BEIJING — China’s exports grew slightly more than expected in December, while imports rose less than expected, according to customs data released Friday.
Exports rose by 20.9% year-on-year in U.S. dollar-terms, above the 20% increase forecast by a Reuters poll.
Imports grew by 19.5% in U.S. dollar-terms, missing expectations of a 26.3% increase.
December’s figure also marked a sharp slowdown from November, when imports rose by 31.7% year-on-year. Exports had grown by 22% year-on-year in November.
“We expect China’s exports to remain strong in Q1 because of resilient global demand and worsening pandemic in many developing countries,” Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist, Pinpoint Asset Management, said in a note.
“Currently the strong exports may be the only driver helping China’s economy. We expect infrastructure investment to be the second driver picking up in the next few months,” he said.
Zhang said Covid outbreaks in more cities add more downside risks to China’s economic outlook for the first quarter.
China is set to release GDP, retail sales and other data for 2021 on Monday.
U.S. trade with China surges
The U.S. remained China’s largest trading partner on a single-country basis. Only two regions, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union, traded more with China in 2021, the data showed.
Exports to the U.S. rose by 27.5% for the year to $576.11 billion, while imports grew by 32.7% to $179.53 billion for the year, customs data showed.
That meant for 2021, China’s trade surplus with the U.S. was $396.58 billion, marking the second straight year the surplus has risen since a drop between 2018 and 2019 amid trade tensions with the U.S.