China recorded its first quarterly trade deficit since 2004 in the first quarter of this year as domestic growth and rising global commodity prices pushed import costs higher than export values.
Between January and March, China imported $1bn (£611m) more than it exported, compared with the whopping $13bn trade surplus recorded in the same period of 2010, according to the General Administration of Customs. Imports rose by 33 per cent to $401bn, while experts were up by 27 per cent at $400bn.
The surplus is unlikely to continue into the next quarter, but this year's overall total will be lower than in 2010, the Chinese government said.
Economists welcomed the development as a sign of rebalancing in the global economy, which has been tilted by China holding down its currency, hoarding dollars and flooding international markets with cheap exports.
Although China has resisted calls from the US to allow the yuan to appreciate, rising costs – including soaring prices for commodities such iron ore as well as foodstuff such as soybeans – have helped push real appreciation up faster than the gradual nominal route adopted by Beijing.
China raised interest rates for the fourth time in six months last week in an effort to hold down inflation.