China's exports unexpectedly fell the most in two years in December and imports also contracted, pointing to further weakness in the world's second-largest economy in 2019 and deteriorating global demand.
For all of 2018, imports fell for the first time since 2011 because of the higher tariffs China levied on US supplies as part of the trade war.
In December 2018, therefore, China imported 9.23 million tons of gas, both by pipeline and as LNG, up 17 percent on the year.
New trade numbers from China show the country is feeling the effects of the US-China trade war that started in April previous year. China's annual passenger vehicle sales fell last year for the first time in more than 20 years, as the trade war with the United States rocked consumer confidence and Beijing reined in auto financing channels.
The new numbers come at the midpoint of a 90-day truce in the trade war between the two largest economies in the world.
Chinese buyers have been relying on bean stocks in Brazil, its top supplier of the oilseed, in the fourth quarter due to the Sino-U.S. trade war.
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China's large trade surplus with the United States has always been a sore point with Washington, which has demanded Beijing take steps to sharply reduce it.
But the data also revealed that exports slowed by 3.5 percent last month, as the administration of President Donald Trump imposed a series of stiff tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods to force Beijing to buy more American goods and to resolve issues involving technology, intellectual property and cyber theft issues.
China exports to the USA declined 3.5 per cent in December while its imports from the US were down 35.8 per cent for the month. Import growth also fell sharply in the face of cooling domestic demand. China has retaliated with tariffs of its own.
The higher tariffs China levied on US supplies also hit the country's overall import growth.
President Donald Trump said Monday he expects to be able to reach a trade deal with China, which is feeling the impact of USA tariffs.
But a slew of bad economic data has added to concerns about China's economy, which is expected to have eased to around 6.5 per cent growth in 2018, down from 6.9 per cent in 2017.