Overseas sales rose 28.1 percent from a year earlier, after gaining a revised 21.9 percent in April, the customs bureau said on its Web site today. That was more than the 20 percent median estimate of 17 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
Exports to the U.S. accelerated, withstanding a 10 percent gain in the yuan against the dollar in the year through May. Imports jumped 40 percent because of soaring raw-material costs, supporting the central bank's case that inflation is a bigger threat than weakening global demand.
The trade surplus was $20.2 billion, down from $22.4 billion a year earlier and less than the $21.3 billion estimate in the survey of economists. For the first five months, the surplus has narrowed 9 percent from a year earlier.
Surging prices for iron ore, crude oil, oil products, coal and soybeans drove the biggest increase in imports in almost four years, according to the customs bureau. The gain was 26.4 percent in April.
Exports to the U.S. rose 9.1 percent in the first five months from a year earlier, up from the 6.9 percent gain through April, the customs bureau said. Shipments to the European Union climbed 27.4 percent, an increase from 25.4 percent.
Machinery and electronic exports climbed 59 percent from a year earlier. Trade with India surged 70 percent in the first five months, the quickest gain among China's top 10 trading partners, the customs bureau said.
China has already let the yuan gain more than 5 percent versus the U.S. dollar this year, a faster pace than the 7 percent increase for all of 2007. That has cut import costs and also put pressure on exporters by making their products more expensive in overseas markets.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said yesterday that a more flexible currency could be a ``valuable tool'' to help China cool inflation. The U.S. and Europe argue that China's government has kept the yuan artificially weak to help exporters.
Producer prices rose 8.2 percent in May, the biggest increase in more than three years, the statistics bureau said today, indicating consumer-price inflation may rebound.
Consumer prices rose 7.7 percent last month, two government officials said yesterday, citing statistics bureau data. April's 8.5 percent pace was the fastest in almost 12 years.
Besides letting the yuan gain, China has ordered lenders to set aside a record 17.5 percent of their deposits as reserves from June 25 to try to prevent excess cash in the financial system from fueling inflation.
So far, China has kept interest rates on hold this year to avoid attracting more speculative capital from abroad into an economy already flooded with cash. The benchmark one-year lending rate is 7.47 percent, and the equivalent for deposits is 4.14 percent.