China will step up efforts to stabilize foreign trade while improving trade structure, according to experts and officials.
Against severe challenges from soft global demand, rising protectionism, and geopolitical conflicts, such moves are essential to facilitate the growth of foreign trade enterprises, according to them.
Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said at a news conference on Thursday that, mainly due to soft global demand, China's foreign trade faces greater pressure this year compared with last year.
"We will make more efforts to stabilize foreign trade and optimize the trade structure. At the same time, we will listen to the concerns of market players to formulate targeted policy measures and help them develop better in international markets," he added.
Zhang Yansheng, chief researcher at China Center for International Economic Exchanges, said it is crucial for China to stabilize exports and imports in labor-intensive industries as well as those of foreign enterprises, to stabilize foreign trade this year against multiple negative factors including the gloomy global economic prospects and the trade containment measures by some countries against China.
At the same time, he said the country is expected to facilitate the growth of trade in services and digital trade, to "create better conditions for the high-quality development of foreign trade".
Wang also said that while reinforcing the growth of general trade, China will further encourage the transfer of processing trade to inland regions from coastal areas, support the fast and healthy development of new trade models like cross-border e-commerce and overseas warehouses, and continue optimizing product offerings to cultivate new growth momentum.
Zhou Mi, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, said China's economic rebound will likely boost imports and provide a stronger foundation for export expansion this year.
However, the country is expected to further add resilience to trade with traditional trading partners to enhance industrial and supply chain connections and expand trade networks, Zhou added.
Experts also said China is expected to further tap the trade potential associated with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, which took effect last year.
New land-sea transit routes in western regions and the RCEP agreement have combined to create increasing foreign trade opportunities, they said.
For instance, the Beibu Gulf Port in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region registered a throughput of 558,100 twenty-foot equivalent units in January, up 15 percent year-on-year. That came against the background that many ports at home and abroad face sluggish container throughput with empty containers piling up.
Wang Guowen, director of the center for logistics and supply chain management at the China Development Institute, a Shenzhen-based think tank, said shipping activity between China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will continue to grow this year, although many Chinese ports will face pressure from slowing external demand from Europe and North America.
Zhou Zhicheng, a researcher at the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing in Beijing, said weak container throughput at ports in China and abroad was partly caused by the overproduction of containers in the past three years and the notable drop in global trade demand due to pessimistic market perceptions, and Chinese ports are not alone in suffering from container pileups.