China has reported its exports and imports surged in May on growing demand as the pandemic was waning in the US and other key markets, though the pace of growth is leveling off. Customs data released Monday showed exports rose 28% from a year earlier and imports soared 51% — at the fastest annual pace in over a decade. Total exports climbed 40% in the first five months of the year from a year earlier. They were up 29% from the same period in 2019.
China has led the global recovery from the pandemic, which is still raging in many parts of the globe but receding in some places, mostly where vaccinations have been widely deployed. Chinese manufacturers benefited from strong demand for protective gear and other products as other countries battled COVID-19, gaining market share from competitors.
The base level boost from last year's slump is fading, however, and the $263.9 billion in Chinese exports in May was about level with the previous month. China's imports of $218.4 billion in May were 1.2% lower than in April. Beijing's politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States rose 14% to $31.8 billion, while the surplus with the European Union fell 43% to $12.7 billion.
China's total trade surplus in May was $45.53 billion, down 26.5% from a year earlier. While the increase in exports was robust in May, it was lower than some economists had forecast and analysts said one reason might be delays at ports in southern China, the main shipping hub, due to increased precautions to fight an outbreak of coronavirus cases.
Shortages of semiconductors that are plaguing many industries have likewise hit exports of electronics. Demand for products that surged while people were staying home due to the pandemic, such as toys and furniture, also weakened, Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a commentary.
“Headline trade growth remained elevated last month. But trade volumes dropped back in levels terms and, while supply constraints are partly to blame, there are signs that demand may be peaking, too," he said in a report.
A key factor behind last month's rapid increase in imports was rising prices for oil and other commodities needed to fuel the country's industries. But it also reflects demand for the inputs needed to make so much of what China exports.
The recovery in demand is helping neighboring countries in Asia that supply many such goods, such as electronics components. Imports from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations soared nearly 54% from a year earlier, to $33.1 billion. Exports to the region, where many countries are contending with their worst coronavirus outbreaks so far, rose 40% to $39.2 billion.