Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said after a summit last week in Florida between Xi and Trump that the USA aims to increase its exports to China.
Imports grew faster than exports in the three months with surging import prices, resulting in a 35.7-percent shrinking of the trade surplus, data from the General Administration of Customs (GAC) showed.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected March exports to have increased by 3.2 percent from a year earlier, a rebound from a 1.3 percent drop in February.
The trade surplus with the United States was $US17.7 billion and the gap with Europe was $US7.7 billion. The US has also attempted to bargain with China on trade in exchange for support in geopolitical issues. "We're going to see about that".
China imported 95.56 million tonnes of the steel-making ingredient in March, up 14.5 percent from the prior month and 12.2 percent from the same month in 2016, and just below the record 96.27 million from December 2015. Analysts had expected China to return to a surplus of $10.0 billion in March, versus February's $9.15 billion deficit.
Imports also rose 20.3 per cent year-on-year to US$156.7 billion in the month, Customs said, while the trade surplus increased to US$23.9 billion.
Exports in the first quarter of the year rose 8.2 percent from the same period last year, while imports surged 24.0 percent.
"The risk of an explicit trade war has waned subsequent to the Trump-Xi summit", economists at ANZ said in a note.
It is rare for American leaders to link trade or currency disputes to broader global security efforts against countries such as North Korea.
"China has finally caught up with the rest of Asia with the end of the trade recession", Raymond Yeung of Australia & New Zealand Banking Group told Bloomberg News.
Turning to iron ore, and again the strength in March, and indeed the first quarter, seems largely due to a growth trend that may be easing, rather than accelerating. He added that Beijing had not been manipulating its currency for months - a point economists have been making for a much longer time.
If sustained, stronger exports could cushion some of the impact from any softening in domestic demand.
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