BEIJING, Feb. 17 - China faces a "challenging" trade outlook in the first quarter amid a weak global economy, but it is taking steps to maintain steady trade growth, the Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday.
"China's trade outlook in the first quarter, on the whole, is quite challenging because the downbeat global economy is adding more pressure to China's external trade environment," Shen Danyang, spokesman for the ministry, told a news conference in Beijing.
Data released on Feb 10 show that China's imports sank 15.3 percent year-on-year in January, falling at the fastest annual rate since August 2009. Exports fell 0.5 percent, the worst performance since November 2009.
However, the ministry said that the headline numbers for January did not represent the real trend, due to distortions caused by the Lunar New Year, which fell in January this year compared with February last year.
It is "still too early to paint a full-year picture of continuous deceleration in trade growth", Shen said.
Even after removing the distortions, exports and imports both displayed a continued slowdown compared with previous months, owing to the more difficult environment, especially a decline in overseas demand, Shen said.
"The poor performance of China's exports in January was mainly because its main trade partners - the US, EU and Japan - were losing momentum in economic growth.
"High unemployment and declining consumption reduced their demand for Chinese products, especially consumer goods," Shen said.
China's imports also face obstacles because the US and EU restrict exports of some products to China, he added.
China's exports to the EU, its biggest overseas market, declined in January, which "significantly lowered" the rate of overall export growth, he said.
But Chen Fengying, director of the Institute of World Economic Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said: "The world still needs Chinese products and China's export growth will probably remain above 10 percent in the coming months".
In light of the difficult trade environment, China is moving to support local exporters.
"The ministry is working on detailed measures to ensure steady trade growth. They include moves to ease exporters' financing pressure, lower company burdens and help exporters cope with trade frictions.
"Policies for expanding imports will be maintained" as the nation pursues balanced trade, Shen said.
Commerce Minister Chen Deming is scheduled to hold a conference to discuss the trade-support measures on Monday and Tuesday in Jiangxi province.
Return to Libya
It is still hard to fix a timetable for Chinese companies to return to Libya or restart their projects there because "further negotiations are in progress concerning compensation for losses, payment for projects and worker safety", according to Shen.
But some Chinese companies, including China State Construction Engineering Corp, China Communications Construction Co Ltd and China Gezhouba Group Company Ltd, have been talking with their Libyan contractors about resuming work on unfinished projects.
China's two leading technology companies, Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and ZTE Corp, never left Libya, Shen said.