Beijing - China's trade volumes fell dramatically in March, official data showed Thursday, despite the country returning to a trade surplus after recording a rare deficit the month before.
Imports slumped 11.3 percent year-on-year to $162.4 billion while exports fell 6.6 percent to $170.1 billion, the General Administration of Customs announced, resulting in a surplus of $7.7 billion.
The figures confounded market expectations, which had been for growth of 4.2 percent in exports and 2.8 percent in imports, according to the median forecasts in a survey of 16 economists by Dow Jones Newswires.
The weak March numbers may raise further concerns about the health of China's economy, which has shown signs of weakness this year with a string of disappointing indicators, including on industrial production and consumer spending.
China last week announced a mini-stimulus to boost slowing growth, including extending tax breaks for small businesses and support measures for poor urban districts.
In his government work report to China's Communist-controlled National People's Congress legislature last month, Premier Li Keqiang set the target for growth in two-way trade this year at 7.5 percent.
The actual increase last year was 7.6 percent, missing the eight percent goal set by authorities.
China recorded an unexpected trade deficit of $22.98 billion in February, which authorities blamed on the lunar new year holiday season.
That result was China's first monthly deficit in 11 months. - Sapa-AFP