China’s imports now stand at a little less than $2 trillion, some 20 percent of GDP and roughly 10 percent of world imports. Since the recession, China’s yearly imports have surged by more than $800 billion. Unless something remarkable happens, China will soon be world’s biggest importer — as well as the world’s biggest exporter, which it is already.
Post-2008, from a global adjustment point of view, these trends are probably a good thing. The U.S. needed to import less and export more, and China the reverse. China’s growth is slowing a little — to perhaps 7 percent a year from its three- decade run of 10 percent and more. Exporters who got accustomed to that kind of growth will be disappointed — especially commodity exporters, because China has been their biggest market.
But as China becomes a more consumer-driven economy, its demand for new kinds of imports will grow.
China is already the biggest export market for Japan and South Korea, and the third biggest for the U.S. Before the decade is out, it will probably be Germany’s biggest export market, too. By 2021, will traders and dealers around the globe be setting their alarms for China’s labor statistics? They should probably be doing it already.
Weight in global trade is only one consideration, needless to say. U.S. financial markets dominate global financial markets more than U.S. output dominates global output. January’s turbulence in emerging markets was a sign of this financial hegemony: When investors perceive an impending change in U.S. monetary policy, the financial effects are transmitted worldwide. This asymmetry won’t change until we have financial integration that more closely parallels economic integration.
It turns out that the renewed slowing of the U.S. economy has put an end for now to hopes (or fears, as the case may be) that the Fed is about to taper its quantitative easing more aggressively, thus boosting the dollar. For the moment, many of the so-called emerging-market economies are doing just fine. But 2014 has already demonstrated — yet again — that financial markets and economic realities are out of kilter.
Traders aren’t obsessing over China’s nonfarm payrolls just yet, because it will take a few more years for China’s financial markets to completely open up. If anxiety-attacks like January’s recur, that process might take longer. But it’s only a question of time.