Could China overtake US as global trader?
A special report by the Associated Press examines China's influence with its trading partners over three decades, and how business, politics, and daily life are changing with China's rise as a global player.
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As the new millennium dawned, the U.S. remained by far the world's dominant trader, rivaled collectively by Europe but no single nation. However, from 2000 to 2008, China's imports grew 403 percent and exports 474 percent, driven in part by its entrance into the World Trade Organization and its move to higher-value production.Skip to next paragraph
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China's imports of oil and raw materials for its factories propelled resource booms in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. China's demand for steel for manufacturing and construction grew so fast that its mills now consume half the world's output of iron ore.
Meanwhile, exports surged as Apple, Samsung, Nokia and other electronics giants shifted final assembly to China. Shipments of mobile phones, flat-screen TVs and personal computers have jumped sevenfold over the past decade to nearly $500 billion. That made China a major customer for high-tech components supplied by countries such as South Korea, which swung into China's column in 2003, followed by Malaysia in 2007.
In the U.S., Vermont-based manufacturer SBE Inc. started exporting capacitors — energy-storage devices used in computers, hybrid cars and wind turbines — in 2006. The company now gets 15 to 20 percent of its revenue from China, and has hired 10 employees there.
As China grew richer, its people spent more.
Chinese ate more pork, fried chicken and hamburgers, rapidly sending up the demand for soybeans to make cooking oil and feed for pigs and cows. Some cattle ranchers in Latin America turned grazing land into fields of soy, a crop few in their region consume. Soybean exports helped push Brazil into the China column in 2010, and put China neck and neck with the U.S. as Argentina's top trading partner.
In the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, some 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) from Beijing, farmer Agenor Vicente Pelissa and his family raise cattle and soy on 54,300 acres, a farm twice the size of Manhattan. Half their 21,000-ton annual soybean harvest goes to China.
"We've invested more in technology and in better machines and equipment to meet this rising demand," Pelissa said. "If it hadn't been for China, we would not have not modernized our operations, at least not as quickly as we did."
Even in the U.S., better known for manufacturing, farmers are rushing to sell to China. The United States is the largest exporter of soybeans to China, followed by Brazil and Argentina. China's purchases of American soybeans have risen from almost nothing 20 years ago to a quarter of the crop: 24 million tons worth $12.1 billion, America's largest export to China.