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China: Exports rise unexpectedly in first two months of 2024

March 7, 2024

China's exports have increased by over 7%, beating economic forecasts. The trade surplus reached $125 billion.

The aerial photo taken on January 4, 2024 shows shipping containers stacked at Nanjing port in China's eastern Jiangsu province.
China's shipping containers stacked at Nanjing portImage: AFP

China's exports saw an unexpected increase in the first two months of 2024, official figures showed on Thursday. 

The General Administration of Customs said exports rose by 7.1% In January and February combined, reaching a trade surplus of $125 billion (€114.7 billion).

Commerce Minister Wang Wentao acknowledged the recent rebound Wednesday on the sidelines of the National People's Congress in Beijing and stressed that "the overall trend is upward."

A bounce back for China's economy?

This increase provided some relief for the country as it struggles to revive the world's second-largest economy following the coronavirus pandemic.

Exports for the two months — combined to avoid distortions due to the Lunar New Year holidays when many businesses close — were 7.1% higher than over the same period last year.

The performance beat forecasts by Reuters that predicted export growth of just 1.9%. Imports were also up 3.5%, compared with a poll forecast for growth of 1.5%.

China targets GDP growth and toughens language on Taiwan

China's trade performance has been weighed down in recent years by heightened geopolitical tensions. However, the rise was partially attributed to the low base of comparison with January-February last year, when China emerged from its strict zero-Covid measures.

Overseas shipments have long served as a key driver of China's economic growth. Exports have been increasing since November, after six straight months of contraction.

China's growth forecasts

The overachieving performance has provided some hope that global trade may be on the mend. A healthy economy in China can have positive ramifications for other global economies that are reliant on the major trading partner.

Germany, whose economy has been suffering in part due to low export demand, saw an uptick in export sales in January of 6.3%, part of which was due to increased demand from China.

During the National People's Congress in Beijing, Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Tuesday  announced a 2024 economic growth target of 5% and promised to transform the country's development model, which is heavily reliant on exporting finished goods and industrial overcapacity.

While the unexpected export growth may provide some optimism for this ambitious target, Beijing will have to maintain sustained growth — including in exports — to increase confidence following several years of sub-par growth and a property crisis.

Economy casts shadow over China's annual National People's Congress

ssa/ab (Reuters, AFP)