China said Tuesday that the United States has overtaken the European Union as its biggest export market, as the continent's debt crisis has sent demand slumping.
"The biggest is the U.S. and the EU is second," Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang told reporters at a regular briefing, without saying when the reversal occurred. "The EU used to be the biggest," he added.
Chinese customs figures for the first 10 months of this year showed that China's exports to the United States totaled $289.3 billion, while shipments to the EU came to $276.8 billion.
Weak demand from both Europe and the U.S. has been a big factor as China's economic growth has slowed over the past seven quarters to the end of September.
Economic growth in the United States remains weak but is expanding, while the eurozone's debilitating debt crisis has dragged it back into recession.
Foreign Trade Growth Target in Jeopardy
Shen noted that China will probably miss its full year target of 10% foreign trade growth this year due to sluggish overseas demand, particularly in Europe and Japan.
"The international economic situation this year has been severe and complicated. There have been many uncertainties, with slack foreign demand being the most severe one," he said.
"It will be indeed very difficult to achieve this year's 10% target for trade growth," he said, yet added it was premature to conclude what the full year increase would turn out to be.
Chinese customs data showed foreign trade rose by just 6.3% in the first 10 months of the year from the same period in 2011.
Japan Slips to Fourth Place
Shen also said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had moved past Japan as China's third-biggest export market.
Japan, which is in the midst of a diplomatic row with China that has hit trade between the two nations, slipped to fourth place.
Shen offered no explanation for China's changing trade patterns with ASEAN and Japan.
China shipped $125.3 billion in goods to Japan in the first 10 months of the year, compared with $163.9 billion dollars to the 10 ASEAN countries, according to customs figures.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012