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UPDATE 1-China Aug imports beat forecasts but export grow shows signs of softening

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BEIJING, Sept 8 (Reuters) - China posted stronger-than-expected import growth in August, reinforcing views that the world's second-largest economy is still expanding at a healthy pace despite tighter policy.

China's imports grew 13.3 percent from a year earlier, official data showed on Friday, handily beating analysts' forecast of 10 percent, after rising 11.0 percent in July.

Imports of industrial commodities continued to lead the way as soaring steel prices boost Chinese mills' appetite for high-quality foreign iron ore.

Exports showed some signs of softening, however, with growth cooling to 5.5 percent from a year earlier, roughly in line with analysts' forecasts for a 6.0 percent increase but down from 7.2 percent in July.

Export growth was the slowest since shipments fell in February, but may not necessarily suggest broader global demand is faltering.

Germany's BGA trade association now expects German exports to rise 5 percent in 2017, double its earlier forecast, Die Welt newspaper reported on Friday.

Global manufacturing activity also expanded strongly in August, adding to views that demand was holding up in the current quarter.

Also, China has tended to lag export trends seen elsewhere in North Asia this year. Neighbouring South Korea last week posted sharply higher shipments for August.

The surging yuan is complicating China's trade picture.

Some Chinese exporters have been complaining of losses due to a sharp turnaround in the yuan currency, which has now gained around 7 percent against the U.S. dollar so far this year, much of it in the past few months.

The Chinese currency rose 2.1 percent against the dollar in August alone.

The mixed performance left China with a trade surplus of $41.99 billion for August, the General Administration of Customs said, the lowest since May.

Analysts were expecting China's trade surplus to have widened to $48.6 billion in August from July's $46.73 billion.

TRADE TENSIONS

Despite a rebound in 2017 from several lean years, China's trade picture also continues to be clouded by persistent worries of further trade tensions with the United States, China's largest export market.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August authorized an inquiry into China's alleged theft of intellectual property in the first direct trade measure by his administration against Beijing, but one that is unlikely to prompt near-term change.

Beijing has responded that China will tighten controls over IP theft, admitting that its IP protection was "not perfect" as a developing country.

Improving global demand, particularly for electronics, has boosted exports for China and other trade-reliant Asian economies this year.

But investors have been more focused on its strong appetite for imports, particularly industrial commodities such as iron ore and coal, which have sparked a global price rally and fuelled higher earnings and share prices for many resource-related companies.

(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Elias Glenn; Editing by Kim Coghill)