China's trade faces challenges as small firms battle coronavirus impact

Man rides a vehicle at a riverside park in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's foreign trade faces challenges as small- and mid-size firms in its supply chains battle financing difficulties amid trade curbs, lack of raw materials and delayed payments during a coronavirus outbreak, the commerce ministry said on Thursday.

A ministry survey showed more than 90% of roughly 7,000 companies engaged in foreign trade faced delays in shipping and payments because of the outbreak, the ministry told reporters in an online briefing.

Many companies faced significant risks of cancelled orders and rejections in product delivery and payments, said Li Xingqian, director of the ministry's foreign trade department, calling for "urgently needed" export credit insurance for them.

"The ministry will introduce further assistance measures in a timely manner," Li added, without specifying a timeframe.

But there has not been a major shift of supply or manufacturing chains out of China, ministry officials said, adding that some foreign companies were continuing to invest, betting on the long-term prospects of the Chinese market.

The problems foreign firms face in resuming work following travel and movement curbs to rein in the virus will soon be resolved as Beijing guides major industries to resume output, said ministry official Zong Changqing.

"The impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the supply and industrial chains is temporary," added Zong, the director of the ministry's department of foreign investment.

"China's important status in the global supply and industrial chain will not change due to that."

(Reporting by Jing Xu, Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee; Editing by Tom Hogue and Clarence Fernandez)