SINGAPORE - China's gasoline exports fell by a third in April from a year earlier but were higher than expected as refiners cut bulging inventories in the face of sliding domestic demand under COVID-19 lockdowns, Chinese customs data showed on Wednesday.

Chinese refiners had been expected to slash April fuel exports to pre-empt domestic shortages amid the Ukraine crisis, but later ramped up overseas shipments as COVID-19 restrictions cut deep into fuel consumption.

China exported 980,000 tonnes of gasoline last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed, down from 1.16 million tonnes in March and 1.47 million tonnes a year earlier.

Diesel exports totalled 530,000 tonnes, sharply below the 2.72 million tonnes exported a year earlier and down from 670,000 tonnes in March. Overseas sales of jet fuel, including refuelling at Chinese airports for international flights, rose 46% on the year to 960,000 tonnes, the highest monthly volume in two years.

China's demand for refined oil products has been falling as COVID-19 lockdowns in several cities, including the financial hub of Shanghai, hamper economic activity.

Gasoline and aviation fuel were the worst hit, forcing refiners to reduce overall output to the lowest levels in two years. Total exports of refined fuel, including marine bunker fuel, fell 44% in April from a year earlier.

Exports in the first four months were down 38% in tandem with Beijing's policy to slash excessive domestic refining.

The data on Wednesday also showed China's liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports slid 34.5% to 4.35 million tonnes, the lowest since March 2020.

Imports for January-April were down 17% as importers shunned expensive global supplies. Pipeline gas imports during the first four months were up 7.7% at 14.28 million tonnes. 

(Reporting by Chen Aizhu; editing by Neil Fullick and Jason Neely)