China's inflation rate slowed sharply in February from the previous month, official data showed Friday, giving Beijing more room to loosen credit restrictions to boost flagging economic growth.
The consumer price index was 3.2 percent in February -- the lowest since June 2010 -- compared with 4.5 percent in January, when spending before the Chinese New Year holiday drove up retail prices.
Before January, inflation had eased for five straight months after hitting a more than three-year high of 6.5 percent in July and analysts had expected the downward trend to resume in February as the economy continued to slow.
Premier Wen Jiabao, speaking at the opening of the annual session of parliament on Monday, warned consumer prices remained high and the government's aim was to keep the inflation rate within 4.0 percent this year.
His remarks suggest policymakers will be cautious in relaxing the tight credit restrictions imposed in the past two years to rein in soaring food and housing costs for fear of reigniting politically sensitive inflation.
The producer price index, which measures the cost of goods at the farm and factory gate and is lead indicator of consumer prices, flatlined in February compared with a 0.1 percent increase in January.