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China exports rise 14.5% in September despite US trade tensions

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China's exports rebounded, while imports remained robust, thanks to strong demand at home and abroad despite worsening relations with the US.

[BEIJING] China's exports rebounded, while imports remained robust, thanks to strong demand at home and abroad despite worsening relations with the US.

Exports in dollar terms rose 14.5 per cent in September compared to the same period last year, the customs administration said Friday, higher than the forecast of 8.2 per cent. Imports climbed 14.3 per cent, leaving a trade surplus of US$32 billion.

China's exports have been growing robustly all year, in the face of rising tariffs and increasing uncertainty over relations with the US. Companies front-loading trade to get ahead of the expected tariff increases might explain part of the growth in the third quarter, but that would likely wane as the relationship between the world's two biggest economies deteriorates.

"Chinese exports look set to weaken in the coming quarters as global growth slows," wrote economists from Capital Economics in a note. "US tariffs will also be a drag, although front-loading by US importers mean that much of the impact won't be felt until next year."

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Beijing and Washington imposed more tariffs on each other last month, with no sign that either side will back down and tension spreading to other areas. The US Treasury Department's staff has advised Secretary Steven Mnuchin that China isn't manipulating the yuan as the Trump administration prepares to issue a closely watched report on foreign currencies, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Trade growth may slow in the fourth quarter, the customs administration's spokesperson said at a press conference, while cuts to import tariffs are boosting inbound shipments.

Other gauges of economic activity have been pointing to a continued slowdown. Policy makers have been rolling out measures to support the domestic economy, including looser monetary policy and more fiscal stimulus.

"We estimate that the impact of higher US tariffs on a total of US$250 billion of Chinese imports will subtract about 0.6 percentage points from China's GDP growth, assuming all else is equal," Standard Chartered Plc economists wrote in a recent note.

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