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Dec 7, 11:30 PM EST

China trade growth tumbles in November


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BEIJING (AP) -- China's export growth tumbled in November and imports contracted unexpectedly in a new sign of weakness in the world's second-largest economy.

Exports rose by a smaller-than-expected 4.7 percent, down from October's 10.6 percent, trade data showed Monday. Imports were forecast to rise but instead shrank by 6.7 percent from a year earlier.

China's economic growth slowed to a five-year low of 7.3 percent in the latest quarter. The ruling Communist Party is trying to steer growth to a more sustainable level but cut interest rates last month, apparently worried the economy was cooling too sharply.

The decline in trade numbers probably was due in part to a crackdown aimed at ending misreporting by traders as a way to evade Chinese capital controls, but also indicates the underlying activity is weakening, said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report.

"The magnitude of the fall suggests that underlying export growth has weakened too," said Evans-Pritchard. As for imports, "the sharp fall also hints at a further cooling of domestic demand."

Weaker domestic demand will frustrate Chinese planners who are trying to reduce reliance on trade and investment and nurture more self-sustaining growth based on retail spending and other domestic consumption.

The decline in imports caused China's global trade surplus to widen by 60 percent over a year earlier to $54.5 billion.

The country's politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States, which temporarily overtook the European Union as China's biggest trading partner, was $23.1 billion. The surplus with the 28-nation EU was $12.8 billion.

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General Administration of Customs of China: http://www.customs.gov.cn

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