Trucks carry containers that were unloaded from a ship at a port in Qingdao, in eastern China's Shandong province. Pic: AP.

BEIJING (AP) — China’s economic growth declined in the final quarter of 2013, adding to pressure on the country’s communist leaders to avoid politically dangerous job losses as they carry out a sweeping slate of promised reforms.

The economy grew by 7.7 percent, down from 7.8 percent the previous quarter, data showed Monday. Growth for the full year was 7.7 percent, tying 2012 for the weakest annual performance since 1999.

China’s growth is far stronger than the United States, Japan or Europe. But an unexpectedly abrupt decline from the double digit rates of the previous decade has complicated the ruling Communist Party’s plans to promote more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption and reduce reliance on trade and investment.

“A long-term accumulation of problems has yet to ease and the foundation for economic stabilization and recovery is still consolidating,” said the commissioner of the government statistics bureau, Ma Jiantang, at a news conference.

A plunge in global demand for Chinese exports prompted Beijing to reverse course temporarily and launch a mini-stimulus in mid-2013 based on higher spending on railway construction and other public works. But since then, Chinese leaders have said there is little room for additional stimulus to shore up growth and improvements will have to come from longer-term reforms.

A reform outline issued in November promises to open state-dominated industries wider to private and foreign competition and to give entrepreneurs who generate most of China’s growth and jobs a bigger economic role. However, it stressed that state ownership was to remain a pillar of the economy.

The government earlier had reported 7.8 percent growth for 2012 but that later was revised down to 7.7 percent. That was the slowest rate since 1999′s 7.6 percent. Before that, the next-lowest growth rate was 3.8 percent in 1990.

Retail sales growth declined in December to a still-robust 13.6 percent from the previous month’s 13.7 percent. For the full year, retail spending rose 13.1 percent.

December growth in factory output held steady with the previous month’s 10 percent. For the full year, it was 9.7 percent.