In December 2001, China became the 143rd country to join the World Trade Organization. Since its accession, the nation has turned into the world's second-largest economy and the biggest trading country.
Among all Chinese provinces, Zhejiang is arguably the greatest beneficiary of the country's accession to the WTO.
The province's foreign trade volume grew from $32.8 billion in 2001 to $487.93 billion in 2020, posting a 15.3 percent annual compound growth rate over the period, the highest among all coastal provinces.
Latest data from Hangzhou Customs show that Zhejiang's foreign trade volume over the first 11 months of this year stood at 3.76 trillion yuan ($589.6 billion), up 22.9 percent year-on-year. Privately owned companies accounted for 75.6 percent of foreign trade.
Zhejiang's foreign trade volume was the fifth highest among provincial-level regions in 2001. This year, the province was the third highest. Zhejiang's imports as a percentage of the national aggregate also grew from 6.4 percent in 2001 to 10.5 percent in 2020, while its exports as a percentage of the national aggregate increased from 8.6 percent to 14 percent during the same period.
From a global perspective, Zhejiang contributed 2.1 percent to exported goods and services in the world in 2020. "If Zhejiang was treated as an independent economy, the value of its goods exports surpassed Singapore in 2020 and would have been ranked 14th in the world," said Ding Shufeng, director of the Zhejiang Academy of Commerce.
Ding added that the province's volume of exports is now almost as large as the retail sales volume of the province, which means that the number of the province's overseas consumers is comparable to its own population.
According to estimates by the Ministry of Commerce, $100 million worth of exports creates roughly 5,900 jobs. In this vein, around 21.5 million workers in Zhejiang, or 55 percent of the province's working population, are engaged in exportation.
From January to November, Zhejiang's imports stood at 1.03 trillion yuan, up 31.2 percent from the previous year. This was the first time the province's annual imports exceeded one trillion yuan.
In view of the huge potential of the domestic market, many foreign trade firms in Zhejiang have been allocating more resources to importation. Among them is Zhejiang Native Produce & Animal By-Products I/E Group (ZJNAC), which has at each edition of the China International Import Expo (CIIE) spent hundreds of billions of yuan in purchasing top-notch international agriculture products such as beef, pork, and red wine.
Zhang Bin, chairman of ZJNAC, said that the company now views importation to be just as important as exportation.
Ningbo, a major city in Zhejiang, became China's first city to see cross-border e-commerce retail imports top 100 billion yuan, local authorities announced on Nov 11. The city topped the nation in bonded cross-border ecommerce import transaction volume and accounted for roughly one quarter of the national aggregate from 2018 to 2020.