China’s exports surged last month to a record level, as Chinese factories appear to have passed on rising costs to buyers who are finding that they have few alternatives in other countries. China’s imports lagged, causing its trade surplus to widen sharply from the first three months of this year, to $11.43 billion. That was lower than last year, but still high enough to increase trade frictions with the United States and other countries worried that China is using a weak currency to claim an unusually large share of global job creation as the world economy climbs out of the recent economic downturn.
China’s regular release of trade statistics came between two days of negotiations in Washington between senior American and Chinese officials. In the first day of talks on Monday, American officials pressed China to improve its human rights record and allow interest rates and the Chinese currency to rise, while Chinese officials called on the United States to lead a global economic recovery and suggested that their shrinking trade surplus should not be a big concern. The average price of goods imported from China to the United States, adjusted for quality improvements, jumped 0.4 percent in April from the previous month and was up 2.8 percent from a year earlier, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Tuesday morning in Washington.
The import price statistics were the latest confirmation that China is becoming a contributor to higher prices in the United States. That comes after many years in which the price of Chinese goods was flat or falling, which tended to limit American inflation over all, by making it hard for other businesses to raise prices. But the direct role of Chinese imports in the American economy is still fairly limited. Although they account for one-fifth of total imports, they equaled only 2.5 percent of economic output in the United States last year. The newest data from China indicates its trade surplus essentially disappeared in the first three months of this year. Rising commodity prices drove up the cost of China’s imports, while exports tend to be weak early in the year, partly because of factory shutdowns that last one to three weeks for Chinese New Year.