Exports in yuan-denominated terms rose 14.3 percent year on year to 1.24 trillion yuan (179.8 billion US dollars), down from the 22.3-percent increase in March, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
While exports increased at a slower rate than March, when they soared by 16.4%, they marked a second consecutive month of growth after a 1.3% fall in February.
Imports rose 11.9 percent to $142 billion, slowing from 20.4 percent growth the previous month.
April's numbers left the country with a trade surplus of $38.05 billion, (£29 billion) which compared with forecasts for $35.50 billion, and above $23.93 billion in March.
"Overall, China's exports were weaker than expected, but they're still OK", said Macquarie Group Ltd. economist Larry Hu.
China's trade surplus has been a point of contention with the U.S. Since the early-April summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping in Florida, trade tensions have eased, reducing the prospect for punitive U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. At the same time, China's imports from Russian Federation increased by 30.1 percent to $13.08 billion, the report adds.
In U.S. dollar terms, exports went up 8 percent in April, nearly on par with the 8.2-percent gain registered in the first quarter.
The state planner said last month it will stop accepting from May 5 new applications from private oil refiners seeking approval to use imported crude oil.
That produced a trade balance of +262.3 billion yuan in April.
"The slower-than-expected growth in April's imports partly reflected the impact of tightening regulations on firms' financing costs and growth expectations", said Deng. "Imports will reflect that trend first".
"Exports should continue to grow steadily this year", Mr. Cai said, adding that he sees less of a threat of higher US import tariffs on Chinese goods, a possibility Mr. Trump has mentioned.
The smaller-than-expected rise in exports and imports underscores the challenges the global economic recovery faces.