China’s exports rose 46% in February from a year earlier, beating expectations and setting the stage for more calls to increase the value of the Chinese currency, analysts said.
The increase, announced Wednesday, was driven by heightened demand from the United States, the European Union and Japan.
Trade tensions have mounted over China’s artificially low currency, the yuan, also known as the renminbi.
Competing exporters say it gives China an unfair advantage at a time when the rest of the globe is still seeking to recover from the financial crisis.
Chinese policymakers say they cannot consider appreciation until economic conditions are more stable.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said last week the country would keep the value of the yuan at an “appropriate and balanced level” this year. February’s increase marks the third consecutive month exports have grown from the same month a year earlier.
“The strong export recovery should provide support for those who advocate for a resumption” of the appreciation of the yuan, said Tao Wang, head of China Economic Research for UBS Securities, in a report released Wednesday.
However, Chinese officials are striking a cautious tone. Minister of Commerce Chen Deming told reporters Saturday that China’s exports were still far from returning to levels seen before the global recession.
“Although China’s exports have regained momentum since the beginning of this year, it would take two or three years for exports to return to the level of 2008, as global recovery is still haunted by uncertainties,” Chen said.
Ben Simpfendorfer, chief China economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland, warned that next month’s export numbers could dive because the Chinese New Year national holiday took place in late February (the festival’s date changes each year because it’s based on the lunar calendar).
The timing encouraged exporters to ship their merchandise earlier instead of waiting for March.
Simpfendorfer also noted that last month’s glowing export totals were aided by the fact that February of last year was the second-worst month for exporters in 2009.