Against the headwinds from COVID-19 resurgences and external complexity, China's efforts are underway to stabilize and upgrade foreign trade, a key underpinning for the economy.
The latest data showed a feeble April growth of only 0.1 percent in the total exports and imports, indicating that the country's foreign trade firms are under strain.
To help foreign trade navigate the trough, a guideline was released by the country's cabinet earlier last week, specifying 13 targeted measures toward this end. It requires enhanced services for key foreign trade enterprises and unimpeded cargo logistics.
Apart from increasing fiscal and financial support for foreign trade enterprises, the country will also seek to bolster cross-border e-commerce, it says.
The fresh guideline, in particular, prioritizes ensuring stable production and circulation in foreign trade, saying that key components and equipment, as well as merchandise in foreign trade, must be transported smoothly.
"Compared with its previous moves, China this time placed more emphasis on steadying the industrial and supply chains in the short term," said Zhao Ping, a researcher with the Academy of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.
"Unclogging the logistics is of paramount importance for foreign trade at present," Zhao said. She noted that the recent sporadic COVID-19 cases have weighed on the foreign trade supply chain, restraining production efficiency and profitability.
To address the challenges, customs nationwide have tailored region-specific measures to streamline procedures and fast-track freight clearance.
In the Huangpu customs district of South China's Guangdong, for instance, all administrative restrictions have been scrapped, with a green channel where farm produce and fresh foods enjoy faster access and inspection.
Thanks to such facilitation, it only takes 16 hours for a package of vegetables, fresh out of Guangdong farms, to arrive at a Hong Kong food market, said a Huangpu customs officer.
For sea freight, East China's Huzhou has launched a pre-arrival declaration model, which allows importers to finish declaration, license verification and duty payments before their cargo enters ports. This reduces a cargo's stay at a port to less than 20 minutes.
While offering recipes for logistics, the guideline underscores the fostering of new growth drivers for foreign trade. Singling out cross-border e-commerce, the guideline encourages the licensing of qualified firms in this sphere as "hi-tech or new-tech enterprises."
"Innovation is the only choice for foreign trade companies to handle challenges and make breakthroughs," said Zhao, noting that cross-border e-commerce exemplifies the innovation-driven development of foreign trade.
"This requires the country to give the same policy support to cross-border e-commerce as to the hi-tech sectors, and help its innovation-based growth," Zhao said.
Zhao also advised foreign trade-related industries to nurture new business models within China's bonded areas, citing the maintenance of bonded goods, a business model where technicians repair or upgrade flawed foreign goods and then return them to the producers. It is an integration of merchandise trade and service trade, Zhao said.
As foreign trade firms seek opportunities globally, the guideline details measures to better protect them from risks, calling on financial institutions to expand the coverage of export credit insurance for small and micro exporters.
Bai Ming, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce, compared such insurance to an "escort" for enterprises sailing into overseas markets. "Targeted efforts are needed to reduce insurance costs on small and micro foreign trade firms, and improve services for claim settlement," Bai said.
Financial institutions are also broadening foreign trade firms' access to capital, in a bid to boost market confidence. A case in point is the Export-Import Bank of China, a policy bank that has recently issued bonds aimed at boosting foreign trade.
Worth 3 billion yuan ($445 million) and with a one-year duration, these bonds will help raise funds for sectors in foreign trade, according to the bank.