Robust China trade data a boon for Asia as protectionist risks loom

Fri Feb 10, 2017 1:55am EST
 
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By Elias Glenn and yifan qiu

BEIJING (Reuters) - China posted much stronger-than-expected trade data for January as demand picked up at home and abroad, an encouraging start to 2017 for the world's largest trading nation even as Asia braces for a rise in U.S. protectionism under President Donald Trump.

Trump criticized China, Japan and Germany last week, saying the three key U.S. trading partners were engaged in devaluing their currencies to the harm of U.S. companies and consumers.

But he has not followed through yet on threats to label China a currency manipulator and slap heavy tariffs on Chinese goods, and took a major step on Thursday to improve ties by holding a phone call with President Xi Jinping.

"China's trade data are going to be pretty good in the first part of this year because of the very good run that we had in the last part of 2016," said Louis Kuijs, head Of Asia economics at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong.

"The worry we have is really about U.S. trade policy, which is undeniably turning more protectionist...It is pretty obvious to me that the climate for exports to the U.S. is going to be much harsher in the coming years."

China's imports in January rose at the fastest pace in four years, fueled by a continued construction boom which is boosting demand and global prices for resources from copper to steel, preliminary customs data showed on Friday.

The 16.7 percent bounce easily eclipsed an expected rise of 10.0 percent in a Reuters poll.

China's imports from the United States rose 23.4 percent in January, the fastest pace in at least a year, while its monthly trade surplus with the U.S. dipped to $21.37 billion.   Continued...

 
Employees stand next to a container ship at Ningbo port in Ningbo, Zhejiang province June 21, 2012.     REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo