Asian stock markets and US futures extended losses after the data. But the government has vowed it will not resort to massive stimulus like in the past, which helped revive demand worldwide.
The dismal trade data and a rare sell rating slapped on several high-flying Chinese stocks from a top brokerage sent the country's roller-coaster stock market down sharply, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index losing 4.40 per cent on Friday.
Exports to Europe decreased 15.9 percent to US$2 billion and exports to Japan were down 4.4 percent to US$1.54 billion, the MOF said.
China's total overseas shipments sank 20.7 percent year-on-year and imports fell 5.2 percent, much worse than the 5 percent and 0.6 percent drops forecast in a Bloomberg News poll. Imports of major commodities fell across the board.
However, analysts caution it is hard to compare trends in China's data at the start of the year due to the Chinese New Year holiday, which came in early February this year and can affect business activity.
China's economy has been showing signs of a slowdown amid the trade row with the US.
China and the US are reported to be close to an accord that would end their nine-month trade dispute after progress in the negotiations led Washington to delay raising punitive tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports, originally scheduled to take effect from the start of this month. While a preliminary agreement had been struck between United States and Chinese teams during the last round of talks last month, it has not yet received final sign-off by either country's leader.
The president's Chief Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow hinted Friday, that a deal could be reached later this month, or possibly by April.
China-US trade in goods
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with reporters outside the White House, in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2019.
Trump made the comments Friday as he left the White House to tour tornado damage in the southern US state of Alabama.
But the New York Times reported that Chinese officials are leery of continued discussions and don't want to commit China to structural changes in its economy.
China's trade surplus with the USA narrowed to $14.7 billion for the month, from $27.3 billion in January. After averaging the first two months data to smooth the holiday fluctuations, shipments still dropped nearly 5 percent.
For the first two months of the year, crude imports were 10.8 percent higher than for the same period last year. Many analysts expect a rocky first half before a flurry of stimulus measures start to stabilize activity around mid-year.
The country's global trade surplus was USD43.7 billion.
Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan had on Tuesday said the negotiation process was very "difficult and taxing" with "lots left to do", but that breakthroughs had been made in several areas.