The Dapukou container terminal of Zhoushan Port in Ningbo City, east China's Zhejiang Province, December 8, 2020. Photo: AFP / Imaginechina

China’s exports rose 27.9% in May, while imports grew at the fastest pace in more than a decade as the global economy powers back from the pandemic crisis, official data showed Monday.

Demand for China’s goods has bounced after economically painful lockdowns last year due to the Covid-19 crisis and as vaccines are rolled out across much of the world.

The figures are also boosted by last year’s low base of comparison when the coronavirus was spreading rapidly.

Exports from the world’s second-largest economy posted strong growth, but came in lower than expectations of 32.0%.

“To be honest, that is a cracking number by anybody’s standard and show that global demand remains robust,” said OANDA’s Jeffrey Halley.

In May, import growth hit its highest rate since January 2011, coming in at 51.1% on-year, also slightly below expectations of a Bloomberg poll of analysts.

But still, imports and exports to China’s major trade partners including Southeast Asia’s ASEAN bloc, the European Union and the United States have risen in the first five months this year, said customs authorities.

“It’s still a fairly healthy set of numbers,” Jonathan Cavenagh, senior market strategist at Informa Global Markets, told Bloomberg TV.

“We know that global demand is still recovering and that trend is likely to continue towards the end of the second quarter and into the third quarter as the major developed economies open up.”

The lower-than-expected export figure was likely due to port disruptions due to tighter Covid-19 control measures in late May after the coronavirus was detected among staff.

“I think there was some disruption in May from ports,” ING chief economist for Greater China Iris Pang said, referring to recent congestion at southern China’s Yantian port.

Pang added that the Suez Canal incident – when a stranded mega-ship blocked the critical maritime artery for six days in March – had also affected China’s export and import trade.

Electronics shipments have bolstered Chinese exports, rising 31.9% on-year in the January to May period, although growth in demand for textiles – including masks to guard against the virus spread – have eased, dropping 10.3%.

Nomura chief China economist Lu Ting noted that factors behind import growth include rising commodity prices and strong yuan appreciation.

Authorities said Monday that the volume and prices of iron ore, crude oil and soybeans imports have risen.

China’s overall trade surplus came in at US$45.53 billion in May, an on-year decrease of 26.5%.