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China’s December exports rose 20.9% from a year ago, slightly more than expected

Containers sit at the Yangshan Port in Shanghai, China, Aug. 6, 2019.

Aly Song | Reuters

BEIJING — China’s exports grew slightly more than expected in December, while imports rose less than expected, according to customs data released Friday.

Exports rose by 20.9% year-on-year in U.S. dollar-terms, above the 20% increase forecast by a Reuters poll.

Imports grew by 19.5% in U.S. dollar-terms, missing expectations of a 26.3% increase.

December’s figure also marked a sharp slowdown from November, when imports rose by 31.7% year-on-year. Exports had grown by 22% year-on-year in November.

“We expect China’s exports to remain strong in Q1 because of resilient global demand and worsening pandemic in many developing countries,” Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist, Pinpoint Asset Management, said in a note.

“Currently the strong exports may be the only driver helping China’s economy. We expect infrastructure investment to be the second driver picking up in the next few months,” he said.

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U.S. trade with China surges

The U.S. remained China’s largest trading partner on a single-country basis. Only two regions, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union, traded more with China in 2021, the data showed.

Exports to the U.S. rose by 27.5% for the year to $576.11 billion, while imports grew by 32.7% to $179.53 billion for the year, customs data showed.

That meant for 2021, China’s trade surplus with the U.S. was $396.58 billion, marking the second straight year the surplus has risen since a drop between 2018 and 2019 amid trade tensions with the U.S.

China’s trade with Australia grew last year despite tensions between the two countries. Chinese exports to Australia rose by 24.2%, while imports climbed by 40%.

China’s crude oil imports in December rose by 19.9% year-on-year to 46.14 million tonnes, but were down for the year overall.

Imports of coal in December edged off a high in November as a power shortage eased, and were down 20.8% from a year ago to 30.95 million tonnes. Natural gas imports climbed by 3.8% from a year ago in December to 11.65 million tonnes.

China’s soybean imports grew by nearly 18% from a year ago in December to 8.87 million tonnes.

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