Page last updated at 18:00 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Chinese exports drop in slowdown

Chinese money
China's trade surplus rose despite declines both in exports and imports

China has reported a fall in exports for the first time in seven years as a result of the global economic downturn.

Exports declined in November from the same period a year ago for the first time since June 2001, data show.

But China still reported a record monthly trade surplus of $40.1bn (26.7bn), as the fall in imports was even bigger than the fall in exports.

Exports dropped by 2.2%, while imports shrank by a massive 17.9% as Chinese consumer spending slumped.

October had seen China's exports rise by 19.1% and analysts had expected further growth of at least 13% in November.

However, they failed to anticipate a dramatic decline in foreign demand.

The news came as China's leaders concluded their three-day conference to set next year's macro-economic policies.

The country's economy is expected to show growth of about 9% this year. However, the World Bank has cut its China growth forecast for 2009 from 9.2% to 7.5%, the lowest since 1990.

Economists have been watching China closely, amid worries that global growth could be hit further if China follows the US into the downturn.

Weakening demand

In November, China announced a huge investment plan to kick-start its slowing economy.

About $586bn is to go into housing, infrastructure and post-earthquake reconstruction in China over the next two years.

However, it is unclear whether it will be enough to have an impact, while analysts see tough times ahead.

"It's just a start. Exports and imports will continue to fall in the coming months, probably until next June," said Zhang Shiyuan at Southwest Securities in Beijing.

"China's export sector will begin to show signs of stabilisation only with global recovery," said Jing Ulrich at JP Morgan.

The trade surplus in the 12 months till the end of November rose to $278.7bn from $265bn in a year to the end of October.

The BBC's China Editor, Shirong Chen, says the authorities in Beijing fear the economic slowdown may lead to more social unrest in cities and in rural areas.

Thousands of factories have already closed, forcing millions of migrant workers to return to the countryside.

Meanwhile, Chinese aviation authorities are urging local airlines to postpone or cancel 2009 plane deliveries amid falling demand for air travel.

The move could hurt aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus, which have hoped to weather weakening demand in their home markets by relying on growth in emerging markets, such as China.

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