Chinese trade growth slowed significantly in July compared to the previous month, official data showed Tuesday, coming in well below expectations after months of steady momentum.
Analysts said that while exports and imports were still robust year-on-year, the latest data indicated a downward trend.
Exports rose 7.2 percent year-on-year to $193.65 billion, the customs administration said, undershooting a Bloomberg News forecast of 11 percent.
Imports were up 11 percent year-on-year -- compared with an expected increase of 18 percent -- to $146.9 billion, lifting the trade surplus to $46.74 billion.
"Despite the uptick at the end of (the second quarter), trade growth now appears to be on a downward trend," said Julian Evans-Pritchard, a China economist at Capital Economics.
"In particular, the sharp decline in import growth since the start of the year suggests that domestic demand is softening."
The trade figures come despite other recent economic data that has been positive, including better-than-expected second-quarter GDP growth of 6.9 percent.
The trade data follows the passing on Saturday of a UN Security Council Resolution that significantly strengthened sanctions on North Korea by banning its exports of coal, iron, and other key hard-currency earners.
China is North Korea's most important trading partner but has presented an increasingly united front with the US to Pyongyang.
"Although China's monthly trade surplus increased, trade tensions between the US and China have eased following China's co-operation with the US for tougher economic sanctions on North Korea," said Rajiv Biswas, chief economist for IHS Markit.
"US-China bilateral trade relations are currently being driven by US-China cooperation on trying to bring North Korea back to the Six Party Talks."
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