China Eclipses U.S. as Biggest Trading Nation in Goods

China’s growing influence may disrupt regional trading blocs, says Goldman’s O’Neill.

China surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s biggest trading nation last year as measured by the sum of exports and imports of goods, official figures from both countries show.

U.S. exports and imports of goods last year totaled $3.82 trillion, the U.S. Commerce Department said last week. China’s customs administration reported last month that the country’s trade in goods in 2012 amounted to $3.87 trillion.

Biggest Exporter

The U.S. emerged as the preeminent trading power following World War II as it spearheaded the creation of the global trade and financial architecture. Protectionist policies in the 1930s had exacerbated the global economic depression. At the same time the U.K., the leading trading nation of the 19th century, began to dismantle its colonial empire.

Data Questioned

Economists from banks including UBS AG and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. recently expressed skepticism about China’s export data after the customs administration reported an unexpected 14.1 percent export gain in December. The General Administration of Customs defended the data last month, saying all statistics are based on actual customs declarations, and the Ministry of Commerce said the jump was caused by exporters who hurried shipments before a waiver of inspection fees expired at the end of the month.

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