An aerial view of a container ship leaving the dockyard in Qingdao in east China’s Shandong province.
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BEIJING — China reported a smaller-than-expected decline in exports in September from a year ago, while imports missed, according to customs data released Friday.
In U.S.-dollar terms, exports fell by 6.2% last month from a year ago. That’s less than the 7.6% drop forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.
Imports also fell by 6.2% in U.S.-dollar terms in September compared to a year ago — slightly more than the 6% decline expected by the Reuters poll.
China’s exports have fallen on a year-on-year basis every month this year starting in May. The last positive print for imports on a year-on-year basis was in September last year.
China’s trade slumped this year amid lackluster global demand for Chinese good and muted domestic demand.
Bucking the decline in trade with major trading partners were Chinese imports from the European Union, up modestly in September from a year ago, according to CNBC calculations of the official data.
The U.S. is China’s largest trading partner on a single-country basis, while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has recently surpassed the EU as China’s largest trading partner on a regional basis.
For the first three quarters of the year, China’s exports to the U.S. fell by 16.4%, while imports dropped by 6% during that time.
Russia was the only major country or region in the Chinese customs agency’s report that showed growth in both exports and imports for the first three quarters of the year from a year ago.
By product category, China’s global export of autos remained the fastest growing, up on a unit basis by 64.4% from a year ago for the first three quarters of 2023. That’s slower than the 69% pace for the year recorded as of August.
China’s exports of ships and boats for the year picked up pace from August on a unit basis to a 16.2% year-on-year increase in the third quarter.
The volume of China’s cosmetics imports fell by 14.2% in the first three quarters compared to a year ago. The volume of crude oil imports rose by 14.6% during that time but fell on a U.S. dollar basis.
The pace of crude oil imports on a year-to-date basis in September was little changed from August.
Slowing economic growth
China’s recovery from the pandemic slowed in the last few months, dragged down by a slump in the massive real estate sector.
The International Monetary Fund this week trimmed its 2023 China growth forecast to 5% from 5.2%, while maintaining a global growth forecast of 3% for the year. The world economy grew by 3.5% last year.
China is set to report September retail sales on Oct. 18, along with third-quarter GDP figures.
Amid rising tensions with the U.S. and Europe in the last few years, China has sought to boost its trade with regional partners in Southeast Asia, as well as countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative. The BRI is a China-led push for developing regional infrastructure such as ports and railways.
As of the end of September, China said it has trains running to 217 cities in 25 European countries.
Cargo transported along those rail lines accounted for 8% of China-EU trade in 2022, up from 1.5% in 2016, Chinese officials said this week.
China also claimed imports and exports with Belt and Road partner countries reached $19.1 trillion between 2013 and 2022 — for an average annual growth in trade of 6.4%.
The third Belt and Road forum is scheduled to be held in Beijing Tuesday and Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend.