Weak import demand reflects a slump in construction, a major customer for foreign iron ore and other raw materials, after the government launched a crackdown on debt that has chilled the vast real estate industry.
Forecasters have cut estimates for China’s economic growth to as low as 2% this year, well below the ruling Communist Party’s target of 5.5%.
China’s economy grew by a weak 4.8% over a year earlier in the quarter ending in March. That was an improvement over the 4% rate in the final three months of 2021.
Some believe it shrank in the quarter ending in June before beginning a gradual recovery. Surveys show that might be under way as manufacturing and service activity accelerates.
If that lasts, “the outlook for the second half of 2022 is for stronger imports,” Rajiv Biswas of S&P Global Market Intelligence said in a report.
Exports to the United States surged 19.3% over a year earlier to $56 billion despite lingering tariff hikes in a trade war over Beijing’s technology ambitions. Imports of American goods edged up 1.7% to $14.6 billion.
China’s politically volatile trade surplus with the United States widened by 26% from a year earlier to $41.4 billion. It was among irritants that prompted then-President Donald Trump to launch the trade fight and hike import taxes.
Envoys from the two governments have talked by phone and video link but have yet to announce a date to resume face-to-face negotiations.
Exports to the 27-nation European Union rose 17.1% from last June to $50.5 billion, while imports of European goods climbed 9.7% to $25 billion. China’s trade surplus with Europe widened by 65% to $25.4 billion.
Imports from Russia rose 56% over a year ago to $9.7 billion.
China’s growing purchases of Russian energy are irritating Washington and its allies but don’t violate sanctions on Moscow.
Beijing declared ahead of the attack that it had a “no limits” friendship with Moscow. It criticizes the sanctions but has avoided helping Putin for fear of losing access to Western markets and the global banking system.
The Biden administration last month accused five Chinese companies of dealing with the Russian military before the Feb. 24 invasion. They added them to a trade blacklist but officials did not say if they were accused of supplying goods after the attack.
Last year, China bought 20% of Russian crude exports, according to the International Energy Agency.
General Administration of Customs of China (in Chinese): www.customs.gov.cn