BEIJING (AFP) - China said Wednesday its exports soared for the third straight month in February and at their fastest pace in three years, which analysts said could leave Beijing more open to a stronger yuan. Overseas shipments grew 45.7 percent on-year last month to 94.5 billion dollars, the customs bureau said, cementing a turnaround that began in December when a year-long decline ended. Chinas export data is closely watched for clues to the state of the worlds third-largest economy and for signs of recovery in crisis-hit markets such as the United States and Europe. And Bank of America-Merrill Lynch economists said they expected the recovery to continue, while a change in the currency regime could come as soon as after mid-2010. With such high export growth, pressure on Chinas peg to the greenback could be escalated rapidly in months ahead, and we expect by the middle of this year China could shift the current dollar peg to a new regime, they said. The value of the yuan effectively pegged to the US dollar since mid-2008 has been a source of friction with Chinas Western trading partners, who say Beijing is keeping it artificially low to boost exports. But central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said last weekend that the policy of keeping the currency stable against the US dollar was temporary and would be removed sooner or later once the global recovery was on a firmer footing. The recovery seems to have gained legs and this will give Chinas government more confidence to start revaluing the yuan, said Ren Xianfang, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Beijing. Analysts said the latest figures reflected improving demand for Chinese-made products, even though the growth was inflated by the comparison with February 2009 when shipments plunged 25.7 percent due to the global crisis. Its obviously impacted by the low base effect but there were five fewer (business) days in February this year than last year which makes this number pretty impressive, Royal Bank of Canada senior strategist Brian Jackson told AFP. Chinas Lunar New Year, the nations most important holiday and a time when many companies shut down, came in February this year. In 2009, it came in late January. Februarys exports grew at the quickest pace since the same month in 2007. Chinas trade surplus reached 7.61 billion dollars in February, the new figures showed, up 57.2 percent year-on-year, while imports rose 44.7 percent year-on-year to 86.9 billion dollars. China has tried to play down expectations for a strong pick-up in exports this year, with commerce minister Chen Deming saying at the weekend it could take up to three years to return to pre-financial crisis levels. But Deutsche Bank economist Ma Jun said Februarys very strong data suggested Chen was too pessimistic. We forecast this years exports will sharply exceed expectations, Ma told AFP. The data marked a continuation of a turnaround in December, when exports grew 17.7 percent, snapping a string of 13 straight declines. That was followed by a 21 percent year-on-year increase in January. In February China became the worlds leading exporter when Germany, which had claimed the spot since 2003, saw trade suffer its sharpest slump since 1950.