China's trade accelerated in April in a possible positive sign for its shaky economic recovery.

Exports rose 14.7% over a year earlier, up from March's 10% growth, the latest customs data showed. Imports gained 16.8%, up from the previous month's 14.1%.

The stronger data suggest growth of the world's second-largest economy might be improving after an unexpected decline to 7.7% in the first three months of the year from the previous quarter's 7.9%.

Some analysts suggest Chinese trade data are distorted by reporting errors and unreliable as an economic indicator.

But April's stronger numbers might help to reassure companies and investors after the weaker first-quarter growth jolted global financial markets.

Recent surveys by HSBC and a Chinese industry group showed Chinese manufacturing growth weakened in April. HSBC said new export orders fell for the first time this year.

Some analysts have warned China's recovery is being shored up by state-led investment and bank lending and could be vulnerable if trade or investment weakens.

The weaker-than-expected first quarter numbers prompted the World Bank and private sector analysts to trim forecasts for full-year growth, though to still robust levels of about 8%.

Chinese leaders are trying to nurture self-sustaining growth driven by domestic consumption instead of trade and investment. But consumer spending is growing more slowly than they want.

A Cabinet statement last month promised to improve the role of consumption as a driver of economic growth. It pledged changes in medical, pension and other policies but gave no details.

Analysts say more government spending on such social programmes will be required to free up household budgets for consumer spending. April's stronger gains in imports compared with exports caused China's global trade surplus to narrow by about 1%, though to a still-wide $18.2 billion.

China runs a deficit with most of its trading partners, which supply oil, other raw materials and industrial components, and makes up for it by running large surpluses with its US and European export markets.

China's exports to Europe, hurt by the region's debt troubles, declined 6.5% to $25.9 billion and the surplus with the 27-nation European Union narrowed by 32% to $7.9 billion. Trade with some European countries suffered even bigger declines. Germany's imports of Chinese goods fell 7.2% and France's by 6.7%.

Exports to the US edged down by a fraction of 1% to $28.1 billion while the trade gap with the US narrowed by 13% to $14.7 billion.

China's data on exports have been under scrutiny since some analysts pointed out last year that they failed to match up with its trading partners' lower figures for their purchases of Chinese goods.

Some analysts suggested Chinese exporters might be inflating values on customs declarations as a way to evade Beijing's currency controls and bring money into the country for investment.