China's exports fell 3.3 percent in January from a year earlier, while imports slumped by 19.9 percent, both missing expectations by a wide margin, and resulting in a record monthly trade surplus of $60 billion.
Thinking that easing measures in Europe would boost demand for Chinese goods, analysts polled by Reuters had expected to exports to rise by 6.3 percent, and imports to fall by only 3 percent, to give a trade deficit of $48.9 billion.
Instead, exports slid 12 percent on a monthly basis, while imports dove 21.1 percent, according to the data released by the Customs Administration said on Sunday.
The decline was led by a sharp slide in commodities imports, in particular imports of coal which dropped nearly 40 percent to 16.78 million tonnes, down from December's 27.22 million tonnes, as well as a scale back in crude oil imports, which slid 7.9 percent.
While the trade data augured badly for an economy that suffered its slowest economic growth in 24 years in 2014, analysts say strong seasonal distortions due to the Lunar New Year holiday make it difficult to interpret the data. Last year the holiday fell in January, and this year it falls in February.