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Australia's import trade with China

by Adam Gilbourne

In terms of trade relationships, Australia ranks in 14th place as one of China’s principal export destinations. While Chinese imports make up 19.8% of Australia’s total import trade, it accounts for no more than 1.7% of China’s total export trade, which is dominated by the United States, Hong Kong and Japan.

By comparison, Australia ranks in 6th place as one of China’s principal import sources with a trade volume that represents 4.6% of China’s total import trade. The top three import sources include the Republic of Korea, Japan and the United States.

These figures make China our largest trading partner, both in imports and exports.

Australian imports from China

According to the Queensland Government Statistician’s Office,  Australia’s total imports from other countries stands at $251.6 billion per year. Out of this, $49.3 billion comes from China which equals 19.8% of total imports.

Australia’s Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade, classifies the major imports from China, sorted by value, into the following categories:

  • Communications equipment ($5.6B).
  • Clothing ($5.0B).
  • Computers  ($4.9B).
  • Furniture and bedware ($2.3B).

Other significant import categories include televisions, toys, games and sporting goods.

It is of interest to note that these goods do not include Australia’s top four import categories, which are: crude petroleum (8.5%), refined petroleum (6.3%), delivery trucks (3.6%), and packaged medicaments (3.4%).

According to  Parliament of Australia report, 50% of merchandise imports from China are engineering products, including office and telecommunications equipment.

Communications equipment

The export market for Chinese communications equipment includes integrated circuits for consumer products, mobile phones, mobile base stations, computers, consumer electronics and communications equipment.

The market share and the trade value of this sector is difficult to dissect, as the timing and content of sources vary a great deal in what products are included or excluded.

The business of importing electronic equipment requires advanced technical knowledge. There are several issues that need to be managed.

Compatibility – This applies to electronic components as well as software. Experts with experience in this area recommend importers to order factory designed products instead of custom-designed (OEM) products. There will be less risk of compatibility problems, and importers can still specify customised logos, colours, packaging and case design.

Certification – Many Chinese manufacturers cannot supply products that meet American, European and Australian certification requirements. Products which fail certification are illegal to sell in their respective marketplaces. It has been claimed that less than 5% of Chinese manufacturers comply with international certification requirements.

Clothing and textiles

China became the world’s largest exporter of clothing in 1994, while textile production lags behind other sources. Much of the clothing manufactured in China is re-exported via Hong Kong. Competitive and structural issues caused a severe decline in clothing exports in the early 1990s, but restructuring has led to a resurgence. China has long dominated cotton clothing, but synthetic materials are now very common.

According to a paper titled The Developing Economies, China’s market share of textile exports had, by 1988,  reach 7% of world textile exports. This represented 22% of textile export originating from developing countries. China, as well as ASEAN member countries like Thailand and Malaysia, has gained significant market share at the expense of  countries termed Newly Industrialised Economies (NIEs). This shift happened after the mid 1980s.

Chinese exporters can be found on sources like Europages and Alibaba.

Computers and televisions

According to an extract from a book titled China’s Path to Innovation, written by Xiaolan Fu, 87% of China’s high-technology exports during the period of 2000 – 2007 centred on electronics. A significant part of this export trade comes from companies with foreign investment.

According to Statista, the Chinese export value of TV sets has varied between $US 10-15 billion per year during the period 2009 – 2013

Furniture and bedware

According to the Canadian Alberta China Office, furniture export was expected to reach a value of $48 billion in 2010. This industry was then expected to employ some five million people. While labour costs are lower in countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan, the Chinese industry is more efficient and competent.

The largest export destinations are the United States and the European Union. Large furniture suppliers in these markets have set up their own manufacturing plants in China.

The best known Chinese furniture makers include:

  • Kasen International Holdings, which is the largest producer of leather and upholstered furniture.
  • Samson Group in Taiwan is classified as the third largest furniture manufacturer in the world and have manufacturing plants in mainland China.
  • Other manufacturers include Markor, Alexandre and Dare Global.

Chinese bedware suppliers include:


HKTDC Research in Hong Kong has published a comprehensive, online overview of China’s toy market.

Naturally, children’s safety is of paramount importance and, like electronic equipment and computers, are subject to safety standards and certification.

The Toy Safety Directive in the European Union (EN71) and the U.S. CPSC Product Regulations provide guidance for importers. The EN71 directive addresses issues such as:

  • Physical / Mechanical Properties (e.g. seams, buttons)
  • Substance Restrictions (e.g. phthalates, lead and cadmium)
  • Electrical Safety Regulations (e.g. electromagnetic compatibility, overcharge protection)

Labelling requirements are also part of these regulations.

Because high-technology products require certification, it is not appropriate to provide references to suppliers within these industry segments. It should also be noted that the responsibility for appropriate produce certification rests with the importer, not the producer.

Adam Gilbourne is the founder of Easy Imex Ltd and helps importers to source product & manage their supply chain in China. He writes advice for importers on the Easy Imex blog. He lives full time in Shanghai, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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