Cross-border e-commerce in China: Past, Present & Future

Raj Trikkha, Research Intern, ICS

Image: CBE in China started to grow remarkably from 2013 due to the vast acceptance and usage of smartphones
Source: MarketingFuture

The rise in globalization and internationalization of trade has paved the way for e-commerce to expand from within nations to across the globe. This type of e-commerce is called cross-border e-commerce (CBE), wherein, products or services are sold to buyers overseas through e-commerce websites. The extent of globalization is such that the annual growth rate of CBE, which is 17%, has surpassed the growth rate of overall B2C e-commerce, which stands at 12%

Cross-border e-commerce in China began in 1998 with a few foreign trading companies tapping into the latest internet technology to carry out their sale activities. The year 1999 marked the birth of the company which changed the face of Chinese e-commerce., established by Jack Ma started out as a B2B portal that facilitated between local factories and overseas companies. In the mid-2000s, as more Chinese people went to foreign nations for work or studies, a new profession emerged, called DaiGou (代购). DaiGou refers to transactions where Chinese nationals who reside abroad sell foreign products to people in China with a little markup. They used various platforms like and WeChat. DaiGous for a long time filled the demand gap and still continue to conduct purchases online.

Since these types of transactions started to gain popularity and demand, companies like entered this market in 2009. CBE in China started to grow remarkably from 2013. This happened due to the vast acceptance and usage of smartphones. This made it easier for companies to reach consumers and for the consumers to avail their services. Between 2014 and 2015, over 5000 CBE startups were established in China involving and Today, the biggest e-commerce market in the world, China, has $34 billion worth of purchases in the CBE market (as of 2020). Though, in comparison with the U.S. (34 percent) and U.K. (45 percent), it consists of a mere 1.53 percent of its total e-commerce sales. This implies that there is still a lot of potential for the CBE market to grow in China. 

Image: Today, the biggest e-commerce market in the world, China, has $34 billion worth of purchases in the CBE market
Source: Practical E-Commerce

Although the market was growing and becoming an essential part of the technology-driven economy, the sustainable development of the industry required the supervision of laws and support of policies. Thus, starting from 2007, various government agencies released policies and recommendations to promote CBE in China. Subsequently, in 2014, China through the General Administration of Customs issued a new set of regulations pertaining to CBE. This was the first time that China officially accepted the CBE model. This opened up many opportunities for foreign firms wanting to sell their goods in China. As a result of increasing online sales by retailers, recent modifications in the CBE regulations were introduced on 1 January, 2019, to make them more robust. 

These schemes eased the process to a huge extent. Among many things, they lowered down the labour and logistics costs, streamlined the product return process, and announced the establishment of 46 additional cross-border e-commerce comprehensive pilot zones. Streamlining the return process enabled companies to ship goods in bulk to Chinese warehouses even before selling them to the customers, while more pilot zones meant that companies will have more areas where favourable tax rates are levied. 

Image: The General Administration of Customs announced the establishment of 46 additional cross-border e-commerce comprehensive pilot zones
Source: China-Briefing

The new policies have had a positive impact on the industry. The first three quarters of 2020, show an increase in CBE retail imports by more than 17 percent year-on-year, according to customs data. Cross-border e-commerce in China is growing at a fast pace. Even during the pandemic era, the CBE sector in China brought 31.1 percent of its foreign trade. CBE has become an essential aspect of China’s foreign trade. In 2020, over 10,000 traditional foreign firms went online for the first time. Many experts believe that CBE will continue to thrust the foreign trade in China as the market is still less-tapped and the policy incentives are yet to be yielded.

A China Gazer’s Random Musings – No. 1

Amb. Kishan S. Rana (retd), Emeritus Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

There is such a cascade of writing on China that as an oldie, I am attracted by the notion of penning personal reactions, reflections, and observations. Few of us can claim special insights into a country marked by both opacity and paradox. The longer one studies China, deeper is a typical realization that what one understands is a fraction of the things that remain unknown, even unfathomable. I plan to write this column perhaps once a month.

The 19th Party Congress Looms

For an authoritarian regime, China has a remarkable leadership transition system, which has worked smoothly for the past 30 years. Party congresses of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are held every five years. The even numbered Party Congress is when a new General Secretary and his leadership team take over; the country’s key decision-making team is the Standing Committee of the Politburo (it used to number 9, reduced to 7 in 2012). The General Secretary holds office for 10 years. The odd-numbered Congress is the one where appointments are made to the central committee and the full politburo, in preparation for the leadership change five years down the line.

Thus, the 19th CPC which meets in October 2017 is the in-between session when central committee and politburo members are appointed. It is crucial because that team plays the key role in the appointment of the next leader at the 20th Congress.

Recent months have seen sizeable re-shuffle in the top positions in the 31 provinces, Continue reading “A China Gazer’s Random Musings – No. 1”

How Can China Deal with Pressure to Devalue the Renminbi?

Zhang MingPhD, Director in the international investment research office of the Institute of World Economy and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Beijing

A version of this article was originally published in the Business Standard as How China can resist devaluation pressure’, 29 July 2017. This is part of a series by Chinese economists facilitated by the ICS.

In July 2005, People’s Bank of China announced it was implementing a managed floating exchange rate system based on market principles and with reference to a basket of currencies.

From the end of June 2005 to the end of July 2015, RMB exchange rate against the US dollar rose to 6.12 from the previous 8.28, appreciating by about 26% (Figure 1). The RMB nominal effective exchange rate (NEER) and real effective exchange rate (REER) indices appreciated by 48% and 57% respectively over the same period (Figure 2).

That the appreciation of the REER of RMB exceeded its NEER indicates that the inflation level in China during this period was higher than the global average. Continue reading “How Can China Deal with Pressure to Devalue the Renminbi?”