* Sept exports f'cast +5.0 pct y/y vs Aug +2.7 pct
* Imports f'cast +2.4 pct y/y vs Aug -2.6 pct
* Trade balance f'cast $20.7 bln vs Aug $26.7 bln
* Data to be announced on Saturday, Oct. 13
BEIJING, Oct 9 (Reuters) - China's imports likely returned to the path of expansion in September with export growth accelerating from August, but the underlying momentum for trade remains weak, a Reuters poll of economists showed.
Analysts say shrinking global demand as the debt crisis festers in Europe - the single biggest overseas market for Chinese goods - and a slower-than-expected recovery in the U.S. economy would continue to be a major drag on China's export growth at least for the rest of the year.
"Despite the recent announcement of the euro's rescue plans and further quantitative easing in the U.S., it will be some time before the advanced economies can genuinely begin to recover," Shen Jianguang, chief economist at Mizuho Securities in Hong Kong, said in a research note.
"Until then, austerity measures and structural reforms are going to drag on demand for Chinese exports," he added.
The median forecast by 27 analysts showed China's exports in September may have grown 5.0 percent from a year earlier, recovering from a rise of 2.7 percent in August, while annual import growth was seen up 2.4 percent on a year ago, reversing the 2.6 percent year-on-year drop in August.
The monthly trade surplus was estimated at $20.7 billion, narrowing from $26.7 billion in August.
Some analysts argued that the modest recovery in trade growth last month may be largely a seasonal effect, as advanced economies typically increase demand ahead of the Christmas season in the fourth quarter.
Hurt by a recession in Europe and a patchy economic recovery in the United States, China's export growth has dipped to single digit levels in recent months from a pace of more than 20 percent in 2010 and the first half of 2011.
China targets 10 percent growth in total trade this year, a figure which officials say is going to be hard to achieve.
China's Commerce Ministry said last month the country's export outlook remained grim and external demand for the rest of the year may be weaker than seen in the first eight months.
That is grim news in a country where exports generated 31 percent of gross domestic product in 2011, according to World Bank data, support an estimated 200 million jobs and where analysts already expect the economy to have its weakest year of expansion since 1999.
Two cuts to interest rates this year, the easing of bank reserve requirements that freed about 1.2 trillion yuan ($190 billion) for lending and the approval of infrastructure projects worth more than $150 billion have so far failed to arrest the decline.
Economists expect China's six-quarter long economic slowdown may extend into the July-September quarter, with full-year growth for 2012 likely to fall to 7.7 percent according to the latest Reuters poll - the lowest since 1999.
To cushion headwinds from external risks, Beijing rolled out an array of measures to help relieve the burden on exporters and importers, such as faster payment of tax rebates, cutting red tape, easier access to bank loans.
The Finance Ministry has said it would suspend administrative customs fees for all goods coming in and out of China for the rest of this year in a move to shield exporters and importers from the global economic downturn.
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(exports and imports percentage change y/y; balance in $bln)
FORECASTS Exports Imports Balance ANZ 5.7 2.4 20.40 Bank of Communications 6.0 3.5 19.30 BBVA 5.0 3.5 17.64 BOC International Securities 3.5 2.5 13.80 BofAML 1.0 1.5 26.20 CDB Securities 4.7 6.8 18.30 China Construction Bank 3.2 0.0 20.00 CICC 6.0 1.0 23.10 CITIC Securities 6.2 2.6 21.10 Deutsche Bank 6.0 3.1 20.00 Everbright Securities 9.0 3.5 24.40 Forecast PTE 5.9 2.5 20.70 Goldman Sachs 8.0 1.0 26.60 Huarong Securities 3.1 1.3 23.50 Hwabao Trust 5.0 0.0 23.00 Industrial Bank 4.5 -1.2 24.00 JPMorgan Chase 9.9 5.8 22.40 Mizuho Sec. 4.0 -3.0 26.00 OCBC 6.3 3.1 20.00 Peking First Advisory 4.9 1.4 20.67 Pingan Securities 4.0 1.0 20.00 Sealand Securities 3.2 1.6 17.50 Shanghai Securities 3.1 -0.1 20.00 Shenyin & Wanguo 7.8 3.0 23.17 Societe Generale 6.0 4.0 18.50 Standard Chartered 5.0 -3.3 28.00 UBS 5.0 3.0 18.40
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Median 5.0 2.4 20.67 Highest 9.9 6.8 28.00 Lowest 1.0 -3.3 13.80
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(Reporting by Aileen Wang and Kevin Yao; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)
Keywords: CHINA ECONOMY/TRADE