China’s export growth accelerated last month in a fresh sign the world’s second-largest economy is recovering from a painful slump, but the commerce minister warned that exporters face tough conditions in coming months.
Exports rose 11.6 percent from a year earlier, up from the previous month’s 9.9 percent rate, data showed yesterday. Import growth held steady at 2.4 percent.
The improvement is a positive sign for the ruling Communist Party, which is holding a congress to hand power to younger leaders, who might benefit from an economic uptick.
However, the commerce minister warned that Chinese exporters face tough conditions ahead due to weak global demand and rising operating costs.
“The trade situation will be relatively grim in the next few months and there will be many difficulties next year,” Chen Deming (陳德銘) told a news conference.
Analysts say a modest recovery is under way from China’s deepest downturn since the 2008 world financial crisis. However, they say it will be gradual and too weak to drive global growth without improvement in the US and Europe.
Data reported on Friday showed Chinese auto sales, factory output and investment also improved last month.
Stronger exports will help manufacturers that were battered by last year’s slump in global demand. Thousands closed and survivors slashed payrolls, raising the danger of unrest as Communist leaders tried to enforce calm ahead of the leadership transition.
The import weakness meant China’s global trade surplus widened by nearly 90 percent over a year ago to US$32 billion — the highest monthly level this year.
Chen, the commerce minister, also warned that “growing trade protectionism” might hurt exporters.
World leaders pledged after the 2008 crisis to avoid steps that might hinder trade and hamper a recovery. However, Beijing and trading partners including the US, Europe and Japan have raised tariffs on goods including autos and solar panels in a series of disputes over market access, subsidies and other issues.
Beijing set a target of 10 percent trade growth this year, but it looks increasingly unlikely the country can reach that after total trade rose only about 6 percent for the first 10 months.
Lackluster Chinese import demand reflects government curbs on lending and investment to cool inflation and overheating.
Those controls helped to crush surging prices, but hurt China’s large construction industry and depressed its voracious appetite for steel beams, wiring and other materials made of imported iron ore, copper and other commodities.
Demand in debt-plagued Europe was so weak that the 27-nation EU was temporarily overtaken by the US as China’s biggest trading partner last month.
Exports to the US rose 9.5 percent to US$31.2 billion. China’s trade surplus with the US widened by 8 percent to US$21.6 billion.
Exports to Europe fell 5.8 percent to US$26.4 billion, with more severe declines for some struggling economies. Italy’s purchases of Chinese goods plunged 25.7 percent, while exports to France were off 9 percent. China’s trade surplus with Europe narrowed by 17 percent to US$10.8 billion.