China introduced a row of measures on Wednesday to support trade growth as the world's second-largest economy slowed considerably in the first three months of this year.
"At present, China's trade situation is challenging and complex. Arduous efforts will be needed to meet the annual growth target. We must take decisive and forceful measures to boost the steady growth of exports and imports," Premier Li Keqiang said as he presided over a State Council executive meeting.
Trade structure will be optimized by encouraging imports of advanced equipment, key parts, resources in shortage and consumption goods. Imports and exports of services will also be expanded, according to a news release.
Trade will be stimulated by cutting the export inspection list and clearing unnecessary added fees. Financing services will be improved by enlarging export credit insurance, especially support for brands and small and medium-sized enterprises, and the increase of short-term insurance services.
Tax rebates will be expedited and comprehensive measures will be taken to support Chinese equipment's "going abroad".
The government also pledged to strengthen the competitiveness of enterprises through mergers and acquisition of brands, technology and production lines, the boosting of cross-border e-commerce, and the building of international trade platforms and sales networks. Cutthroat competition will be firmly prevented and trade friction better handled.
Vice-Premier Wang Yang said during a trip to Tianjin on Monday that foreign trade has been under great pressure this year and supportive measures should be "promptly" introduced to ease the difficulties of enterprises and enhance their confidence.
"This year, many economic indicators pointed to a remarkable slowdown in China's economy, while domestic demand remains weak. Measures for stabilizing foreign trade are a crucial move for the government to secure annual GDP growth close to the target," said Liu Xuezhi, a researcher at the Bank of Communications Ltd in Shanghai.
"The measures are a combo of short- and long-term moves, but it takes time to take effect. Foreign trade will improve in the following quarters but the growth is unlikely to exceed 7 percent for the whole year," Liu added.
Exports from China, the world's biggest goods trader last year, contracted by 3.4 percent year-on-year in the first three months of this year. Imports edged up by 1.6 percent in that period and combined exports and imports fell by 1 percent, according to the General Administration of Customs. The exports slump was mainly due to a large base figure inflated by rampant over-invoicing, through illicit transactions via Hong Kong, in the corresponding period last year.
Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said on April 17 that trade will improve in the second quarter but "probably start from May, as April trade figures are unsatisfactory". Shen remained confident on reaching the whole-year 7.5 percent trade growth target set by the government this year.
China's economy expanded by 7.4 percent in the first quarter, the slowest growth rate since the third quarter of 2012. Beijing introduced a "mini-stimulus" on April 2, including tax breaks for small businesses and accelerated pre-existing plans to build more roads, railways, government-subsidized housing and airports.
The meeting also decided to extend subsidy for enterprises recruiting college graduates which records 7.27 million this year.