China exports plunge on coronavirus epidemic

BEIJING (AFP) – China’s exports plummeted in the first two months of this year on the back of a coronavirus epidemic that forced businesses to suspend operations, disrupting the world’s supply chains.

Exports fell 17.2 per cent, the biggest drop since February 2019 during the trade war with the United States (US) , and imports dropped four per cent, according to official data released yesterday.

A Bloomberg poll of economists had expected exports to drop less, by 16.2 per cent, but had forseen a much starker drop on imports of 16.1 per cent.

Consumers stayed home during the Lunar New Year break at the end of January and businesses saw a much slower return to work, as the country struggled to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed more than 3,000 people in China alone.

China’s trade surplus with the US – a key point of contention in the trade dispute between the two countries – sharply narrowed 40 per cent in the first two months, from USD42 billion last year to USD25.4 billion.

Chinese authorities said last month that January and February’s data would be combined.

This is in line with how some other indicators are released, to smooth over distortions from the holiday break.

In an early sign of the economic impact to come, China’s manufacturing activity fell to its lowest level on record in February, with non-manufacturing activity plummeting as well.