JUST how worrying are the figures, published on Wednesday December 10th, showing that China's exports and imports plunged in November? Exports fell by 2.2% last month from a year ago; imports plummeted by an astonishing 17.9%. One analyst sums up the news as "a shock figure".
The gloom is spread all over the place. Exports dropped across all big traded goods and all parts of the world. Exports to America fell by 6.1%; those to the ASEAN countries, which had grown by 21.5% in October, fell by 2.4%. The faster decline in imports meant that China's monthly trade surplus reached a record $40.1 billion. Exports last fell in 2001.
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Such numbers would be nasty enough for any big economy, but they are particularly shocking because China's racing trade has been an engine of world trade, and thus global growth. During the 1990s China's exports grew at an annual average of 12.9%; from 2000 to 2006 that growth nearly doubled to 21.1% each year, according to the World Bank. China's rapidly rising imports have also driven growth elsewhere. The chief economist of a Chinese bank calls the latest figures "horrifying".