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China's evolving trade picture, in charts

China's economic transformation has truly been one of the most dramatic in modern history.

Per capita incomes have risen six-fold in just over a decade, the country has accumulated the world's largest pile of foreign exchange reserves and its economy has left its Japanese counterpart in the dust to become the second-largest in the world, second only to the U.S.

China's dominance in trade has been a key driver of this metamorphosis and economists at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have put out a report outlining the progress as well as some of the challenges confronting China as the economy continues to evolve.

Here are some charts from the IMF that chronicle key developments in China's trade sector:

Exports market share

China now accounts for more than 12 percent of world exports, more than any other single country in the world, according to the IMF.

Nominal exports grew by an astounding 17 percent on average each year from 1990 to 2012, helped by China's ascension to World Trade Organization member in 2001.

Global economic powerhouse

China accounts for 10 percent of the world's imports and a surge in demand for commodities from Chinese factories has underpinned growth in countries that supply raw material to the country, including Australia and Brazil.

According to the IMF, China now accounts of two-thirds of Asia's imports of intermediate goods, 25 percent of capital goods exports from Japan and Korea, and nearly half of the region's exports of intermediate goods.

On the other hand, China has managed to widen its trade surplus with advanced economies.

Rising wages

China's export boom initially began by shipping cheaply produced goods to the rest of the world. Abundant labor meant wages were low, allowing manufacturers to stay competitive by pricing goods more attractively compared to global peers.

It has been estimated that there are 270 million migrant workers in the 10 coastal provinces that account for 90 percent of China's exports, and millions more laboring in Chinese inland provinces and rural areas, according to the IMF.

That era is coming to an end, however, as the working age population declines and then starts shrinking rapidly, according to the fund.

This trend has been reflected in a rise in unit labor costs in China compared with countries in Southeast Asia, and this should further reduce China's competitiveness in more labor-intensive industries over time.

Increased sophistication

China is responding to this development by moving up the value chain and producing more sophisticated products.

According to the IMF, domestic value added has grown sharply, and especially so in "knowledge intensive" production. An increase in value added is, by definition, GDP growth, and the sharp increase in total value added has powered economic growth.

The share of processing trade — the process of importing all or part of the inputs of a product and then exporting the assembled product — in total exports has fallen to a third from over half in the early 2000s.

"Since processing exports, by definition, are more reliant on foreign value-added than other exports are, the relative decline of this sector strongly suggests that China is moving up the value chain by replacing its reliance on sophisticated imported inputs with domestic production," the IMF said.

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