Much to Trump’s chagrin, China inflates its trade surplus with the United States

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Beijing | China’s surplus with the United States increased further last year, inflicting a final blow to Donald Trump who had made rebalancing trade a priority of his presidency.

Claiming that trade wars were easy to win, the US president launched hostilities against the Asian giant in 2018, denouncing Beijing’s “unfair” competition.

The standoff resulted in additional reciprocal tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in goods. The trade confrontation weighed on the global economy and plunged the business world into a climate of uncertainty.

Beijing and Washington, however, signed a truce in January 2020, just before the world was crippled by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Under the deal, China agreed to buy an additional $ 200 billion in US goods over two years that are supposed to help reduce the US deficit.

Alas, China again recorded in 2020 a trade surplus up 7.1% to $ 316.9 billion with the United States, Chinese Customs announced Thursday, less than a week before the departure of the Republican billionaire of the White House.

Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, demand for medical and electronic products for teleworking largely boosted Chinese exports to Uncle Sam’s country.

In the other direction, health restrictions in the United States have been a brake on trade with China, believes economist Iris Pang, of the ING bank.

Despite everything, Beijing has made “continuous efforts to meet its commitments” with Washington, according to analyst Ting Lu, of investment bank Nomura, noting in December a 45% increase over one year in Chinese imports from United States.

Feverish imports

Economists generally expect the future Biden administration to leave in place, at least initially, the surcharges on Chinese products.

In an interview published Monday, outgoing Washington negotiator Robert Lighthizer urged her to maintain these sanctions and justified the trade war.

“We have transformed the way people think about commerce and we have changed the models,” he said.

With the whole world, China’s trade surplus was at its highest level since 2015, at $ 535 billion (+ 27% over one year).

With the European Union alone, Beijing’s second trading partner after Southeast Asia, it fell 19% to $ 132.4 billion.

The arrival of vaccines means that global demand for products linked to the epidemic will be reduced, and this “risks penalizing” Chinese exports in the medium term, warns analyst Tommy Wu, of the Oxford Economics firm.

In the meantime, Chinese sales of anti-Covid products abroad are in good shape.

The country exported 224 billion masks to the world between March and December. “This is the equivalent of 40 masks per person outside China,” Customs spokesman Li Kuiwen said to the press.

The first country affected by COVID-19, but also the first to emerge from it, China appears as a barometer of the expected recovery of the global economy.

Despite the pandemic and the economic situation, the exports of the world’s second-largest economy recorded an increase of 3.6% in 2020 over one year.

In December alone, total orders to China from abroad jumped 18.1% year on year. However, this is a lower result than that of November (21.1%).

As for the Asian giant’s imports, last month they increased by 6.5%. But they are down 1.1% for the whole of 2020, reflecting the weakness of domestic consumption.

Imports should, however, “increase significantly” this year on the back of China’s economic recovery, Wu said.

For now, the country has posted a surplus of 78 billion dollars in the month of December alone, a practically record level in the opinion of analysts.

It is expected to be one of the few major economies to report positive GDP growth in 2020 on Monday. China posted 4.9% year-on-year growth in the third quarter.

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