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China’s Foreign Trade: Perspectives From the Past 150 Years

  • Wolfgang Keller
  • Ben Li
  • Carol H. Shiue

This paper studies the trade of China in the past 150 years, starting from the first opening of China after the Opium War. The main purpose of the paper is to identify what is (and was) China's 'normal' level of foreign trade, and how these levels changed under different trade regimes, from 1840 to the present. We present new evidence on China's foreign trade during the treaty port era (1842-1948), drawn from disaggregated trade data collected by the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, that yields important findings for current research. First, although the volume of foreign trade remained limited initially, there was a notable expansion in the diversity of products, with many new goods being imported into China. Second, the regional diffusion of foreign goods through China was greatly facilitated by the expansions of the port system. Third, the importance of Hong Kong as an intermediary in China's trade has undergone long-term fluctuations suggestive of learning effects. China's recent wave of liberalization has led by the early 1990s to a trade level comparable to the high of the 1920s. While much of China's recent growth in world trade is in line with her income growth, there is no doubt that China's trade openness today, comparable by some measures to Denmark's, is a stunning reversal relative to the pre-1978 and also the pre-1840 period. The paper emphasizes the roles that history and institutional change have played in this.

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Article provided by Wiley Blackwell in its journal The World Economy.

Volume (Year): 34 (2011)
Issue (Month): 6 (06)
Pages: 853-892

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Handle: RePEc:bla:worlde:v:34:y:2011:i:6:p:853-892
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  1. Robert Koopman & Zhi Wang & Shang-Jin Wei, 2008. "How Much of Chinese Exports is Really Made In China? Assessing Domestic Value-Added When Processing Trade is Pervasive," NBER Working Papers 14109, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Zhi Wang & Shang-Jin Wei, 2010. "What Accounts for the Rising Sophistication of China's Exports?," NBER Chapters, in: China's Growing Role in World Trade, pages 63-104 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  5. David E. Weinstein & Christian Broda, 2004. "Globalization And The Gains From Variety," Econometric Society 2004 Latin American Meetings 327, Econometric Society.
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  7. Jeffrey D. Sachs & Wing Thye Woo, . "Understanding China'S Economic Performance," Department of Economics 97-04, California Davis - Department of Economics.
  8. Ahn, JaeBin & Khandelwal, Amit K. & Wei, Shang-Jin, 2011. "The role of intermediaries in facilitating trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 73-85, May.
  9. Rawski, Thomas G., 1969. "Chinese dominance of treaty port commerce and its implications, 1860-1875," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 7(1-2), pages 451-473.
  10. Antras, Pol & Costinot, Arnaud, 2011. "Intermediated Trade," Scholarly Articles 4784024, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  12. Irene Brambilla & Amit K. Khandelwal & Peter K. Schott, 2010. "China's Experience under the Multi-Fiber Arrangement (MFA) and the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC)," NBER Chapters, in: China's Growing Role in World Trade, pages 345-387 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Nunn, Nathan, 2007. "Relationship-Specificity, Incomplete Contracts, and the Pattern of Trade," Scholarly Articles 4686801, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  14. Andrei A. Levchenko, 2004. "Institutional Quality and International Trade," IMF Working Papers 04/231, International Monetary Fund.
  15. Robert C. Feenstra & Shang-Jin Wei, 2010. "China's Growing Role in World Trade," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feen07-1, October.
  16. Robert C. Feenstra & Gordon H. Hanson, 2004. "Intermediaries in Entrepot Trade: Hong Kong Re-Exports of Chinese Goods," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(1), pages 3-35, 03.
  17. Wolfgang Keller & Carol H. Shiue, 2004. "Market Integration and Economic Development: A Long-run Comparison," NBER Working Papers 10300, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  19. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521022866 is not listed on IDEAS
  20. William R. Cline, 2010. "Renminbi Undervaluation, China's Surplus, and the US Trade Deficit," Policy Briefs PB10-20, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
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