In the first quarter of this year, Covid-19 pandemic curbing and economic and social development in China continued to make great achievements. The national economy continued to recover steadily, and the basic livelihood of the people was effectively guaranteed. The Chinese Government further played the key role in investment, sustained its recovery growth, and improved its structure. The consumer market recovered at a faster pace, and contact consumption, such as catering, improved markedly. The employment situation remained stable on the whole, and employment tasks and targets were met fairly well. The income and consumption of urban and rural residents grew rapidly. Domestic production and demand picked up steadily, and CPI was generally stable.
THE GDP GREW SUBSTANTIALLY: China's GDP in the first quarter was 24,931 trillion yuan, an increase of 18.3 per cent year on year and 0.6 per cent over the fourth quarter of 2020 calculated at comparable prices. That is an increase of 10.3 per cent over the first quarter of 2019 and a two-year average growth of 5.0 per cent. By industry, the added value of the primary industry was 1,133.2 billion yuan, up 8.1 per cent year on year and 2.3 per cent on average in two years. The added value of the secondary industry was 9,262.3 billion yuan, up 24.4 per cent year on year and an average increase of 6.0 per cent in two years. The added value of the tertiary industry was 14,535.5 billion yuan, up 15.6 per cent year on year and 4.7 per cent on average in two years.
FOREIGN TRADE RECOVERED STEADILY: China got off to a good start with both imports and exports surging by 38.7 per cent and 19.3 per cent in the first quarter.
In the first quarter, China's total value of imports and exports in goods reached 8.47 trillion yuan, up 29.2 per cent over the same period last year. Exports accounted for 4.61 trillion yuan, up 38.7 per cent; Imports were 3.86 trillion yuan, up 19.3 per cent; the trade surplus was 759.29 billion yuan, an increase of 690.6 per cent.
In the first quarter, ASEAN, the European Union, the United States and Japan were China's top four trading partners. Over the same period, China's trade with the countries along "One Belt And One Road" and RCEP members continued to grow. China's import and export to the countries along "One Belt And One Road" reached 2.5 trillion yuan, up 21.4 per cent. China has been continuously opening up to the outside world and expanding the circle of friends for economic and trade cooperation. In particular, the economic and trade cooperation with the countries along "One Belt And One Road" has been continuously deepening, which has further expanded the space for China's foreign trade development.
INVESTMENT STRUCTURE IMPROVED: In the first quarter, the Chinese Government further played the key role in investment generation, which recovered steadily and improved the economic structure. In the first quarter, fixed asset investment grew 25.6 per cent year on year, and based on the first quarter of 2019, the two-year average growth rate was 2.9 per cent. That was 2.06 per cent higher than in the fourth quarter of last year. Under the guidance of the innovation-driven strategy, new drivers of investment have been gaining strength.
With the sustained and steady recovery of the domestic economy, the guarantee of factors of investment projects has been strengthened, and the leading indicators of investment have been positive and improving. A series of indicators show that the steady recovery of investment growth will continue to consolidate.
CONSUMPTION CONTINUED TO IMPROVE: In the first quarter, Covid-19 pandemic curbing and economic and social development continued to show progress. Consumer market continued to recover quarter by quarter, market sales continued to improve. In March, in particular, the consumer market picked up speed, food and other contact consumption improved significantly, and the business of physical retail stores continued to increase.
Retail sales of goods grew rapidly. In the first quarter, retail sales grew 30.4 per cent year on year, and the two-year average growth was 4.8 per cent. Retail sales of eight categories of goods, including cosmetics, sports and entertainment goods and communication equipment recovered to the growth level before Covid-19, with an average growth rate of more than 10 per cent in two years. Online shopping has also maintained a good momentum of development. Looking at the development of the postal and express delivery industry, which is closely related to online shopping, it took only 83 days for China's express delivery volume to exceed 20 billion Yuan in 2021, 45 days shorter than that of 2020. Improvements in offline retail were also accelerated.
EMPLOYMENT SITUATION REMAINED STABLE: In the first quarter, curbing of Covid-19 pandemic and economic and social development continued to show significant effects, the national economy recovered steadily, and the employment situation remained stable on the whole. China created 2.97 million new urban jobs, an increase of 680,000 year on year, fulfilling 27 per cent of the annual target. The surveyed urban unemployment rate averaged 5.4 per cent in the first quarter, down 0.4 percentage points year on year and lower than the expected target of around 5.5 per cent.
Against the backdrop of sustained and steady economic recovery, all regions and departments continued to strengthen the employment-first policy, and vigorously and effectively promoted the resumption of work and production. In March, the manufacturing industry recovered significantly, the construction industry returned to a high business level, the service industry, too, rose steadily, and the production and business activities of enterprises accelerated, leading to an increase in corporate employment. The manufacturing employment index returned above the line of expansion and contraction for the first time since May last year, while the non-manufacturing employment index continued to increase.
RAPID REVENUE GROWTH: In the first quarter, the national economy recovered steadily, the basic livelihood of the people was effectively guaranteed, and both urban and rural incomes and consumption grew rapidly. Compared with the first quarter of 2019, household income maintained a stable recovery growth, and household consumption expenditure showed a recovery rebound. In the first quarter, per capita disposable income reached 9,730 yuan, a nominal increase of 13.7 per cent over the same period last year. Excluding the effect of price factors, the real growth was 13.7 per cent. Compared with the first quarter of 2019, per capita disposable income grew by an average of 7.0 per cent in nominal terms and 4.5 per cent in real terms in two years. In the first quarter, China's per capita disposable income continued the trend of rising quarter by quarter since the same period last year, maintaining a stable recovery growth.
On the basis of the major achievements made in China's coordinated curbing of the pandemic and economic and social development, and the steady recovery of personal income growth, consumer spending rebounded significantly. From the growth trend, consumer consumption in the first quarter has reversed the situation of four consecutive quarters of decline since the same period last year, showing a recovery growth trend.
CONCLUSION: Following the major strategic achievements of the national pandemic curbing campaign, the resilience of the Chinese economy is heartening and encouraging, injecting valuable confidence and impetus into the world economy under the cloud of the pandemic. China has played an active role in the global fight against the pandemic. It has not only brought the pandemic under control at home, but also contributed to the curbing of the pandemic around the world. China's position as the major rear of the global anti-pandemic strategy has been further highlighted.
Looking ahead, strong recovery, green transformation, innovation-led development, better quality and upgrading, and further opening-up will be the key words of the Chinese economy in 2021.
Mr Liu Zhenhua is Economic & Commercial Counsellor, Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Dhaka.