Lackluster Chinese import demand reflects government curbs on lending and investment to cool inflation and overheating.
Those controls helped to crush surging prices but hurt China's large construction industry and depressed its voracious appetite for steel beams, wiring and other materials made of imported iron ore, copper and other commodities. That is bad news for miners and other commodity exporters such as Australia and Brazil that supply China.
China's economic growth fell to a three-and-a-half-year low of 7.4% in the quarter ending in September. Analysts say the slowdown probably has reached its bottom and activity should improve in the current quarter.
The government said last month it saw "steady economic growth," suggesting there was no need for further major stimulus following interest rate cuts and higher spending on public works construction and investment by state companies.
Demand in debt-plagued Europe was so weak that the 27-nation European Union was temporarily overtaken by the United States as China's biggest trading partner for October.
Exports to the United States rose 9.5% to $31.2 billion. China's trade surplus with the U.S. widened by 8% to $21.6 billion.
Exports to Europe fell 5.8% to $26.4 billion, with more severe declines for some struggling economies. Italy's purchases of Chinese goods plunged 25.7% while exports to France were off 9%. China's trade surplus with Europe narrowed by 17% to $10.8 billion.
Online: General Administration of Customs of China (in Chinese): www.customs.gov.cn