China's March exports unexpectedly fall but 1Q trade surplus with USA soars

That left China with a rare trade deficit for the month, also the first drop since last February.

That sent its quarterly trade surplus with the USA surging 19.4 percent to $58.25 billion, though the March reading narrowed to $15.43 billion from $20.96 billion in February.

In January and February 2017, trade between the two countries totalled €10.35 billion.

March import growth beat expectations, however, suggesting its domestic demand may still be solid enough to cushion the blow from any trade shocks. China bought products from Brazil worth US$9.16 billion and Brazil bought goods worth US$5.32 billion from China.

President Trump has approved a possible tariff hike on $50 billion of Chinese goods in response to complaints Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology.

The surprise announcement follows China's largest-ever naval display in the disputed South China Sea, involving more than 10,000 navy personnel, 76 fighter jets and a fleet of 48 ships and submarines.

China runs multibillion-dollar monthly surpluses with Europe and the USA, which helps to offset deficits with Japan, South Korea and developing countries that supply industrial components and raw materials.

That produced a trade deficit of US$4.98 billion for the month, but such shortfalls are not uncommon early in the year, likely due to seasonal factors.

"The biggest risk going forward is clearly that the current trade tensions escalate to the point where meaningful tariff barriers are erected", said Evans-Pritchard.

China's commerce ministry said on Thursday trade negotiations with the United States would be impossible as Washington's attempts at dialogue were not honest, and vowed to retaliate if US President Donald Trump escalates current tensions. China's trade surplus with the 28-nation European Union, its biggest trading partner, shrank by half from a year ago to $3.6 billion.

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