BEIJING, March 11 (Xinhua) -- China's exports plummeted 25.7 percent year-on-year in February, the fourth straight monthly decline, as global demand shrank, the General Administration of Customs said Wednesday.
Exports contracted to 64.90 billion U.S. dollars, while imports slumped 24.1 percent to 60.05 billion U.S. dollars.
The sharp declines reflected weakening external demand, which would persist throughout the year as the global recession deepened, said Zhang Junsheng, an economics professor at the University of International Business and Economics.
"These huge falls were inevitable, given the global downturn," he said.
While China was "psychologically prepared" for the export slump, said Xuo Xiaolei, chief economist with Galaxy Securities, the narrowing of the trade surplus was eye-catching.
The surplus shrank to 4.84 billion U.S. dollars, less than one-seventh of the figure for January.
"The slumping trade surplus tells us that we can't pin too much hope on trade to meet the 8 percent growth target for this year," she said.
China has set an 8 percent GDP growth for 2009.
Total foreign trade was 124.95 billion U.S. dollars last month, down 24.9 percent year-on-year.
Processing trade, which comprised more than half of the total, declined much faster than general trade, the customs agency said.
Exports of labor-intensive products contracted more moderately than total exports, reflecting the government's moves to raise export rebates starting last July, the agency said.
Garment and accessory exports fell 11 percent to 14.62 billion U.S. dollars, while those of toys sank 17.1 percent to 850 million U.S. dollars.
Grain export edged down 46.7 percent and fertilizer exports slumped 55 percent. The government curbed exports to ensure supply after major wheat-planting areas experienced the worst drought in half a century.
Exports have played a key part in powering the world's third-largest economy. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed to 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter last year, the worst showing in seven years, as the global downturn sapped demands for Chinese goods.
Commerce Minister Chen Deming said Tuesday that foreign trade faced a "grim picture" in the months ahead.
Premier Wen Jiabao said last Thursday that China "must not slacken efforts" to promote exports, despite the plunge in external demand and growing international protectionism.
Wen pledged measures, including fiscal and tax policies, to ease the difficulties of exporters and "ensure steady growth in foreign trade."