As the presidential election approaches, it is a real snub for Donald Trump: China's trade surplus vis-à-vis the United States, the American president's pet peeve, increased further in September, when the Asian giant was massively increasing its purchases abroad. Since joining the White House four years ago, Donald Trump has made reducing the trade deficit with the Middle Empire one of his priorities. In 2018, his administration embarked on a trade war with Beijing that resulted in additional reciprocal customs surcharges on many goods.
China pledged to buy US $ 200 billion worth of goods
The two countries had however signed a truce in January, just before the world was paralyzed by the Covid-19 epidemic. At the end of the deal, China agreed to buy an additional $ 200 billion in US goods over two years.
But in September, the Asian giant's surplus with Uncle Sam grew further by $ 30.75 billion, according to figures released Tuesday by Chinese Customs, the last before the November 3 presidential election.
This is an increase of 18.8% over one year. But this figure is however down on one month (34.24 billion dollars in August).
The Chinese trade surplus has massively melted, and yet ...
At the same time, however, China was buying heavily abroad.
In September, the country's total imports jumped 13.2% year-on-year, their largest increase since December 2019, when the Covid-19 was officially detected for the first time in the city of Wuhan (center).
Analysts polled by the financial agency Bloomberg expected a very small increase in imports in September (+ 0.4%), after a plunge at the start of the year due to the epidemic. China's purchases from the rest of the world had only posted positive territory once this year, in June.
In total, China's trade surplus, ballasted by imports, fell to $ 37 billion from 58.9 the previous month.
Record imports of iron ore and integrated circuits
The purchase by China of technological products before the entry into force of American sanctions is probably one of the factors of these "extremely strong imports", estimates Stephen Innes, analyst of the broker AxiCorp.
Since September 15, the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, blacklisted by Washington, can no longer source American technologies to equip its products, in particular chips that the group does not have the capacity to manufacture in-house. And according to press reports, the US Department of Commerce is also considering action against China's leading semiconductor maker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (Smic).
In this context, imports of iron ore and integrated circuits have reached record volumes, analyst Tommy Xie of OCBC bank told AFP. Infrastructure projects have also boosted demand for raw materials.
The purchase of agricultural products, after floods in China at the beginning of the summer, also favored the rebound of imports, underlines analyst Julian Evans-Pritchard, of the firm Capital Economics.
For their part, exports increased in September by 9.9% over one year, after an increase of 9.5% the previous month.
In recent months, the need for medical products has largely supported Chinese exports.
China, the barometer of the recovery
The first country affected by the new coronavirus but also the first to get out of it, China appears to be a barometer of the expected recovery of the world economy.
However, entire sectors of the economy are still sluggish, including transport and tourism.
The Asian giant experienced a recovery in activity in the second quarter, with an increase of 3.2% of GDP according to official figures, after a decline of 6.8% in the first quarter. Figures for the third quarter will be released on Monday.
But economists warn that the resurgence of new cases of Covid-19 in some parts of the world could put a damper on this momentum.