Mainland imports and exports will likely rise about 6 per cent this year, the slowest annual increase since the global financial crisis and far below the official target of 10 per cent growth.
Commerce minister Chen Deming has repeatedly warned the country may miss its trade target this year amid a faltering recovery in the West and a domestic economic downturn. The forecast 6 per cent growth would be the worst since 2009 when trade slumped 13.9 per cent.
According to a report posted on news portal Sina, Chen told an annual commerce work conference held yesterday that imports and exports grew 5.7 per cent in the first 10 days of December, compared with the same period last year. Mainland trade climbed 5.8 per cent in the first 11 months from a year earlier.
The year-on-year trade growth accelerated to 6.4 per cent in the second 10-day period this month, partly because companies boosted activities in anticipation that some favourable trade policies would expire by the end of this year, Chen said.
However, he noted "abnormal factors" behind the acceleration, such as an unusual surge in mid-December trade between the mainland and Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, where 90 per cent of trade is for transit, discrepancies between export data and its imports from the mainland amounted to more than US$54 billion, Chen said. "Therefore, we can't rule out that some local governments may have inflated their data," he was cited as saying, without elaborating.
An official statement posted on the ministry's website later made no mention of Chen's forecast about 2012 trade growth or the comment about trade with Hong Kong.
Instead, the statement said mainland trade would exceed US$3.8 trillion this year, while exports would account for 11 per cent of the world's total.
Huo Jianguo, president of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Co-operation, believed the mainland trade situation may improve next year but that the "general environment would remain difficult".
The State Information Centre, a think tank under the National Development and Reform Commission, recently forecast mainland exports may climb 8 per cent next year while imports may grow 7.8 per cent.
The euro-zone economy will stay "on the edge of recession" in 2013, the institution said. The US economy may recover, boosting demand for Chinese exports, but trade frictions with China may intensify, it forecast.
Chen estimated mainland foreign direct investment would reach US$110 billion this year, against US$116 billion last year. Outbound investment from non-financial companies will likely exceed US$70 billion this year, he said.
Next year, Chen said the ministry will study policies to boost consumption focusing on durable goods like electric appliances and cars. It will also develop online shopping and support sales of environmentally friendly products.
The ministry plans to stabilise exports and increase imports of goods such as energy, resources products and key components.
Beijing will also slowly open up education, health care, finance, and telecommunications to foreign investors.