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China’s exports return to growth in April, but imports tumble

China’s exports return to growth in April, but imports tumble
China says that its exports rebounded last month, beating most expectations of a sharp decline. However, the drop in the country’s imports accelerated as the coronavirus continues to crush demand.

Data released by the General Administration of Customs shows that April’s exports surpassed $200 billion. This is a 3.5 percent rise from the previous year. Last month’s results reversed the 6.6 percent fall in March, as well as the collapse recorded at the beginning of the year. China’s exports are also much better than some economists polled by various media predicted, with the expected decline varying between 10 and nearly 19 percent.

However, imports fell 14.2 percent during the same period, figures released on Thursday showed. Reuters’ poll of economists had expected imports to shrink 11.2 percent, while those surveyed by the Wall Street Journal has predicted an 18.8 percent decline. 

Thus China’s trade surplus has more than doubled, rising from $19.9 billion in March to $45.34 billion in April.

Some suggested that increased purchases of personal protective equipment from China are behind the surprising exports recovery. This sounds plausible, as masks and other protective gear are in high demand around the globe amid the coronavirus pandemic, and China earlier said that it had boosted production of the vital equipment.

But the latest statistics show that textile exports, including masks, were up around six percent to 261 billion yuan (around $36 billion) over the course of the first four months, meaning that the sector is relatively small to be the driving force of the growth. Some medical supplies could be accounted for in other categories, like electronics, which make up nearly 60 percent of the total export value. Those shipments fell by around six percent.

“April shipments may have been boosted by exporters making up for shortfalls in the first quarter due to supply constraints then,” Louis Kuijs, China economist at Oxford Economics, explained. However, analysts expect that the surge in exports is set to be short-term as global demand is unlikely to bounce back soon as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the globe. 

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“China’s external demand is suffering from the impact of lockdowns and social distancing in the rest of the world,” Kuijs said, as cited by media. “In any case, as heralded by the weakness of new export orders in the PMIs, exports should weaken significantly in the near term.”

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