China posts worst export fall since 2009 as fears of U.S. trade war loom

Fri Jan 13, 2017 5:35am EST
 
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By Elias Glenn and Sue-Lin Wong

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's massive export engine sputtered for the second year in a row in 2016, with shipments falling in the face of persistently weak global demand and officials voicing fears of a trade war with the United States that is clouding the outlook for 2017.

In one week, China's leaders will see if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on a campaign pledge to brand Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and starts to follow up on a threat to slap high tariffs on Chinese goods.

Even if the Trump administration takes no concrete action immediately, analysts say the specter of deteriorating U.S.-China trade and political ties is likely to weigh on the confidence of exporters and investors worldwide.

The world's largest trading nation posted gloomy data on Friday, with 2016 exports falling 7.7 percent and imports down 5.5 percent. The export drop was the second annual decline in a row and the worst since the depths of the global crisis in 2009.

It will be tough for foreign trade to improve this year, especially if the inauguration of Trump and other major political changes limit the growth of China's exports due to greater protectionist measures, the country's customs agency said on Friday.

"The trend of anti-globalization is becoming increasingly evident, and China is the biggest victim of this trend," customs spokesman Huang Songping told reporters.

"We will pay close attention to foreign trade policy after Trump is inaugurated president,” Huang said. Trump will be sworn in on Jan. 20.

China's trade surplus with the United States was $366 billion in 2015, according to U.S. customs data, which Trump could seize on in a bid to bring Beijing to the negotiating table to press for concessions, economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a recent research note.   Continued...

 
Container boxes are seen at the Yangshan Deep Water Port, part of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, in Shanghai, China September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo