Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 7.3 percent gain after February's 20.8 percent plunge.
The exports rose 14.2 percent year-on-year in March, reversing a 20.8 percent decline in February.
"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.
Beijing is grappling with slowing economic growth and overseas companies are waiting for China to deliver on promises to open up its markets. Chinese officials are understood to be about to sign a...
China factory surveys for March had provided some glimmers of hope that demand was improving at home and overseas, suggesting government stimulus measures may be starting to take hold.
China's exports rebounded from a slump in March and sales to the United States rose despite President Donald Trump's tariff hikes.
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Analysts said the trade standoff between the USA and China was a likely factor behind the slowdown.
However, economists said even if a deal is reached and both sides rescind tit-for-tat tariffs, Chinese exporters would still have to contend with weakening demand globally.
The International Monetary Fund upgraded its 2019 growth forecast for China in a Tuesday report, citing Beijing's efforts to support the economy and an improved outlook for the Asian giant's tariff fight with the U.S.
China's trade surplus with the United States, a major source of frustration for Washington, rose almost 40 per cent in March from February to $20.5 billion and hit $62.66 billion in the first quarter.
The trade dispute has prompted some U.S. companies to shift purchases of tariff-targeted products like furniture and refrigerators to countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea and Mexico, according to a report by S&P Global Market Intelligence's trade data firm Panjiva.
However, the import data will be a cause for concern in Beijing, coming a day after new inflation data showed a spike in consumer prices.
This was higher than a survey of economists by Bloomberg, which had forecast growth of 6.5 per cent. Last year, the country expanded by 6.6%, its slowest growth since 1990.