Exports rose 14.2% in USA dollar terms in March from the previous year following a 20.8% drop in February, but imports declined 7.6% compared to a 5.2% fall the month before.
It also comes after Chinese imports slid by 5.2% in February, suggesting there has been a sustained decline in domestic demand.
"Exports have yet to fully recover from a sharp slowdown late past year", said Julians Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report.
"There are uncertainties coming from the weaker momentum of the global economy and trade growth and the complex global environment", said Li Kuiwen, a customs spokesman. "We try to adjust for the shifting vacation but our model for trade still has residual seasonality, showing a month-on-month leap in March and plummet in February".
The IMF trimmed its global growth forecast this week to 3.3 percent for this year, while slightly boosting its forecast for China to 6.3 percent, in part because the Sino-US trade dispute did not escalate as much as expected.
Over the first quarter of 2019, China's total trade surplus widened to US$76.31 billion, up from US$54.6 billion in the final quarter of 2018.
"While import volumes are likely to remain subdued, they will probably recover somewhat in the near-term as policy stimulus helps to shore up demand", he said.
Washington and Beijing have largely agreed on a mechanism to police any trade agreement they reach, including establishing new "enforcement offices," US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund improved the outlook for Chinese growth this year to 6.3%, as the conflict between the U.S. and China on their trade deal did not worsen as expected from its earlier forecast.
ING economist Iris Pang said: "Exports jumped on seasonal factors while imports continued to shrink, with less demand for United States goods compared to a year ago". The economy grew 6.6 per cent last year, a 28-year low.