BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's trade surplus with the United States swelled to a record in June as its overall exports remained solid, a result that could further inflame a bitter trade dispute with Washington.
The data came after the administration of US President Donald Trump raised the stakes in its trade row with China on Tuesday, saying it would slap 10 per cent tariffs on an extra US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports, including numerous consumer items.
China's trade surplus with the United States, which is at the centre of the tariff tussle, widened to a record monthly high of US$28.97 billion, up from US$24.58 billion in May, according to Reuters calculations based on official data going back to 2008.
Trump, who has demanded Beijing cut the trade surplus, could use the latest result to further ratchet up pressure on China after both sides last week imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on US$34 billion of each other's goods. Washington has warned it may ultimately impose tariffs on more than US$500 billion worth of Chinese goods - nearly the total amount of US imports from China last year.
The dispute has jolted global financial markets, raising worries a full-scale trade war could derail the world economy. Chinese stocks fell into bear market territory and the yuan currency has skidded, though there have been signs in recent days its central bank is moving to slow the currency's declines.
China's June exports rose 11.3 per cent from a year earlier, China General Administration of Customs reported, beating forecasts for a 10 per cent increase according to the latest Reuters poll of 39 analysts, and down from a 12.6 per cent gain in May.
China's commerce ministry confirmed last month that Chinese exporters were front-loading exports to the US to get ahead of expected tariffs - a situation that could exacerbate any slowdown in shipments toward the year-end.
"Looking ahead, export growth will cool in the coming months as US tariffs start to bite alongside a broader softening in global demand," Julian Evans-Pritchard, Senior China Economist at Capital Economics in Singapore wrote in a note, though he noted a weaker yuan should help offset some of the decline.
EXPORTS, ECONOMIC RISKS
China's exports to the United States rose 13.6 per cent in the first half of 2018 from a year earlier, while its imports from the US rose 11.8 per cent in the same period.
Separate data showed Chinese shipments to US ports rose more than expected in June, suggesting some retailers moved up orders to insulate themselves from the intensifying trade war that threatens to send up costs on a growing number of consumer products.
For January-June China's trade surplus with the United States rose to US$133.76 billion, compared with about US$117.51 billion in the same period last year.
After a strong start to the year, growth in China's exports has moderated recently, and is expected to face more pressure from the initial round of US tariffs. Both official and private business surveys reported softer export orders last month as the trade row deepens.
China's foreign trade faces risks of slowing in the second half of the year, General Administration of Customs spokesman Huang Songping told a news conference, though he said Beijing was capable of handling challenges.
Analysts expect shipments growth to slow in the second half of the year, putting more strain on an economy already feeling the pinch from a multi-year debt battle that has driven up corporate borrowing costs.
Investors fear a prolonged trade battle with the US could harm business confidence and investment, disrupting global supply chains and harming growth in China and the rest of the world.
SEEKING TO CUSHION TRADE BLOW?
Imports grew 14.1 per cent in June, customs said, missing analysts' forecast of a 20.8 per cent growth, and compared with a 26 per cent rise in May.
The commerce ministry also said this week it will use funds collected from tariffs charged on imports from the US to help ease the impact of US trade actions on Chinese companies and their employees.
In a sign Beijing is seeking alternative supplies of the commodities as it hit US imports with extra tariffs, China had dropped import tariffs on a range of animal feed ingredients from several Asian countries.
Separate customs data on Friday showed imports of commodities from soybeans to crude oil eased compared with a year ago, but China's steel mills and aluminium smelters sold much more abroad spurred by higher international prices amid growing concerns about slowing demand growth.
The data could renew longstanding criticism from the US and Europe that the world's top metal producer is selling its surplus product abroad, hurting foreign rivals.
"We expect slowing export growth to put downward pressure on the current account and RMB (yuan), and believe China is likely to be willing to make concessions in future rounds of trade negotiations with the US," Nomura analysts said in a note to clients.