China's trade surplus surged to US$101.88 billion last year, more than triple the US$32 billion gap recorded the year before, according to customs figures released yesterday.
Exports rose 28.4 percent year-on-year last year to US$762 billion, while imports rose 17.6 percent to US$660 billion, the General Administration of Customs said in a report posted on its Web site.
With total global trade of US$1.42 trillion, China is now the world's third-biggest trading nation, the report said. China announced earlier that it had overtaken Japan and remained behind the US and Germany.
The figures were largely in line with expectations, but they were likely to intensify pressure for Beijing to loosen foreign exchange controls that US officials and other critics contend keep the Chinese currency, the yuan, undervalued, making Chinese exports relatively cheap in overseas markets.
A leading US lawmaker, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, said during a visit to Beijing that he had warned senior Chinese officials that the persisting trade imbalance with the US was bound to draw a backlash.
"The imbalance simply exists. It's there. It's a fact, and it has to be dealt with. And it is a major irritant in US-China relations," Baucus said. "It is in China's interest to make concrete progress in reducing the trade imbalance."
China's trade surplus with the US for last year is forecast to top US$200 billion, up nearly 25 percent from the record high surplus in 2004.
The report issued yesterday gave no breakdown for imports and exports with the US and other major trading partners.
The government forecast this week that growth in exports would slow significantly this year due to higher oil prices and trade friction.
The main planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, estimated in a report published yesterday in the state-run newspaper China Securities Journal that exports would rise about 15 percent year-on-year this year, with imports climbing about 18 percent.
Robust exports have been a key factor behind China's feverish economic growth in recent years. The commission estimated that growth hit 9.8 percent last year, and says it is expected to slow to a still stunning 8.5 percent to 9 percent this year.