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 March exports rose 16.4% from a year earlier, while imports increased 20.3%, both exceeding market expectations, official data showed on Thursday.

That left the country with a trade surplus of US$23.93 billion for the month, reversing a rare deficit in February, the General Administration of Customs said.

Exports in the first quarter of the year rose 8.2 percent from the same period last year, while imports surged 24.0 percent.

China’s first-quarter trade surplus was US$65.61 billion.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a rise in March exports of 3.2% on-year, after a surprise drop of 1.3% in February.

Imports had been expected to grow 18.0%, after a blowout 38.1% expansion the previous month.

Analysts had expected China to return to a surplus of US$10.0 billion in March, versus February’s US$9.15 billion deficit.

China’s economic data in January and February can be highly skewed by the timing of the long Lunar New Year holidays, when offices and factories shut for a week or more.