China will take major steps to stabilize and bolster foreign trade and investment amid the rising uncertainties and disruptions surrounding the world economy and trade from the COVID-19 outbreak, the Ministry of Commerce said on Monday.
"The globally spreading coronavirus epidemic has caused a staggering drop in international market demand, and China faces unprecedented challenges in foreign trade this year," Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said at a news conference in Beijing.
The government will make a big push to help companies encountering major difficulties amid the outbreak, he said. It also will help resolve problems companies are facing during such an extremely hard time, including tight funding, falling orders and rising risks in industrial and supply chains.
Despite extreme difficulties, companies still see new growth opportunities ahead, Zhong added.
While China's foreign trade volume declined 4.9 percent year-on-year in the first four months of the year, the country's trade with countries and regions participating in the Belt and Road Initiative posted robust growth. Chinese exporters also saw domestic sales jump 17 percent in April.
The government will help companies seek new opportunities in emerging overseas markets such as members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, encourage exporters to sell products domestically and foster use of new business models such as cross-border e-commerce, Zhong said.
As many economies have begun to resume work and order more manufactured goods, parts and daily necessities from China, the country's foreign trade is likely to recover in the second quarter and pick up steadily in the third quarter, said Wei Jianguo, vice-chairman of the Beijing-based China Center for International Economic Exchanges.
As China's main sources of trade have been hit hard, enhanced efforts need to be made by the government, export-oriented companies, financial institutions, shipping companies and other parties, Wei said. They need to develop cross-border e-commerce activities and help small and medium-sized enterprises restore their earning strength to overcome obstacles including order cancellations or delays, difficulties in gaining new orders and poor logistics.
When it comes to foreign investment, Zhong said smart entrepreneurs will not give up the China market, as the country has abundant high-quality labor, the ability to provide strong industrial support and a market with 1.4 billion consumers.
In the next step, the government will open wider to the outside world, relax market access, shorten the negative list, further widen services market access to foreign investors, expand pilot free trade zones and continue to improve the business environment, he added.
Tetsuro Homma, CEO for China and Northeast Asia of Japan's Panasonic Corp, said the company has no intention to cut its investment plans in China as the country has been recovering steadily from the epidemic and started exporting goods.
Boosted by China's measures to speed up new infrastructure construction, Panasonic currently is building a plant to produce electronic materials needed for 5G-related products in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province.
Once the new factory becomes operational, he said the group's electronic goods output capacity would increase significantly. This will help the company maintain 10 percent growth in sales every year over the next five years, he added.