Beijing — Chinese trade growth slowed significantly in July compared with the previous month, official data showed on Tuesday, coming in well below expectations after months of steady momentum.
Analysts said that while export and import rates were still robust year-on-year, the latest data indicated a downward trend.
Exports rose 7.2% year on year to $193.65bn, the customs administration said, undershooting a Bloomberg News forecast of 11%.
Imports were up 11% year on year — compared with an expected increase of 18% — to $146.9bn, lifting the trade surplus to $46.74bn.
"Despite the uptick at the end of (the second quarter), trade growth now appears to be on a downward trend," said Julian Evans-Pritchard, a China economist at Capital Economics.
"In particular, the sharp decline in import growth since the start of the year suggests that domestic demand is softening."
The trade figures come despite positive recent economic data, including better than expected growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in the second quarter, of 6.9%.
China has been trying to curb capital flight and risky bank lending, putting restrictions on property purchases as the country’s mounting debt fuels fears of a looming financial crisis that could have global repercussions.
Regulators are now focused on reining in "grey rhinos" — a term broadly referring to risky financial practices that have long been visible but ignored.
The term in China applies to several large quasi-private companies such as Wanda, Anbang and Fosun that have used cheap debt from state-owned banks to fuel aggressive expansion at home and abroad but whose wings are now being clipped by Beijing.
The July import and export data follows the passing on Saturday of a UN Security Council Resolution that significantly strengthened sanctions on North Korea by banning its exports of coal, iron and other key hard-currency earners.
China is North Korea’s most important trading partner but has presented an increasingly united front with the US to Pyongyang.
"Although China’s monthly trade surplus increased, trade tensions between the US and China have eased following China’s co-operation with the US for tougher economic sanctions on North Korea," said Rajiv Biswas, chief economist for IHS Markit.
"US-China bilateral trade relations are currently being driven by US-China co-operation on trying to bring North Korea back to the Six Party Talks."