The numbers on import from and export to China: Buying smartphones, selling electrical machinery and equipment

China used to be the world’s factory. The ‘made in China’ label has changed into ‘created in China’, reflecting the growing importance of innovative, high-tech products that the Chinese sell to the world. China’s export numbers of high-tech equipment go up every year, but China also buys hundreds of billions worth of technology from the west – every year. What products do the Chinese buy and what do they sell to the world?, the ultimate source for ‘who buys and sells what’, has the answers.

To get it straight right away: the People’s Republic of China imported US$1.841 trillion worth of goods from around the globe in 2017. Most of the imports (55.9%) by value were purchased from other Asian countries. European trade partners accounted for 17.7% of imported goods bought by China while 10.2% worth originated from North America.

What did they buy? listed ten categories, which in total account for 75 per cent of all imports. Electrical machinery and equipment top the list with a total value of US$455.5 billion (24.7% of total Chinese imports). Next are mineral fuels including oil (13.4%), machinery including computers (9.2%), ores, slag, ash (6.8%), optical, technical, medical apparatus (5.3%), vehicles (4.3%), plastics, plastic articles (3.7%), organic chemicals (3%), oil seeds (2.4%) and copper (2.2%).

What did they sell?

An important take-away from the research by is that The highest value Chinese export products in 2017 are technology-related goods. Further down the list is a wide range of daily use items including lamps, handbags, women’s clothing and hair dryers. The conclusion, drawn by’s founder Daniel Workman: “China’s many competitive advantages – such as low labor costs and a rich array of resources –are a major reason why China is the world’s number one exporter.”

What are the 10 highest-value Chinese export products (2017)?

  • Phone system devices including smartphones: US$219.4 billion (up 9% since 2016)
  • Computers, optical readers: $142.2 billion (up 13.7%)
  • Integrated circuits/micro-assemblies: $66.5 billion (up 8.8%)
  • Computer parts, accessories: $32.9 billion (up 27.4%)
  • TV receivers/monitors/projectors: $31.5 billion (up 11.5%)
  • Automobile parts/accessories: $31 billion (up 9.8%)
  • Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs: $29 billion (down -3.2%)
  • Liquid crystal/laser/optical tools: $28.4 billion (down -1.1%)
  • Cases, handbags, wallets: $26.9 billion (up 7.9%)
  • Solar power diodes/semi-conductors: $26.8 billion (up 0.6%)

The information in this article is based on data from, a leading international trade metrics portal offering incisive statistics that help decipher opportunities in strategic global markets including China.

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