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China December Exports Decline Again

China's exports suffered their biggest decline in a decade in December as a trade slump that has caused a wave of factory closures and layoffs worsened, according to data reported Tuesday by a government newspaper.

Exports in December were down 2.8 percent from the same time last year, a bigger decline than November's 2.2 percent drop, the China Daily said, citing customs agency data. November was the first export decline in seven years.

The slump has triggered a wave of factory closures and layoffs that communist leaders worry could fuel unrest. Labor protests have occurred in some areas. The government is pressing companies to avoid more job cuts.

December's export decline was the sharpest since April 1999, according to JP Morgan & Co.

"Export growth is likely to be flat in 2009, with negative year-over-year growth in the near-term," said Jing Ulrich, JP Morgan's chairwoman of China equities, in a report.

Beijing has cut taxes for exporters and taken other steps to help struggling producers of textiles, toys and other goods.

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A woman who answered the phone at the customs agency and refused to give her name said data were due to be released later Tuesday. She said she could not confirm the China Daily report.

December imports fell even more sharply, declining 21.3 percent in a reflection of China's domestic economic slowdown, according to the China Daily. That was a bigger decline than November's 17.9 percent drop.

Exports in December were $111.2 billion, while imports were $72.2 billion, the China Daily said. That made December's trade surplus $39 billion, just short of November's record $40.1 billion.