After a 13-month slump, China’s flagging exports have rebounded back to life, recording unexpectedly strong growth in December and likely propelling the country past Germany to become the world’s biggest exporter.

China’s exports were up 17.7 per cent in December from a year ago, exceeding most expectations after a year and a half of steep declines.

Exports were down by more than 20 per cent last year as a result of the economic slowdown. Imports last month recorded an even stronger rebound, growing 56 per cent year-on-year, according to figures released by the General Administration of Customs (GAC) on Sunday.

Sunday’s figures take China’s exports to $1.2 trillion in 2009. This marks a 16 per cent fall from the previous year, but suggests China will still overtake Germany to become the world’s biggest exporter in 2009, with German exports estimated at around $1.1 trillion last year.

Huang Guohua, a statistician with the GAC, described Sunday’s data as “an important turning point” for the country’s export sector, which has suffered badly in the wake of the financial crisis.

An estimated 1,00,000 factories closed down as a result of falling demand from the West, as China’s export-led growth suffered its biggest setback in decades.

“It is safe to say now that Chinese exporters have come right through the period of weakness,” Mr. Huang said.

Sunday’s figures underscore the strong signs of revival China’s economy has shown in recent months, largely on the back of the government’s $586 billion stimulus spending.

Record spending on infrastructure projects propelled the economy to register 8.9 per cent growth in the third quarter of last year, keeping the country on track to meet its 8 per cent annual growth target.

However, economists here have in recent months increasingly expressed concern that the massive government spending might exacerbate imbalances in the economy in the long-term, leading to overcapacity in some industries and bubbles in the property markets. Notwithstanding the concerns, officials here stressed last week that current policies would remain in place.

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