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Trade Growth Defies Forecasts
China's foreign trade weathered the mid-April SARS outbreak and continued to grow robustly in May, customs statistics show.

Exports grew 37.3 percent year-on-year to US$33.84 billion in May and imports rose 40.9 percent to US$31.61 billion, statistics from the General Administration of Customs revealed.

For the first five months, exports grew 34.3 percent to US$155.86 billion and imports rose 45.5 percent to US$153.48 billion.

China had trade surpluses of US$2.23 billion last month and US$2.38 billion in January-May period.

This beat many economists' expectations that the SARS outbreak in mid-April would put heavy pressure on China's exports.

Even optimistic economists had anticipated big falls in the growth of China's general exports. General exports contrast with processing exports, which come from imported materials.

But Chinese customs statistics show general exports rose 36.1 percent year-on-year to US$66.42 billion, while general imports grew 55.1 percent to US$71.93 billion in the first five months.

Bilateral trade with Japan increased 36.9 percent to US$50.43 billion and those with the United States climbed 35.4 percent to US$46.42 billion.

However, Chinese customs officials cautioned against over-optimism, saying the negative impact of SARS has yet to surface and is likely in the coming months.

Since the outbreak of SARS in mid-April, many countries closed their ports to China or imposed new restrictions on the entry of Chinese commodities and people.

The Ministry of Commerce found its hands tied as various nations acted to halt Chinese exports amid the SARS scare.

Officials are pinning their hopes on the fact that the epidemic looks to be under control and that the negative impact of the technical trade barriers on Chinese export will be transitional.

It is hoped that post-SARS Chinese exports will witness a rapid growth during the latter half of the year, driven by a strong demand for Chinese commodities on the international market.

This will go a long way to compensate the losses incurred by the SARS outbreak, they said.

Russia has closed 11 ports with China and proposed the closure of customs in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province if SARS takes a hold there.

If that customs post were to close for three months, Heilongjiang's trade with Russia would fall by US$660 million and revenue from Russian tourists would drop by US$54 million, a local government official estimated.

Spanish, French and British importers started to require Chinese exporters to show virus-free certificates for their commodities since April. Commodities without such certificates are barred from customs.

(China Daily June 12, 2003)

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