6.2percent achieved in difficult circumstances: customs official
"Negative factors," led by eurozone woes, were responsible for the trade target being missed, said a spokesman for the General Administration of Customs on Thursday. Although there has been some recent recovery in both inbound and outbound shipments, the general situation facing exporters remains severe, Zheng Yuesheng warned.
Zheng described 2012 as "a really hard year''.
China's foreign trade grew 6.2 percent year-on-year to $3.86 trillion, lower than the 10 percent target set by Premier Wen Jiabao at the beginning of the year. Exports rose by 7.9 percent to $2.05 trillion, compared with a 20.3 percent jump in 2011. Imports gained 4.3 percent to $1.82 trillion, down from 24.9 percent growth the previous year.
According to the customs website, China's trade declined by 3.7 percent with the EU and by 3.9 percent with Japan. However, it registered an increase of 8.5 percent with the US. Exports and imports recorded their lowest growth figures in the past decade, with exception of 2009, the year after the Wall Street meltdown.
While being candid about the gap between trade and the target, Zheng pointed out trade growth in 2012 was earned the hard way ― against a backdrop of weak global demand and downward pressure at home.
"China has outperformed many other economies in trade growth," Zheng said, citing figures showing that from January to October, Japan's foreign trade grew by just 1.1 percent, the EU's went down by 2.1 percent, and the US trade grew by 4.2 percent.
China's GDP growth slowed to 7.4 percent in the first three quarters of 2012.
Zheng attributed single-digit trade growth to decreasing orders from overseas, rising operation costs at home, and looming protectionism among trade partners.
Chen Hufei, a researcher with Bank of Communications, noted that there was also a silver lining ― greater competitiveness among manufacturers.
China's foreign trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations gained by 10.2 percent and with Russia it jumped by 11.2 percent year-on-year.
Last September, China announced a series measures concerning tax rebates, credit insurance and financing to boost exports.
"We expect this year's foreign trade to be better, although negative factors will still be there," Zheng said.
In December, Chinese exports showed a strong rebound, gaining by 14.1 percent from a year earlier. This was the highest rise in seven months, far outdoing November's 2.9 percent.
Imports increased by 6 percent year-on-year in December.
"We expect that exports from BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), led by China, will see a rebound in 2013 even though the global economic recovery remains weak," Chen said.
Economists doubted December's hike in trade records would be sustainable as global demand continues to be weak.
"The general picture is not positive, as many fundamentals have not improved much," said Zhang Yansheng, secretary-general of the National Development and Reform Commission's academic committee.
The slowdown in growth will force Chinese manufacturers to continue to enhance their competitiveness, he said.
In Zhejiang province, a hub of entrepreneurship, companies are continuing to complain about the lack of orders and profit losses.
Zhang Rui, proprietor of Chuangsi Optical Spectacles Ltd in Wenzhou, a city in Zhejiang, said his profit went down by 20 percent in 2012 and still shows no sign of recovery.
Yao Jian, spokesperson of the Ministry of Commerce, said at the sidelines of the recent Commerce Work Conference held in Beijing that as the global situation this year remain severe, foreign trade will hardly see a quick recovery.