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Imports to China increased 20.3 percent from a year earlier to Dollars 156.68 billion in March of 2017, compared to a 38.1 percent growth in the prior month and above consensus of a 18 percent rise.

China has never sought a trade surplus with the USA, a top official said on Thursday, as the world's two largest economies work to ease tension and develop rapport.

Customs spokesman Huang Songping (黃頒平) said that better communication between China and the USA would benefit trade and investment between the two countries.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump removed a potential threat to Chinese export performance when he said he will not label Beijing a currency manipulator.

That compared with 11 percent increase in export and 34.2 percent growth in import in the first two months this year. Analysts had expected China to return to a surplus of $10.0 billion in March, versus February's $9.15 billion deficit.

The Baltic Dry Index (BDI), a barometer of global trade, rose to 1,141 points last month from 759 points in February, according to Ren Zeping, chief economist at Founder Securities.

China's overseas shipments strengthened in the first quarter from a year earlier as global demand held up.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected March exports to rise 3.2 per cent on-year, after a surprise drop of 1.3 per cent in February.

Imports rose 20.3 per cent to $US156.6 billion, down growth in January-February of 26.4 per cent. Among commodities the biggest demand is for crude oil (6 percent of total imports), iron ore (2 percent), copper and aluminum. Imports increased 31.1 percent to leave a trade surplus of 454.94 billion yuan ($66 billion).

"The risk of an explicit trade war has waned subsequent to the Trump-Xi summit", economists at ANZ said in a note.

World trade has picked up, expanding at the fastest pace in six years in the first quarter, according to Oxford Economics Ltd.

Although the surplus is registered in China's balance of trade, bilateral trade generates mutual benefits, he said.

But it remains unclear how far China will go to increase United States imports. China never seeks to have a trade surplus, and the trade imbalance between the nations is a result of different economic structures, industry competitiveness and roles in the global supply chain, he said.