BEIJING — China's exports suffered an unexpected 14.6 per cent fall on-year in March to 886.83 billion yuan (about US$143 billion), the government said on Monday, a further sign of weakness in the world's second-largest economy.
Imports tumbled 12.3 per cent to 868.67 billion yuan, the General Administration of Customs said, while the monthly trade surplus plummeted 62.6 per cent to 18.16 billion yuan.
The export decline was far off what economists had expected, with a survey by Bloomberg News projecting an increase of 8.2 per cent. The poll forecast imports to decrease 11.3 per cent.
Customs spokesman Huang Songping blamed a later start for China's annual Lunar New Year holidays this year than in 2014, saying that factoring in seasonal effects the March exports fall was only 4.4 per cent.
But he acknowledged that there were challenges.
"There remain some difficulties facing China's foreign trade in the near future," he told reporters, adding that export prospects in second quarter were clouded by uncertainty.
China's economy slumped to annual growth of 7.4 per cent in 2014, the weakest result in 24 years, and the slowdown appears to have continued into this year as indicators including industrial production, consumer spending and fixed asset investment have slumped.
The Chinese government last month lowered its official growth target for this year to about 7.0 per cent.
It also cut its trade growth target to about 6.0 per cent, from the 7.5 per cent goal set for last year.
Actual trade expanded 3.4 per cent in 2014, the third consecutive time the annual target was missed, owing to weakening domestic and foreign demand.
In a show of their willingness to put a floor on the economy's deceleration, authorities have used monetary policy tools such as cuts in benchmark interest rates and bank reserve requirements to shore up growth.
The central People's Bank of China earlier this year cut interest rates for the second time in three months and carried out an across-the-board reduction in the reserve requirement ratio – the amount of money banks must keep on hand – for the first time since May 2012.
For the first three months of this year, China's trade surplus soared more than 600 per cent to 755.33 billion yuan, Customs said, reflecting record monthly trade surpluses in January and March.
Exports rose 4.9 per cent to 3.15 trillion yuan, while imports dropped 17.3 per cent to 2.39 trillion yuan, figures showed. — AFP