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

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.

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. Import growth declined to 12.9 per cent from the previous year's 15.9 percent.

However, customs' data for December also showed that exports to the U.S. dropped 3.5 percent compared with December of the previous year, possibly due to United States tariffs on an array of Chinese goods. Imports also saw a shock drop, falling 7.6 per cent in their biggest decline since July 2016.

China's politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States surged to a record $323.3 billion in 2018 as a tariff battle with Washington intensified.

China's large trade surplus with the United States has always been a sore point with Washington, which has demanded Beijing take steps to sharply reduce it. Import growth also fell sharply in the face of cooling domestic demand. "We expect both to remain weak in the coming quarters", Capital Economics said in a note.

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

The country's commerce minister told state media on Friday that China will work to straighten out trade frictions with the U.S. this year.

China exports to the US declined 3.5 per cent in December while its imports from the USA were down 35.8 per cent for the month.

The figures come after a USA delegation held three days of talks in Beijing last week in the first face-to-face meeting since Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in December pledged a 90-day truce to resolve the crisis.

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.

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