China posts record exports as global demand recovers from COVID

February exports grew at a record pace from a year earlier when coronavirus battered the economy, customs data shows.

Exports surged 60.6 percent over a year earlier in the first two months of 2021 [AFP]

China’s export growth jumped to the highest level in more than two decades, official data showed, with imports also surging in a sharp bounce back from the coronavirus outbreak that had brought activity to a near halt.

Exports surged 60.6 percent over a year earlier in the first two months of 2021, after factories reopened and global demand started to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, customs data showed on Sunday. Exports rose to $468.9bn, accelerating from December’s 18.1 percent gain and nearly double the growth expected by forecasters.

Electronics and textile exports such as masks contributed to the spike in outbound shipments, as demand for work-from-home supplies and protective gear against the virus outbreak soared during the pandemic.

Imports jumped 22.2 percent to $365.6bn, up from December’s 6.5 percent increase.

Chinese authorities combine trade data for the first two months to compensate for fluctuations due to the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls at different times each year in January or February. Factories shut down for up to two weeks, then restock after they reopen.

Exporters benefitted from the relatively early reopening of China’s economy after the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the disease last March while foreign competitors still face anti-virus controls.

Forecasters say the Chinese export surge should decelerate as demand for masks and other medical supplies eases and overseas competitors return to global markets. Trade officials have warned that the global situation still is “grave and complex”.

Exports to the United States soared 87.3 percent over last year to $80.5bn in January and February, despite former President Donald Trump’s tariff hikes imposed in a fight over trade, technology and security. They have been left in place by his successor, Joe Biden, who took office in January.

Economists and political analysts expect few changes under Biden due to widespread frustration in Washington with China’s trade and human rights records, and complaints about technology theft and spying.

On Friday, China’s top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, announced plans to accelerate technology development and reduce reliance on other countries.

That threatens to worsen tensions with Washington and Europe, which complain Beijing violates its market-opening pledges by shielding its suppliers from competition.

Exporters benefitted from the relatively early reopening of China’s economy [AFP]

Demand rebounds

The latest trade figures look especially dramatic compared with early 2020, when the ruling party shut factories to fight the virus and trade plunged.

Then, global exports tumbled 17.2 percent in 2020’s first two months from the previous year. Exports to the US plunged 27.7 percent.

Li announced an economic growth target of “over 6 percent” this year, which should help to propel demand for foreign oil, iron ore, food, consumer goods and other imports.

Beijing promised to buy more American soybeans, natural gas and other exports in the “phase one” agreement last January aimed at ending the tariff war. The two sides agreed to postpone more tariff hikes, but penalties on billions of dollars of each other’s goods remain.

China fell behind on meeting those commitments but started to catch up as demand rebounded.

This year, China’s global trade surplus for January and February was $103.3bn, compared with a $7.1bn deficit in the same period last year.

Imports of US goods rose 66.4 percent to $29.3bn. China’s trade surplus with the US narrowed by 17.7 percent from the same time last year to $20.9bn.

Exports to the 27-nation European Union rose 62.6 percent over January and February last year to $73.7 bn. Imports of European goods gained 32.5 percent to $45.9bn.

Source: News Agencies