Zhang Ji said that a period of high growth for China has ended as increased costs reduce its competitiveness and as Europe and the US try to boost their manufacturing and export sectors, the news agency reported.
China has set a target of 7.5% growth for both exports and imports this year. A slow start to the year means that combined exports and imports must achieve an average annual rate of 11.3% each month from May to December in order to meet this year's target, the ministry of commerce has said, according to the news agency.
"The foreign trade situation is complex and grim this year," Zhang told a news conference. "It's a very arduous task to achieve the annual target of 7.5%. The economic recovery of developed countries remains slow while growth of emerging economies is weakening."
According to Reuters, China missed its trade growth targets of 8% in 2013 and 10% in 2012. Foreign trade increased by an annual average of 15.9% between 1978 and 2013. This accounted for a fifth of economic growth in recent years and helped create millions of jobs in a sector which directly employs 100 million people, said Zhang.
Zhang highlighted that labour costs of Chinese exporters in coastal areas, which are the country's main export hubs, are currently two to threes times those in India, Vietnam and Cambodia.
China's annual economic growth fell to an 18-month low in the first quarter of 2014, at 7.4%. This was lower than its 2014 economic growth target of 7.5%. Should China fail to meet this annual target, it would be the first time this has happened in 15 years, said Reuters.
Beijing last week announced a number of measures designed to support its trade sector. These included speeding up export tax rebates, expanding credits to importers and exporter and plans to establish a credit database for companies engaged in foreign trade, said the Wall Street Journal. Zhang said the ministry has set up a special task force to implement the measures, most of which are expected to be carried out in May and June, said Reuters.
According to Reuters China's exports and imports experienced a slight growth in April, due to increased orders to the US and the European Union. Some analysts told the news agency that trade picture was better in April than the data suggests, because Chinese export figures last year were inflated by fake invoicing, before authorities clamped down on the activity in mid-2013.