China's exports unexpectedly fell the most in two years in December, while imports also contracted, pointing to further weakness in the world's second-largest economy in 2019 and deteriorating global demand.
China's export growth is expected to have eased for a second straight month in December as global demand weakened, raising pressure on Beijing as it tries to reach a trade deal with Washington.
Softening demand in China is already being felt around the world, with slowing sales of goods ranging from iPhones to automobiles prompting profit warnings from the likes of Apple and Jaguar Land Rover.
However, in a sign that the White House's measures are having an impact, China's exports to the USA sank last month.
China's global exports rose 7.1 percent to $2.5 trillion, down from the 7.9 percent rate reported earlier for 2017.
"Export growth dropped more than anticipated as global growth softened and the drag from US tariffs intensified. We expect both to remain weak in the coming quarters", Capital Economics said in a note.
Traditionally China imports vast quantities of American soybeans in the second half of the year, long making it the most valuable import from the US.
Despite the levies, exports to the U.S. grew 11.3% a year ago while imports rose 0.7%, expanding the surplus to $323.3 billion from $275.8 billion in 2017, customs data show.
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That compared with about $275.81-billion in 2017.
The world's largest trading nation got off to a strong start in 2018, but pressure on the economy started to build later in the year as a trade dispute with the United States escalated and global demand began to cool.
Washington imposed import tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods past year and has threatened further action if Beijing does not change its practices on issues ranging from industrial subsidies to intellectual property.
ING said a fall in electronic shipments could be related to foreign companies avoiding using China-made electronic components, adding that exports and imports of electronic parts and goods will likely shrink this year.
However, Beijing's export data had been surprisingly resilient to tariffs for much of 2018, possibly because companies ramped up shipments before broader and stiffer USA duties went into effect. Import growth declined to 12.9 per cent from the previous year's 15.9 percent.
But December's gloomy data, along with several months of falling factory orders, suggest a further weakening in its exports in the near term.
Many U.S. warehouses are already packed to the rafters with Chinese goods that American retailers rushed in ahead of higher tariffs.
Total imports of soybeans fell 7.9 percent last year to 88 million tonnes, customs data showed, with December imports down 40.1 percent from a year earlier.