With numbers showing annual trade passing the $4 trillion mark, a spokesman for China’s customs administration announced, “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. This is a landmark milestone for our nation’s foreign trade development.”
It’s not quite official yet. As the Guardian notes, ”the US is yet to publish its 2013 trade figures, but with trade totaling $3.5tn in the first 11 months of the year, it is unlikely to beat China.”
Critics point out that there have been serious questions raised about the reliability of Chinese economic statistics, but Beijing has been hovering around this milestone for a while. China was already ranked first in goods exports and second in imports in 2012.
Last year China eclipsed the United States as the world’s most prominent trading partner. In 2006 the U.S. was the larger trading partner for 127 countries, versus just 70 for China. In 2012 it was 124 for China, 76 for the U.S. In a few years, it’s poised to pass the European Union as the second-largest trade partner for Latin America. It is already the largest partner for Brazil.
Of course not all trade is made completely equal. Most Chinese trade is still in low-end goods despite heavy investments in technology, aerospace, and automobiles
China’s regional rivals may be looking to compete with its commercial clout in the developing world. Shinzo Abe is leading the first visit by a Japanese prime minister to Africa—specifically Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, and Mozambique—this week in an effort to promote “Japanese companies’ investments to secure important natural resources,” clearly with an eye on catching up, or at least keeping pace, with the significant resource investments China has already made in the region in recent years.