Type to search

China’s Trade Data Slightly Better in September, Customs Says

Exports and imports fell by 6.2% over 2022 – margins that were less than August, however multiple economic challenges remain

Signs are emerging that China's trade and economic slump may be easing.
China's exports fell 6.2% from a year ago, while imports declined by the same amount, customs data showed on Friday (AFP file pic).


China’s customs data on Friday showed that exports and imports fell at a slower pace in September.

This was the second month of trade data suggesting signs of stabilization in the $18-trillion economy because of policy support measures.

The latest trade report should give some encouragement to authorities, although stiff challenges remain given China faces a long-running property crisis, persistent deflationary pressure and the slowdown in global growth, plus geopolitical tensions.

Outbound shipments in September declined 6.2% from a year ago, following a drop of 8.8% in August, and beating economists’ forecast for a 7.6% fall in a Reuters poll.


ALSO SEE: US May Ban AI Chips to Chinese Firms Located Overseas


The figures were backed up by new export orders in an official factory survey two weeks ago which showed improvement last month, partly because of a peak export shipping season for Christmas products and favorable base effects.

“There’s increasing evidence that the cyclical upturn in the global electronics sector is driving a bottoming-out of global trade and China’s trade data is the latest sign,” Xu Tianchen, senior economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said.

“This gives reason for optimism about a rosier trade picture in 2024,” he said.

South Korean exports to China, a leading indicator of China’s imports, fell at their slowest pace in 11 months in September. Semiconductors make up the bulk of their trade, signalling improving appetite among Chinese manufacturers for components to re-export in finished goods.

Global trade activities, represented by the Baltic Dry Index, also reported notable growth in September.


‘A complex and severe external environment’

However, Lv Daliang, spokesperson of the General Administration of Customs, said at a press conference earlier on Friday that China’s trade still faces a complex and severe external environment.

Thanks to gradual recovery in domestic demand, imports also fell at a slower pace, down 6.2%. They missed the 6.0% decline forecast in the poll, but came in better than a 7.3% contraction in August.

That resulted in a broader trade surplus of $77.71 billion in September, compared with a $70 billion surplus expected in the poll and $68.36 billion in August.


Uncertainty over jobs, property sector

Overall, economists say it’s too early to make a call on how domestic demand will pan out in coming months as the crisis-hit property sector, uncertainties in employment and household income growth, as well as weak confidence among some private firms, pose risks to a durable economic rebound.

The world’s second-biggest economy started losing steam from the second quarter after a brief post-Covid bounce, prompting policymakers to roll out several measures to shore up the recovery in the face of a sluggish housing market, high youth unemployment and mounting local debt repayment pressure.

China’s consumer prices faltered and factory-gate prices shrunk slightly faster than expected last month compared with a year earlier, inflation data released earlier on Friday showed, indicating that deflationary pressures persist in the economy.

Yet, authorities can take some comfort from recent data including upbeat factory activity and retail sales while the past Golden Week holiday travel edged up 4.1% from pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

In order to help the economy meet the government’s annual growth target of around 5%, China is considering issuing at least 1 trillion yuan ($137.00 billion) of additional sovereign debt to fund infrastructure projects, as Beijing prepares to bring a new round of stimulus, according to a report on Tuesday.

Most analysts have been reiterating in recent months that policymakers will need to go further than introducing piecemeal measures in order to bolster the economic recovery.

“Whatever does emerge from Beijing over the coming months, it likely won’t be quick enough to make any meaningful difference to 2023,” Robert Carnell, regional head of research Asia-Pacific at ING in a note, said.

“At best, it should be viewed as a pain management tool for the transition to a less leveraged economy.”


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard




China’s Private Real Estate Giants Teeter Near Collapse


Beijing Seen Taking Over China Evergrande’s Debt Revamp


China’s Factory and Retail Sales Pick Up, But Property Still a Drag


Moody’s Sounds Alarm For China’s Troubled Property Sector



Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


AF China Bond