China's imports from North Korea plummet in December, lowest for four years

CNA file

China's exports and imports both increased for the first time in three years in 2017, official figures showed Friday, but trade tensions with the US and cooling domestic demand are clouding prospects this year.

Exports grew 10.9 percent year-on-year in December, data from the General Administration of Customs showed Friday.

In December, China's imports from North Korea slumped 81.6 percent from a year ago, while exports to the reclusive nation fell 23.4 percent in the same period.

Chinese trade has been unexpectedly strong in the face of forecasts that economic growth will cool as Beijing tightens controls on credit to slow a rise in debt.

However, over the year, that still saw China's trade surplus with the United States swell to $US275.81 billion, the largest on record.

But customs spokesman Huang Songping on Friday cautioned that strong growth in foreign trade would be hard for China to maintain, adding that half of the growth rate in the value of imports previous year was from higher prices.

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"Import growth will slow too as China's economic expansion slows amid weaker investment in manufacturing and property". In the first half of 2017, Zhoushan Port handled 515 million tonnes cargoes, up 11.3 percent year-on-year, and 12.39 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) containers, up 14.6 percent year-on-year.

Just how badly could Trump's threatened 45pc tariff hurt China?

"However, later this year, we believe real effective exchange rate appreciation and an increase in USA protectionism could weigh on Chinese export growth, narrowing the trade surplus further".

Analysts at Nomura say continued global growth may offer support, while possible U.S. protectionism could weigh on exports.

Commodities imports were mixed, with copper purchases down 8.2 per cent year-on-year by volume in December while coal and natural gas imports were up.

"China's exports may continue to benefit from global recovery this year", said Ding Shuang, chief economist for Greater China and North Asia at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong.

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