China’s trade surplus widened last month as imports barely budged, sharpening fears that the world’s second-biggest economy is not doing enough to stimulate domestic demand and counter a slowdown.
Imports edged up 0.3 percent to US$144.8 billion last month, while exports rose 4.9 percent to US$163.3 billion, leaving a surplus of US$18.4 billion, according to customs data released yesterday.
That compared with a surplus of US$5.35 billion in March and a deficit of US$31.5 billion in February. China often has a large trade deficit early in the year as factories restock after their long lunar new year holiday break.
The weak import numbers could be a sign Chinese policymakers had failed to boost demand by businesses and consumers for imported goods and raises concerns about whether China would be able to bounce back from slowing growth.
In March, imports rose 5.3 percent, while exports climbed nearly 9 percent. The figures for last month, especially weakening exports to the 27-nation EU —China’s biggest trading partner — were a disappointment, economists said.
“If the eurozone falls into a deep recession, and that in turn slows US growth, China’s export growth will be impacted,” ANZ economists Liu Li-gang (劉利剛) and Zhou Hao (周浩) said in an analysis.
A downturn in China’s property sector has stalled construction, sharply reducing demand. Slowing imports also reflect falling prices, as well as volumes, for key commodities, such as iron ore and crude oil.
South Korea also recently reported weak trade figures, seen as a sign of prolonged weakness in global trade, Yao Wei (姚煒), economist with Societe Generale in Hong Kong, said in a comment before China released its trade data.
Demand in China has weakened as the government sought to cool inflation and steer the growth of the world’s second-largest economy to a more sustainable level after 2010’s explosive double-digit expansion.
Growth eased to 8.1 percent in the first quarter of this year after Beijing tightened lending and investment curbs.
Weak demand from China is unwelcome news for Australia, Brazil and Asian economies that sell it oil, iron ore and industrial components.
So far for this year, China’s exports have risen nearly 7 percent, while imports rose 5 percent, yielding a surplus for January-April of US$19.3 billion.
Chinese exports to the EU fell 2 percent last month, while its imports rose 4 percent, leaving a surplus of US$11.6 billion.
While the EU’s struggles with government debt problems are sapping demand there, China’s exports to the US jumped 12 percent to US$28.1 billion. Imports rose just 3.2 percent to US$11.3 billion, leaving its politically volatile trade surplus at US$16.89 billion.