China posted weak exports in 2016 and says it’s a “victim” of Trump’s anti-globalization rhetoric

Tough days ahead.
Tough days ahead.
Image: Reuters/Aly Song
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China’s export figures in 2016 did not look good thanks to continuing weak global demand. But officials are likely to be even more worried about this year as they are closely watching potential threats against trade that incoming US president Donald Trump could impose on the country.

Chinese customs reported today (Jan. 13) underwhelming trade data (link in Chinese) for the full year in 2016. In dollar-denominated terms, China’s exports last year were down 7.7% from a year earlier, the second annual drop in a row and the worst performance since the global financial crisis in 2009. Overseas shipments in December dropped 6.1% year-on-year, despite analyst forecasts of a 4% decline.

Imports in December grew 3.1% from a year earlier, beating forecasts slightly. For 2016 as a whole, China’s imports were down 5.5%. That means China’s trade surplus in 2016 narrowed to over $500 billion from a record $594 billion a year earlier.

China has admitted that it faces a challenge ahead. Customs spokesperson Huang Songping said at a briefing in Beijing, “The trend of anti-globalization is becoming increasingly evident, and China is the biggest victim of this trend,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying. With Trump’s inauguration coming up on Jan. 20, Chinese officials will “pay close attention” to his trade policy, Huang added.

Trump has pledged to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in the White House, despite his completely erroneous theory that China is artificially keeping its currency low to dump goods on the US. On the campaign trail, he claimed China is “raping” the US with its trade policy, and pledged to slap a punitive tariff as high as 45% on Chinese imports. He also picked two vocal China critics for key trade posts, Peter Navarro and Robert Lighthizer.