China's trade faces 'unprecedented' challenges amid pandemic: commerce ministerChina's trade faces 'unprecedented' challenges amid pandemic: commerce minister
News conference at the State Council Information Office following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beijing

BEIJING (Reuters) – Global demand has slumped significantly due to the coronavirus outbreak and trade faces unprecedented challenges, China’s commerce minister said on Monday.

Companies are having an extremely difficult time due to the outbreak, which has caused a huge shock to China’s economic and social development, Zhong Shan said at a news conference in Beijing.

“As the global epidemic spreads, international market demand has fallen significantly, and China faces unprecedented challenges in foreign trade this year,” said Zhong.

The country’s exports unexpectedly rose in April for the first time this year as factories raced to make up for lost sales due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a big fall in imports signalled more trouble ahead as the global economy sinks into recession.

“China’s companies face extreme difficulties under the effects of the epidemic,” said Zhong, highlighting tight funding, falling orders, and increased risks to supply chains.

The government will boost domestic demand and promote consumption, he added.

Many factories are grappling with slashed or cancelled overseas orders after reopening as global demand stays tepid. They are faced with rising inventory and falling profits, and some have let workers go as part of cost-cutting efforts.

(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Kim Coghill and Richard Pullin)