Oil prices have nudged above $96 a barrel after new reports showed better-than-expected trade data in China and the US trade deficit shrank in December to the lowest point in three years.

Both pointed to a stronger global economy and more demand for oil.

At midday benchmark crude for March delivery was up 48 cents to $96.31 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Meanwhile oil traders reacted to a report showing that China's trade growth surged in January.

Exports soared 25% from a year earlier and import growth rocketed to 28%.

Analysts said the year-on-year data could be distorted because the Lunar New Year holidays fell in January in 2012.

This year, companies picked up pace in January to fill orders before shutting down for the holiday, which this year falls in February.

And the Commerce Department said that the US trade deficit fell nearly 21% in December from November, as oil imports plummeted.

That is the smallest trade deficit in nearly three years.

The smaller trade gap means the economy probably performed better in the fourth quarter than first estimated last week.

In London, Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose $1.71 to $118.95 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.