, BEIJING, China, Feb 8 – China’s monthly trade surplus rose 88 percent to reach a record 367 billion yuan ($59 billion) in January, as the country’s imports plunged and exports fell sharply on sluggish demand, data said Sunday.
Exports from the world’s second-largest economy fell 3.2 percent year-on-year to 1.23 trillion yuan ($197 billion), China’s custom’s administration said on its website.
China’s imports fell 19.7 percent from a year earlier to 860 billion yuan ($138 billion), the largest drop in more than five years, which analysts said was caused in part by low commodity prices.
The country’s trade surplus, long a source of tensions with its trading partners, rose above a previous all-time monthly high of $54.47 billion posted in November.
Economists said the “poor” figures reflected continued downward pressures on China’s economy, which grew at its slowest pace in 24 years last year and is expected to slow further in 2015.
But they also warned that the figures may have been affected by short-term factors, such as a crackdown on commodity financing and the later date of China’s Lunar New Year holiday this year.
The latest figures come after China’s trade surplus soared 47.2 percent in 2014 to a record $382.46 billion.
China’s huge trade surpluses were long a source of friction between Beijing and Washington, as the workshop of the world pumped out manufactured goods and US debt mounted, but the issue has receded in more recent years.
Official data showed last month that China’s economy grew 7.4 percent in 2014, its weakest for almost a quarter of a century, and slower than the 7.7 percent in 2013.
“China’s manufacturing sector is under great pressures as both external and domestic demand remains sluggish,” Li-Gang Liu, greater China economist for ANZ, said in a statement.
“Today’s poor trade data could add depreciation pressures on the RMB exchange rate,” he added.
China’s exports to the EU fell by 4.4 percent year on year in January, while imports fell by 6.9 percent, the customs data said.
The fall in Chinese imports was led by a decline in imported iron ore and crude oil, the data showed, in part reflecting recent low commodity prices.