China's trade boom hits speed bump as import growth slows sharply

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For the full year of 2017, exports increased 7.9 percent and imports advanced 15.9 percent.

According to China's General Administration of Customs, the nation's trade surplus rose to $US54.69 billion last month, well above the $US40.21 billion level of November and forecasts for a decrease to $US37 billion.

The trade surplus continued to narrow past year, shrinking 14.2 percent to 2.9 trillion yuan, compared with a 9.1-percent reduction in 2016 that saw 3.35 trillion yuan in trade surplus.

It will be hard to keep double-digit trade growth this year given the many global uncertainties and a high comparison base, Huang said.

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While GAC spokesperson Huang Songping attributed the growth to external forces, such as the global economy recovery and rising commodity prices, a closer look at the data reveals changes to China's domestic economy. Iron ore imports for the year hit a record high of 1.075 billion tonnes.

Strength in Chinese exports "is bound to add to US-China trade tensions", Kuijs said.

Trade balance is forecast to be $37 billion in December against $40.21 in November.

China's 2017 surplus with the United States was $275.81 billion, topping the previous record in 2015 of $260.8 billion.

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China's excess production capacity has emerged as a major trade irritant for the world's leading economic powers, prompting them to consider new steps to protect domestic industries and jobs from a flood of Chinese imports.

The Trump administration is also considering several unilateral tariff actions on steel, aluminium and China's intellectual property practices likely to draw disputes from WTO members.

Solid global growth may provide some support for export growth, but, real effective exchange rate appreciation and an increase in USA protectionism could weigh on exports, narrowing the trade surplus further, according to securities trader Nomura.

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