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Asia Economy Last Updated: Apr 13, 2015 - 9:21 AM

China's 2015 foreign trade continues to slide
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Apr 13, 2015 - 7:41 AM

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Li Keqiang, Chinese premier, meets students from Jilin University in Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin Province, April 10, 2015, Photo: Xinhua

Falling exports and imports in March 2015 and a sharp drop in China’s monthly trade surplus point to weak first-quarter economic results this week and the likelihood of further monetary easing by the People's Bank of China, the central bank.

China's exports plunged 15% in March compared with a year earlier while imports dropped by 12.7%.

The March trade data released Monday by China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC), compared with a 15% year-on-year rise in exports and 20% fall in imports for the first two months of the year.

Xinhua, the official news agency, reports that total foreign trade fell by 6% in the first three months, falling to Rmb5.54tn (US$0.89tn), with exports rising 4.9% and imports dropping 17.3%, according to the GAC data.

The figures came after China lowered its annual target for foreign trade growth to around 6% for 2015, from the 7.5% goal for 2014, when a mere 2.3% increase was delivered, falling short of the target for the third consecutive year.

China's trade with the European Union, its biggest trade partner, dropped by 2.1% in the first quarter, while that with the United States, the second largest, rose 3.2%.

Trade with Japan plummeted by 11% during this period.

"Generally speaking, China's foreign trade is on the decline as the global recovery is sluggish, and domestic downward pressure is mounting," said GAC spokesman Huang Songping.

The trade surplus, at Rmb18.8bn ($3bn), also came in far below expectations after February’s record Rmb370.5bn surplus.

Reuters says the March imports plunge was the biggest since May 2009.

"It's a very bad number that was much worse than expectations," Louis Kuijs, an economist at RBS in Hong Kong, said in reference to the export data, according to Reuters. "It leads to warning flags both on global demand and China's competitiveness."

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