BEIJING (Reuters) - China's trade surplus fell sharply in August as exports pulled back from a record high and imports jumped, indicating the world's second-largest economy is feeling the pinch from weaker global growth while domestic demand remains resilient.
China's exports rose 24.5 percent in August from a year earlier, accelerating from the 20.4 percent rise in July, the customs administration said on Saturday.
The export growth was stronger than expectations of 21.6 percent.
But month-on-month figures showed exports cooled a bit in August, when debt worries in the United States and Europe fanned fears of a renewed global downturn. In U.S. dollar terms, China's exports totaled $173 billion in August, down from July's record high of $175 billion.
Imports grew 30.2 percent in August over a year earlier, overshooting expectations for 21.5 percent. Robust imports should comfort investors looking to China to pick up some slack in global demand as other major economies sputter.
That left the country with a trade surplus of $17.8 billion
in August, down 43 percent from in July, when the surplus was $31.5 billion. Economists had expected a surplus of $25.1 billion for August.
"The European debt crisis and slowing U.S. growth will be reflected in China's export data in the next few months. I expect Chinese export growth to be below 10 percent in the fourth quarter," said Shen Jianguang, an economist with Mizuho Securities Asia in Hong Kong
"Strong import growth is driven by China's strong demand for consumer goods, luxury items, iron ore, crude oil, soy as well as corn," he said.
Chinese exporters have tried to expand their market shares in developed economies and diversify into fast-growing emerging markets, though they face increased challenges from rising costs and a firmer yuan.
North America and Europe have generated less than 40 of China's overseas sales this year, down from 55 percent in 2002, according to analysts at Macquarie.
The narrower trade surplus will help China's fight against inflation, Huang Guohua, an official at the customs agency, told state television.
Data on Friday showed China's inflation pulled back in August from a three-year high while economic activity slowed, underlining expectations that the central bank can hold off on further tightening of monetary policy in the face of a global economic slowdown.
(Reporting by Langi Chiang and Kevin Yao; Editing by Emily Kaiser)