BEIJING, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- China's foreign trade last year jumped 34.7percent year on year to more than 2.97 trillion U.S. dollars while its trade surplus fell 6.4 percent to 183.1 billion U.S. dollars, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said Monday.
The country's exports grew 31.3 percent year on year last year to 1.58 trillion U.S. dollars while imports surged 38.7 percent to 1.39 trillion U.S. dollars, said the GAC.
"China's foreign trade is, in general, heading towards a balanced structure," said the GAC in a statement on its website.
The trade surplus accounted for 6.2 percent of all foreign trade last year, down from 8.9 percent in 2009 and 11.6 percent in 2008.
In December, foreign trade hit a record 295.2 billion U.S. dollars, representing year-on-year growth of 21.4 percent and a month-on-month rise of 4 percent.
The European Union remained China's largest trade partner in 2010, with EU-China trade up 31.8 percent year on year to 479.71 billion U.S. dollars.
Trade with the United States rose 29.2 percent year on year to 385.34 billion U.S. dollars while China-Japan trade jumped 30.2 percent year on year to 297.77 billion U.S. dollars.
Trade between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) surged 37.5 percent to 292.78 billion U.S.dollars after a free trade area was launched between the two regions at the start of 2010.
China's Ministry of Commerce (MOC) said in a statement on its website Monday that foreign trade last year was "better-than-expected."
The statement cited Li Jian, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, an MOC affiliate, as saying the strong growth in foreign trade was due to the recovery in global demand, government efforts to maintain export growth and the low comparison basis of 2009.
Li told Xinhua he believed China would continue to boost imports this year by cutting import duties, subsidizing interest payments on loans for imports of high-end equipment, and facilitating imports.
He estimated China's imports would grow by 10 percent to 20 percent this year.
Wang Xiaoguang, a research fellow at the Policy Advisory Department of the Chinese Academy of Governance, said he expected foreign trade to steadily expand this year as China's trade surplus continued to shrink.
Growth in exports would slow while that of imports would pick up amid a strong rebound in investment this year, the first year of China's 12th five-year plan, Wang said.
However, he did not expect growth figures to be very impressive, given a higher comparison basis last year, estimating export growth would remain at around 10 percent year on year.
Zhao Jinping, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council, said the customs data showed China had entered a new round of growth in foreign trade after recovering from the global crisis.
But he warned there were still uncertainties this year, including high unemployment in Western countries, rising protectionism, and pressure for the yuan's appreciation.
However, Wang Tao, chief economist with the UBS Securities, said the decline in the trade surplus was due to the higher growth in import prices than that of exports last year.
"The rises in imported commodity prices last year will not persist, and trade surplus will be back to growth and rise above the 200-billion-U.S.dollar level this year," she said, adding there was still pressure for the yuan to appreciate.
Chinese President Hu Jintao will pay a state visit to the United States from Jan. 18 to 21 at the invitation of U.S. President Barack Obama. Trade and the yuan exchange rate are among the issues that are expected to be touched on during the visit.
A report from the State Information Center released Monday forecast China's imports would climb 20 percent while exports would rise by 16 percent this year. The trade surplus would fall 13.2 percent to 165 billion U.S.dollars year on year.
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