China's trade surplus with the United States grew in 2018 but tariffs bite

Donald Trump's trade war hits Chinese exports

Despite the levies, exports to the U.S. grew 11.3% past year while imports rose 0.7%, expanding the surplus to $323.3 billion from $275.8 billion in 2017, customs data show.

Customs data released Monday show exports rose 11.3 percent to $478.4 billion despite President Donald Trump's punitive tariffs in a fight over Chinese technology ambitions.

China's large trade surplus with the United States has always been a sore point with Washington, and is at the centre of a bitter dispute between the world's biggest economies. Import growth also fell sharply in the face of cooling domestic demand.

But the buying fell off a year ago after China imposed a 25% retaliatory tariff on the commodity in the summer.

The dismal December trade readings suggest China's economy may have lost more momentum late in the year than earlier thought, despite a slew of growth boosting measures in recent months ranging from higher infrastructure spending to tax cuts.

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However, in a sign that the White House's measures are having an impact, China's exports to the United States sank last month.

But December's gloomy data, along with several months of falling factory orders, suggest a further weakening in its exports in the near term.

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.

USA tariffs on Chinese goods have put additional strains on China's already cooling economy, prompting policymakers in Beijing to announce a series of growth-boosting measures to avert the risk of a sharper slowdown. For all of 2018, soybeans, the second largest imports from the United States, fell for the first time since 2011. "We expect both to remain weak in the coming quarters", Capital Economics said in a note.

"China effectively tackled changes of the external environment previous year, and the foreign trade maintained stable and positive growth, reaching a historic high in import and export volume", the customs spokesperson, Li Kuiwen, said on Monday.

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