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January trade surplus rises 46.7%

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China's monthly trade surplus in January rose 46.7 per cent year-on-year to US$9.49 billion, according to statistics published yesterday by the General Administration of Customs.

The increase, which was higher than economists predicted, was contributed mainly to the Lunar New Year.

Experts said domestic companies rushed to fill their orders in January, because they wanted to get their money before Lunar New Year, which began at the end of January.

Extra discretion is needed when interpreting January trade data because of the Lunar New Year effect, and because the textile quota renewal at the beginning of the year, warned Hong Liang, senior analyst with Goldman Sachs Asia Economics Research Group.

"January trade numbers appeared stronger than expected, in line with global growth momentum," Liang said.

Trade volume rose 26.8 per cent year-on-year in January to US$120.5 billion, according to customs authorities.

Exports from China grew significantly to US$64.9 billion last month, a 28.1 per cent rise over last year; imports hit US$55.5 billion, 25 per cent up year-on-year.

In 2005, China's trade surplus more than tripled from 2004 totalling US$101.9 billion, arousing great concern among trade partners.

According to the statistics released, China last year saw a trade surplus of more than US$100 billion against the United States, the country's second largest trade partner.

However, the US side claims that the gap widened to US$201.6 billion for 2005, up 24.5 per cent from a year previously.

The growing trade gap has caused frictions with some trade partners, including the one-year-long textile disputes with the United States and the European Union.

China is expecting to encounter even more trade friction in 2006 concerning exchange rates and trade systems, said Lu Jianhua, director of the Foreign Trade Department of the Ministry of Commerce.

He said conflicts were likely to be seen in a number of areas, such as establishment of technical standards, intellectual property rights and labour rights.

In order to narrow the trade gap with China, two US senators recently put forward a bill that would withdraw permanent normal trade relations with China and require an annual vote in the US Congress on whether to renew the relationship.

Some US lawmakers hoped to encourage the Chinese Government to revaluate its currency by trying to impose high tariffs on all imports from China.

However, US Trade Representative Rob Portman warned US lawmakers that any decision to withdraw permanent normal trade relations would be counterproductive.

"To me it would do nothing to help with the trade deficit, in fact (it would be) the reverse, relative to China," Portman said.


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