According to China’s customs administration, exports fell by 4.4 percent in December, while imports were at the lowest since 2016, the agency announced on Monday.
A slowdown in global demand and a trade dispute with the United States are being blamed for the current predicament China finds itself in.
Concerns for the years ahead were underlined at a news conference in Beijing
“In 2019, the biggest worry for China’s trade is due to complex and grim external environment,” Li Kuiwen, spokesperson for General Administration of Customs, said during the press conference.
“Uncertain and unstable factors are still numerous. Protectionism and unilateralism from certain countries are rearing their heads,” Kuiwen said without naming the US specifically.
The new numbers come at the midpoint of a 90-day truce in the trade war between the two largest economies in the world.
And although the two countries have been discussing their dispute, a solution seems far away.
“A delegation from Washington was in Beijing last week to continue negotiations but very few details from the meeting have been released,” Al Jazeera correspondent Katrina You said from Beijing.
“With just 40 days left in the truce, there seems to be no solution in sight.
Analysts say the trade figures could be used by Washington to pressure China.
“I think Beijing clearly knows the pressure that they are under to restore confidence domestically in their leadership but also internationally,” Associate Professor at Fulbright University Vietnam Christopher Balding said.
“Washington will also know that China needs a win and they will be using that to put pressure on them,” Balding, an expert on Chinese economy, added.
Trade surplus with the US
But despite the trade war with the US, China announced it had recorded a trade surplus with the US of $323bn in 2018.
China’s trade surplus with the US grew by 17 percent, the highest rate recorded by Beijing in more than 10 years.
China’s exports to the US grew by 11.3 percent in 2018, year-on-year to $478.4bn, while imports of US goods rose slightly by 0.7 percent compared with 2017.
The trade war between the US and China started in April 2018 after US President Donald Trump repeatedly slammed China for allegedly devaluating its currency and imposing unfair taxes on American cars.
Trump, who railed against China’s policies during the 2016 presidential election campaign, imposed tariffs on several Chinese products, leading to Beijing reciprocating, turning the dispute into a trade war that has now lasted for eight months.