Exports surged 9.1 percent from a year earlier to USD 217.6 billion in January, defying markets' expectations of a 3.2 percent fall and reversing a 4.4 percent drop a month earlier. The rebound in overseas sales came in amid signs of trade talks progress and efforts from companies to ship out goods ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. China's unwrought aluminium and aluminium product exports surged 25.5 percent year-on-year to a record 552,000 tonnes in January and were up 6.2 percent from December's revised figure of 520,000 tonnes. In addition, sales of steel products grew 33.1 percent to 6.19 million tonnes and were up 11.5 percent from the prior month's 5.55 million tonnes. Also, coal exports jumped 115 percent to 0.60 million tonnes and surged 94.2 percent from December's 0.31 million tonnes. Sales of rice increased 2.1 percent to 143,000 tonnes, but tumbled 47.0 percent from the previous month's 270,000 tonnes.
Among China's biggest trade partners, exports rose to the EU (15.3 percent), ASEAN countries (12.5 percent), Japan (5.7 percent), South Korea (14.4 percent), Taiwan (13.3 percent) and Australia (19.1 percent). By contrast, exports to the US dropped 2.4 percent.
Imports decreased 1.5 percent to USD 178.4 billion in January, far less than forecasts of a 10 percent slump and after a 7.6 percent decline in December. Purchases of soybean dropped 13 percent year-on-year to 7.38 million tonnes in January, amid higher tariff imposed on shipments from the US. Still, when compared to December's 5.72 million tonnes, soybean imports were up 29 percent. Also, imports of iron ore declined 9 percent to 91.26 million tonnes but were up 5.3 percent from December's 86.64 million tonnes. Inbound shipments of steel products fell 0.9 percent to 1.18 million tonnes but increased 17.9 percent from the prior months's 1 million tonnes. In contrast, imports of unwrought copper climbed 8.9 percent to of 479,000 tonnes and were up 14 percent on the month from December's 420,000 tonnes. In addition, purchases of copper concentrate went up 17.0 percent to 1.90 million tonnes and advanced 29.8 percent month-on-month. Imports of crude oil grew 4.8 percent from a year earlier to 42.60 million tonnes but were down 2.7 percent from the prior months's 43.78 million tonnes. Also, natural gas imports went up 26.2 percent to 9.81 million tonnes and rose 6.3 percent from 9.23 million tonnes in December. Inbound shipments of coal increased 20.5 percent from a year earlier to 33.50 million tonnes and surged 227.5 percent from December's 10.23 million tonnes.
Imports fell mainly from the US (-41.2 percent), ASEAN countries (-7.1 percent), South Korea (-11.8 percent), Japan (-1.3 percent) and Taiwan (-0.5 percent), but rose from the EU (8.2 percent) and Australia (7.6 percent).
The trade surplus with the US, China's largest export market, narrowed to USD 27.30 billion in January, the lowest since May 2018, from USD 29.87 billion in December.
In yuan-denominated terms, China's trade surplus came in at CNY 271.2 billion in January, with exports rising 13.9 percent and imports advancing at a slower 2.9 percent.
Trade in January and February can be distorted by the Lunar New Year holiday, with business slowing down weeks ahead of time and companies scaling back operations. This year, the holiday fell in the first week of February.