BEIJING, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- China's foreign trade narrowed its decline in 2016 as the country took steps to pursue a better quality development model, Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said Tuesday.
Gao made the remarks at a press conference in response to a question about the United States replacing China as the world's top trader.
China's imports and exports stood at 24.3 trillion yuan (about 3.7 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2016, down 0.9 percent year on year. The decline narrowed by 6.1 percentage points compared with 2015.
That figure gave the United States a lead of about 20 billion U.S. dollars, the minister attributed this to fluctuations in exchange rates and global commodity prices.
"China was still the world's largest exporter in 2016," the minister said, "but the country will not seek blind expansion in exports as this could undermine its resources and environment."
In place of volume and speed, quality and efficiency are being prioritized as drivers of foreign trade growth, he said, adding that the era of rapid development based on low cost has ended.
China's export sector is gaining new ground through improved standards, techniques, brands and services in what Gao called a "historic transformation."
China's foreign trade will face many difficulties and uncertainties in 2017, but it will focus on its own work of deepening supply-side reform, fostering new competitiveness and growth momentum, he said.