FILE - In this Dec. 5, 2018, file photo, residents pass by the entrance to the "Hotan City apparel employment training base" where Hetian Taida Apparel Co. has a factory in Hotan in western China's Xinjiang region. The Trump administration on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, announced it is stopping imports of clothing, gold, diamonds and other items believed to have been produced with forced labor by companies based in Brazil, China and Malaysia as well as some gold mined in eastern Congo and diamonds from a region in Zimbabwe. Hetian Taida Apparel Co., Ltd. in Xinjiang, is one of the companies sanctioned. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
INTERNATIONAL – China’s exports and imports shrank more than expected in September, as existing U.S. tariffs and the ongoing slowdown in global trade combined to undercut demand.

Exports decreased 3.2 percent in dollar terms from a year earlier while imports declined 8.5 percent, leaving a trade surplus of $39.65 billion, the customs administration said Monday. 

Economists had forecast that exports would drop 2.8 percent while imports would shrink by 6 percent.


The weak trade performance underlines the importance of the “Phase One” agreement struck between the U.S. and China last week, as China’s economy suffers from slowing demand both at home and abroad. The slump in imports in particular bodes ill for the domestic economy, and output is expected to have grown at the slowest pace in the third quarter in almost thirty years according to estimates ahead of data due Friday.

“The key driver definitely is the slowing global economy,” said Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. “The mini deal is good for sure because it is preventing things from getting even worse. But it’s not about making things much better.”

September exports to the US dropped almost 22 percent and imports declined almost 16 percent year-on-year, for a surplus of about $26 billion.

“This is obviously the damage done by the trade war,” said Iris Pang, an economist at ING bank NV in Hong Kong. Exports to Vietnam jumped, “which I believe could be goods rerouting to Vietnam for some simple processing then to US to avoid tariffs.”

What Bloomberg’s Economists Say: 

“Looking forward, the ‘phase one’ trade deal does not yet boost China’s trade outlook in a meaningful way. The key element for China is that the tariff hike due this week won’t take place, relieving some downside risks. Even so, the status quo is still painful – tariffs between 15 percent to 25 percent still cover $360 billion of Chinese shipments to the US,”  said Chang Shu, chief Asia economist and David Qu, economist

The tentative agreement pauses US tariff increases in exchange for increased Chinese purchases of agricultural goods. If that sticks, a boost to confidence may be ahead, though it’s not clear if another round of tariffs due for December will be implemented or not.

The official Chinese response to the “phase one” trade deal with the U.S. reached Friday was wary but welcoming, underlining that Beijing has few options but to play along with President Donald Trump if it wants to relieve some of the pressure on its slowing economy.

Before the deal announced over the weekend, Oxford Economics forecast that the worst is still to come for US-China trade, which has already fallen 20 percent. “Bilateral trade has already been hit hard and is likely to decline considerably further, especially if tariffs are extended to more goods as threatened,” according to the report before the data from economist Adam Slater.

“The decline was not entirely due to the trade tension,” said Raymond Yeung, chief Greater China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group. Ltd in Hong Kong. “The tech cycle has not been supportive. I don’t think the phase one deal will change the trade outlook materially.”

BLOOMBERG