The jobless rate will fall to 3.7 per cent by the end of next year thanks to steady economic growth, a government adviser predicted yesterday. It is now 4.6 per cent. However, low-skilled workers in labour-intensive sectors would remain vulnerable to high unemployment, said Francis Lui Ting-ming, director of the University of Science and Technology's centre for economic development. Professor Lui, a member of the Government's taskforce on employment, said the 3.7 per cent figure was still a preliminary forecast. He said any improvement would be mainly due 'to the continuous economic recovery, as next year our forecast for gross domestic product will be about a 4.4 per cent real growth rate. So, since the economy will continue to grow, it is not surprising that the unemployment rate will slowly go down'. Professor Lui said workers in labour-intensive sectors would still be at a higher risk of unemployment than the rest of the workforce. 'That means even though they will also experience some decline in the unemployment rate, the actual unemployment rate there will still be higher than that of other sectors. 'Hong Kong is still facing this long-term structural change. This is not a problem that we can solve easily and I don't expect the unemployment rate here to go down below three per cent. Even if it can go down to that level, I don't think that it can stay there for too long.' The professor also said the Government intended to disband the taskforce once the rate fell below four per cent. His comments were backed up by the latest employment figures for selected main sectors released yesterday. The number of workers in the manufacturing sector stood at 229,400 in September, a fall of 6.2 per cent from the same period last year, while those employed in the wholesale and retail sector expanded by 5.6 per cent to 1.05 million. Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who heads the taskforce, said the economic outlook for next year was bright and he expected people to benefit from the economic recovery in the spring. He estimated the jobless rate would drop below four per cent by the end of next year. Mr Tsang said there was no need to discourage people from going to the mainland to spend. 'If there are cheap things, we should let people go there to buy,' he said. He said the Government had no plans to intervene in the property market. Mr Tsang was speaking in an interview last night on the RTHK television programme Leaders of Hong Kong. He said a free press was a vital element in making Hong Kong a regional financial centre. He believed the press had become freer since the handover, despite recent controversies over media responsibilities. A free press 'was a vital factor contributing to our success as the region's financial centre'.