China’s November exports beat forecast with first growth in 7 months

BEIJING: China’s imports and exports expanded by 1.2 percent year-on-year in November, with exports recording the first expansion in dollar terms in seven months, according to official data, beating markets expectations and offering more proof that China’s economic recovery continues to consolidate despite challenges.

The better-than-expected data showed that China’s economic recovery continues to consolidate, with more and more positive factors emerging for foreign trade as well as other aspects of the economy, Chinese officials and analysts said, adding that upcoming data will also likely point to solid growth of the Chinese economy, defying dire predictions made by some foreign politicians and institutions.

Still, the data for the first 11 months reflected a tough recovery path for China’s foreign trade and lingering downward pressure for the world’s second-largest economy, analysts noted. But Chinese policymakers still have plenty of policy tools and room and will likely take forceful measures to tackle risks and challenges and ensure stable economic operations going into 2024, they said.

Meanwhile, the global market attention is turning to a crucial upcoming economic meeting in China, the Central Economic Work Conference, which is usually held in mid-December. Investors will be looking closely for clues on how Chinese policymakers view China’s economic conditions this year and how they set the tone for economic policies for 2024.

In November, total imports and exports reached 3.7 trillion yuan ($516.68 billion), increasing 1.2 percent, with exports rising 1.7 percent and imports up 0.6 percent, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said on Thursday.

Notably, in US dollar terms, total imports and exports in November were flat from last year, but exports expanded by 0.5 percent, the first expansion since April, according to the data. That growth pace represented a remarkable comeback from a 6.4-percent decline in October and beat a Reuters’ forecast of a 1.1-percent drop.

“Entering the fourth quarter, China’s foreign trade is seeing increasing positive factors, with imports and exports growing on annualized basis for two consecutive months and the stable and positive development trend continuing to consolidate,” Lü Daliang, spokesperson from the General Administration of Customs, said on Thursday.

The growth for two straight months reflected the positive trend of the domestic economic recovery and a market demand rebound, according to Lü.

Analysts said that November’s foreign trade data were better than expected considering lingering downward pressure from a severe and complex global situation and still weak and recovering internal demand.

“China’s trade situation this year is still full of twists and turns, a bit like the letter ‘N,’ with a slight growth in the first quarter, a decline in the second quarter and an uptick starting in the third quarter,” Gao Lingyun, a trade expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told media on Thursday. “And November’s results continued the upward trend since the third quarter, which is quite impressive.”

Analysts were also encouraged by a slight expansion in imports in Chinese yuan terms in November. According to the GAC, November’s imports rose by 0.6 percent to 1.6 trillion yuan.

“Imports maintained growth both this month and last month, which is quite positive, as it shows that internal demand is improving, and that might be even better than growth in exports,” Tian Yun, a Beijing-based economist, told media, noting internal demand is crucial for driving economic growth.

Tian said that while positive factors, including the structural upgrade, continue to emerge for China’s trade sector, it remains relatively difficult when it comes to growth in volume.

Data also point to lingering challenges for China’s overall trade. In the first 11 months of 2023, total imports and exports remained flat from last year, with exports up 0.3 percent and imports falling 0.5 percent. And, In US dollar terms, total imports and exports fell by 5.6 percent, according to the GAC.

There were also some highlights that suggest structural improvements in China’s foreign trade. Notably, imports and exports with countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative expanded by 2.6 percent in January-November, with exports to those countries jumping 6.9 percent.

Also significantly, imports and exports of private enterprises increased by 6.1 percent, accounting for 53.3 percent of China’s total imports and exports. Exports of smartphones grew 3.3 percent, while auto exports jumped 79.6 percent.

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