China’s exports unexpectedly rose 1.1% in May from the same month in 2018, but imports also surprised with a larger than expected slide of 8.5%.
That left the country with a trade surplus of $US41.65 billion for the month, according to customs data.
That was three times the low $US13.83 billion recorded in April.
For January-May, China’s total exports edged up by 0.4% from a year earlier, while imports fell 3.7%.
China’s trade surplus with the US rose 25% to $US26.89 billion in May from $US21.01 billion in April, customs data showed.
Exports to the US fell 4.2% after dropping 13.2% in April, while China’s imports of US goods slumped 26.8% from a year earlier because of a halt to imports of American soybeans and cuts to imports of coal, gas, and oil.
May’s rise in exports more than reversed the 2.7% dip April and the 3.8% slide forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.
The 8.5% fall in imports more than reversed the 4% growth in April in an even bigger surprise. That was the biggest fall since mid-2016.
Some analysts think Chinese exporters brought forward exports to the US ahead of the new tariffs on $US300 billion of exports President Donald Trump is threatening to impose in a rapidly escalating trade dispute.
China’s oil products exports also slowed in May, to 4.49 million tonnes, down from 6.17 million tonnes in April
Oil product exports for the first five months rose to 27.09 million tonnes from 25.55 million tonnes in the same period in 2018.
And figures highlighted by several media outlets in the May trade data showed a fall in China’s rare-earth exports in May.
Exports of the key metallic elements fell 18.2% in May from the same period last year, marking the second monthly fall in shipments by the world’s largest producer of the materials, which are used in industries including defence, oil, and consumer electronics products and electric vehicles.
The country exported 3,639.5 tons of rare earths in May, down from 4,447 tons a year ago and a drop of 16% from April, according to the General Administration of Customs.
The question is whether this a one-off fall over, or the first sign of China’s threatened cuts in shipments to buyers in the US.