China’s trade surplus with US widens in May despite beef, gas deal to narrow the gap

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 June, 2017, 11:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 June, 2017, 11:34pm

China’s trade surplus with the United States widened last month despite Beijing buying more US goods to try to narrow the gap.

The deficit was a rallying point for Donald Trump on the US presidential campaign trail last year but Trump has backed off his threats since he took office.

Trump and President Xi Jinping agreed at a summit in early April to find ways to address the trade imbalance during 100 days of talks but the agreements were not reflected in gains in last month’s trade data.

China’s merchandise exports to the US jumped 11 per cent year on year to US$35.2 billion in May, while imports gained 27 per cent to US$13.2 billion, leaving a surplus of US$22 billion, the General Administration of Customs said on Thursday. The surplus was higher than April’s US$21.3 billion and the US$21.1 billion trade gap recorded a year earlier.

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In the first five months, China’s trade surplus with the US was US$92.9 billion, just above the US$89.9 billion recorded in May last year. The trade surplus with the US was nearly two-thirds of China’s total for January-May.

Standard Chartered chief greater China economist Ding Shuang said the bigger surplus would not “immediately translate into friction [with the Trump ­administration]”.

“And it will not change the US push for further merchandise exports to China,” Ding said.

Since the Xi-Trump summit, China has announced it will open up its market to US beef and liquified natural gas. But analysts question the real impact of these commitments.

“I would really be surprised if this made a large difference,” Oxford Economics chief Asia economist Louis Kuijs said.

“These so-called agreements made several months ago ... were a little bit kicking the can down the road.”

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Kuijs said the imbalance amassed over the past 15 years would not decline significantly unless the US took dramatic action. He said pressure might build again if the deals had little effect.

Overall growth in China’s exports and imports was strong last month. China’s exports in May rose 8.7 per cent from a year earlier, while imports grew 14.8 per cent, customs data showed, leaving China with a single-month trade surplus of US$40.81 billion.

The trade data was stronger than anticipated and defied falling commodity prices.

Additional reporting by Reuters