China’s export growth slowed last month while imports accelerated, possibly helping to temper fears of a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.
Exports rose 4.3 percent to US$207.7 billion, slowing from November’s 12.7 percent expansion, trade data showed yesterday. Imports rose 8.3 percent to US$182.1 billion, up from the previous month’s 7.6 percent.
Stronger exports might be a sign China’s domestic demand is relatively strong despite concerns the economic recovery is weakening.
China’s economic growth tumbled to a two-decade low of 7.5 percent in the second quarter last year. It rebounded to 7.8 percent the following quarter, but private sector analysts say that recovery is likely to fade.
The Cabinet late last month said it expected last year’s full-year growth to be 7.6 percent, which would be the weakest performance since 1999.
“Our country’s economic development was stable overall,” customs spokesman Zheng Yuesheng (鄭躍聲) said at a news conference.
However, “China’s foreign trade enterprises face a complex and fickle domestic and international environment,” he added.
For the full year, exports were US$2.2 trillion while imports were US$1.9 trillion. China’s global trade surplus widened by 12.6 percent to US$260.2 billion.
Zheng said it was the first time China’s total annual trade topped US$4 trillion. China edged past the United States in 2012 as the world’s biggest trader and likely widened its lead last year.
Analysts said last month’s trade might be stronger than it appeared in comparison with figures a year earlier, when analysts believe exporters reported falsely inflated prices to evade currency controls and bring money into China for investment.
Citigroup said real growth might be 9 percent, more than double the reported level.
“The pickup in export momentum in recent months is real,” RBS economist Louis Kuijs said.
As for imports, “growth was very strong and beat market expectations,” Goldman Sachs economists said in a report.
China has long been the world’s factory, with a voracious appetite for oil, iron ore and other raw materials that propelled economic booms in Brazil, Australia and other commodities exporters. More recently, it is emerging as a major market, helping to drive demand for food, mobile phones, autos and other consumer goods.
Chinese leaders are trying to reduce reliance on trade and investment by promoting domestic consumption, but household spending is rising more slowly than they want. That forced Beijing to backtrack temporarily last year and launch a mini-stimulus to shore up growth with higher spending on building railways and other public works.
In a reflection of China’s stronger growth and demand for imports, its politically sensitive trade surpluses with the US and the EU narrowed last month and for all of last year, though the gaps still were large.
The surplus with the US last month narrowed by 4.8 percent to US$17.8 billion and for the full year by 1.3 percent to US$215.9 billion. That with the EU narrowed by 1.5 percent last month to US$12.9 billion and for last year by 2.5 percent to US$118.9 billion.