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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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The boom is having a profound effect on farming communities, said Grant Kimberley, whose family farm near Des Moines, Iowa, now grows 4,000 acres of soybeans, up from 3,500 eight years ago.

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"It's provided more revenue for these farmers than they've ever seen in their lives," said Kimberley, who is also director of market development at the Iowa Soybean Association. He said he sees more young people returning to the farm. "People can see there's an opportunity to make nice livings for their families."

It was the 2008 global crisis that showed the resilience of China's exporters.

The recession set everyone back, but China less so than the U.S. or other major traders such as Germany. China does a bigger share of its trade with developing countries that suffered less and rebounded faster, while the United States sells to rich economies that are struggling. Chinese companies have boosted exports by 7 percent this year despite anemic global demand.

During the recession, Shin, the South Korean auto parts manufacturer, saw his sales fall 50 percent. He shut one of three production lines, and banks stopped lending him money.

But China's auto market was powering ahead. So Shin hired an employee in China, and is now making plans for his first factory there. On a business trip to Germany, clients told him their Chinese factories would be larger than those at home.

Parents like Shin, who work at companies doing business with China, in turn fed enrollment growth at schools such as Teacher Ching, a Chinese-language kindergarten in Seoul.

Nancy Ching, the daughter of immigrants from Taiwan, opened the school with 15 students in 2004, the year after South Korea first moved from the U.S. column to the China column. Today she has 60.

"Mothers who send their kids here believe our children's generation is the China generation," she said in Chinese-accented Korean. "In the future, without learning Chinese, one won't be able to get a job."

China resumed its upward trajectory in the last two years. Even with key Western markets in a slump, exports are up 58 percent since 2009. Imports are up an even sharper 73 percent.

Rising incomes have driven demand for wine and other luxury goods, making China a lifeline for European and American vineyards when the global crisis battered traditional markets.

The Chinese have "helped Bordeaux a lot these past three years," said Florence Cathiard, owner of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte in the Pessac-Leognan area of France's southwest, home of high-end Bordeaux wine.

France's wine exports to China first surged in 2009, and by last year, China had surpassed the U.S. as a customer by volume. Americans still spend more, because they buy more expensive wines. But China is developing a taste for grand cru wine, the "great growths" that are considered exceptional and command higher prices.

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