Despite discouraging signs for both exports and imports during the first six months of 2013, Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng has expressed confidence in achieving this year\'s trade targets. \"Although the current situation suggests great pressures and challenges in the remaining months of the year, we maintain confidence in reaching the target of trade growth for the whole year,\" Gao said during an interview with the Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday. Gao added that domestic consumption will keep growing steadily in 2013, while foreign direct investment in China will slightly outstrip that of last year. Non-financial outbound direct investment will maintain fast growth, he said. China\'s exports and imports gradually decelerated in the first half of this year. Exports in June unexpectedly declined 3.1 percent from a year earlier, the biggest fall since 2009 and also the first drop since January 2012. Imports decreased 0.7 percent year-on-year after a drop of 0.3 percent in May, according to the General Administration of Customs. The government in March set a target of 8 percent for foreign trade growth throughout 2013, after a gain of 6.2 percent in 2012. Foreign trade expanded 8.6 percent year-on-year in the first half of this year. Premier Li Keqiang told a meeting of the State Council on July 24 that the country\'s trade and economic environment is complex and challenging at present, and innovative mechanisms are needed to increase trade facilitation and the competitiveness of enterprises. A series of measures covering customs clearance, financial support and a stabilization of the yuan\'s exchange rate were rolled out during the meeting. \"The Ministry of Commerce will join with other departments to put these measures into actionable form and swiftly bring benefits to enterprises, as well as keep trade growth steady,\" Gao said. Meanwhile, the ministry will \"actively support potential trade methods and emerging services, such as cross-border e-commerce, while encouraging enterprises to enhance technological innovation, product quality and brand awareness, as well as build up international sales networks to explore emerging markets\", he said. The catalogue of technology and commodity imports will be enlarged to increase buying of energy and resources products, advanced equipment, key parts and consumer goods needed domestically, he added. Vice-Minister of Commerce and China International Trade Representative Zhong Shan said on Wednesday that the prospects for China\'s exports and imports had become \"grim\" this year, with challenges mounting. \"China\'s exports will be boosted by the State Council\'s trade facilitation measures, but full-year exports will be just slightly better than last year\'s in view of frequent trade friction and a remarkable rise in protectionism all over the world,\" said Lian Ping, chief economist at the Bank of Communications. China and the European Union on Saturday reached an agreement in their dispute over solar panel exports, the largest trade probe in terms of value by the EU into China. The agreement averted a full-scale showdown. \"China now is the world\'s second-largest trader and it\'s normal to encounter trade friction. We should take it rationally and deal with it properly. \"The resolution of the solar panel dispute secures the market share of Chinese exports and benefits China-EU trade ties,\" Gao said.