New trade figures show that China has overtaken Germany to become the world's top exporter.

According to data released by China's customs agency Sunday, Chinese exports surged by 17.7 per cent in December, compared to the same month in the previous year.

Exports for the last month of 2009 were $130.7 billion, raising the total for the year to $1.23 trillion, ahead of the $1.20 trillion forecast for Germany.

Last year wasn't easy for China's exporters as the global economic slowdown cut demand for the country's goods.

Every month since late 2008, the government has reported export figures lower than they had been a year earlier. Then in the last few weeks of 2009, the trend reversed.

China's gross domestic product expanded 8.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2009, up from 7.9 per cent in the second quarter and 6.1 per cent in the first, buoyed by $603 billion in stimulus spending.

China surpassed the United States as the biggest auto market in 2009 and is on track to soon replace Japan as the world's second-largest economy. China passed Germany as the third-largest economy in 2007.

With files from The Associated Press