China charts path for trade in the face of global economic uncertainties

By Théophile Niyitegeka
On 6 March 2024 at 11:11

In the face of a global economic landscape fraught with uncertainties and the looming challenges of trade protectionism, China’s Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao, has unveiled a detailed strategic vision for fortifying China’s position in international trade.

Speaking at the press conference on the economy for the second session of the 14th National People’s Congress in Beijing, on Wednesday, 6th March 2024, Wang provided a nuanced analysis of the current global economic climate and its impact on China’s foreign trade.

Global economic outlook and challenges

Wang painted a picture of the global economy, citing multiple international organizations’ forecasts indicating that the global economic growth rate in 2024 would remain below the historical average.

This scenario, he explained, portends a declining external demand for China’s goods and services.

"First, the situation of the country as we see it, will still be under a severe and complex situation," Wang remarked, highlighting the dual challenges of declining external demand and rising trade protectionism and intellectualism globally.

Referencing an international Monetary Fund (IMF) report, Wang noted a significant increase in trade restrictive measures, with about 3,000 implemented in the previous year, a stark contrast to the 1,100 measures in 2019.

Furthermore, he mentioned the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) prediction of a 3.3 percent climb in global trade for the year, tempered by political conflicts and a super-election year that might introduce additional uncertainties.

China’s trade performance and expectations

Despite these challenges, Wang offered a glimpse of optimism based on China’s recent trade performances.

"In the first two months, we have seen growth momentums," he stated, indicating that imports and exports have continued their growth momentum since October last year, with volumes expected to hit record highs.

Notably, exports in the first two months of the year increased by more than 1.5 billion yuan ( over US$208 million), with a 10.3 percent increase observed in the second month, underscoring an 8.2 percent overall rise in foreign trade.

Wang also highlighted the resilience of China’s foreign trade during the traditionally slow Spring Festival holidays, evidenced by the bustling activity on the China-Europe Railway Express and ocean-going freighters, as well as robust export orders for key products like home appliances and automobiles, though he acknowledged weaknesses in some sectors.

Strategies for stabilizing and enhancing foreign trade

Addressing the strategies to navigate current difficulties and uncertainties, Wang detailed robust policy measures and preparations to stabilize foreign trade.

Among these strategies, enhancing financial services for foreign trade enterprises, especially micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), continuing trade promotion efforts, and developing new trade platforms were key focal points.

In the long run, Wang emphasized the importance of acting on the plans set out at the Central Economic Work Conference and the government report, aiming to accelerate the fostering of new drivers of foreign trade and promote its high-quality development.

This includes expanding trade in intermediate goods, improving customs clearance and taxation policies, expanding digital trade, and promoting green trade, with a strong focus on supporting trading in green and low-carbon products of high quality.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recently highlighted China’s crucial influence on global economic growth, emphasizing its innovative economic stimuli and its significant trade partnerships worldwide.

Since joining the WTO over two decades ago, China has become the top goods trader globally, affecting global markets deeply due to its economic performance.

With China’s GDP showing a 5.2% increase in 2023, its recovery post-COVID is seen as vital for enhancing global trade and overall economic expansion, underlining the global benefits of a robust Chinese economy.

The Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao (first left) along with other senior officials at the press conference on the economy for the second session of the 14th National People’s Congress in Beijing.

Théophile Niyitegeka/ Beijing, China