At their lowest: China's exports experienced an unprecedented drop in April since 2020, against the backdrop of Shanghai's containment which is heavily penalizing activity, and the tightening of health restrictions in Beijing.
For two years, Chinese exports have largely benefited from the needs of the rest of the world for protective products against Covid-19, such as masks, or equipment for teleworking. But this demand is declining.
The Asian giant has also been facing its worst epidemic outbreak of the entire pandemic in recent weeks: millions of inhabitants were in particular hastily confined at the end of March in Shanghai, the economic capital.
These restrictions continue and put a strain on supply chains: the port metropolis is an important entry and exit point for goods in China.
As a result, China on Monday unveiled mixed trade figures for April.
Last month, China's exports grew at their weakest pace in nearly two years (+3.9%).
Analysts polled by the Bloomberg agency expected a more pronounced decline (+2.7%), after a 14.7% increase over one year in March.
This is for Chinese exports their worst performance since June 2020 (+0.5%).
As for imports from China, they experienced zero year-on-year growth in April.
However, this rate is better than that of March (-0.1%) and well above analysts' expectations (-3%).
A year earlier, imports from China had jumped 43.1%, against a backdrop of economic catch-up, after a virtual paralysis of activity during the first epidemic wave in early 2020.
Customs spokesman Li Kuiwen tried to sound a note of optimism on Monday, saying China's economy, with "positive fundamentals", had room to rebound.
Analysts seem more skeptical.
"Hopes of seeing exports pick up once the epidemic is over are likely to be dashed," said analyst Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics.
“On the contrary, a further decline is to be expected in the coming quarters,” warns Mr. Evans-Pritchard, arguing that the gradual lifting of health restrictions abroad is leading to a drop in demand for Chinese products against Covid.
Exports have been one of the mainstays of the Chinese economy until now when consumption is sluggish due to an epidemic outbreak and a crisis in the once driving real estate sector.
As for the weakness of imports, this reflects "a rather slow recovery in production" in China, due to "disruptions" to transport parts and components in the industry, underlines the economist Zhiwei Zhang, of the firm Pinpoint Asset Management.
China's zero Covid policy, which involves massive and repeated lockdowns and screenings of the population, is proving costly for the country's economy, experts have warned.
Last month, tens of millions of Chinese were confined to the northeast of the country, the cradle of the automotive industry. While the restrictions have since been lifted, activity is struggling to resume.
China's trade surplus nevertheless reached 51.1 billion dollars (48.6 billion euros) in April.
China's surplus stood a month earlier at $47.38 billion.