BEIJING (AP) — China's exports surged in January in a sign of rebounding global demand and its politically sensitive trade surplus fell to a nine-month low, possibly easing pressure on Beijing to allow its currency to rise.
China's global trade surplus fell 55 percent from a year earlier to $6.5 billion, customs data showed Monday. Exports soared 37.7 percent — more than double December's rate — to $150.7 billion, while China's strong domestic demand drove explosive import growth of 53.5 percent to $144.3 billion.
"Strength of exports, and even more so imports, points to solid demand — globally and domestically. The former bodes well for global recovery," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist for Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong, in a report.
China's trade data can be distorted by the Lunar New Year, a weeklong holiday that falls on shifting dates in January or February each year. This year, it resulted in one extra work day in January, but analysts said even taking that into account, both exports and imports were stronger than expected.
Chinese imports have been driven by robust economic growth that hit 9.8 percent in the final quarter of last year. That rapid expansion is expected to moderate but stay strong as Beijing steers it to a more sustainable pace.
In January, China's trade surplus with the United States swelled 24.8 percent to $13.6 billion, while the gap with the 27-nation European Union rose 7.8 percent to $12.4 billion. It had a trade deficit of $19.5 billion with the rest of the world, reflecting its huge need for imported oil, iron ore and other raw materials.
Economists say China's global trade surplus should rise this year to about $200 billion after falling to $190 billion last year from 2009's $196 billion.
Beijing faces complaints that its rapid rebound from the global crisis has come partly at the expense of its trading partners, which are struggling to support economic growth.
Critics say China's currency controls keep its yuan undervalued, giving its exporters an unfair price advantage and hurting foreign competitors by making their goods more expensive in the Chinese market.
The January trade data "will go some way to alleviate foreign pressure on China" to let the yuan rise faster against the U.S. dollar, Kowalczyk said.
Beijing promised more exchange rate flexibility in June and the yuan has risen by about 3.5 percent against the U.S. dollar since then. Analysts expect the currency to rise by about 5 percent this year, but that is too little for critics who say the yuan is undervalued by up to 40 percent.
Beijing also faces criticism that it is hampering access to its finance industries and is improperly supporting its producers of solar, wind and other renewable energy technology by shutting foreign suppliers out of government-financed projects.