China's imports and exports improved in March after the coronavirus outbreak caused a dramatic collapse in the first two months of 2020, the Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday.
But the outlook for China's exports remained gloomy given the economic damage being done by the continued spread of the virus globally.
Some Chinese exporters, especially textile, apparel and automotive firms as well as , have been hit particularly hard by shrinking global demand caused by the pandemic, with export orders delayed or cancelled, the ministry said.
"Imports and exports have shown a certain improvement in March, according to feedback from various regions and industries," said commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng on Thursday, with China set to officially release March trade data on Tuesday. "But at the same time, the impact of the global epidemic on the world economy and international trade is gradually emerging."
Analysts expect only a slight improvement in China's March exports compared to the previous two months. The median forecast of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg showed exports will drop 13.9 per cent in US dollar terms in March from a year earlier compared to the 17.2 per cent drop in the combined figures for January and February.
The ministry, Gao added, will closely follow and evaluate the extent of the pandemic's effect on China's foreign trade sector.
For the world's second largest economy, the grim outlook for global trade has become a mounting headwind, putting 180 million trade-related jobs at risk.
During a meeting of China's top leadership group on Wednesday, President Xi Jinping said the country must make "ideological and work preparations" to face changes in the external environment "for a relatively long period of time," according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
World trade is expected to fall by up to 32 per cent in 2020, the World Trade Organisation predicted on Wednesday, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt economic activities and everyday life around the globe.
In response to the global economic outlook, Beijing is stepping up efforts to defend its "bedrock" exports, Gao said, stressing that the government had not placed any restrictions on exports of medical equipment and supplies.
China exported 10.2 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) worth of protective medical equipment between March 3 and April 4, including 3.86 billion masks and 37.52 million protective suits, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce. Overall, in January and February, China's exports were valued at US$292 billion.
As of Wednesday, 58 countries and regions and four international organisations had signed purchase agreements for medical supplies with China, while another 71 countries and 10 international organisations were in negotiations, according to Gao.
The State Council, China's cabinet, rolled out a series of policies on Tuesday to support trade, including setting up 46 new integrated pilot zones for cross-border e-commerce as well as proceeding with an online session of the Canton Fair, the country's oldest and largest export trade fair, in late June.
As long as we keep the basic level of employment stable, we will have confidence in all of our workLi Keqiang
"Frankly speaking, the reason we introduced these policies is because it is very important to keep employment stable. As long as we keep the basic level of employment stable, we will have confidence in all of our work," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the cabinet meeting.
China is also pushing ahead with the 3rd China International Import Expo, which is scheduled to take place in November in Shanghai, the commerce ministry said.
More than 1,000 companies have already registered to attend the event, with the exhibition area for medical devices, medicines and health care products having doubled in size due to increasing demand amid the coronavirus outbreak.
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