surplus of US$382.46 billion, the highest ever and a 47.2 per cent increase on 2013.
China's huge trade surpluses were long a source of friction between Beijing and Washington, as the workshop of the world pumped out manufactured goods and US debt mounted, but the issue receded in more recent years.
Total trade in 2014 rose just 3.4 per cent from the year before, far below authorities' aim of about 7.5 per cent and the third consecutive year the official target has been missed.
"The world economy recovered rather slowly and couldn't support China's trade growing at a high speed," said Customs spokesman Zheng Yuesheng. "China's comparative advantage of low costs continued to wane, while investment in China's manufacturing industry from developed economies declined, containing trade (growth)," he added, stressing that foreign-invested companies are responsible for about half the country's exports.
Zheng attributed the record surplus to falling international commodity prices which dragged down import values. The trade figures come as China's economy rounds out a disappointing 2014, with growth slowing because of manufacturing weakness, falling property prices and high corporate and local government debt burdens. This prompted the central People's Bank of China (PBoC) in November to cut benchmark interest rates for the first time in more than two years.
Gross domestic product (GDP) expanded an annual 7.3 per cent in the third quarter, the slowest since the height of the global financial crisis in early 2009. Some economists expect figures showing further weakness at the end of last year and in the year ahead, with authorities openly describing slower and hopefully more sustainable expansion as a "new normal".