China exports surprise despite US tariffs

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China has reported much stronger-than-expected exports for October as shippers rushed goods to the United States, its biggest trading partner, racing to beat higher tariff rates due to kick in at the start of next year.

Import growth also defied forecasts for a slowdown, suggesting Beijing’s growth-boosting measures to support the cooling economy may be slowly starting to make themselves felt.

The upbeat trade readings from China offer good news for both those worried about global demand and for the country’s policymakers after the economy logged its weakest growth since the global financial crisis in the third quarter.

October was the first full month after the latest US tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect on September 24, in a significant escalation in the tit-for-tat trade battle.

China’s exports rose 15.6 per cent last month from a year earlier, customs data showed on Thursday, picking up from September’s 14.5 per cent and beating analysts’ forecasts for a modest slowdown to 11 per cent.

“The strong export growth in October was buoyed by front-loading activities by exporters …,” said Iris Pang, Greater China Economist at ING in Hong Kong, noting the month is traditionally quieter due to long holidays.

“We expect exports to remain strong towards the end of the year as businesses are afraid of a failure in the Trump-Xi meeting, which could lead to broader tariffs on more Chinese goods from the US.”

Washington has vowed to hike the tariff from 10 per cent to 25 per cent at the turn of the year, while Trump has warned if talks with Xi are not productive, he could quickly slap tariffs on another $US267 billion ($A367 billion) in Chinese imports.

Despite several rounds of US duties this year, China’s exports have been surprisingly resilient as firms ramped up shipments before even tougher measures went into effect.

Container ship rates from China to the US West Coast remain near record highs, suggesting shipments will remain solid well into November and possibly early December. China’s exports to the US rose 13.2 per cent from a year earlier in October.

In another positive sign, China’s exports by volume also showed solid growth, according to Oxford Economics, which estimated they rose “an impressive” 9.9 per cent.

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