China's trade surplus with U.S. hits record as exporters rush to beat tariffs

Date: Friday, July 13, 2018
Source: Reuters

China’s trade surplus with the United States swelled to a record in June as its overall exports grew at a solid pace, a result that could further inflame a bitter trade dispute with Washington.

But signs exporters were rushing shipments before tariffs went into effect in the first week of July suggest the spike in the surplus was a one-off, with analysts expecting a less favorable trade balance for China in coming months as duties on exports start to bite.

The data came after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump raised the stakes in its trade row with China on Tuesday, saying it would slap 10 percent tariffs on an extra $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, including numerous consumer items.

China’s trade surplus with the United States, which is at the center of the tariff tussle, widened to a record monthly high of $28.97 billion, up from $24.58 billion in May, according to Reuters calculations based on official data going back to 2008.

The record surplus “won’t help already sour relations and escalating tensions”, Jonas Short, head of the Beijing office at Everbright Sun Hung Kai, wrote in a note.

Trump, who has demanded Beijing cut the trade surplus, could use the latest result to further ratchet up pressure on China after both sides last week imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on $34 billion of each other’s goods. Washington has warned it may ultimately impose tariffs on more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods - nearly the total amount of U.S. imports from China last year.

The dispute has jolted global financial markets, raising worries a full-scale trade war could derail the world economy. Chinese stocks fell into bear market territory and the yuan currency has skidded, though there have been signs in recent days its central bank is moving to slow the currency’s declines.

China’s June exports rose 11.3 percent from a year earlier, China General Administration of Customs reported, beating forecasts for a 10 percent increase according to the latest Reuters poll of 39 analysts, and down from a 12.6 percent gain in May.

China’s commerce ministry confirmed last month that Chinese exporters were front-loading exports to the U.S. to get ahead of expected tariffs - a situation that could exacerbate any slowdown in shipments toward the year-end.

“Looking ahead, export growth will cool in the coming months as US tariffs start to bite alongside a broader softening in global demand,” Julian Evans-Pritchard, Senior China Economist at Capital Economics in Singapore wrote in a note, though he noted a weaker yuan should help offset some of the decline.

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