China's imports grew a surprisingly weak 19.3 percent in June from a year earlier, slowing from the 28.4 percent pace in May, reflecting softer domestic demand as monetary policy started to bite.
Exports, meanwhile, rose 17.9 percent in June from a year ago, also slowing from a 19.4 percent rise in May, indicating the impact from tepid growth in the world economy.
That left the country with a trade surplus of $22.3 billion in June, compared with $13.1 billion in May.
The median forecast of economists polled by Reuters was for exports to rise 18.7 percent and imports to grow 25.0 percent, resulting in a trade surplus of $16.3 billion.
The weaker-than-expected growth in both imports and exports could fuel investor concerns about the possibility of a sharp economic slowdown in China.
But most analysts see little risk of a hard landing in the world's second-largest economy. The government is due to announce second-quarter economic growth data on Wednesday.
"Imports were below expectations," noted David Cohen, economist at Action Economics in Singapore. "We are perhaps seeing some reflection of loss of momentum in China's growth. After all, there has been tightening policy.
"The numbers are consistent with decelerating growth, with the soft landing that many people are looking for."
Beijing has repeatedly vowed to restructure its economy, cutting its reliance on exports and investment, and promoting domestic consumption in their place. As a result, import growth has become a bellwether for the strength of Chinese demand.
Analysts expect a slowdown in imports following a spate of government tightening measures aimed at curbing inflation.
Last week, the central bank raised interest rates for the third time this year, underlying the government's confidence in the economy's ability to cope with tighter monetary policy.
A slowdown in China's export growth had been anticipated in response to the slowing U.S. economy and as factory growth in Asia and Europe slid to multi-month lows in June.
The surplus in June was the highest in seven months. China's trade surpluses have fuelled criticism from key trade partners who accuse Beijing of giving its exporters an unfair boost with a cheap currency.
Despite the latest data, China's trade surplus is on track to narrow for a third straight year from last year's $183 billion as the government tries to rebalance the economy in favour of domestic consumption, cutting reliance on exports.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 10 Temmuz 2011, 09:08