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BEIJING, Jan 10 (Reuters) - China's exports are likely to grow by 8-9 percent this year, slightly faster than in 2012, while foreign direct investment inflows could be steady, a senior researcher with the Commerce Ministry's think-tank said on Thursday.
"China's trade growth could accelerate slightly this year from 2012. We believe export growth could be single-digit, probably between 8 percent and 9 percent," Li Jian, head of foreign trade research of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told Reuters.
"The U.S. economy is recovering slowly and we need to watch whether Europe's debt crisis could be brought under control."
Li's forecasts came after official data showed China's exports rose a sharper-than-expected 14.1 percent in December, the strongest pace in seven months.
China's exports grew 7.9 percent in 2012 and imports were up 4.3 percent. The government had targeted a 10 percent rise in foreign trade last year.
Li added that the pace of yuan appreciation would be small this year, though he did not give a specific forecast. The yuan gained just 1 percent against the dollar in 2012, slowing from a 4.7 percent rise in 2011.
Growing trade frictions would be a long-term challenge for Chinese exporters and firms must move up the global value chain by increasing their international presence, Li said.
"I think FDI could be steady as the global economy improves. The government will support economic growth this year, which means investment demand will stay strong," he said.
China could lure in at least $100 billion in FDI this year as the economy recovers due to pro-growth policies, he said.
China drew $100 billion in FDI in the first 11 months of 2012, down 3.6 percent from a year earlier, the latest official data showed.
Many economists have pencilled in annual economic growth of around 8 percent for China this year, up slightly from 2012.