China's trade plunged in February as weak global demand and a business shutdown during the Lunar New Year holiday combined to depress sales.

Exports fell 25.4 per cent from a year ago to $126.1 billion, worsening from January's 11.2 per cent contraction, customs data showed Tuesday. Imports shrank 13.8 per cent to $93.5 billion, an improvement over January's 18.8 per cent decline.

The trade slump has complicated the ruling Communist Party's efforts to overhaul its state-dominated economy by adding the risk of politically dangerous job losses. The ruling party's plans call for keeping trade steady to protect millions of export-related jobs.

At the annual meeting of China's national legislature this week, the leadership refrained from announcing a trade growth target after last year's exports contracted by 2.8 per cent, falling embarrassingly short of the official goal of six per cent growth.

Chinese economic growth fell last year to a 25-year low of 6.9 per cent. The government has set a target of 6.5 to seven per cent this year but the International Monetary Fund and private sector forecasters expect growth to fall as low as 6.3 per cent.

The export drop was the biggest since May 2009, but economists said it may not necessarily point to a significant worsening in economic conditions due to sharply reduced business activity during the long Lunar New Year holidays, which fell in early February this year.

China's politically sensitive global trade surplus was $32.6 billion in February.

The trade surplus with the United States, China's biggest trading partner last month, narrowed by one-quarter from a year earlier to $14.5 billion as American purchases of Chinese goods fell 15 per cent. The surplus with the 27-nation European Union contracted by one-third to $10 billion.

With files from Reuters