Trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries increased 22 %. Trade with Russia was up 31.6 % and that with South Africa surged 61.4 %. Trade with Japan, however, dwindled 8.2 %. General imports and exports, which accounted for 52 % of the total trade, increased 11.5 %. The processing trade, which refers to activity related to importing raw materials and exporting finished goods, grew 7.6 % and represented 33.2 % of the total, or 2 %age points lower than in the same period a year ago. Imports of raw materials dropped, as fewer working days in February curtailed demand. In the first two months, imports of iron ore fell 1.5 % to 120 million tonnes, while imports of crude oil decreased 2.4 % to 45.93 million tonnes. On the sidelines of the ongoing annual session of China’s political advisory body, Yi Gang, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, said Wednesday that the value of the yuan has been close to equilibrium, adding that its exchange rate will continue to be stable this year. In a government work report delivered at parliament’s ongoing annual session earlier Tuesday, Premier Wen Jiabao said China has expanded the scope of opening-up in the past five years and actively responded to external changes, with its total trade volume up from the world’s third to the second largest. Analysts said Wen’s inclusion of the foreign trade ranking in the report revealed China’s objective assessment of its own strength in foreign trade and its respect for the WTO’s measurement. Responding to a foreign media report in February that said China has overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest goods trading nation, the Ministry of Commerce reiterated that the country’s trade volume in 2012 was still smaller than that of the United States according to the measurement adopted by the WTO. Zhuang Jian, an economist with the Asian Development Bank, said China has to further optimize its trade structure and boost exports with high added-value. “Large volumes do not necessarily represent high quality, and a large foreign trade nation is not equal to a trade power,” Zhuang said, adding that China is showing signs of more balanced trade with expanded exports of high-value-added machinery. Compared with traditional markets, China’s steady or even fast-growing exports to some developing countries have also been an important stabilizer of its foreign trade, according to the Asian Development Bank economist.