The gap narrowed 64 percent in February from a year earlier to $8.56 billion, the customs bureau said today on its Web site. The surplus was less than half the $22.5 billion median estimate of 14 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
Exports rose 6.5 percent, the slowest pace in almost six years, aiding government efforts to cool the world's fastest- growing major economy. China's surplus has caused tension with trading partners and threatens to stoke inflation already at an 11-year high by flooding the financial system with cash.
For the first two months combined, the surplus narrowed 29 percent to $28 billion from a year earlier. Imports increased 35.1 percent in February, the biggest gain in more than three years, on higher prices for commodities such as crude oil, iron ore and soy beans. In January, exports rose 26.6 percent and imports climbed 27.6 percent.
China's producer prices, the cost of goods as they leave the factory, climbed 6.6 percent last month, the fastest pace in more than three years, the government said today. Baoshan Iron & Steel Co. is raising hot-rolled steel prices in the second quarter on raw-material costs.
Exports of steel products fell 29 percent in February from a year earlier.
Shipments to the U.S., where a housing recession is sapping demand, fell in February to $15.5 billion. That was down from $19.2 billion in January and $16.3 billion a year earlier.
Import growth will stay strong as China ships in materials for utility, railway and housing projects and for reconstruction work after the snowstorms. A stronger currency may rein in exports, and China has already made the biggest gains to be had from joining the World Trade Organization in 2001 and from becoming a bigger supplier to manufacturers in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, Simpfendorfer said.
China's economy, the world's fourth biggest, expanded 11.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 from a year earlier.
Lawmakers and manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe say China's export machine is powered by an undervalued currency. The European Union is trying to restrict imports of more than three dozen Chinese products ranging from textiles and chemicals to ironing boards and bicycles through anti-dumping duties.