Iowa State University Researchers Tracking COVID-19’s Impact on China’s Economy

Wendong Zhang, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, 515-294-2536;
Xi He, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development;
Nathan Cook, Communications, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, 515-294-3809;

April 30, 2020

Ames, IA – As the COVID-19 outbreak has quickly spread across the globe, it has infected more than three million people and killed over 218,000, as of the time of writing. Worldwide, governments have taken steps to reduce COVID-19’s spread, including mandating social distancing policies and closing nonessential businesses. These policies slow the spread, but they restrict economic output and demand.

To help understand the economic impact of the outbreak, and the policies used to stop its spread, on China’s economy, researchers at the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University have created a database that shows how impacts propagated across China’s provinces and economic sectors, both during the outbreak and when most of China began returning to work.

China was the first country to confirm a case of COVID-19, and one of the first countries to implement social distancing and lockdown policies to contain its spread. Economic researchers have kept a close eye on China, as it is not only the world’s most populous country, but the world’s second-largest economy, based on nominal gross domestic product. According to the International Monetary Fund, China's 2019 GDP was $14.14 trillion.

“We wanted to understand the impact of COVID-19 on China's economy, and how that impact transmits to other countries through economic and political links,” said Wendong Zhang. Zhang is an associate professor of economics at Iowa State and one of the researchers that created the database.

“Researchers and the general public can use it to explore COVID-19’s impact on China at the national and province level—we found, cleaned, and translated provincial sector-level data that is not easy to find in the national-level data releases,” Zhang said. “As a result, our database is valuable to the research community in quantitative trade and macroeconomic modeling—for example, our database is also aggregated to GTAP-sectors.”

“Due to data limitations, we don't have full coverage for all 900 province-sector combinations—we currently have province by sector-level information for around half of China’s provinces, and we do not provide commodity-specific information for the agricultural sector,” Zhang said.

However, Zhang said the database was constructed from a comprehensive dataset from various sources and shows a basic idea of COVID-19’s initial impacts on China's economy, and researchers can also use it to investigate how the economic shocks affect other countries through economic linkages.

Zhang said the database will be updated monthly, and, in the future, the researchers hope to expand it to increase its coverage to increase usability. The database is available in both English and Chinese.

Other researchers involved in the project include Tao Xiong, a visiting scholar at the Center for China-US Agricultural Economics and Policy at CARD and a professor at Huazhong Agricultural University, and Xi He, a postdoctoral research associate at CARD. The researchers welcome feedback and suggestions.

For over 60 years, the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University has conducted innovative public policy and economic research on local, regional, and global agricultural issues, combining academic excellence with engagement and anticipatory thinking to inform and benefit society.