BEIJING, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- Chinese customs authorities disclosed trade data for December and the whole of 2013 on Friday, which showed notable exports growth deceleration last month.
Analysts said December's exports growth deceleration was mainly due to base-effect distortion.
They remained cautiously optimistic over the country's external outlook and exports in 2014, given the coexistence of lingering base-effect distortion and ongoing recovery of the U.S. and European Union (EU) economies.
LARGEST TRADING NATION
Zheng Yuesheng, General Administration of Customs spokesman, said China's total exports and imports surpassed 4 trillion U.S. dollars for the first time to reach 4.16 trillion U.S. dollars in 2013, up 7.6 percent year on year.
With it, China has overtaken the United States to become the world's largest trading nation, according to Liu Ligang, chief China economist at ANZ Banking Group.
The growth rate, however, is slightly lower than the government's full-year target of 8 percent, published in the beginning of last year.
In 2013, exports rose 7.9 percent year on year to 2.21 trillion U.S. dollars, while imports increased 7.3 percent to 1.95 trillion U.S. dollars.
The foreign trade surplus widened to 259.75 billion U.S. dollars in 2013, an increase of 12.8 percent from a year earlier.
According to Zheng, trade with the EU, China's biggest trade partner, edged up 2.1 percent year on year to 559.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2013. China exported 339 billion U.S. dollars' worth of goods to the EU. It imported 220.1 billion U.S. dollars' worth of goods from the union.
Trade with the U.S., China's second-biggest trade partner, rose 7.5 percent year on year to 521 billion U.S. dollars. China's exports to the U.S. amounted to 368.4 billion U.S. dollars, while imports from the country stood at 152.6 billion U.S. dollars.
China's trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, its third-largest trading partner, rose 10.9 percent year on year to 443.6 billion U.S. dollars.
Its trade with Japan meanwhile contracted 5.1 percent year on year, to 312.55 billion U.S. dollars.
DISTORTION WEIGHS ON DECEMBER EXPORTS
In December, China's foreign trade value hit a new high of 389.8 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 6.2 percent from a year earlier, customs data showed.
December's exports amounted to 207.7 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 4.3 percent, significantly lower than 12.7 percent in November and also lower than 5.6 percent in October. Import growth rose to 8.3 percent year on year in December from 5.3 percent in November.
December's exports growth slowdown was mainly due to base-effect distortion, said HSBC's China economists Ma Xiaoping and Qu Hongbin in a research note.
In the first quarter of 2013, over-invoicing trade activities through Hong Kong had allowed China's exports growth to balloon to 20 percent year on year, they said.
Lu Ting, chief China economist with the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, highlighted the role of fake reporting of exports, as some people took advantage of arbitrage opportunities in early 2013 over different exchange rates between the U.S. dollar and the onshore and offshore Renminbi.
Liu Ligang agreed, saying that the market generally believes there was fake reporting of exports in late 2012 and early 2013, which led to a falsely high reading of China's exports in December 2012.
Aside from the high base-effect, December's exports deceleration was also led by a slowdown in shipments to the U.S., EU and Japan, Ma and Qu said.
December's import growth came in at a five-month high of 8.3 percent year on year from 5.4 percent in November, suggesting the recovery of China's domestic demand conditions remained steady, they said.