China's iron ore imports were down 8.5 per cent by volume in May from a year earlier, threatening Australia's unexpectedly good first-quarter gross domestic product growth, which had been helped by strong exports earlier of the key steelmaking commodity to China.
Data released by the Customs Bureau today showed China's overall balance of trade fell 10 per cent from a year earlier in May, following another weak month of imports.
Trade performance remained sluggish despite surging exports to the US, which were up 7.8 per cent from a year earlier.
According to Julian Evans-Pritchard, an economist with Capital Economics in Singapore, China's headline trade growth was expected to gradually recover over the coming quarters, The Australian Financial Review reported.
Imports of iron ore had fluctuated this year as construction activity continued to be subdued even as the housing market showed signs of stabilising after a year-long slump.
According to official data, China's imports of iron ore stood in May stood at 71 million tonnes down 12 per cent from the previous month, which came in significantly weaker than the 77 million tonnes imported in May last year and 9 per cent below the average monthly volume for 2014.
The disappointing figures come in the backdrop of an economy transition drive of government spending and exports led growth to one where growth was driven by consumer spending.
Exports which fell for the third consecutive month, were down 2.5 per cent to $190.75 billion, customs said.
The sharp fall in imports meant the trade surplus grew 65.6 per cent year on year to $59.49 billion, data showed.
In yuan terms, imports were down 18.1 per cent, exports fell 2.8 per cent and the trade surplus widened 65 per cent.
According to commentators, the figures provided further evidence the weakness in the Chinese economy, a key driver of global growth, had extended into the current quarter even as government stimulus measures intensified.
Gross domestic product (GDP) was up 7.4 per cent in 2014, the lowest rate in nearly a quarter of a century, even as the new year showed few signs of a reversal in the slowing trend.
GDP expansion stood at 7 per cent in January-March, the worst quarterly result in six years and weaker than the final three months of 2014.