Chinese imports hit record dollar amount in September

Imports into China hit their highest dollar amount in September, as the world’s second-largest economy increased purchases of iron ore, agricultural commodities and semiconductors as part of an accelerating recovery from coronavirus.

Imports last month were up 13.2 per cent year on year to $203bn, by far the biggest jump in 2020, customs data showed on Tuesday. The previous record for a single month was in September 2018, before the trade war with the US escalated.

The new figures, which also showed exports rising at their fastest rate this year, underline China’s booming trade activity at a time when other economies are still struggling to shake off the effects of the pandemic.

China’s exports, which have risen in each of the past four months and helped fuel a domestic recovery, have been bolstered by strong sales of electrical devices and medical equipment and leapt 9.9 per cent in September.

The unexpected rise in imports, which were forecast to increase just 0.4 per cent in September and had fallen in every month except June this year, is a sign of a widening recovery in its trade activity.

“The sharp rebound was driven by the continued domestic recovery and increased domestic demand due to currency appreciation,” noted Erin Xin, an economist for Greater China at HSBC.

She pointed to rises in imports of iron ore, which jumped 9.2 per cent in terms of volume and 17.1 per cent in value in September.

China’s appetite for commodities has soared on the back of a state-supported recovery in industrial activity that has already boosted the country’s share of global steel production.

Li Kuiwen, spokesperson for China’s General Administration of Customs, said on Tuesday that in the first three quarters of the year, iron ore imports were up 10.8 per cent to 868m tonnes. He added that imports of soyabeans and meat increased rapidly over the same period.

But the September data also showed huge increases in high-tech and electronics imports that analysts linked to US pressure. Semiconductor imports rose 28 per cent year on year, HSBC said, compared with 11 per cent in August.

“Fears about additional export bans on US high-tech exports to China may have also prompted an increase in orders from Chinese importers,” noted Betty Wang, senior China economist at ANZ.

Greater electronics imports from China benefited regional exporters such as Taiwan, which registered its second-highest monthly export figure on record in September. That was driven mainly by a 26 per cent rise compared with the same month last year in the export of electronic components. Exports to China increased more than 15 per cent.

Analysts said one of the main factors was the rush of Huawei to stock up on semiconductors before Taiwanese contract chipmakers were barred from shipping to the Chinese technology group as of September 15 under US sanctions. 

The Chinese recovery has also helped to support the renminbi, which last week rose by its highest amount in 15 years as foreign investors rushed to invest in the country’s assets. A strong domestic currency makes foreign goods cheaper for Chinese importers.

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