China's June trade data stoked anxiety about the strength of domestic demand in the world's second biggest economy as imports rose at only half the pace expected, signalling a need for Beijing to do more to bolster growth.
Officials singled out the debt crisis in the European Union - China's biggest trading partner - as key to Beijing's ability to meet its 10% target for trade growth this year, with softening sales to the EU in the first half of 2012 seeing the United States overtake it as China's top export destination.
Annual import growth of 6.3% in June fell far short of the 12.7% forecast by economists and the 12.7% achieved in May, indicating both a drop-off in domestic demand and the running down of inventories by exporters worried about the weakness of new order growth.
Import data eclipsed an upside surprise in June export growth to 11.3% versus the 9.9% expected, leaving a trade surplus of 31.7 billion dollars against May's 18.7 billion.
Customs spokesman, Zheng Yuesheng, said as much in a news conference to release the data.
China's exports to the European Union actually fell in the first half. Our exports to Germany have been falling for four consecutive months and exports to France have been on decline for three straight months, too. Our exports to Italy have been falling for 10 straight months since September, Zheng said.
The United States replaced Europe to become our largest exporting market in the first half. However, US economic recovery is not stable yet, and its demand for our goods has not returned to the level seen before.
China's exports to the EU fell 0.8% in the first half of 2012 to 163.1 billion, while to the United States they rose 13.6% to 165.3 billion. China imported 65.8 billion worth of US goods in the first six months, up 7.9%.