China export growth slows on weak demand from Europe

Containers at the port of Tianjin
Image caption China's politically charged trade surplus shrank for the third year in a row in 2011

Growth in China's exports slowed in December because of sluggish demand from the US and Europe.

Exports rose by 13.4% from a year earlier, the customs agency said, down from 13.8% in November.

Import growth also slowed, rising 11.8% compared with the previous year, much lower than the 22.1% growth in November.

The latest figures could fuel worries that the world's second largest economy is losing steam.

China's Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said on Monday that the country's foreign trade environment could be bleak in 2012, as demand declines.

Analysts echoed that sentiment, adding that the figures could cast a shadow on the economy.

"Our forecast for gross domestic product is already the lowest in the market. This trade data basically confirms our view that the first quarter is going to be very tough," said Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong.

China's rapid economic expansion slowed to an annualised 9.1% in the three months to the end of September.

That is down from 9.6% in the previous three months and slower than the double-digit expansion of 2010.

Trade war

China's trade surplus widened to $16.5bn (£10.7bn) in December compared with the $14.5bn in the previous month.

However, the trade surplus for 2011 as a whole narrowed to $155.1bn, compared with $183bn in 2010, said customs officials.

This means the trade surplus, which is politically sensitive and has caused tension between China and the US, shrank for the third straight year.

The US, and China's other trade partners, have complained that Beijing has restricted access to its markets at a time when countries are trying to revive growth and create jobs.

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