Chinese exports in February rose at a record pace from the previous year, when COVID-19 battered the world’s second-largest economy, customs data showed on Sunday, while imports grew less sharply.
Dollar exports soared 154.9% in February from a year earlier, while imports rose 17.3%, the most since October 2018. Data did not include figures for January only.
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During the January-February period, exports jumped 60.6% from the previous year, when lockdowns to contain the pandemic crippled economic activity in the country. This topped analysts’ forecasts in a Reuters poll for a 38.9% increase.
Strong exports, which took advantage of China’s success to largely contain the public health crisis, helped fuel the country’s recovery from pandemic-induced paralysis.
The surge was driven by a rebound in foreign demand, Customs said in a statement on its website, citing improvements in manufacturing industries in the European Union and the United States, and increasing their imports. Chinese products thanks to fiscal stimulus.
“In addition, a majority of manufacturing employees (in China) have chosen to stay put during the Lunar New Year holidays,” the statement said. “Our investigation showed that many businesses in the export-oriented provinces remained open, and orders that usually didn’t ship until after the New Year were delivered normally.”
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Chinese factory activity is generally dormant during the Lunar New Year break, which fell in mid-February this year, as workers return to their hometowns. This year, the government called on workers to avoid travel to limit the risk of the coronavirus spreading.
In January-February, imports rose 22.2% from a year earlier, above the 15% forecast, in part due to the storage of semiconductors and energy products, according to customs.
China posted a trade surplus of $ 103.25 billion for the first two months. Analysts expected the trade surplus to narrow to $ 60.15 billion from $ 78.17 billion in December.
In yuan terms, exports increased by 50.1% in the two months compared to the previous year, while imports grew by 14.5%.
“Due to the impact of the novel coronavirus, overall trade (in yuan terms) in January-February last year fell 9.7%, and the low base was one of the reasons for the larger increase this year, ”Customs said. “But even compared to normal years, such as comparable periods in 2018 and 2019, China’s overall trade growth was around 20%.”
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China’s economy grew 2.3% last year, helped by strong demand for Chinese-made products such as medical and home work equipment, although the growth was its weakest in 44 years.
This year, China has set itself a modest growth target of at least 6%, forecasting cautious progress in a year disrupted by COVID-19 and amid heightened tensions with the United States.
China’s trade surplus with the United States stood at $ 51.26 billion in January-February. Chinese customs did not give a monthly breakdown. The surplus was $ 29.92 billion in December.
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Katherine Tai, President Joe Biden’s candidate for US trade representative, said last week she would work to tackle a series of “unfair” Chinese trade and economic practices.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Colin Qian; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and William Mallard)