China trade slumps as anti-virus controls close factories

China’s exports fell by double digits in January and February as anti-virus controls closed factories

China’s exports fell by double digits in January and February as anti-virus controls closed factories, while imports sank by a smaller margin.

Exports tumbled 17.2% from a year earlier to $292.4 billion, a sharp reverse from December’s 7.8% rise, customs data showed Saturday. Imports declined 4% to $299.5 billion, down from the previous month’s 16.3% gain.

Trade was poised for a boost after Beijing and Washington removed punitive tariffs on some of each other’s goods in a trade truce. But those gains were offset by Chinese anti-virus controls that shut down much of the world’s second-largest economy starting in late January.

Exports to the United States plunged 27.7% in January and February to $43 billion, worsening from December’s 12.5% decline. Imports of American goods crept up 2.5% to $17.6 billion, but China still recorded a $25.4 billion trade surplus with the United States.

China’s global trade balance fell to a $7.1 billion deficit.

The customs agency began reporting January and February trade figures together this year to screen out the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday, which comes at different times each year during that two-month period.

Factories usually shut down for two weeks or more during the holiday while their employees visit their hometowns.

Imports usually surge after the holiday as factories restock. This year’s rebound was postponed after the holiday was extended by at least one week, more in some places, to keep factories and offices closed as authorities tried to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

That sent shockwaves through Asian economies that supply components and raw materials to Chinese factories that assemble the world’s smartphones, toys, home appliances and other consumer goods.

Shopping malls, restaurants and other retail businesses also were closed, depressing demand for consumer goods. Demand for online grocery sellers soared but other demand for other goods slumped.