China’s exports to Russia slumped in March after the invasion of Ukraine even as shipments to other nations grew quickly, indicating Chinese companies are likely to be cautious about trading with Russia. 

Chinese firms sold $3.8 billion worth of goods to Russia in March, official data showed Wednesday, a 7.7% drop from a year earlier. That was the lowest amount since May 2020, when global trade was badly affected by the outbreak of Covid-19. 

The two nations declared their friendship had no limits earlier this year when Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met before the invasion of Ukraine, and since the attack China has said it will continue normal trade relations. However, the increasing sanctions on Russia by many nations, the slump in the Russian currency and U.S. efforts to stop Russia from using the dollar has probably pushed Chinese firms to hold back on exports.

Imports from Russia rose 26.4% from a year ago, likely pushed higher by rising commodity prices. China mainly buys oil, gas, coal and agricultural commodities from Russia and sells electronic equipment, machinery, and vehicles. Details on the actual goods moved across the border in March will be released later in the month.

China received 387,000 tons of liquefied natural gas from Russia in March, higher than the 317,000 tons a year earlier, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. While China has been steadily increasing gas imports from Russia since supply from its pipeline started in late 2019, that volume still lags behind top supplier Australia.

Imports in March may have dropped due to Russia’s seasonal pipe maintenance works and China’s covid outbreaks, but will likely rise by 3 billion cubic meters this summer, from 10bcm in 2021, to keep Gazprom PJSC on track to reach full capacity of 38bcm by 2024, according to Lujia Cao, a gas analyst with BloombergNEF. Just before the invasion, PetroChina Co. inked its second gas contract with Gazprom.

In 2021, China’s total trade with Russia grew 36% to $147 billion, official data showed, with the nations’ leaders agreeing to boost this to $250 billion when they met in February. Russia’s Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov said that the country is ready to sell crude oil and petroleum products to “friendly countries” within any price range, according to a report Wednesday in Izvestia.