BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s exports in February grew at a record pace compared to the previous year when COVID-19 hit the world’s second largest economy, while imports rose less sharply, customs data showed on Sunday.
Exports in dollar terms rose 154.9% in February compared to the previous year, while imports increased 17.3%, the largest percentage since October 2018. The data did not include figures for January alone.
From January to February, exports jumped 60.6% from the previous year, when lockdowns to contain the epidemic crippled the country’s economic activity. That beat analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll, a 38.9 percent increase.
Strong exports, which benefited from China’s success in containing the public health crisis to a large extent, have helped the country recover from the paralysis caused by the epidemic.
Customs said in a statement on its website that the increase was driven by the recovery of foreign demand, citing improvements in manufacturing industries in the European Union and the United States, and an increase in its imports of Chinese products thanks to fiscal stimulus measures.
“In addition, the majority of manufacturing employees (in China) have chosen to stay for the Lunar New Year holiday,” the statement said. “Our survey showed that a lot of companies in export-oriented provinces have remained open, and orders that are not normally delivered until after the new year have been delivered normally.”
Chinese factories usually come to a halt during the Lunar New Year holidays, which took place in mid-February this year, as workers return to their hometowns. This year the government appealed to workers to avoid travel to reduce the risk of the spread of the Coronavirus.
In the January-February period, imports increased 22.2% from the previous year, above expectations of 15%, due in part to storage of semiconductors and energy products, according to customs.
China recorded a trade surplus of 103.25 billion dollars in the first two months. Analysts had expected the trade surplus to narrow to $ 60.15 billion from $ 78.17 billion in December.
In terms of the yuan, exports increased 50.1% in the two months compared to the previous year, while imports increased 14.5%.
Customs said: “Due to the impact of the new Corona virus, total trade (in terms of the yuan) in the period from January to February of last year decreased by 9.7%, and the low base was one of the reasons for the largest increase this year.” “But even when compared to normal years, such as similar periods in 2018 and 2019, the growth in total Chinese trade is around 20%.”
The Chinese economy expanded 2.3% last year, buoyed by strong demand for goods made in China such as medical equipment and home work equipment, although growth was its weakest level in 44 years.
This year, China has set a modest growth target of at least 6%, and is planning a delicate path after a year disrupted by the Coronavirus and amid escalating tensions with the United States.
China’s trade surplus with the United States reached 51.26 billion dollars in the January-February period. China Customs did not provide monthly details. The surplus was $ 29.92 billion in December.
Catherine Tye, President Joe Biden’s candidate for the United States Trade Representative, said last week that she would work to combat a host of “unfair” Chinese trade and economic practices.