BEIJING - China's export growth slowed in December while imports accelerated, possibly helping to temper fears of a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.
Exports rose 4.3 percent to $207.7
billion, slowing from November's 12.7 percent expansion, trade data showed
Friday. Imports rose 8.3 percent to $182.1 billion, up from the previous
month's 7.6 percent.
The exports data might be a sign
China's domestic demand is relatively strong despite concerns a modest economic
recovery is weakening.
China's economic growth tumbled to a
two-decade low of 7.5 percent in the second quarter. It rebounded to 7.8
percent the following quarter but private sector analysts say that recovery is
likely to fade. The Cabinet in late December said it expected 2013's full-year
growth to be 7.6 percent, which would be the weakest performance since 1999.
"Our country's economic
development was stable overall," said a government spokesman, Zheng
Yuesheng, at a news conference. However, he added, "China's foreign trade
enterprises face a complex and fickle domestic and international environment."
For the full year, exports were $2.2
trillion while imports were $1.9 trillion. China's global trade surplus widened
by 12.6 percent to $260.2 billion.
Zheng said it was the first time
China's total annual trade topped $4 trillion. China edged past the United
States in 2012 as the world's biggest trader and likely widened its lead last
Analysts said December trade might be
stronger than it appeared in comparison with figures a year earlier, when
analysts believe exporters reported falsely inflated prices to evade currency
controls and bring money into China for investment. Citigroup said real growth
might be 9 percent, more than double the reported level.
"The pickup in export momentum in
recent months is real," said RBS economist Louis Kuijs in a report.
As for imports, "growth was very
strong and beat market expectations," said Goldman Sachs economists in a
China has long been the world's
factory, with a voracious appetite for oil, iron ore and other raw materials
that propelled economic booms in Brazil, Australia and other commodities
exporters. More recently, it is emerging as a major market, helping to drive
demand for food, mobile phones, autos and other consumer goods.
Communist leaders are trying to reduce
reliance on trade and investment by promoting domestic consumption but
household spending is rising more slowly than they want. That forced Beijing to
backtrack temporarily last year and launch a mini-stimulus to shore up growth
with higher spending on building railways and other public works.
Export-driven manufacturing still
employs millions of workers and any weakness raises the risk of job losses and
unrest. Surveys earlier showed manufacturing activity weakened in December.
In a reflection of China's stronger
growth and demand for imports, its politically sensitive trade surpluses with
the United States and the European Union narrowed for both December and the
full year of 2013, though the gaps still were large.
The surplus with the United States in
December narrowed by 4.8 percent to $17.8 billion and for the full year by 1.3
percent to $215.9 billion. That with the 27-nation EU narrowed by 1.5 percent
in December to $12.9 billion and for 2013 by 2.5 percent to $118.9 billion.
Zheng, the government spokesman,
expressed confidence 2014 would be a "period of steady growth" for
trade, though he gave no details.