China Exports, Imports Up for First Time in Three Years

Chinese trade picked up last year on the back of a strong global economyMore

China's exports for the full year rose 7.9 percent, the fastest rate since 2013, while imports gained 15.9 percent, the best since 2011.

"Export prospects remain solid, given our outlook for growth globally, although more forceful US trade restrictions on China's exports remain a key risk, following another rise in the U.S.' bilateral trade deficit in 2017", he said.

Meanwhile, China in December exported a record high 6.17 million tonnes of refined fuel, beating the previous peak of 5.79 million tonnes set in November.

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The December data show China has implemented a series of UN Security Council resolutions this year, targeting the North's most profitable exports. And American demand was a big part of that.

"I think the [December] slowdown is really mild - mostly in line with seasonality", said Victor You, an analyst with CLSA in Hong Kong, who tracks China's iron ore, coal, copper and copper concentrate imports, as well as its exports of steel products and aluminum.

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They are "a sign that domestic demand may have weakened at the end of previous year", he said. He failed to follow through on a pledge to label Beijing a currency manipulator and a threat to slap huge tariffs on Chinese goods.

The import growth was fuelled for the second year in a row by independent refineries as the government allowed more firms to import crude, although some of them were forced to scale back operations as authorities stepped up environmental checks. But historically, Beijing has responded to new U.S. tariffs with tit-for-tat measures and it is unclear how long its leaders will restrain themselves. It expects that to decline to 6.5 percent this year, though that still will be among the strongest of any major country.

However, Kujis of Oxford Economics believes import growth will only soften moderately this year, as the Chinese government has been careful not to let its tightening measures deal blows to the economy.

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