SHANGHAI -- Chinese vehicle imports surged 162 percent in the first quarter over the same period of 2002, newspapers on Tuesday cited an industry body as saying, as auto imports tariffs continue to slide after WTO accession.
More than 45,000 vehicles were shipped into the country from January to March, a surge from 17,200 units in the first quarter of 2002, the China Business Weekly cited figures from the China Trading Centre for Auto Imports as saying.
More than half were cars, it said.
Imports are expected to hit 180,000 vehicles this year, the newspaper quoted Ding Hongxiang, deputy general manager of the centre, as saying. Still, that represented an increase of just 42 percent from 2002's 127,000 vehicles.
Rising imports pose a small but significant threat to foreign automakers as well as local car makers in a domestic market shielded by high duties on imported autos.
China has pledged to slash tariffs on auto imports to 25 percent by July 2006 from between 40 and 50 percent now, and abolish all quotas by January 2005, in line with commitments made upon joining the World Trade Organization in late 2001.
Foreign automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen have flocked to China to tap a market which has ballooned in recent years alongside rising personal incomes, the product of robust economic growth.
Annual car sales in China broke the one million mark for the first time last year, surging 56 percent to 1.126 million. Car output hit 1.09 million, up 55 percent.
Almost 440,000 cars rolled out of mainland factories in the first quarter of this year, up 120 percent year on year, the State Statistical Bureau said on Monday.