(Reuters) - China's export growth slowed to single digits in April, while imports were unchanged as tighter and wider COVID-19 curbs halted factory production, disrupted supply chains and triggered a collapse in domestic demand.
Exports in dollar terms grew 3.9% in April from a year earlier, compared with the 14.7% growth reported in March and slightly beating analysts' forecast of 3.2%. The growth was the slowest since June 2020.
Imports were unchanged year-on-year last month, improving slightly from a 0.1% fall in March and a bit better than the 3.0% contraction tipped by the Reuters poll.
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China posted a trade surplus of $51.12 billion in the month, versus a forecast for a $50.65 billion surplus in the poll. The country reported a $47.38 billion surplus in March.
Beijing's efforts to curb the country's largest COVID-19 outbreaks in two years have clogged highways and ports, restricted activity in dozens of cities including the commercial hub of Shanghai and forced companies from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) supplier Foxconn to automakers Toyota and Volkswagen (ETR: VOWG_p) to suspend some operations.
Factory activity was already contracting at a sharper pace in April, industry surveys showed, raising fears of a sharp economic slowdown in the world's second-largest economy that will weigh on global growth.
Shi Xinyu, a foreign trade manager in Yiwu, a commodities trading hub, said only 20-50% of stores are open due to COVID disruptions.
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"(The weak import demand came amid) the downward economic cycle and COVID hit," Shi said. "Life is already hard enough and it happens we've got a leaky roof as it rains."
Additionally, heightened risks from the Ukraine war, persistently soft consumption and a prolonged downturn in the property market are also weighing on growth, analysts say.
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With the national jobless rate at a near two-year high, authorities have promised more help to shore up confidence and ward off further job losses in a politically sensitive year.
Some analysts are even warning of rising recession risks, saying policymakers must provide more stimulus to reach an official 2022 growth target of about 5.5%, unless Beijing eases its zero-COVID policy.
However, there are few signs of that happening. The country's top leaders said last week they would stick with their "zero-COVID" policy, stoking worries of a sharper economic downturn.
A sharply depreciating yuan likely bolstered exports in April. The Chinese currency suffered its worst month in April in nearly two years as risks to the economy grow and touched a 1-1/2-year low.