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Composition of Foreign Trade

The dominant pattern of foreign trade after 1949 was to import industrial producer goods from developed countries and to pay for them with exports of food, crude materials, and light manufactures, especially textiles. The pattern was altered as circumstances demanded; in the period of economic collapse following the Great Leap Forward (1958-60; see Glossary), food imports increased from a negligible amount in 1959 to 39 percent of all imports in 1962. At the same time, imports of machinery and equipment dropped from 41 percent to 5 percent of the total. From this time on, food and live animals remained a significant, although declining, share of imports, amounting to 14.8 percent of the total in 1980 but dropping to 4.1 percent in 1985. The pattern also shifted over time as China's industrial sector expanded, gradually increasing the share of exports accounted for by manufactured goods. Manufactures provided only 30 percent of all exports in 1959, 37.9 percent in 1975, and grew to 44.9 percent in 1985.

Important changes occurred in several specific trade categories in the 1970s and 1980s (see table 17, Appendix A). Imports of textile fibers rose from 5.8 percent in 1975 to 10.7 percent in 1980 as the Chinese textile industry grew faster than domestic cotton supplies but then fell to 4 percent in 1985 as domestic cotton production increased. Imports of unfinished textile products also increased from 1.3 percent in 1975 to 5.3 percent in 1985 as a result of textile industry growth. Iron and steel accounted for approximately 20 percent of imports in the 1970s, fell to 11.6 percent in 1980, then rose to 14.9 percent in 1985. Imports of manufactured goods, machinery, and transportation equipment represented 62.6 percent of total import value in 1975, fell to 53.9 percent in 1980 as imports were cut back during the "period of readjustment" of the economy (1979-81), and rose again to 75.2 percent in 1985. On the export side, the share of foodstuffs fell to 12.5 percent in 1985. The fastest growing export item in the 1970s was petroleum, which was first exported in 1973. Petroleum rocketed to 12.1 percent of all exports in 1975, 22 percent in 1980, and 21.2 percent in 1985. In the 1980s textile exports grew rapidly. Although exports of unfinished textiles remained about 14 percent of total exports, all categories of textile exports rose from 5 percent in 1975 to 18.7 percent in 1984. In 1986 textiles replaced petroleum as China's largest single export item.

Data as of July 1987