China exports, imports slump again as global demand falters

Chinese policymakers have consistently cautioned that exports could struggle as the risk of a global recession increases. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING – China’s exports in the January-February period again fell from a year earlier, Customs data showed on Tuesday, while imports also decreased again and at a faster rate, reflecting a slowdown in the global economy and weak domestic demand.

China’s exports in the two months were 6.8 per cent lower than a year before, beating a Reuters poll that expected exports to decrease by 9.4 per cent.

Imports were down by 10.2 per cent, missing the poll estimate by a large margin, which had predicted a 5.5 per cent drop.

December 2022 showed a sharp 9.9 per cent annual fall in exports as global demand cooled, while that month’s imports fell by a more modest 7.5 per cent.

The Customs agency publishes combined January and February trade data to smooth out distortions caused by the shifting timing of Chinese New Year, which in 2023 fell in January.

But imports were expected to continue to gradually recover as consumer confidence returns following the removal of Covid-19 restrictions in December.

China’s policymakers have, however, consistently cautioned that exports could struggle as the risk of a global recession increases.

Premier Li Keqiang said on Sunday that the government had set an economic growth target of around 5 per cent for 2023.

Analysts have said foreign trade is likely to drag on economic growth in 2023.

In 2022, the economy was 3 per cent larger than in 2021, badly missing the official target for growth of around 5.5 per cent.

Signalling that economic recovery was under way, manufacturing activity in China in February expanded at its fastest pace in more than a decade, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed last week, with new export orders rising for the first time since April 2021.

Factory activity readings from other Asian economies for February were more downbeat, however, reinforcing views that conditions abroad were more sluggish.

Domestic consumption and services have led China’s recovery so far in 2023.

Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said last Thursday that “consumption has rebounded significantly since the beginning of the year”.

The point was reinforced by the official non-manufacturing purchasing managers’ index, which indicated the fastest rate of output growth since March 2021 in February.

At the same press conference, Mr Wang also cautioned that pressure on China’s imports and exports will increase significantly in 2023, however, owing to the risk of a global recession and weakening external demand. REUTERS

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