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China's exports remain weak amid global downturn

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BEIJING, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- China's exports improved slightly in August, indicating prolonged weakness in the global economy, according to data released Monday by the General Administration of Customs (GAC).

Exports increased 2.7 percent year on year to 177.97 billion U.S. dollars in August, up from 1 percent recorded in July but marking a sharp drop from 11.3 percent growth in June.

The figure was better than the negative growth data some economists had previously forecast.

Imports beat forecasts to drop for the third consecutive month, falling 2.6 percent from a year earlier to 151.31 billion U.S. dollars in August.

The trade surplus rose moderately to 26.66 billion U.S. dollars in August from 25.2 billion U.S. dollars the previous month.

In the January-August period, total foreign trade reached 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars, an increase of 6.2 percent from last year but below the 10-percent full-year growth target set by the government for 2012.

The figures indicated little improvement in China's external environment and highlighted the need for carrying out more stimulus measures to boost the domestic market and shore up growth, said Liu Ligang, an economist with ANZ National Bank Ltd.

"The government is also likely to implement measures soon to boost trade, which include hiking export tax rebates," Liu said, adding that he expects that the year's 10-percent trade target could be hardly achieved.

China's exports have been hit by struggling overseas markets since the financial crisis, especially in debt-ridden Europe and the slowly-recovering United States.

Trade with the European Union, China's largest trade partner, dropped 1.9 percent year on year in the January-August period to 365.05 billion U.S. dollars, the figures show.

Trade with the United States, its second-largest trade partner as well as a country also hoping to revitalize domestic manufacturing, grew at a slower pace. Trade between the two countries climbed 9.6 percent year on year in the first eight months, compared to over 20 percent in past years.

Chinese exporters, most of whom are original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, are struggling with the sharply down external market, rising trade barriers and foreign exchange losses, said Lin Yiming, vice president of Hangzhou-based Astronergy Solar, a leading Chinese photovoltaic manufacturer.

Lin said the company has cut its OEM businesses in light of the EU's anti-dumping probe on Chinese photovoltaic products.

The impact of the global economic downturn is weighing more heavily on China's foreign trade, Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said Sunday during the APEC summit in Russia. He also said the government is studying measures to stabilize trade.

The trade figures also followed a string of disappointing data released Sunday, which showed faltering growth in factory production and retail sales in August as well as a pick up in consumer prices, underscoring China's domestic economic woes.

Fearful that too much monetary loosening could lead to a rebound in housing prices and inflation, Chinese authorities have recently moved to boost infrastructure investment to bolster growth.

Last week, China's top economic planner approved 55 investment projects worth 1 trillion yuan (157.7 billion U.S. dollars) to build highways, ports and railways across the country.

The move marked the government's latest efforts to revive its economy after cutting both interest rates and banks' reserve requirement ratios twice this year to fuel lending.

External jitters and government efforts to cool the property market have dragged down growth in the world's second-largest economy. China's gross domestic product growth eased to 7.6 percent in the second quarter, marking the lowest growth in more than three years.

The infrastructure projects together with import-favoring polices will gradually increase China's buying demand for products such as modern equipment, said a report released by Bank of Communication.

While citing uncertainties and increasing downward risks in the global economy, President Hu Jintao on Saturday hailed the role of infrastructure construction in economic recovery at the APEC summit, urging efforts to promote infrastructure construction in Asia-Pacific economies.

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