The mainland's two largest ports - Shanghai and Shenzhen - saw container throughput volumes rise 3.5 per cent last month, about half the combined increase in the value of the country's foreign trade. But there was double-digit growth in the volume of bulk goods such as coal and soyabeans. Shanghai International Port, which controls the world's largest container port, said box volumes rose to 2.73 million teu last month, up from 2.64 million teu a year earlier. Bulk cargo volumes climbed 11.2 per cent to 44.79 million tonnes, compared with 40.28 million tonnes in March last year. The Shenzhen Ports Association said container throughput increased to 1.77 million teu at terminals including Yantian, Shekou and Chiwan, from 1.71 million teu in March last year. The volume of bulk cargo increased 11.9 per cent to 19.12 million tonnes from 17.09 million tonnes a year earlier. The increase in Shanghai's container volumes followed a 3.6 per cent rise in the first two months of this year. Port officials have forecast 4 per cent growth in box throughput to 33 million teu this year as global economic woes take their toll on trade. By comparison, Shenzhen saw container volumes drop 1.4 per cent to 3.33 million teu for January and February. Container volumes at Hong Kong slipped 0.3 per cent to 3.62 million teu in the first two months of this year, according to estimates from the Port Development Council. Hong Kong's figures for last month will be released on April 18. Commenting on the figures, Sunny Ho Lap-kee, an executive director of the Hong Kong Shippers' Council, said: 'The market is weak. We are not seeing a strong recovery. There is a weak and slow recovery in the United States. There are weaker prospects for Asia ... and no improvement in the European market.' 'Our analysis suggests that China's imports are increasingly linked to domestic demand,' the Australian and New Zealand Bank said yesterday. If the shift in China's trade structure continued, 'import growth this year will likely reach 15 to 18 per cent this year'.