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China's imports shrink in February in new sign of economic weakness

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BEIJING — China's imports shrank in February for a second month in a new sign of weakness in the world's second-largest economy.

Imports contracted by 20.5 percent to $108.6 billion compared with a year earlier, customs data showed Sunday. China's trade data early in the year often can be distorted by the Lunar New Year holiday, which occurs at a different time each year in January or February. However, with the two months combined, the contraction in imports so far this year is 20.2 percent.

Exports surged 48.3 percent to $169.2 billion, rebounding from January's 3.3 percent contraction, according to the General Administration of Customs of China.

China's appetite for imported raw materials and consumer goods has ebbed as economic growth declined to a two-decade low of 7.4 percent last year. The International Monetary Fund and other forecasters expect growth to decline this year to 7 percent and further in 2015.

The ruling Communist Party is trying to steer the economy away from heavy reliance on trade and investment by nurturing more self-sustaining growth driven by domestic consumption. Still, its plans call for maintaining steady trade growth to protect the millions of jobs supported by export industries.

On Saturday, Trade Minister Gao Hucheng said February exports would be weak but he expressed confidence the country can meet the government's goal of 6 percent growth this year in total imports and exports.

The country's global trade surplus widened to $60.6 billion. The surplus with the United States was $19.9 billion and that with the 27-nation European Union was $15 billion.

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