China imports from US plunge 31% in June amid tariff war

In this Tuesday, May 14, 2019, photo, containers are piled up at a port in Qingdao in east China's Shandong province. China's imports from the United States plunged 31.4% in June from a year earlier amid a tariff war with Washington, while exports to the U.S. market sank 7.8%, Customs data showed Friday, July 12, 2019. (Chinatopix via AP)

BEIJING — China's imports from the United States plunged in June amid a tariff war with Washington while exports to the U.S. market weakened.

Imports of U.S. goods fell 31.4% from a year earlier to $9.4 billion, while exports to the American market declined 7.8% to $39.3 billion, customs data showed Friday. China's trade surplus with the United States widened by 3% to $29.9 billion.

U.S.-Chinese trade has weakened since President Donald Trump started hiked tariffs last year on goods from China in a fight over Beijing's technology ambitions. China retaliated with penalty duties and ordered importers to find non-U.S. suppliers.

Trump and his Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in June to resume negotiations. That helped to reassure jittery financial markets but forecasters say their truce is fragile because the two sides are divided by the same array of conflicts that caused talks to break down in May.

Trade envoys talked by phone Tuesday in their first contact since Trump and Xi met in Japan, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said. It gave no details or a date for more contacts.

"Our base case remains that trade talks will break down again before long," said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report.

China's global exports sank 1.3% to $212.8 billion while imports fell 7.3% to $161.9 billion.

Trade weakness has added to pressure on Xi's government to shore up economic growth and avoid politically dangerous job losses.

Washington is pressing Beijing to roll back plans for government-led creation of Chinese global competitors in robotics, electric cars and other technologies. The United States also wants other changes including cuts in subsidies to Chinese industry.

Chinese leaders express confidence their economy can survive the tariff fight. But while American exporters have been hit hardest, Chinese industries including electronics that Beijing sees its economic future have suffered double-digit declines in sales to the United States, their biggest market.

Economists say even if a settlement is reached, China's exports this year will be lackluster due to weak global demand, putting pressure on manufacturers that support millions of jobs.

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