Outbound shipments declined 17.5 percent in January from a year earlier and imports fell 43.1 percent, the customs bureau said on its Web site today. Both numbers were worse than economists’ forecasts.
The $39.1 billion trade surplus, the second biggest on record, may add to international tensions as global leaders warn of the risk of protectionism amid the worst financial crisis since World War II. China’s economic growth is likely to cool to 6.1 percent this quarter, the least since 1999, according to a Bloomberg News survey. The slowdown has cost 20 million jobs and increased the risk of falling prices, profits and consumption.
Falling commodity prices drove down import costs as China’s demand for raw materials also faltered because of the export slowdown and a property slump. The value of crude-oil imports fell 57 percent from a year earlier.
Exports to the European Union, China’s biggest market, fell 17.4 percent. Those to the U.S. slid 9.8 percent. Shipments of machinery and electronics dropped 21 percent. Steel slid 32.5 percent and toys declined 14.7 percent.
The trade slump was likely exacerbated by a week-long Lunar New Year holiday, which occurred in January this year and February last year.
China’s economy grew 6.8 percent from a year earlier in the fourth quarter, the weakest pace since 2001. Producer prices fell the most in almost seven years in January, data released yesterday showed.
The trade collapse adds pressure on the government to expand a 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) stimulus package as factories close and millions of migrant workers return to the countryside, adding to the risk of social unrest.