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China’s January trade data comes in much stronger than expected

China on Thursday reported imports and exports data for December that easily topped expectations amid its trade dispute with the U.S.

That better-than-expected news comes a month after China’s customs data showed imports and exports both fell unexpectedly in December.

January dollar-denominated imports fell 1.5 percent, which was far better than expectations of a 10 percent decline from a year earlier, according to economists in a Reuters poll.

January dollar denominated exports meanwhile rose 9.1 percent from a year ago, according to Chinese customs data. China’s exports in January were expected to have contracted 3.2 percent from a year earlier, compared with the previous month’s 4.4 percent decline.

China’s overall trade surplus was $39.16 billion in January. That easily topped the $33.5 billion expected, according to the Reuters poll. December trade surplus was $57.06 billion.

China’s closely watched trade surplus with the U.S. fell to $27.3 billion in January, from $29.87 billion in December.

However, analysts say data from China in the first two months of the year must be treated with caution due to business distortions caused by the timing of the week-long Lunar New Year public holiday, which fell in mid-February in 2018 but started on Feb. 4 this year.

All of this comes amid the ongoing U.S.-China trade war. A new round of talks between the American and Chinese negotiators began in Beijing this week as the world’s two largest economies renewed efforts to reach a trade deal.

Negotiators are trying to reach a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25 percent from 10 percent.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Friday, the South China Morning Post reported.

CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Reuters contributed to this report.