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China H1 trade surplus smaller but June sees widening as exports slow

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BEIJING, July 10 (Xinhua) -- China's trade surplus in the first half of this year fell 18.2 percent from a year ago to reach 44.93 billion U.S. dollars, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said on Sunday.

During the same period, total foreign trade value topped 1.7 trillion U.S. dollars, up 25.8 percent, with exports up 24 percent to reach 874.3 billion U.S. dollars and imports surging 27.6 percent to hit 829.37 billion U.S. dollars.

Processing trade remains the major source of the nation's trade surplus, said Zhao Fudi, GAC spokesman, as surplus from processing trade reached 164.25 billion U.S. dollars.

In June, exports and imports reached 301.69 billion U.S. dollars in value, up 18.5 percent year on year. Exports grew at a slower pace of 17.9 percent, down from 19.4 percent in May, though it hit a record monthly high of 161.98 billion U.S. dollars.

June's trade surplus also widened to 22.27 billion U.S. dollars from 13.05 billion U.S. dollars in May as imports stood at 139.71 billion U.S. dollars, up 19.3 percent.

"Exports in the first half of the year grew slower as trade figures started to climb up in the same period last year," said Zheng Yuesheng, director of the customs agency's statistics department.

Zheng also said exports from China's labor-intensive sectors were gradually losing competitive advantages because labor costs are rising and the yuan keeps appreciating against the dollar.

Wang Jun, an economist with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, said the country's exports have shown more fluctuations than investment and domestic consumption, which indicates the uncertainties in global economic recovery.

In the first six months, China's exports to its two largest trading partners, namely the EU and the United States, both grew 16.9 percent to reach 164.48 billion U.S. dollars and 145.51 billion U.S. dollars, respectively.

The pace of growth was significantly slower than the average 24-percent average growth in the nation's exports as economic recovery was slow, unemployment rate was high and consumer confidence remained low in these developed economies, Zheng Yuesheng said.

The ASEAN's bilateral trade with China grew 25.4 percent to 171.12 billion U.S. dollars, overtaking Japan as the country's third largest trading partner in the first half. Trade between China and Japan rose 19 percent to 162.35 billion U.S. dollars.

China's Guangdong Province remained the country's top trade powerhouse, accounting for more than one fourth of the nation's total trade volume. It was followed by Jiangsu Province and Shanghai Municipality.

Wang Jun said China is seeking more balanced trade. He estimates the trade surplus this year at 120 billion-150 billion U.S. dollars, compared with 183.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2010.

A commerce official also predicated a trade surplus this year to be scaled back in proportion to its gross domestic product, and the nation's trade will become more balanced.

As global commodity prices keep rising, it also adds extra pressure to China's inflation as it escalated to its highest level in three years with the consumer price index rising 6.4 percent in June.

Zhao Fudi said the price of imported iron ore surged 42.5 percent in the first half, with the price for imported crude oil up 33.2 percent.

To contain stubbornly high inflation, the central bank has so far raised the benchmark interest rates three times this year including the latest rate hike of 25 basis points announced on July 6.

It also hiked the reserve requirement ratio six times, ordering banks to keep a record high of 21.5 percent of their deposits in reserve to rein in excess lending.

China's exports growth has slowed down for a third month in June from the 29.9-percent increase in April and 19.4-percent rise in May, while a rising yuan and higher costs for raw materials, labor, and financing are putting more strains on the nation's export-oriented companies, said Huang Jianzhong, professor with Xiamen University, adding these companies must change their production modes and move up on the value chain.

The imports and exports data were live-broadcast Sunday on the GAC's website. Zhao Fudi said it marked the first time that China's exports and imports data were published online. "It will make our figures release more timely, open, and transparent. Meanwhile, it will also promote online exchanges between us and the public," he said.

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