China's exports saw biggest fall for two years in December

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Chinese container portImage source, AFP

Chinese exports saw the steepest fall for two years in December, according to the latest trade figures.

Exports from China fell 4.4% last month compared with the year before, while imports fell 7.6%.

The figures indicate a further weakening in the strength of the world's second biggest economy and sent Asian stock markets lower on Monday.

Other data released on Monday showed the country's trade surplus with the US reached a record high in 2018.

The gap between what it exports to and imports from the US rose by 17.2% to $323.32bn (£252bn) last year.

China's success in selling its products overseas has particularly irked US President Donald Trump, who has initiated a trade war with China to try to hold back exports.

This prompted companies to push through exports to try to beat the introduction of tariffs, so called "front loading".

After almost a year of tariffs being introduced on a growing list of Chinese products - with China reacting in kind - the two leading nations began talks last week designed to end the conflict.

'Eye-catching' deterioration

Falling demand in China itself is having a marked effect on certain companies.

Earlier this month, Apple warned that its revenues would be lower than expected, partly due to the slowdown in China. Carmaker Jaguar Land Rover has also been hit by weaker sales in China.

December's trade figures suggest the economy may be slowing faster than feared.

Freya Beamish, Asia economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: "The extent of deterioration in trade in both exports and imports was eye-catching; both dropped further... in December, after a substantial drop in November.

"Some pull-back was warranted in recent months, after front-loading of purchases ahead of the series of tariffs hikes. But trade now is now well below the previous trends."

The Chinese authorities have recently been taking action to try to boost growth, releasing money to be spent on infrastructure and cutting taxes.