China's foreign-trade figures for last year are expected to show a satisfactory growth rate of 7 percent, but trade officials are worried about a contracting trade surplus due to more rapid rise in imports.
China's foreign trade is expected to increase to a record US$500 billion for the whole year, said Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Shi Guangsheng.
Exports are expected to grow by at least 5 percent while imports are expected to rise by 8 percent year on year. The growth rate of China's exports is dramatically down from the 27.8 percent achieved in 2000.
But Shi hailed last year's moderate growth as a success in the face of a declining world economy led by a recession in the United States and Japan.
The growth is in sharp contrast with falls in neighboring countries' exports. Between January and September, Japan's exports decreased by 14.4 percent, those of the Philippines dropped by 10.8 percent and South Korea's went down by 10 percent, according to official statistics.
Shi noted that the product structure of China's imports and exports also improved.
In the first 11 months of last year, the proportion of China's total exports made up by machinery and electronic products rose by 2.3 percentage points year on year.
The corresponding increase for high-tech products was 2.5 percentage points.
There was also a rapid increase in imports of advanced technology, key equipment and raw materials needed for China's economic development.
In the January-November period, imports of refined oil increased by 17.3 percent to 19.07 million tons, the purchase of timber increased by 21.9 percent to 15.01 million cubic meters, imports of raw plastic increased by 17.4 percent to 13.1 million tons and those of high-tech products rose by 22.4 percent to US$57.54 billion, according to Chinese customs statistics.
While maintaining rapid growth in exports to traditional markets such as the United States and the European Union, trade officials boasted success in helping domestic firms explore new markets.
Exports to Africa rose by 19.3 percent, those to Russia rose by 17.5 percent and those to Latin America increased by 13.9 percent in the first 11 months of last year, according to Chinese customs figures.
Trade officials vowed to continue helping domestic firms diversify their markets. The officials said they would give permission to more firms to import and export goods and improve trade policies in order to boost China's exports this year.
Until December 20, a total of 42,000 domestic companies had been authorized to import and export goods. The 180,000 foreign-funded companies that operate in China also have the right to import and export goods.
But, with tariff cuts and reduced non-tariff measures introduced after China's entry to the World Trade Organization, imports are expected to rise more rapidly than exports and drive down China's trade surplus.
Trade officials will have trouble maintaining a trade balance this year as exports are expected to grow by 3 to 4 percent at most, and imports will continue to surge due to rapid economic development at home, experts said.
(China Daily January 10, 2002)