Crane vehicles lift containers to be shipped abroad from trucks on a quay at the Port of Qingdao in Qingdao city, Shandong province. Photo: AFP

China’s trade picture is looking gloomy as the national customs agency released data showing the biggest drop in exports last year since 2009, a downtrend that may continue based on World Bank forecasts and the potential for trade friction with the US.

“International trade will see a difficult period of recovery and there is increasing uncertainty,” Huang Songping, a spokesman for China’s General Administration of Customs, said at a press conference.

He cited World Trade Organisation forecasts of a decline in global trade growth of between 1.8% and 3.1% in 2017. “China is not isolated from this trend,” Huang said.

China’s exports in 2016 fell 7.7% to US$2.097 trillion, while imports dropped 5.5% to US$1.587 trillion. As a result, the country’s trade surplus dropped a sizable 16.4% to US$510 billion.

Among imports of commodities, crude oil jumped 13.6% to 381 million metric tons and coal increased 25.2% to 256 million tons.

Exports in December dropped by 6.1%, or worse than the consensus forecast for a decline of 3.5% on the website Trading Economics. Imports in the last month of 2016 rose 3.1%, beating the consensus of 2.7%.

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