China economy

China refuses to set trade targets for third year in a row

Annual conference ends without setting official goals for growth next year

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 December, 2017, 7:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 December, 2017, 8:32pm

China has once again failed to set a specific trade growth target for the new year following its annual trade work conference but warned that an uncertain international outlook could affect its trade performance next year.

A statement issued at the end of the event did, however, restate the country’s goal of becoming a trade heavyweight by 2035.

Commerce Minister Zhong Shan told the conference on Monday that his ministry would “keep trade growth stable” in 2018 without specifying a numeric target for the third year in a row.

In previous years similar non-specific goals have included “sparing no efforts to stabilise trade growth” in 2016 and the aim of“consolidating the improving trends in foreign trade”for this year.

Figures from the General Administration of Customs suggest trade grew steadily in 2017, with exports rising by 8 per cent between January and November, while imports saw a 17.3 per cent increase over the same period.

In 2016, China’s exports fell 7.7 per cent and imports dropped 5.5 per cent in dollar terms.

Ren Hongbin, a senior official with the commerce ministry, said at the sidelines of the conference that China still faced many “uncertain and unstable factors”next year, such as geopolitical risks and US’s refusal to stop using third-country pricing standards while investigating China’s exports, according to the official China News.

Ren said the upbeat performance in 2017 would also constrain trade growth in 2018, but he said the global economic recovery and China’s measures to improve trade growth were favourable factors in the coming year.

The ministry also stated a number of goals for next year, mostly continuing current policies. These included attracting foreign investment, guiding outbound investment in “an orderly manner” and deepening economic and trade cooperation along the trade routes that form part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Zhong said China “basically”aims to become a trade powerhouse by 2035 but did not give any details of what this would mean.

Instead he laid out a series of major tasks for the next five years, which included stepping up the contribution of consumption to the economy, enhancing the competitive strength of foreign trade, and increasing the quality of both outbound investment and foreign investment in China, according to the statement.

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Consumption has been the main engine of the country’s economic growth since 2014, contributing nearly 65 per cent to GDP growth, and the ministry said.

Plans have also been announced for China’s first import expo next November in Shanghai, part of efforts to boost imports to above US$10 trillion in the coming five years.

The conference was held at a time when China is facing increased confrontation with its major trading partners, including the United States, the European Union and Japan.

The three met at the sidelines of the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires in the middle of December, promising to fight alleged unfair trade practices by China, such as state subsidies and forced technology transfer.

Brussels has also revised its trade defence rules by introducing a new concept of market distortion, which is likely to affect many Chinese companies.

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Meanwhile Washington has been taking an increasingly confrontational stance towards Beijing.

The US Trade Department launched anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations into China’s aluminium exports on November 28.

Two days later the Trump administration refused to grant China market economy status, which allows Washington to continue to impose anti-dumping duties on Chinese goods.

In his first national security strategy report published last Monday, US President Donald Trump identified China as strategic competitor and attacked what he described as economic aggression.