New numbers from China's customs agency say the country's exports for 2009 were more than $1.2 trillion, slightly ahead of Germany.
Exports in December rose nearly 18 percent from a year earlier. At the same time, imports leapt nearly 56 percent.
Asian Development Bank economist Zhuang Jian says strong performance in the last two months of 2009 helped China's export surge.
Zhuang says China is a huge country, so it is not surprising to see China overtaking Germany as the world's top exporter. The economist says China has been trying to expand its exports through what he called the "right economic policies and measures," Zhuang said.
In addition to being the world's largest exporter, China is already the biggest auto market and steel maker. It is the third-largest economy in the world, behind the United States and Japan.
The image of made-in-China products has taken some negative hits in recent years, following scandals involving lead paint in toys and tainted food products.
In the latest development, U.S. authorities are launching an investigation into the presence of the toxic chemical cadmium in children's jewelry imported from China.
An Associated Press investigative report documents how some Chinese manufacturers have been using cadmium in cheap charm bracelets and pendants being sold through the United States.
Cadmium is a known carcinogen and is similar to lead in that it can hinder brain development in the very young.
In recent years, Chinese toy makers came under scrutiny after U.S. investigators found harmful amounts of lead in products for children and banned the use of lead.
In a public meeting in New York late last year, the chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Inez Tenenbaum, addressed parents' concerns about dangerous Chinese-made toys.
"Toys imported from China, as toys manufactured in the United States and imported from other countries, all have to meet U.S. requirements and meet the U.S. laws," noted Tenenbaum. "And, we can impose significant fines and sanctions on toy manufacturers or importers who do not meet these requirements."
Ms. Tenenbaum is set to deliver a speech Tuesday, in Hong Kong, at a toy safety meeting organized by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.