BEIJING -- China's exports in March were down by double digits from a year earlier, but the decline was smaller than in February, the latest sign that the economy could be over the worst of a slump induced by the global credit crunch.
Exports in March fell 17.1 percent from a year earlier to $90.29 billion, the fifth straight monthly drop, the General Administration of Customs announced Friday.
In February, the country's exports plummeted 25.7 percent year-on-year, the worst decline in more than a decade.
"This indicates a sign of improvement in the country's foreign trade," the customs agency said.
The agency noted that exports in March rose 32.8 percent from February while imports grew 14 percent month-on-month.
China's export industries, which account for about 40 percent of its GDP, have been hit hard as orders from the United States and other countries dry up during the current world economic crisis.
The slowing decline did not come as a surprise to analysts but the fall is smaller than expected.
Economists polled by Reuters expected a 21.5 percent fall in March.
Helen Qiao and Yu Song at Goldman Sachs believed that the latest figure shows that the word's third largest economy is gaining strength, due in part to rapid loan growth.
Chinese banks extended a record 1.87 trillion yuan in new loans in March, two state newspapers reported on Tuesday.
The export figures came three days after the World Bank said that China is likely to emerge from its economic slump later this year, helping the rest of Asia stabilize and possibly rebound.
"A ray of hope may be emerging with signs of China's economy bottoming out by mid-2009," the bank said Tuesday in a statement. "A recovery in China -- fueled largely by the country's huge economic stimulus package -- is likely to begin this year and take full hold in 2010, potentially contributing to the region's stabilization, and perhaps recovery."
China Association of Automobile Manufacturers revealed Thursday that China's auto sales hit a monthly record of 1.11 million vehicles in March, exceeding US sales for the third month in a row.
Imports in March slumped 25.1 percent year-on-year to $71.73 billion, compared with a 24.1-percent decline in February.
Total import and export value was $162.02 billion last month, down 20.9 percent year-on-year.
Trade surplus rose to $18.56 billion, up 41.2 percent from a year earlier. This was compared with $4.84 billion in February.