A sharp slowdown in import growth meant that China's trade surplus widened to $28.7 billion in July from $20.02 billion in June, surpassing expectations of a $19.6 billion surplus in a poll of economists. July's surplus was the biggest since January 2009's $39.11 billion.
July's slower imports growth is the latest sign that economic activity in China is easing as the impact of stimulus spending, which created a construction boom resulting in massive demand for imports of raw materials and equipment, has faded. Government measures to cool property-market speculation and crack down on polluting, energy-intensive industries have also contributed to the slowdown.
Exports grew 38.1% in July from a year earlier, China's Bureau of Customs said, slowing from June's 43.9% rise, but beating economists' expectations of a 36.3% increase.
The data showed no signs that exports to the European Union have been weakening, as some analysts had expected. Exports to the EU rose 5.4% to $28.67 billion in July from $27.2 billion in June, and were up 38.3% from July 2009.
July imports rose 22.7%, down sharply from June's 34.1% increase and well below expectations of a 30.2% rise.