BEIJING—China’s import growth felt an unexpected tremor in December, in what could be the latest sign that the world’s second-largest economy is slowing.
December growth in imports fell to 11.8 per cent, barely half the previous month’s gain. Exports rose 13.4 per cent, down slightly from November’s growth rate.
December imports were $158.2 billion while exports were $174.7 billion
The country’s politically sensitive global trade surplus widened to $16.5 billion, from $14.5 billion in November, a development that continues to strain with the U.S. and other trading partners.
While China’s relatively robust growth has been a rare bright spot for a struggling global economy, its growth has slowed in recent months as Beijing tightened lending and investment curbs to prevent overheating.
A slump in demand for Chinese goods abroad has prompted the government to reverse course and promise to help struggling exporters shore up growth with more bank lending and other measures, but their impact remains unclear.
China is one of the biggest importers, making any slowdown unwelcome news for Asian suppliers of industrial components and commodities-producing nations—such as Australia and Brazil—which are dependent on Chinese demand for iron ore and coal.
China’s trade surplus with the 27-nation European Union—its biggest trading partner— held steady at $11.9 billion. Imports from Europe rose 13 per cent to $19.1 billion, but its trade surplus with the U.S. widened by 24.2 per cent to $17.4 billion as imports of U.S. goods fell two per cent.
The International Monetary Fund forecasts China’s growth for 2011 at 9.5 per cent—by far the highest of any major economy. But weak exports have forced thousands of small companies into bankruptcy, raising the spectre of job losses and unrest.