PEKING (Reuters) – Following a surprise decline in the previous month, China's exports recovered more-than-expected in April, suggesting that global demand remains relatively resilient and is cushioning the economy in a heated trade dispute with the United States.
Imports rose more robustly than expected in April, suggesting that Chinese domestic demand is holding up well, good news for policymakers who want to mitigate the shock of trade shocks.
However, some analysts warned that April was mainly seasonal and that the global export recovery may have already been surpassed.
"Consignments are still looking healthy, but today's data point to a slowdown in external demand," said Capital Economics chief economist Julian Evans-Pritchard in a statement.
"Against the backdrop of ongoing trade negotiations between China and the US, global growth has already peaked and China's export performance is waning."
The world's two largest economies have threatened to tarnish each other Over the last few months, tens of billions of dollars have been exported, raising fears that Washington and Beijing may enter a wholesale trade war that is destroying global growth and financial markets could.
China's April exports rose 12.9 percent year on year. As a result, analysts' forecasts were up 6.3 percent, down from a 2.7 percent decline in March, which economists consider highly seasonal.
The fierce confrontation with Washington and the threat of punitive measures against trade and investment have contributed to the existing fears over a slowdown in China this year as Beijing continues its campaign to reduce risks to the country's financial system.
The high-level talks between the two sides in Beijing last week seemed to make little substantial progress in easing trade tensions, apart from an agreement to hold more talks.
China's top economic official will visit Washington next week for trade talks with the Trump administration, the White House said Monday.
A Reuters report citing sources said China has offered to buy more US goods and lower tariffs for some goods, including cars.
But the Trump government has taken a hard line and demands a $ 200 billion reduction in Chinese trade surplus with the United States by 2020, significantly lower tariffs, and advanced technology subsidies, according to the people involved with the top US China are familiar talks last Friday.
China's trade surplus with the US increased to $ 22.19 billion in April, compared to $ 15.43 billion in March, according to Reuters calculations based on Tuesday's tariff data.
For January-April, it rose to $ 80.4 billion, down from $ 71 billion in the same period last year.
China's exports to China United States rose 9.7 percent in April over the previous year, slowing from an increase of 14.8 percent in the first quarter. Its imports from the US rose 20.3 percent in April, the fastest growth in three months.
Export growth was led by a 20.7 percent increase in deliveries of high-tech products, led by mobile phone exports.
ANZ economists believe that some Chinese exporters could accelerate electronics shipments in the midst of customs threats.
China's trend towards higher-quality exports is evident, with lower-priced footwear and apparel shipments declining year-on-year, but its strategic technology sector is firmly rooted in the White House's crosshairs.
China's April imports also grew strongly, suggesting that domestic demand remains stable despite rising financing costs for businesses and sales of cooling real estate.
Imports grew 21.5 percent over the previous year, outperforming analysts' forecast of 16 percent growth and accelerating from 14.4 percent in March.
Once again, commodities were leading, with soybean and crude oil imports rising in April compared to the previous month, despite imports of iron ore and coal falling.
China had a trade surplus of $ 28.78 billion a month, compared with a surplus of $ 24.7 billion in April and a rare $ 4.98 billion deficit in March.
Neither the US nor China have set a tough timeframe for introducing tariffs, but the threat of disruption and higher costs could already change companies' global trade patterns and their production and marketing strategies.
Companies in both countries have stated that they are adjusting their business plans and becoming more cautious in view of the deteriorating trading environment and the threat of further tariffs.
China's exports of steel and aluminum both rose in April, as US tariffs and sanctions caused world market prices to rise, causing mills and smelters to send more metal abroad, analysts said.
Meanwhile, China's imports of integrated circuits have risen sharply since the beginning of the year as the US threatened to impose Chinese seizures of up to $ 150 billion on charges of theft of intellectual property.
Reporting by Lusha Zhang and Elias Glenn; additional reporting by Stella Qiu; Arrangement by Kim Coghill