China denies it is world's biggest trader despite data showing it passed US last year

China's government has taken the unusual step of publicly denying it passed the United States last year as the world's biggest trader — a politically sensitive status.

Trade data from both governments indicate China passed the United States last year in total imports and exports by a margin of $3.866 trillion to $3.822 trillion, or about $44 billion.

China's Commerce Ministry issued a statement Tuesday denying that. It said China still lagged by $15.6 billion last year under World Trade Organization standards for valuing goods. That is equal to just 0.3 percent of China's total trade.

Beijing wants to be seen as a global leader but says it is a developing country. Its communist leaders are wary of any status that might lead to demands for more efforts to stimulate the global economy or concessions in talks on trade, climate change or other contentious issues.