By JOE McDONALD – AP Business Writer
BEIJING (AP) – China’s exports surged 15.7% in March over a year ago while imports stagnated amid disruptions stemming from coronavirus outbreaks as the ruling Communist Party enforces a “zero-COVID” strategy to protect everyone isolate case.
Exports rose to $276.1 billion despite antivirus controls in Shanghai and other industrial hubs prompting factories to scale back production, customs data showed on Wednesday. Imports rose less than 1% to $228.7 billion.
China’s infection numbers are relatively low, but the “zero-COVID” strategy has confined most of Shanghai’s 25 million people to their homes since late March and suspended access to other manufacturing regions.
The antivirus restrictions add to concerns about global trade disruptions lingering from the pandemic. Chinese officials say they are taking steps to keep ports running, but automakers and other factories have shut down production due to supply problems.
Local outbreaks have “caused great pressure on some enterprises’ production and operations and supply chain stability,” a customs official Li Kuiwen said at a news conference. Li said the customs department is “making every effort to coordinate ports well.”
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Meanwhile, an economic slowdown, prompted by an official deleveraging campaign in China’s huge real estate industry, has weighed on consumer demand. Economic growth slipped to 4% year-on-year in the last quarter of 2021, compared to 8.1% for the full year.
Exports to the United States rose 22.4% year on year to $47.3 billion in March, despite ongoing tariff hikes amid rows over Beijing’s tech ambitions. Imports of American goods rose 11.5% to $15.2 billion.
That meant the politically volatile trade surplus with the United States widened by half year-on-year to $32.1 billion. This imbalance was one of the factors that prompted then-President Donald Trump to increase tariffs on Chinese goods in 2019.
With almost no import growth, China’s global trade surplus has more than doubled to $47.4 billion.
Imports from Russia, a major supplier of gas, fell 26.4% year-on-year to $7.8 billion. Exports to Russia fell 7.7% to $3.8 billion.
Beijing has criticized trade and financial sanctions imposed on Moscow by the United States, Europe and Japan over its invasion of Ukraine. But Chinese companies appear to be complying while trying to protect themselves from potential losses in doing business with Russia.
Trade and manufacturing are likely to be more affected this month due to the closure of most Shanghai businesses and access to Guangzhou, a manufacturing and trade hub to the south, and the industrial hubs of Changchun and Jilin to the northeast.
Managers at the port of Shanghai, the world’s busiest, say operations are normal. However, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said its member companies estimate that the daily volume of cargo handled by the port has fallen by 40%.
Exports to the 27-nation European Union fell 9.1% year-on-year to $44.4 billion, while imports fell 41.6% to $24.3 billion. China’s surplus with Europe rose 179.3% to $20.1 billion.
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