That left China with a trade surplus of $39.65 billion in September, compared with a $34.84 billion surplus in August.
Analysts previously expected exports to decline by 3%, while imports were expected to drop by 5.2%.
In yuan terms, China’s exports fell 0.7% in September from a year ago, while imports dropped 6.2% during the same period.
The data were largely overshadowed by the latest Sino-U.S. trade deals and had little impact on Chinese stocks.
The Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Component both gained 1.4% by 11:40 PM ET (03:40 GMT).
Investor sentiment improved over the weekend after the U.S. and China agreed on a “phase one” trade deal.
Washington will not be raising tariffs on Chinese goods as originally planned this week. In exchange, Beijing will make as much as $50 billion of agricultural purchases and also take steps on intellectual property, financial services and the yuan.