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A sharp drop in Chinese imports, a gloomy outlook for global oil demand and a burgeoning US trade deficit are fanning growing fears of a deteriorating global economy, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Signs that demand was slowing in China raised concerns for European nations relying on an export-led recovery from their economic crisis.

There was another blow when the International Energy Agency cut its oil demand forecast for a sixth consecutive month, citing a weak global economy. China said its imports fell last month at the fastest annual pace since the low point of the financial crisis in 2009.

At the same time its exports fell, in the worst performance for more than two years.

As wrangling continued over a solution to Greece’s problems, there were signs the euro-zone crisis and its effect on demand was hurting Chinese exporters. Their sales to Europe suffered the first annualised fall and exports to the US put in their worst performance for a year.

However, it was the fall in imports that exercised market traders on Friday. Many countries, including Britain, have been pinning their hopes on robust Chinese demand.

Analysts cautioned against reading too much into China’s January trade figures, disrupted by this year’s unusually high number of public holidays.

”Exports per working day grew, suggesting that growth in external demand for Chinese goods is only gradually decelerating,” said Wei Yao, of Societe Generale. ”However, the import numbers were surprising. January was the second month in a row of much slower-than-expected import growth.”

Whatever the reasons for China’s exports dip, it will do little to quell criticism from overseas policymakers that Beijing is keeping its currency artificially weak to gain competitive advantage. Such criticisms, particularly by American politicians, were underlined by news of a record trade gap between the US and China. Data from the US Commerce Department showed the gap grew 8.2 per cent last year.

Imports from China were almost four times as high as US exports.

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