The slump has added to pressure on Chinese leaders to make peace in a tariff war with Washington over Beijing's technology ambitions.
As Lunar New Year festivities usually take place within the first few months of the year, the data discrepancies are caused by base effects due to the festival being held on different dates compared to previous years.
But veteran China watchers had said export gains may be due more to seasonal factors than any sudden turnaround in lacklustre global demand, as shipments were expected to jump after long holidays in February.
Exports rose 14.2 percent from a year earlier, customs data showed yesterday, the strongest growth in five months.
Economists said the sharp rebound in exports was surprising, although warned that exports have yet to fully recover from a sharp slowdown late past year.
Chinese government spokespeople said Thursday talks with Washington were making progress after nine rounds of negotiations.
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Economists say a settlement appears increasingly like. They expected imports to fall by only 1.3 per cent.
The struggle has disrupted trade in products ranging from exemptions to medical equipment. The dispute prompted other forecasters and the International Monetary Fund to lower their view for global economic development and has rattled financial markets.
"The reversal of US tariffs would only provide a small boost to exports of around 1% to 2%", said Evans-Pritchard.
It raises questions about the current strength of domestic demand, especially as rising oil prices should have pushed up imports, said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a note.
Imports of American goods plunged 25.8percent to $11.3 billion, hit by Chinese retaliatory duties and requests to buyers to discover different suppliers. Imports of European goods fell 4.9% to $22 billion.
China's imports plummeted in March while exports rose sharply, official data showed today, adding to worries about slowing growth in the world's number two economy amid a United States trade war.