China’s imports in dollar terms soared by 51.1 percent to around $218.4 billion year on year in May, the fastest growth since January 2011, fueled by increasing price pressures from commodities, data from the General Administration of Customs (GAC) showed on Monday.
The growth in imports picked up from a 43.1-percent rise in April but was slower than an estimated growth of 51.5 percent tipped by the Reuters poll.
Exports in dollar terms rose by 27.9 percent year on year in May to $263.9 billion, slower than the year-on-year growth of 32.3 percent seen in April, falling short of Reuters’ 32.1-percent growth prediction.
Adjusting for base effects, export growth slowed to 23.4 percent in May compared with the same period in 2019, down from 36.3 percent in April, while import growth quickened to 26.4 percent in May from the same period in 2019, up from 22.5 percent in April.
“Imports increased faster than exports once again, suffering from increasing price pressures from commodities,” Wang Dan, Chief Economist at Hang Seng Bank China said.
Exports were surprisingly a bit on the downside, as the COVID-19 cases in Guangdong Province slowed down the turnover in Shenzhen and Guangzhou ports, which accounts for about 24 percent of China’s total exports, according to Zhang Zhiwei, Chief Economist at Pinpoint Asset Management.
Zhang warned of the rising risk of supply chain disruption. “Guangdong Province plays a critical role in the global supply chain. Turnover in Guangdong ports will likely remain slow in June. Other ports in China will likely become more cautious as well,” Zhang said.
“Compounded with the pandemic in India and Southeast Asian economies, the ship shortage, the rising commodity and shipping costs, this rise of COVID-19 cases in Guangdong may contribute to higher inflationary pressure in other countries,” Zhang said.
However, Wang said that China’s exports continued the strong momentum in May and that electronics and consumer goods exports surged as consumer demand in the U.S. and the European Union (EU) begin to normalize.
Global industries started to repair their lost capacity in 2020, so the demand for industrial inputs such as steel and car parts also surged, according to Wang.
Wang said foreign demand for pandemic-related goods declined on an annual term, as COVID-19 control improved significantly compared to the same period last year.
“The main foreign demand is from ASEAN, EU and the United States. Most of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) Countries in the emerging market are still suffering from COVID-19, which has constrained their demand for imports,” Wang said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) remained to be China’s No. 1 trading partner, followed by the EU, U.S., and Japan.
The country’s total foreign trade volume surged by 37.4 percent on an annual basis to $482.3 billion in May, up from the year-on-year growth of 37 percent in April.
China’s trade surplus in May was $45.5 billion, wider than the $42.9 billion surplus in April but less than the $50.5 billion predicted by Reuters.
Wang expects the commodity price to stay high in the coming two to three quarters, given that domestic demand will continue to rise while global supply will take longer to restore to pre-COVID levels. “As such, China’s trade surplus will shrink, exerting less upward pressure on yuan’s valuation.”
The chief economist also expects exports to stay strong for the rest of the year. “Due to the resurgence of COVID-19 in major exporters like India and Vietnam, the world’s dependence on China’s industrial power has once again increased,” she said.
“This may lead to a renegotiation with the U.S. on cutting punitive tariffs under the phase one trade deal and delay the pace of U.S. strategy of creating alternative supply chains to reduce trade reliance on China,” Wang said.
Zhang believes the COVID-19 cases in Guangdong will be under control in a few weeks, as the pace of vaccination is rising quickly, with 10 million doses of vaccine administered in the province in the past six days.
“Nonetheless, export growth in June will likely slow and rebound in July,” Zhang said.