• Reuters

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China’s exports rose for the third consecutive month in August, eclipsing an extended fall in imports, as more of its trading partners relaxed novel coronavirus lockdowns in a further boost to recovery in the world’s second-biggest economy.

Exports in August rose a solid 9.5 percent from a year earlier, customs data showed Monday, marking the strongest gain since March 2019.

The figure also beat analysts’ expectations for 7.1 percent growth and compared with a 7.2 percent increase in July.

Imports, however, slumped 2.1 percent compared with market expectations for a 0.1 percent increase and extending a 1.4 percent fall in July.

The strong exports suggest a faster and more balanced recovery for the Chinese economy, which is rebounding from a record first-quarter slump thanks largely to domestic stimulus measures.

“China’s exports continue to defy expectations and to grow significantly faster than global trade, thus gaining global market share,” said Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics.

“The import data disappointed, pointing to the need for caution as we assess growth of China’s domestic demand.”

A private survey on manufacturing activity last week showed Chinese factories reported the first increase in new export orders this year in August, as overseas demand slowly revived.

The pick-up in business also led to a further expansion in production, marking the sharpest gain in almost a decade.

China’s export performance, boosted by record shipments of medical supplies and robust demand for electronic products, has not been as severely affected by the global slowdown as some analysts had feared.

But imports unexpectedly slipped further into contraction, suggesting softer domestic demand.

Copper imports in August eased from the previous month’s all-time high, as an arbitrage window to bring in overseas metal shut and demand from key consumption sectors slowed. Coal imports slipped 20.8 percent from the month before.

China posted a trade surplus of $58.93 billion last month, compared with the poll’s forecast for a $50.50 billion surplus and $62.33 billion surplus in July.

The outlook is still far from rosy, as external demand could suffer if virus control measures have to be reimposed by trade partners later this year on a resurgence of the pandemic.

China is also looking to reduce its reliance on overseas markets for its development, as U.S. hostility and the pandemic increase external risks that could hamper longer-term progress.

Already heightened U.S.-China tensions are expected to escalate ahead of the U.S. presidential election. China remains well behind on its pledge to boost purchases of U.S. goods under an agreement that was launched in February.

China’s trade surplus with the United States widened to $34.24 billion in August from $32.46 billion in July.

In a phone call last month, top U.S. and Chinese trade officials reaffirmed their commitment to a Phase 1 trade deal. “Both sides see progress and are committed to taking the steps necessary to ensure the success of the agreement,” the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said.

Last week the office extended tariff exclusions for a wide range of Chinese goods, such as smartwatches and some medical masks, but only through the end of 2020 — a move that may create some leverage for Washington in bilateral trade negotiations but increase uncertainty for businesses.

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