December 6, 2018 / 9:51 AM / 11 days ago

UPDATE 1-China downplays front-loading as reason behind strong export growth

(Adds comments by Chinese commerce ministry spokesman)

BEIJING, Dec 6 (Reuters) - China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday that front-loading by exporters had not been the main driver behind the country’s strong trade performance, adding that it was closely monitoring changes in trade conditions.

The United States had slapped tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods in three rounds of punitive trade action from July through September as tensions between the world’s two biggest economies flared.

Yet, China’s overall export growth has been better than expected in almost every month this year. Many economists attribute the strength to front-loading of cargoes to the United States in anticipation of even higher tariffs.

The Chinese yuan has also weakened more than 5 percent against the dollar so far this year, helping to make Chinese products more competitive abroad.

But in recent months economists have pencilled in a deterioration in China’s export outlook in 2019, factoring in higher U.S. tariffs on a wider range of Chinese goods.

“The phenomenon of front-loading exports may exist in export markets that are impacted by trade protectionism and unilateralism, but on the whole, this phenomenon is not the decisive factor for China’s rapid growth in imports and exports this year,” Gao Feng, spokesman at the Chinese commerce ministry, told reporters at a regular briefing on Thursday.

Instead, Gao said the country has benefited from a structural change in exports, a rebound in global demand, and domestic policy dividends, dismissing the assumption that China’s exports would weaken next year when such front-loading inevitably winds down.

“China’s trade development still has favourable support,” he said.

Washington recently vowed to hike tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent in January. But last weekend, U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day truce, delaying the planned hike while they negotiated a deal.

Trump previously also warned that if his trade talks with Xi were not productive, he could quickly slap tariffs on another $267 billion in Chinese imports.

Data for November exports, due out on Saturday, is expected to show a slowdown amid signs of easing global demand. (Reporting by Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee; Writing by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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