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China Exclusive: China confident in 10% trade growth

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BEIJING, April 17 (Xinhua) -- China is confident about achieving its full-year target of 10-percent growth in foreign trade, despite slowed growth in the first quarter, the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) said Tuesday.

In the first three months this year, the country's exports and imports rose 7.3 percent from a year earlier.

"This growth rate was relatively low. It was a result of cumulative factors from both home and abroad," MOC spokesman Shen Danyang said at a press conference.

The world's largest exporter suffered from weak external demand, increased trade competition and disputes, and rising costs for domestic companies in the first quarter, Shen said.

Despite these difficulties, exports grew 7.6 percent compared to the same period last year. "It was hard earned and better than expected," the spokesman said.

He said weak growth in the United States and the European Union, China's two major export markets, reduced orders for many Chinese exporters. Meanwhile, rising costs for domestic companies made Chinese exports more expensive and less competitive.

"Some orders, especially those in the labor-intensive industries, were lost to other countries and regions in Southeast Asia," Shen said.

Rising trade protectionism also posed new challenges to Chinese exporters. In the first quarter, foreign countries filed 16 trade remedy cases against China, up 180 percent from a year earlier. Those cases involved nearly 3 billion U.S. dollars, more than double that in the same period last year, Shen said.

As for imports, the spokesman said growth fell within a reasonable range, but was slightly lower than market expectations. Weak domestic demand, an anticipated deceleration of processing trade and falling commodity prices led to the slower import growth.

The ministry had actively worked to help exporters and importers, and it was confident that the growth would pick up in the second quarter and the full-year target would be achieved, Shen said.

Speaking about this year's target, he said the country would focus on maintaining a stable increase in foreign trade and optimizing its economic structure, as Premier Wen Jiabao noted during the autumn session of the Canton Fair last year.

"We will continue to support companies with existing policies. The authorities may fine tune these policies to encourage qualified companies," Shen said.

The Chinese government has introduced a string of measures, including stabilizing the export tax rebate policy, expanding the coverage of policy-based export credit insurance and helping solve financing difficulties of small and medium-sized enterprises, to maintain stable foreign trade growth.

Last month, the People's Bank of China, or the central bank, allowed all companies qualified for foreign trade activities to conduct cross-border export settlement in the yuan, in a bid to "meet market demand and make foreign trade more free and convenient."

"That's good news for exporters. They will not have to worry about the adoption of a wider trading band for the yuan," the spokesman said.

The central bank announced Saturday a lift in the yuan's daily trading limit to 1 percent from 0.5 percent.

In coming months of the year, the authorities would guide domestic companies to establish overseas sales networks, cultivate their own brands, capture higher positions in the international industry value chain and move production bases to the country's central and western regions, Shen said.

"The government has also worked to expand imports in order to improve its trade balance," he said, referring to a cabinet statement released late last month.

Adjustments to import tariffs and measures to facilitate fund raising and customs clearance for import enterprises would be implemented, the statement said.

China is now the world's largest exporter and the second-largest importer. The growth of its imports has recently outpaced exports as the country tries to increase domestic demand.

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