Such a rate would be the envy of most other economies, but would be slowest seen in Shanghai in 17 years.

Deep impact

Shanghai's mayor has warned the city faces a tough year ahead [EPA]
"At present, the global financial crisis has not yet hit bottom, its impact on the global real economy is still deepening," Han Zheng said in a speech to the annual session of the city's parliament on Tuesday.

"2008 was a difficult year for Shanghai's economic development," he said. "Still, Shanghai's economy is likely to face even more and harsher difficulties in 2009, though it also faces opportunities."

From 1992 to 2007, Shanghai recorded double-digit economic growth every year, with estimates for 2008 indicating an expected growth rate of above 10 per cent.

Zheng's warning coupled with Tuesday's trade data is the latest indication of the escalating impact of the global downturn on China's economy.

A report by US financial services group JP Morgan & Co said December's export decline was the sharpest since April 1999 and it expect export growth to be flat through 2009.

Meanwhile some China-based analysts have cast doubt on the accuracy of the government's figures.

"The real situation is probably worse than the statistics indicate. That's what I see on the ground," Andy Xie, an independent economist based in Shanghai, told the AFP news agency.

Unrest fears

China's economic growth has been heavily dependent on exports [EPA]
Chinese leaders have announced a raft of stimulus measures in recent weeks, hoping to prop up economic growth and avoid job cuts that they fear could spark mass outbreaks of unrest.

Measures have included tax cuts for exporters and other steps to help struggling producers of textiles, toys and other goods.

In November officials announced a $586bn stimulus package aimed at boosting domestic consumption and reducing the economy's reliance on exports.

Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier and the country's top economic official, has promised additional steps to create new jobs.