Premier Wen Jiabao said yesterday the country 'must not loosen its grip on exports' even though trade protectionism was rising and the global financial crisis had yet to hit bottom. In his address to the National People's Congress, Mr Wen outlined seven ways to strengthen exports, a pillar of the economy. They included increasing the foreign trade development fund to help small and medium-sized businesses export, boosting export credits and expanding services outsourcing. 'We must emphasise expanding internal demand and must not loosen our grip on exports,' he said. 'Facing a sharp contraction in external demand and the chronic emergence of global trade protectionism, we must step up our efforts at adjusting trade policies.' Among the export-friendly policies, Mr Wen vowed to expand the size of the foreign trade development fund and help smaller enterprises enter international markets. He said the upgrade on processing trade manufacturing would be accelerated, hinting that Beijing would liberalise a list of commodities previously deemed forbidden or subject to restrictions. Services outsourcing will also be expanded to reduce reliance on processing trade, in which imported materials are assembled to make export products. The industry has been criticised for relying on low-cost labour, using vast amounts of energy and polluting the environment. Mr Wen would encourage expanded imports, such as energy and raw materials, and called for a better international trade environment, pushing for a resumption of the Doha round of trade talks, and the implementation of free-trade strategies. He also gave a strong push to the development of export credit mechanisms to help repair the shattered global trade finance system. He called on mainland financial institutions to offer export credits to exporters to ease their cash flow. It was a move economists said would allow the country to avoid touching the politically sensitive issue of lowering the value of the yuan. Johnson Chan, OCBC Bank's head of structured trade finance for north Asia, said looser export credits would fuel the risk of rising non-performing loans at banks, since many exporters were small enterprises. 'It is a viable option to boost trade, but it has to be facilitated with improvement in claims mechanisms, the co-operation of banks and a comprehensive database on the credit profile of exporters and their overseas clients,' Mr Chan said. 'The existing trade insurance system is notorious for the insured to obtain claims.' While heralding fiscal policies such as higher rebates of value-added tax on exports, Mr Wen urged exporters to tap new markets and pry open the mainland market. Commerce Minister Chen Deming later promised more rescue measures to a Hong Kong business delegation led by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who sought ways to help Hong Kong exporters tap the mainland market. Mr Chen said a fresh round of value-added tax rebates on exports were in the pipeline after three rounds of increases since August. He conceded that mainland exports continued their decline last month and this month following a bigger than expected drop of 17.5 per cent in January and 2.8 per cent in December. Imports plunged 43.1 per cent in January and 21.3 per cent in December. Last month's trade figures are due next week.