China's trade surplus may not be as high as the official figure reflects, the former director of the Statistics Bureau, Li Deshui, said.
He said it could be exaggerated for other reasons.
China's trade surplus was US$177.47 billion in 2006, 74 percent up over the previous year, according to figures from the General Administration of Customs.
Bo Xilai, minister of the Ministry of Commerce, said recently the trade surplus tops the ministry's agenda.
According to Li, many enterprises try to take advantage of the trade policy by exaggerating export figures in order to get export refunds.
For instance, some domestic goods are re-imported after being exported abroad, to get export tariff rebates.
Statistics from the Customs show imports worth US$44.57 billion during the first eight months of 2006.
Cheating for extra export refunds has also let in large amounts of foreign currency, which in turn has placed added pressure for the appreciation of yuan.
"The way to solve the problem of the trade surplus is to deal with the false trade figures, not exchange rate," Li said.
Li said he had contacted officials of the Customs, who also confirmed that problems existed in the trade surplus figures.
Earlier, Wang Zhihao, an analyst with Standard Chartered Bank, said that of the total US$101.9 billion trade surplus in 2005, only US$35 billion was true. That means that more than 60 percent was false.
"The problem does exist, but not to the degree as Wang Zhihao says," said a Customs official.
Lin Yifu, director of the China Center for Economic Research of Peking University, also expressed doubts on the trade figures.
"There must be some false figures in the surplus," he said.
Lin said as the yuan is faced with appreciation pressure, some foreign trade enterprises tend to report lower import prices of raw materials and higher export prices of finished products.
But he said it was difficult to gauge the right figure.
(China Daily January 26, 2007)