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China exports rebound in April but more weakness ahead

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Dion Global

07 May 2020

China's exports rebounded in April to rise 3.5 per cent over a year earlier, but forecasters warned that strength is unlikely to last as the coronavirus pandemic depresses global consumer demand.

Exports to the United States rose 2.2 per cent, while imports of American goods fell 11 per cent in a sign of weak Chinese industrial and consumer demand despite the lifting of most anti-virus controls, government data showed Thursday.

Total exports rose to USD 200.3 billion, a turnaround from the 13.3 per cent contraction in the three months ending in March. Imports fell 13.7 per cent from a year earlier to $179.6 billion, worse than the first quarter's 2.9 per cent decline.

Exports were much stronger than anticipated in April but are likely to drop back sharply this month, said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report. Worse is still to come for Chinese trade. The ruling Communist Party has allowed factories and some other businesses to reopen since declaring victory over the virus in March. But many are struggling to get back on their feet and key export markets in the United States and Europe have closed stores and told consumers to stay home.

Trade was poised for a boost after Beijing and Washington removed some punitive tariffs imposed on each other's goods in a fight over China's trade surplus and technology ambitions. That was set back when China shut down much of the world's second-largest economy to fight the virus outbreak.

Forecasters warn US tariff hikes might be reimposed if the truce falls apart, as many worry it will.

The volume of Chinese imports of oil, soybeans, iron ore and other goods has risen while the financial figures fell because global commodity prices have plunged amid weak demand.

China's global trade surplus more than tripled in April over the same month of 2019 to USD 45.2 billion. Its surplus with the United States rose 8.8 per cent to USD 21 billion.

Exports to the 26-nation European Union fell 17.5 per cent from a year ago to USD 32.2 billion. The Chinese trade surplus with the EU more than doubled to $13.5 billion.