BEIJING: China’s top statistics official on Tuesday sought to allay concerns over the health of the world’s second-largest economy, and defended the integrity of its data.

The comments came days ahead of China’s release of key readings on industrial output, retail sales and investment, which are being closely watched by global investors for clues on the extent of the country’s economic slowdown.

China’s February trade data showed the biggest drop in exports in three years while imports fell for the third straight month, and forward looking indicators like factory orders have pointed to further weakness ahead.

But analysts have noted the timing of the long Lunar New Year holidays early in the year may have distorted the trend.

Ning Jizhe, head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, said that since the beginning of March, imports and exports have grown more than 20 per cent.

“According to part of the statistics already known, China’s economic operation in January-February generally showed an improving trend and overall production improved,” said Ning Jizhe, head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

“Excluding the Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) factor, the total value of imports and exports increased 10.2 per cent year-on-year, of which exports rose 7.8 per cent and imports gained 12.9 per cent,” he said.

Ning also noted that overall new orders in February’s official factory survey had rebounded back into positive territory, and a gauge of consumer confidence rose that month.

His bureau is due to release a slew of data on Thursday including industrial output, retail sales and fixed assets investment. The figures will combine January and February in a bid to offset seasonal distortions.

Industrial production growth is expected to slow to 5.5 per cent from the same two-month period a year earlier, compared with 5.7 per cent in December, according to a Reuters poll.

Retail sales were forecast to ease to 8.1 per cent from 8.2 per cent in December, while fixed assets investment could inch up to 6.0 per cent from 5.9 per cent.

Those readings would likely confirm analysts’ expectations that activity in China is likely to cool for a few more months before a host of support measures start to stabilise business conditions.

Ning, who was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the annual parliament meeting in Beijing, also assured that China’s GDP accounting standards were in line with the rest of the world.

“It can be said that the current national economic accounting system is in line with international norms, and the GDP accounting data is scientific and reliable and internationally comparable,” he said.

Global concerns over Chinese data resurfaced last week in a paper submitted to the US-based think tank Brookings Institute by four academics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and University of Chicago.

The study reckoned that China’s annual economic growth rate from 2008-2016 was 1.7 percentage points lower than its official numbers, while noting authorities have been trying to iron out problems with local government statistics.