China's exports and imports may continue to pick up in the fourth quarter as government measures to stabilize trade growth are gaining traction, a Commerce Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Yao Jian, interviewed by the official Xinhua news agency, also warned against the downside risks faced by exporters, citing weak external demand, rising trade frictions and intensifying global competition.

"China's trade performance in the fourth quarter is likely to maintain the recovery momentum seen in September and will probably grow at the average pace of the past three quarters," Yao was quoted as saying.

China's total trade grew by 6.2 percent in the first nine months of 2012 compared with a year earlier.

Yao's comments were slightly more upbeat than those made a week ago by a fellow spokesman, Shen Danyang, who said it was too early to conclude that a rebound in September trade data meant a recovery trend was in place.

China's exports grew 9.9 percent in September from a year earlier, roughly twice the rate expected by the market. Imports returned to the path of expansion, growing by 2.4 percent. Together they raised hopes that recovery in the world's No.2 economy may start to take hold.

China likely hit the bottom of a seven-quarter long economic downturn between July and September, but the slowest three months of growth since the depths of the financial crisis and a cloudy housing market outlook make recovery prospects tepid.

GDP grew 7.4 percent in the third quarter of 2012 from a year ago, marking the first miss of the official target since Q1 2009's 6.5 percent and leaving the economy on course for its slowest full year of growth since 1999.

A debt crisis in China's biggest foreign market, the European Union, has dented demand for goods coming off assembly lines in the factory sector and ultimately weighed on the domestic economy.

Exports were worth 31 percent of GDP in 2011, according to the World Bank, and supported an estimated 200 million Chinese jobs.

Yao added that the Commerce Ministry would continue to implement measures to stabilize trade growth and further expand imports of advanced technology, equipment and key components to improve the trade balance.

To cushion stiffening external headwinds, Beijing has rolled out steps to help relive burden on exporters and importers, such as faster payment of tax rebates, cutting red tape and easier access to bank loans.

(Reporting by Aileen Wang and Nick Edwards; Editing by Ron Popeski)