China to set up free trade zone on southern island of Hainan

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Data released by the General Administration of Customs showed that the surplus with the U.S. jumped 19.4% to US$58 billion between January and March compared to the same period previous year.

However, for March the surplus fell to $15.4 billion from February's $21 billion, while it was also down from $17.7 billion 12 months ago.

President Donald Trump said the US may be able to avoid a trade war with China if Beijing is willing to open its market more to American products, offering a path away from a confrontation over tariffs.

China's exports to the US increased 14.8 percent from a year earlier in January-March period, spokesman Huang Songping told a briefing in Beijing, while imports from the USA also rose 8.9 percent.

The latest data showed China continues to benefit from the two-way trade.

For the first quarter as a whole, China's exports grew a hearty 14.1 percent from a year earlier.

The GOP political leaders are especially concerned about the impact trade retaliation from China could have on USA agriculture, which relies heavily on exports to China.

The stand-off has intensified over the massive trade deficit with China, which was a record $375.2 billion in 2017.

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Analysts had expected imports to grow 10.0 percent in March, picking up from 6.3 percent growth in February.

For Jan-March, imports rose a strong 18.9% on-year.

Fears of a trade war have been rumbling since last month.

Analysts are still expecting China's economic growth to slow later in the year, however, as a cooling property market weighs on demand for building materials from cement to steel. Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer, highlighted the importance of maintaining China as a robust market for US soybean exports, and the lasting effects implemented tariffs and a trade war would have on soybean farmers.

But the sudden spike in trade tensions with the United States is clouding the outlook for both China's "old economy" heavy industries and "new economy" tech firms. US President Donald Trump has threatened a series of tariffs on hund-reds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods, sparking tit-for-tat warnings from Beijing.

China's tech sector, which is key part of Beijing's longer-term "Made in China 2025" strategy to move from cheap goods to higher-value manufacturing, may be particularly vulnerable.

The Austrian officials signed $1.85 billion in contracts with China, according to the report.