BEIJING (Reuters) - China attracted a record $117.6 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2013, underlining investors' confidence that the world's second-largest economy can keep growing at a solid pace while retooling its growth model.
The Commerce Ministry said on Thursday that China's total FDI rose 5.3 percent in 2013 from a year earlier. December's inflows climbed 3.3 percent from a year earlier to $12.1 billion, extending an upward trend seen since March 2013.
"We are confident that we will see steady growth in FDI for 2014, as global investor sentiment recovers and reforms by the new (Chinese) leadership help attract more foreign capital," said Shen Danyang, a spokesman of the Commerce Ministry.
He added that China has obvious advantages as a destination for foreign investment in coming years, given its huge domestic market, strong infrastructure support, skilled labour force and relatively stable social system.
China has attracted a steady flow of foreign investment every year since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, as businesses jumped at the chance to enter the world's most populous country.
Asian companies are by far the biggest investors in China, with investment from the top 10 economies in the region including Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore rising annually by 7.1 percent in 2013 to $102.5 billion.
Investment from the European Union rose 18.1 percent year-on-year in 2013 to $7.2 billion, while investment from the United States climbed 7.1 percent to $3.4 billion.
At the same time, the ministry's data showed more Chinese companies are expanding abroad. China's outbound direct investment by non-financial firms jumped 16.8 percent to $90.2 billion last year from 2012.
Shen predicted that China's outbound investment could exceed foreign direct investment sometime in the near future.
"If not this year, it could be next year or the year after the next when China's outbound investment surpasses investment inflows," he said.
The ministry said about 90 percent of the total outbound investment went into six industries: commercial services, mining, wholesale and retail, manufacturing, construction and transportation.
Chinese firms have been quickening the pace of overseas purchases in recent years, with their footprint expanding from Asia to Africa and Europe, though some deals did not go smoothly as they faced cultural or political resistence in some countries.
China's Bright Food (Group) Co Ltd said this week it had agreed to buy Australian dairy company Mundella Foods through its Australian subsidiary.
Despite robust growth in investment, Shen struck a more sombre tone for the trade outlook, saying it may be difficult for China to see faster trade growth this year than in 2013.
"We are still facing a relatively severe trade situation this year, considering the still unsteady global recovery, rising input costs for domestic firms and fierce competitions from global markets," Shen added.
Earlier, official data showed China's exports grew 7.9 percent for all of 2013 compared with the previous year, while imports rose 7.3 percent, missing an official 8 percent growth target for total trade.
(Reporting by Aileen Wang and Koh Gui Qing; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)