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China Posts Record Month For Trade Thanks To Homebound, Bored Americans

Employees work in the workshop of a lithium battery manufacturing company in Huaibei, eastern China, on Nov. 14. China posted a record trade surplus in November, led by a surge in exports to the United States.
Employees work in the workshop of a lithium battery manufacturing company in Huaibei, eastern China, on Nov. 14. China posted a record trade surplus in November, led by a surge in exports to the United States.

China's economy is roaring back as Americans gobble up everything from its cellphones to its health masks, raising the stakes for trade relations with the United States as President-elect Joe Biden gets set to take over.

Data on Monday showed China notched a record $75.4 billion trade surplus in November after exports from China to the rest of the world jumped 21.1% compared to a year ago.

Much of the increase was driven by a 46% jump in exports to the United States – despite tariffs imposed by President Trump that have contributed to the worst relations between the two countries in decades.

Among the goods Americans bought from China were personal protective equipment and electronic gadgets while many work from home.

Biden is seen as likely to adopt a more polite tone, but he's unlikely to ease off on China as American attitudes toward the world's second economic superpower have worsened.

"China's surprising strength in exports since the economic re-opening has been mainly driven by its status as the first economy out of the COVID-19 pandemic and a beneficiary of the massive financial relief provided in [developed market] economies to maintain consumption demand," investment bank Nomura said in a research report.

China did step up its purchases from the United States in November, but the 33% jump in imports was more than offset by the rise in Chinese exports.

China's trade surplus with the U.S. rose to $37.3 billion, accounting for nearly half of the country's trade surplus worldwide in November.

And although China bought more U.S. pork and soybeans, its overall imports are still well short of the pace called for in a "Phase 1" trade deal signed in January.

Under that agreement, China is expected to boost its imports of goods and services from the U.S. by $200 billion over 2017 levels by the end of next year.

It was part of Trump's push to reset trade relations under his "America first" agenda after repeatedly saying China and other countries were taking advantage of the United States.

Chad Bown, who tracks China's purchases at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that through October, China had purchased less than 60% of what it promised under this year's targets.

The trade data comes amid signs that China, where the outbreak of the coronavirus was first identified, has recovered more quickly than other major economies.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.