"Admittedly, U.S. tariffs may have played a small part in the sharp fall in China's export growth last month", the Capital Economics economists wrote.
"China wants to negotiate", he said.
Washington imposed import tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods a year ago and has threatened further action if Beijing does not change its practices on issues ranging from industrial subsidies to intellectual property.
At the same time, China's overall trade surplus with the US hit a record in 2018, underscoring the political imperative to cut a deal ahead of a 1 March deadline after which US President Donald Trump has threatened to impose additional tariffs on Chinese goods.
China, the world's top soybean buyer, usually sources the bulk of its oilseed imports from the U.S.in the final quarter of the year when the USA harvest comes to market.
Crude oil imports for the full 2018 averaged 9.24 million bpd, up by a little over 10 percent on an annual basis, or 846,600 bpd more than the average daily import rate for 2017.
In December, exports and imports unexpectedly fell 4.4 percent and 7.6 percent respectively from a year earlier. "But growth in exports to the rest of the world also slowed significantly, indicating that softer demand was the main culprit, and that a trade truce with the USA would be no guarantee of a strong recovery".
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The fall of exports in December which is the biggest since December 2016, when China grew at its slowest pace since 1990 was the first indication that the trade war with U.S. is biting Beijing.
Import growth had been expected to pick up slightly to 5 percent, after cooling to 3 percent in the previous month.
"We do not see the USA fully removing the specter of tariff hikes any time soon", he said in a report.
China's trade surplus with the United States shot up by 17.2 percent in 2018 compared to the year before, according to Chinese data released on Monday, reaching a record-breaking $323.3 billion (€281.9 billion).
Both exports and imports fared worse than expected in December, according to the figures released Monday by the General Administration of Customs (GAC).
"The global electronics cycle remains the key driver of Chinese exports".
With policy easing unlikely to put a floor beneath domestic economic activity until the second half of this year, import growth is likely to remain subdued, they added.
It is the second largest world economy and the most important trading partner for a large number of countries, so its data often covers a very wide range of companies.
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