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US-China trade surges 28.7% in 2021 with wider deficit in spite of punitive tariffs

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Trade between China and the US soared by 28.7 percent and amounted to $755.6 billion in 2021 – maintaining a strong growth momentum and contributing 12 percent to China’s record $6 trillion foreign trade for the year despite tariffs and bruising political tensions between the world’s two largest economies.  

The number, which comes just one day ahead of the second anniversary of the signing of the phase-one trade deal between China and the US, shows a strong complementarity between the world’s two largest economies, while it is also a demonstration of China’s goal to fulfill its commitments under the deal over the past two years, observers said.

According to Chinese Customs data released on Friday, China’s exports to the US increased by 27.5 percent in 2021, while imports grew by 32.7 percent, reaching $179.53 billion.

The US maintained its place as China’s third-largest trade partner following ASEAN and the European Union. China-US trade was twice China’s trade with its fourth-largest trade partner Japan – which was 2.4 trillion yuan.

“The prospering trade numbers are within industry expectations, which proves the complementarity of China-US trade structure, and more importantly, that Washington’s crackdown on and ideology war over China is a divorce from objective laws,” He Weiwen, a former senior trade official and an executive council member of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, told the Global Times on Friday.

Friday’s figures point to maintained growth momentum from 2020, when trade between the world’s top two economies was back on a growth track, after a plunge in 2019 when bruising trade tensions clobbered bilateral imports and exports.

China’s trade surplus with the US was $39 billion in December and $396.5 billion for 2021, further widening from a surplus of $357.5 billion in the first 11 months, according to the Global Times’ calculations.

The surplus even widened from before the trade war in 2018, during which China’s trade surplus with the US was $323.3 billion.

The widening was in stark contrast to US ambitions to reduce the gap – one of the key motivations for former US president Donald Trump to launch the trade war against China. Most of the additional tariffs have remained in place under the Biden administration.  

The widening deficit proves that tariffs the US exerted on Chinese products “are a failure,” and made-in-China products are irreplaceable, He Weiwen said.

“It’s time for the US to scrap all the tariffs,” He said.

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