Saturday 7 March 2020 1:54 pm

China exports tumble 17 per cent as coronavirus batters trade

China’s exports slumped in January and February of this year as global supply chains were hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

China saw exports plummet by 17.2 per cent in the last two months following reduced business activity across the world’s second-largest economy.

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It was a bigger contraction than economists at Bloomberg had forecast.

Imports fell by four per cent as China posted a trade deficit of $7.1bn in the first two months of the year.

The slowing of imports has raised doubts as to whether China can meet the target agreed in the trade deal with the US.

China had agreed to buy $200bn more US goods than in 2017 over the course of two years.

But imports from the US rose just 2.5 per cent year on year for January and February.

Exports to the US fell by almost 28 per cent.

Some commodity imports rose, with soyabean and coal up 14.2 per cent and 33.1 per cent respectively.

However, the overall decline in trade can mainly be attributed to the coronavirus and the lunar new year holiday, China’s customs administration said.

It is a typically volatile time of year due to the lengthy holiday, but the virus outbreak has caused additional strain.

Strict quarantine measures and travel restrictions are in place and parts of mainland China are still in shutdown, such as the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak originated.

The trade data comes on the back of poor manufacturing activity, which plunged to a record low last month.

China’s customs administration said more than 80 per cent of the 2,552 foreign trading companies in China had returned to work, but less than a third of small and medium-sized firms are operating.

Read more: China and Hong Kong’s private sectors hit record low amid coronavirus

They account for almost 80 per cent of the labour force in China.

It was the first time China has released trade data for both January and February at the same time in a bid to bring it in line with other major economic indicators.