BEIJING -- China's export volume decreased 17.5 percent year-on-year to US$90.45 billion in January, the General Administration of Customs said on Wednesday.
The import volume, however, fell by a much larger degree of 43.1 percent to US51.34 billion.
Total foreign trade was US$141.8 billion, with the trade surplus up 102 percent over the same month of last year to US$39.1 billion.
However, the customs administration said, after deducting the effect of the week-long Spring Festival holiday, the year-on-year export growth was 6.8 percent and the import decline was 26.4 percent on real term. On a monthly basis, the export volume was up 10.1 percent on December and the import value down 3.8 percent.
While the January trade figures were "in part distorted by the affect of the Chinese new year, they indicate a continuing deterioration in the underlying fundamentals," said Wang Qing, chief analyst on Chinese economy with Morgan Stanley Asia.
Of the total January external trade, foreign-funded companies accounted for 52.2 percent, or US$74.05 billion, down 32.3 percent from a year ago, and state-owned businesses made up 22.3 percent, or 31.65 billion dollars, down 34.8 percent.
The total included US$27.93 billion in trade between China and the European Union, down 18.7 percent; 22.25 billion dollars in trade between China and the United States, down 15.2 percent; and US$14.5 in trade between China and Japan, down 28 percent.
In January China exported US$10.51 billion worth of clothing, up 5.7 percent on the same month of last year, and US$2.91 billion worth of shoes, up 10.6 percent.
Zhang Yansheng, senior economist on foreign trade and international cooperation with the National Development and Reform Commission, noted that given shrinking demand from the European Union and the US, the monthly change in exports was a result from tax rebates, efforts by central and local governments to ensure credit extension to exporters and the stability of foreign exchange of Chinese currency.
January export value of machines and electronics, which accounted for 54.3 percent of China's total exports, fell 20.9 percent to US$49.14 billion, and export volume of new- and high-tech products dropped 28 percent to US$21.66 billion.
According to the customs administration, in January China bought from abroad 32.65 million tonnes of iron ores, down 11.2 percent from a year earlier; 12.82 million tonnes of crude oil, down 8 percent; 2.39 million tonnes of refined oil, down 26.2 percent. Arrivals of finished industrial products were 37.49 billion dollars worth, down 39.9 percent.
China faces the worst international economic environment since the Second World War, with lingering high pressure on its exports, said Fan Jianping, head of the economic prediction department under the government think tank State Information Center.
"The large trade surplus stemmed from the big decline in arrivals, which indicated that China's domestic demand and consumption remained lukewarm," Fan noted.
Zhang Xiaoji, a senior economist on foreign trade and international cooperation with the Development Research Center of the State Council, another major government think tank, agreed.
"The larger import decline showed that policies to boost domestic demand and consumption were yet to pay off. China must stick to such policies against the international financial crisis."