The Asiaport Daily News reports that the chief analyst on a government body is forecasting that automobile imports will double this year, after registering a sharp increase in 2001.

Import growth in China is being driven by tariff cuts being implemented as part of China’s accession to the WTO.

China cut the car import tariffs from 100% to between 70% and 80% early last year. The government cut tariffs further this year by about one-third to 40-50%.

The newspaper report quotes the forecasts of Jia Xinguang, chief analyst at the China National Automotive Industry Consultation and Development Corp.

The Asiaport Daily news adds that the country imported 72,000 vehicles last year, up from 42,000 in 2000, according to statistics from the China Trading Centre for Automobile Imports.

Analysts say that cheaper imported vehicles this year will significantly squeeze local manufacturers.

This year has already seen big price cuts by several leading local carmakers led by Xiali and followed by others.