China saw its biggest gain in imports in a year last month, while a slide in exports decelerated, adding to evidence that the world’s second-largest economy is recovering from the impact of pandemic lockdowns.
Imports rose 4.2% from a year ago to $197 billion in February, following a slump of 21.4% in January and snapping four months of decline, figures released Saturday by the General Administration of Customs showed. Exports slipped 1.3% year-on-year in February to $214 billion, slowing from a slide of 10.5% in the previous month.
With the rebound in imports, the trade surplus narrowed to $16.8 billion, the smallest since March 2021, according to the customs data.
The figures provided a further sign that the Chinese economy is picking up after a surge of infections following Beijing’s abrupt abandonment of its Covid Zero strategy at the end of 2022. February figures also were helped by sequential improvement after the the week-long Chinese New Year holiday at the end of January this year.
Rising imports underline China’s recovering demand for global commodities as domestic consumption gains momentum. Beijing is looking for consumer spending to help counter the impact of falling exports, a still weak property market and shrinking government resources for large fiscal stimulus, as it aims to achieve growth of around 5% this year.
That marks a shift from the past two years, when exports were a key pillar of China’s growth, countering a slump in domestic spending as Covid restrictions hit business and consumer confidence. Global demand for Chinese goods started falling in late 2022, as soaring inflation and higher interest rates in the rest of the world dented consumer spending.
Among specific items, China’s imports of coal surged 160% year-on-year in volume terms last month while those of crude oil rose 12%. The country bought 11.5% more of iron ore by volume from abroad, while imports of farm produce including meat, soy beans and edible oil soared 27.3% by value.
At the same time, the value of imports of machines to make semiconductors and automatic data-processing units and accessories — products targeted by US trade restrictions — plummeted 22.5% and 42.7% year on year, respectively.
Exports were boosted in February by a 68.7% jump in the value of car shipments, and a 38.5% increase in steel products.