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Trade slumps on holiday

BEIJING China's foreign trade slumped in January from a year earlier while trade surplus jumped as a week-long holiday distorted figures and the slower economy sapped demand.

China's exports dropped 0.5 percent year-on-year to 149.94 billion U.S. dollars in January, the first decline in more than two years, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said in a statement Friday. Imports plunged 15.3 percent year-on-year to 122.66 billion U.S. dollars in January, while foreign trade fell 7.8 percent year-on-year to 272.6 billion U.S. dollars, it said.

Authorities and analysts attributed the declines to holiday disruptions and a moderating Chinese economy, while projecting a grim export outlook but stronger import growth. The figures were affected by an earlier Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in January this year and cut four workdays off the month compared with January of 2011, the GAC said.

After seasonal adjustments, exports rose 10.3 percent year-on-year in January, it said. It was a faster growth compared with 2.4 percent in February 2011, when last year's New Year holiday week arrived, but slower than 13.4 percent in December. "Lackluster foreign demand will pose severe challenges for China's exports in the first half of this year," said Zhao Jinping, deputy head of the foreign economic research department under the Development Research Center of the State Council.

Meanwhile, the government is under pressure to rein in inflation and property prices, hence unlikely to unleash massive stimulus to cushion companies from external shocks, Zhao said. However, imports will accelerate and may outpace exports in the next few months as China's domestic demand is more robust than foreign demand, he said, noting that imports are usually weak at the start of a year.

Imports climbed 1.5 percent year-on-year in January after seasonal adjustments, much slower than 19.7 percent in February last year, GAC figures show. Weak imports fueled a surge in trade surplus, which reached 27.28 billion U.S. dollars in January, up from 16.52 billion U.S. dollars in December 2011 and 6.46 billion U.S. dollars in January 2011. Xinhua

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