CHINA may be moving towards a more market-driven economy, but its trading heavyweights remain firmly in state hands, new data from Chinese Customs show. Of the top 20 import-export firms last year ranked by total volume, 19 are government-run. The exception, as previously, was Volkswagen AG's joint venture in Shanghai. The three biggest are processing and service firms located in Guangdong province. Four more from there made the top 20 list. The customs figures do not break down each firm's imports and exports. China's overall overseas purchases surged 29 per cent to US$103.95 billion last year, while exports grew eight per cent to $91.77 billion. The deficit of $12.18 billion was the biggest since the $14.9 billion of 1985 and the first since the $6.6 billion gap in 1989. Japan displaced Hong Kong as China's leading trade partner for the first time last year at $39 billion, with China saying it was in deficit by $7.47 billion. China's trade with Hong Kong came to $32.5 billion, with the mainland in surplus by $11.6 billion. The US ranked third at $27.6 billion, up $10 billion over 1992. China said its surplus on US trade was $6.27 billion, but that does not include large transshipments via Hong Kong. The US is expected to show a deficit on China trade of more than $20 billion for last year, second only to Japan.