BEIJING - China will look to growing consumption in the services sector, especially in eldercare and domestic help, to boost economic growth, said a senior economic official on Saturday (March 9).
"Consumption of services is a new growth area, but there are still many weak links," said Commerce Minister Zhong Shan at a press conference on the sidelines of an annual parliamentary meeting.
He was addressing concerns that last year's retail sales grew only at 9 per cent, the slowest in 15 years.
Other than the ongoing trade war with the United States, softening domestic demand is another key factor dragging down the world's No 2 economy.
The government has lowered its growth target for this year to between 6 to 6.5 per cent, with Premier Li Keqiang urging lawmakers to be prepared for "a tough struggle" when he delivered the government's work report on Tuesday.
While sectors like culture, tourism, sports and online consumption have become hot spots for growth, Mr Zhong said more should be done to improve the shortcomings in the services sector.
One "obvious shortcoming" was the eldercare sector, he said, adding that China was rapidly ageing where the numbers of the elderly were increasing to the tune of eight million each year.
"It's very challenging to provide eldercare services for these elderly people. For example, we face an annual shortage of two million beds in eldercare facilities," he told reporters.
He singled out domestic help services in the cities as another sector where there was room for improvements.
"It's especially hard to hire a good and affordable nanny in the large and medium-sized cities," he said.
On the other hand, China had abundant labour in the rural areas because many people, lacking professional skills or connections, found it hard to find jobs in the city, he said.
To solve this problem, the Commerce Ministry last year rolled out a programme, matching 109 cities with more than 10,000 villages to train domestic helpers.
"In the past year, we have helped more than 100,000 rural people enter the city for jobs and have helped increase the income of farmers and reduced the burden on urban families," he told reporters in a nearly two-hour press conference that covered issues on the economy, trade, foreign investments and Chinese investments overseas.
Other efforts to boost consumption included improving the pedestrian shopping streets and the layout of convenience stores in urban areas.
More would also be done to expand consumption in the rural areas, including by improving links between the rural and urban markets so that farmers could sell their produce to the city, earn more and thus increase their spending power.
Through the same network, they could also gain better access to high quality industrial goods.
"We will work to open up the 'last mile' (delivery) of agricultural products into the city and industrial goods to the countryside," Mr Zhong added.