updated 1/11/2006 9:10:04 AM ET 2006-01-11T14:10:04

China's trade surplus surged to $101.88 billion last year, more than triple the $32 billion surplus recorded the year before, according to customs figures released Wednesday.

Exports rose 28.4 percent year-on-year in 2005 to $762 billion, while imports rose 17.6 percent to $660 billion, the General Administration of Customs said in a report posted on its Web site.

With total overall trade of $1.42 trillion, China is now the world's third-biggest trading nation, the report said, without giving comparative figures.

The figures were largely in line with expectations, but they were likely to intensify pressure for Beijing to loosen foreign exchange controls that U.S. officials and other critics contend keep China's currency, the yuan, undervalued. That makes Chinese exports relatively cheap in overseas markets.

The report gave no breakdown for imports and exports with the United States and other major trading partners.

China's biggest trading partner was the EU, with two-way trade estimated at $217.3 billion, up 22.6 percent from the year before. The U.S. was second, with imports and exports totaling $211.6 billion, up 25 percent year-on-year, according to the report. Trade with Japan rose 9.9 percent to $184.5 billion.

The government forecast this week that growth in exports would slow significantly this year due to higher oil prices and simmering friction over China's burgeoning trade surpluses.

The main planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, estimated in a report published Wednesday in the state-run newspaper China Securities Journal that exports would rise about 15 percent year-on-year in 2006, with imports climbing about 18 percent.

Robust exports has been a key factor behind China's feverish economic growth in recent years. The commission estimated that growth hit 9.8 percent in 2005, and says it is expected to slow to a still torrid pace of 8.5 percent to 9 percent this year.

The customs figures showed strong growth for China's high-tech exports, which rose 32 percent year-on-year to $218.3 billion. Exports of electronics products also rose 32 percent on-year to $426.8 billion, accounting for 56 percent of total export value for the year.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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