China's foreign trade fell again in March even as businesses returned to work after the coronavirus outbreak, with the global pandemic weighing on the manufacturing powerhouse's outlook.
Exports fell 6.6% in March from a year earlier and imports dropped 0.9%, according to Customs data released on Tuesday.
The contraction was less than a Bloomberg economist forecast that predicted a decline of at least 10% in both figures, and well below the 17.2% plunge in exports seen in the first two months of the year.
But analysts warned that a broader recovery would be hamstrung for as long as the viral pandemic ravaged China's trading partners.
"The worst is still to come for China's export sector," cautioned Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics.
China's trade surplus with the United States – a key point of contention in the bruising trade war between the world's top two economies – narrowed again in March by 25% on-year to $15.3 billion.
January's phase one trade deal between Washington and Beijing had seen "good growth momentum" in some commodities imports from the US such as soybeans and pork, said Customs official Li Kuiwen.
But Li also sounded a sombre note on foreign trade forecasts for the rest of the year.
"We have noted that the global Covid-19 spread is still accelerating, causing a serious impact on the world's economic development," he told reporters on Tuesday.
Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics said lockdowns and social distancing policies in other countries would see further falls in Chinese trade volumes in the months to come.
Factory activity data last month had already shown continued weakness in new export orders, he noted.
Kuijs said in an earlier report that he expected the Chinese economy would see "basically no growth in 2020".
The Covid-19 pandemic has killed around 120,000 people worldwide and unleashed havoc on the global economy, prompting the World Trade Organization to warn of the "worst recession of our lifetimes".