China's exports experienced the sharpest decline in three years in February, while imports fell for the third consecutive month.
The sluggish start to the year is a stark reminder for USA and Chinese negotiators how much is at stake for the global economy as they try to cool their trade war.
"Today's trade figures reinforce our view that China's trade recession has started to emerge", Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd economist Raymond Yeung (楊宇霆) said in a note.
During the Jan-Feb period, China's trade with the European Union, ASEAN countries, and Japan increased 8.9 percent, 1.9 percent and 4 percent, respectively, while trade with countries along the Belt and Road registered faster-than-average growth, with the combined trade volume standing at 1.28 trillion yuan (about 191 billion US dollars), up 2.4 percent year on year.
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Washington and Beijing a year ago exchanged punitive tariffs on more than $360 billion in two-way trade but have recently indicated they are close to coming to terms. China's exports to all of its major markets fell across the board last month.
"China is set to have a hard time on trade, because on the US front there is the trade war, and on the European Union front the economy is really weakening", said Tommy Xie, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp.in Singapore.
The country's global trade surplus was USD43.7 billion.
Machinery exports decreased 12 percent to US$1.58 billion, while exports of electronics components were down 8.3 percent to US$6.42 billion.
Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said he was optimistic about negotiations with Washington, but added any trade mechanism achieved must be equal and fair.
Taiwan reported its biggest export drop in over 2-1/2 years on Friday, with shipments to China down 10.4 percent.