BEIJING, Dec. 11 -- China's exports totaled US$115 billion last month, down 2.2% year-on-year in the first monthly decline since June 2001, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said on Wednesday.
The previous decline, a much smaller 0.6%, reflected slumping US demand after the tech bubble burst.
November's exports also fell 10.4% month-on-month. In October, exports were up 19.2% year-on-year.
Sharp declines were recorded on the import front last month. Imports were worth US$75 billion, down 17.9% year-on-year and down 19.5% month-on-month.
"It means the financial crisis is not only weakening the economies of the United States and European Union but also weighing on China's economy," said Zhuang Jian, senior economist with the Asian Development Bank's China Resident Mission.
November's total trade volume stood at US$189.89 billion, down 9% year-on-year, GAC said.
The monthly trade surplus hit a record high for this year at US$40 billion, up 52% from last November, when it was US$26.28 billion. The trade surplus was US$35.24 billion in October and US$29.3 billion in September.
Zhuang attributed the record-high trade surplus to a drop in exports and an even sharper decrease in imports, which widened the trade gap.
"When exports fall due to weak external demand, imports will drop more drastically because most of the country's export industry is processing with supplied or imported materials," he said.
According to Zhuang, the decline in orders at the latest Canton Fair, an important barometer of China's trade, was a gloomy portent.
At the most recent Fair, where foreign buyers have traditionally come to order, trade fell about 10% year-on-year. Orders from the United States posted the biggest drop -- about one third of last year's volume, to US$1.63 billion.
Zhuang expected the grim situation to persist in December and into the first half of 2009.
From January to November, foreign trade was US$2.38 trillion, jumping 20.9% year-on-year. The total comprised US$1.32 trillion in exports, up 19.3%, and US$1.06 trillion in imports, an increase of 22.8%, GAC figures showed.
That created a cumulative trade surplus of US$255.95 billion in the first 11 months, up 6.9 percent or US$16.39 billion from a year earlier, GAC said.
According to GAC, the EU remained China's top trading partner, with bilateral trade totaling US$392.94 billion in the first 11 months, jumping 22% over the same period last year. Trade between China and the United States, the second-biggest trade partner, rose 11.6 percent to US$307.82 billion.
Japan remained China's No.3 trade partner with bilateral trade totaling US$246.23 billion, up 15.2%.