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China's exports to grow steadily, minister says
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China expects steady export growth this year despite the decline in trade surplus last month, Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said Wednesday at a press conference on the sidelines of the annual session of the parliament.

The trade surplus shrank to 8.56 billion U.S. dollars in February, roughly one-third of the year-earlier level, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said on Monday. Total trade in February reached 166.181 billion U.S. dollars, 18.4 percent higher than a year earlier, according to the administration.

Imports surged 35.1 percent to 78.81 billion U.S. dollars while exports rose just 6.5 percent to 87.37 billion U.S. dollars last month.

The commerce minister attributed the decline in export growth to a number of factors. These included the Lunar New Year holiday, when factories usually close; the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis that has slowed economic growth and reduced consumer demand, and government measures that would have affected exports, such as lowering export tax rebates for labor-intensive products including garments and shoes.

"The accelerating appreciation of China's currency against the U.S. dollar was another important cause," Chen said.

China's currency, the yuan, reached a new high on Feb. 29 when it hit a central parity rate of 7.1058 yuan per U.S. dollar. In the first two months of this year, the currency rose 2.8 percent, and it was up 14.13 percent against the U.S. dollar since a new currency regime was imposed in July 2005.

In spite of the February decline in export growth, Chen said that he was very optimistic about the prospects for the whole year.

"Personally speaking, I believe exports will grow steadily this year," he said. He pledged that China would never deliberately pursue a trade surplus. "We have always, on our own initiative, taken various measures to strike a trade balance between China and other countries if there is a trade surplus," he said.

As part of a bid for balanced trade and because of environmental concerns, China moved last year to discourage exports of products that are resource-intensive, such as aluminium and steel, through scrapping or cutting tax rebates. The sharp fall in February's trade surplus will go some way to counter complaints from the United States and the European Union over China's trade surplus, which hit a record 262.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2007.

Exports to the United States, China's second largest trading partner, fell 5.25 percent year-on-year in February to 15.48 billion U.S. dollars, the GAC said, while imports of U.S. goods rose 47.8 percent to 6.1 billion U.S. dollars.

Exports to the EU, China's largest trading partner, grew 1.6 percent to 18.4 billion U.S. dollars from a year earlier while imports from the region soared 30.43 percent to 8.39 billion U.S. dollars.

(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2008)

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