BEIJING, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) -- China's burgeoning courier service sector is predicted to generate 500 billion yuan (72 billion U.S. dollars) in business revenue this year, a postal official said Thursday.
Over 40 billion express parcels will be sent in 2017, said Ma Junsheng, head of State Post Bureau (SPB).
In 2016, 31.3 billion parcels were sent, and the service created over 200,000 jobs, data from SPB showed.
The sector collected 400 billion yuan of business revenue last year, compared to just shy of 30 billion yuan in 2006, Ma said, calling the sector a "dark horse" of the economy.
China's courier market has grown from a handful of small businesses into a vibrant market contested by industry heavyweights, expanding 50 percent annually over the past six years, he said.
Leading delivery service provider ZTO Express became an NYSE-listed company in October 2016, the biggest U.S. IPO by a Chinese company after e-commerce giant Alibaba.
The debut came after the domestic listing of Yto Express, while competitors including SF Express, STO Express and Yunda Express expect to follow suit this year in a rush to buy more land, facilities, equipment and trucks.
The couriers' success is replicable and adaptable for the global market, Ma said.
Last year, the country's couriers helped deliver products bought online worth over 4 trillion yuan, or 12.5 percent of total retail sales of consumer goods, he said.
Still, China wants couriers to better serve its manufacturing industry and, to this end, it has launched 322 pilot coordination projects to accommodate an annual industrial output of over 120 billion yuan.
On the agriculture front, courier services have helped expand sales channels for farm products, and facilitated the sale of products worth over 100 billion yuan in 2016 and facilitated an on-going poverty-relief campaign.
The sector is well-positioned for the task, as courier services now cover 80 percent of towns and villages, and the country plans to extend this network by 2020, according to the SPB.
The increasing heft of the sector reflects China's solid progress in re-balancing its economic structure from manufacturing and investment to services and consumption.
Delivery and postal services are leading the growth in the service sector in China, home to the world's fastest growing postal market, Ma said earlier.
The country aims to deliver 50 billion express parcels annually, generating 800 billion yuan in business revenue, by 2020.