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.
A man takes a photograph of commercial buildings at dusk in the Pudong area of Shanghai.
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.
China's growing influence in global commerce threatens to disrupt regional trading blocs as it becomes the most important commercial partner for some countries. Germany may export twice as much to China by the end of the decade as it does to France, estimated 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," O'Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs's asset management division and the economist who bound Brazil to Russia, India and China to form the BRIC investing strategy, said in a telephone interview. "At this kind of pace by the end of the decade many European countries will be doing more individual trade with China than with bilateral partners in Europe."
When taking into account services, U.S. total trade amounted to $4.93 trillion in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The U.S. recorded a surplus in services of $195.3 billion last year and a goods deficit of more than $700 billion, according to BEA figures released Feb. 8. China's 2012 trade surplus, measured in goods, totaled $231.1 billion.
The U.S. economy is also 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. China's National Bureau of Statistics reported Jan. 18 that the country's nominal gross domestic product in 2012 totaled 51.93 trillion yuan ($8.3 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," Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said in an e-mail. The increase isn't all the result of an undervalued yuan fueling an export boom, as Chinese imports have grown more rapidly than exports since 2007, he said.