Foreign trade in Yunnan is surging, perhaps signaling a decade long attempt to position the province as an international business hub is paying dividends. Data released this week by the provincial customs bureau show total import and export traffic in the first quarter of 2013 totaled US$4.52 billion.
Year-on-year (YoY) this represents growth of a robust 45.5 percent. Across China the growth rate for international trade over the first four months of 2013 was a strong, but comparatively modest, 13.4 percent.
The most significant gains in Yunnan's trade came in the mechanical and electronic sectors, which together accounted for US$720 million in exports. The vast majority of the province's consumer and agricultural exports were shipped to ASEAN member-countries, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Over the past decade Beijing has continually poured money into Yunnan in the form of infrastructure projects. Billions of dollars have been spent on increasing highway, rail and air transport connectivity — culminating in the opening of Kunming Changshui International Airport last summer. The aim of these projects has been to strengthen the province's position as an economic "bridgehead" to nearby Southeast Asian markets.
As Yunnan's trade has grown, provincial planners have begun to target markets further afield, especially focusing on India. First quarter numbers were somewhat discouraging on that front, as trade with South Asia decreased five percent YoY.
Officials and businessmen alike will look to remedy the downturn in trade with countries such as India and Bangladesh in June. At that time Kunming will host the first China-South Asia Exposition, which looks to increase trade ties between the world's two most populous nations.
Until then, Yunnan may rest easy, knowing that it possesses the fastest growing economy in terms of percentage thus far in 2013. National figures reflecting the uptick in Yunnan's international trade show the province's GDP grew at a 12.6 percent clip YoY in the first quarter of the year — leading the national average by 4.9 percent.