China's exports are on track to grow an annual 6-7 percent in 2012 and the rate of expansion could still be below 10 percent next year despite some positive signs, a senior researcher with the Commerce Ministry's think-tank said on Thursday.
"Exports may grow 6-7 percent this year. The outlook for next year could be slightly better, but there are still uncertainties," said Li Yushi at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.
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"I'm afraid that we will have another big trade surplus this year as imports have been surprisingly weak," he told Reuters.
A jump in annual export growth in September to 9.9 percent, roughly twice the rate expected by investors, has led some analysts to conclude that recovery in the external sector is gathering momentum.
Li said China's annual export growth in 2013 could still fall short of 10 percent in the absence of a strong global recovery, probably in the range of 7 to 8 percent.
Rising trade tensions, including signs of protectionism would not be a big threat to trade, Li said. He added that anti-dumping curbs affect a tiny 5 percent of China's total exports.
Falling foreign direct investment inflows, however, may overshadow China's exports as foreign firms have traditionally churned out goods for overseas markets, Li said.
The government has turned more selective in wooing foreign direct investment (FDI), putting emphasis on higher-end manufacturing sectors and research and development, he said.
China's FDI inflows fell 3.8 percent in the first nine months of 2012 from a year ago, extending the longest run of declines since the depths of the global crisis as stiff economic headwinds dent corporate spending plans.
China has an official target of 10 percent growth in both exports and imports for 2012. But some trade officials have cast doubt about it being achieved, given the uncertainties of external demand. Total trade in the first nine months of 2012 grew by 6.2 percent from a year ago.
Exports grew 7.4 percent in the first nine months of 2012 from a year earlier.
Li said weak domestic demand has led to a sharp slowdown in China's annual import growth, which was down to just 2.4 percent in September, pointing to another big trade surplus this year.
"There will be some upward pressures on the renminbi (yuan) exchange rate as long we run a trade surplus, but such pressures will not be big," he said.
China posted a trade surplus of $148.3 billion in the January-September period, up $41.2 billion from a year earlier.
The yuan hit a record high of 6.2422 per dollar on Thursday, up nearly 2.5 percent from a 2012 low hit in July.
(Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Nick Edwards and Eric Meijer)