Work Smarter, Not Harder
China has overtaken the United States to become the world's biggest goods trading nation. What's the next step?
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Building a Quality-Based Export Economy
Cover Stories Series 2014> Building a Quality-Based Export Economy
UPDATED: May 19, 2014 NO. 21 MAY 22, 2014
Work Smarter, Not Harder
China has overtaken the United States to become the world's biggest goods trading nation. What's the next step?
By Zhou Xiaoyan

BRANCHING OUT: Domestically produced vehicles are about to be shipped to Venezuela for sale at a port in Lianyungang, east China's Jiangsu Province, on December 26, 2013 (WANG CHUN)

SUMEC Group Corp. is one of the largest exporters of machinery products based in east China's Jiangsu Province, an economic powerhouse in the Yangtze River delta. Founded in 1978, the company used to be a mere original equipment manufacturer for foreign big names. Facing faltering demand and decreasing profit margins after the financial crisis since 2008, the company made a tough decision to change its business model, which later enabled it to transform to an original design manufacturer and finally an original brand manufacturer.

By integrating resources with domestic research institutions and universities, SUMEC has developed many hi-tech products and greatly increased its profitability.

For instance, gasoline engine generators under the company's brand Firman have occupied the No.1 market share in Africa. High-pressure washers under the brand name of Cleanforce are the top seller in the North American market. To date, exports of products under the company's own brands have accounted for 30 percent of the total.

Cai Hongbo, Chairman of SUMEC, said industrial upgrade is the only way out for exporters. "Our core competitiveness should be based on technological innovation and better branding, instead of cheap prices."

Economic data released earlier this year showed that China had surpassed the United States as the biggest goods trading nation.

China's total goods trade volume in 2013 stood at a record high of $4.16 trillion. Exports reached $2.21 trillion and imports, $1.95 trillion. The World Trade Organization confirmed that China's goods trade in 2013 was $250 billion more than the United States.

As big as it is, China is far from a strong trading nation, experts and government officials argue. More needs to be done to improve the country's trade structure by adding value to exported goods and fostering trade in services.

A rising force

China's rise to dominance in world trade happened over a very short period, with the value of Chinese trade roughly doubling every four years over the past three decades. 

Since the reform and opening-up policy was adopted in 1978, China's trade volume has surged from $20.6 billion to $4.16 trillion, representing a compound annual growth of 16.4 percent.

China accounts for 12 percent of global trade volume and is now the largest trading partner of 120 countries and regions. Foreign trade adds 180 million jobs to the country each year and contributing 18 percent of China's tax revenues. One out of every four employees in the country works in foreign trade-related businesses, according to the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).

"Foreign trade has become the most dynamic driving force for social and economic development," said Gao Hucheng, China's Commerce Minister.

Bai Ming, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, attributed the leapfrog development of China's foreign trade to the reform and opening-up strategy, a global industrial shift and China's low cost advantage.

"Since World War II, the global industrial shift has been accelerated. Many industries were transferred from the United States to Japan, and then to the Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) and later to the Chinese mainland. After that, China became the world's factory," Bai told Beijing Review.

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