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China’s exports beat expectations in May, customs data show, as the global recovery offered a boost to the country’s Covid-hit economy.

Exports grew 16.9 per cent in May compared to the same period a year earlier, surpassing the 8 per cent forecast by economists polled by Reuters. Imports also grew by more than expected, increasing 4 per cent.

The total value of exports for May came in at $308.3bn and imports were $229.5bn. That left China with a trade surplus of $78.8bn for the month, 82 per cent larger than the same period a year ago, the figures showed.

China also imported less crude oil and coal by volume in the January to May period than it did last year. Imports of the fuels dropped 1.7 per cent to 217mn tonnes and 13.6 per cent to 95.9mn tonnes, respectively. The price per tonne of each fuel rose significantly, however.

Reuters’ calculations based on the figures showed that China’s coal imports declined in May compared to April, as the country’s strict Covid-19 lockdowns hammered demand.

While May’s increase in exports reflected tentative easing in some of the widespread lockdowns that hit the economy the month before, gauges of activity in both the manufacturing and services sectors still showed contractions compared to April.

Iris Pang, chief greater China economist at ING, the Dutch bank, said that the rebound in exports resulted largely from a resumption in Shanghai’s port facilities that month.

“We see the May figures as a continuation of the 14.7% year-on-year export growth in March. If China’s future lockdowns follow Beijing’s model, they should be more flexible, shorter in duration and should put less pressure on the economy,” she added.

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