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China’s February exports down 18 percent

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BEIJING (AP) — China’s exports suffered an unexpectedly large 18 percent decline in February, possibly denting hopes trade will help drive the slowing economy while communist leaders push ambitious promised reforms.

Exports declined to $114.1 billion while imports rose a stronger-than-expected 10.1 percent to $137.1 billion, customs data showed Saturday.

The export weakness could raise the risk of politically dangerous job losses in trade-reliant industries at a time when communist leaders want to focus on restructuring the economy.

China’s official economic growth target of 7.5 percent this year assumes total trade also will grow by 7.5 percent. But customs data show combined imports and exports so far this year contracted by 4.8 percent from a year earlier.

The ruling Communist Party is trying to reduce reliance on trade and investment to drive growth by promoting domestic consumption and giving market forces a bigger role in the economy. But a surge in unemployment could force them to shore up growth with stimulus spending, temporarily setting back their reform effort.

China’s trade data can be distorted by the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls at different times in January and February each year. But even grouping together the first two months of this year still showed exports fell 1.6 percent from a year ago, while imports rose 10.1 percent.

The official growth target looks unusually ambitious after last year’s expansion rate fell to a two-decade low of 7.7 percent. Manufacturing weakened in February and an HSBC Corp. survey showed employers cut jobs at the fastest rate in five years.

The finance minister said this week growth as low as 7.2 percent would be acceptable and said the government’s priority is creating jobs. The official target is creation of 11 million new jobs, but the minister said an addition of 13 million might be possible.

Associated Press

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