UPDATE 1-China Dec export growth slows, 2013 trade target missed
* Dec exports +4.3 pct yr/yr, vs f'cast +4.9 pct
* Dec import +8.3 pct yr/yr, vs f'cast +5.3 pct
* Dec trade surplus $25.6 bln vs f'cast $31.2 bln
* 2013 exports up +7.9 pct yr/7r, imports +7.3 pct
BEIJING, Jan 10 (Reuters) - China's export growth slowed more than expected in December due to a higher comparison base a year earlier and a clamp-down on speculative activities disguised as export deals, missing the official target on foreign trade.
But the outlook for 2014 is expected to be brighter as global demand picks up.
"Exports weakened dramatically, but were close to the consensus. The data is positive for China and Asia sentiment as it alleviates concerns that China is slowing too sharply," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, a senior economist and strategist for Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.
Exports rose 4.3 percent in December from a year earlier, the Customs Administration said on Friday, slowing from 12.7 percent in November and compared to market expectations of 4.9 percent.
Imports rose 8.3 percent, quickening from 5.3 percent in November and overshooting the same rate expected by the market, raising optimism that domestic demand may remain firm despite signs that the world's second-largest economy is losing steam.
The December trade surplus fell 24.3 percent from a year earlier to $25.6 billion, missing the forecast of $31.2 billion.
For 2013, exports rose 7.9 percent and imports rose 7.3 percent, producing a trade surplus of $259.8 billion, up 12.4 percent from 2012.
Uncertain global demand, a stronger yuan currency and rising labour costs have taken their toll on Chinese exporters, but analysts believe sales could pick up modestly in 2014 due to improved demand from the United States and Europe.
China's combined exports and imports rose 7.6 percent in 2013, below the official target of 8 percent. In 2012, China missed a 10 percent annual growth target. The government does not set any target on exports.
"China's exporters are facing pressures from rising costs, including increasing labour costs and yuan currency appreciation," customs spokesman Zheng Yuesheng told a news conference, adding that trade is entering a "stabilisation and development stage" in 2014.
China's Commerce Ministry has pledged to maintain steady trade growth this year and further balance the trade structure by increasing imports of raw materials and energy products.
"The biggest surprise is December imports. This suggests China's domestic demand is continuing to improve," said Sun Junwei, China economist at HSBC in Beijing.
"We expect exports to show further recovery in 2014, but the magnitude would be small and at around 10 percent. Imports could be supported by steady domestic demand and are likely to grow around 8 percent this year."
China's leaders want to wean the economy off its heavy reliance on investment and exports in favour of a more sustainable expansion in consumption and have unveiled the boldest economic and social reforms in nearly three decades to pursue that goal.