China passes U.S. as world's biggest nation for trading

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 6:36 p.m.

China surpassed the United States to become the world's biggest trading nation last year as measured by the sum of exports and imports, a milestone in the Asian nation's challenge to America's dominance in global commerce that emerged after the end of World War II in 1945.

U.S. exports and imports last year totaled $3.82 trillion, the Commerce Department said last week. China's customs administration reported last month that the country's total trade in 2012 amounted to $3.87 trillion. China had a $231.1 billion annual trade surplus, while the United States had a trade deficit of $727.9 billion.

China's emergence as the biggest global trading nation gives it increasing influence, threatening to disrupt regional trading blocs as it becomes the most important commercial partner for countries including Germany, which will export twice as much to China by the end of the decade as it does to neighboring France, said Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s Jim O'Neill.

“For so many countries around the world, China is becoming rapidly the most important bilateral trade partner,” said O'Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs's asset management division.

Still, the U.S. economy is more than double the size of China's, according to the World Bank. In 2011, the U.S. gross domestic product reached $15 trillion, while China's totaled $7.3 trillion.

“It is remarkable that an economy that is only a fraction of the size of the U.S. economy has a larger trading volume,” said Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“The surpassing of the U.S. is not because of a substantially undervalued currency that has led to an export boom,” said Lardy, noting that Chinese imports have grown faster than exports since 2007.

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