Overall, imports and exports growth were both down sharply from February's Lunar New Year-distorted surge, though within sight of the government's target of 10 percent expansion for 2012. Imports grew 5.3 percent, exports grew 8.9 percent.
March data provides the first hard economic numbers of the year not distorted by the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday that fell in January this year, causing considerable skew in comparisons with the February 2011 holiday.
For the first quarter as a whole, the Customs Administration said the value of total exports was $430.02 billion, while imports were $429.35 billion - bringing the trade account roughly into the balance targeted by the government as it re-orients the economy away from a focus on foreign demand.
China's trade surplus narrowed for a third straight year to $155 billion in 2011, from $183 billion in 2010, $196 billion in 2009 and $296 billion in 2008. The trade surplus as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) dropped to about 2 percent in 2011 from 3.1 percent in 2010.
Exporters have been key to China's three decades of rapid economic development, with economists calculating that 10,500 jobs are created for every $100 million of goods exported.