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The environmental protection industry in China has been booming in recent years with government support, but companies still face many problems in developing the industry into a pillar of the economy,

an industrial association said on Tuesday.

Over the past decade, the environmental protection industry has recorded 15 percent growth annually, according to a report from the China Environmental Service Industry Association.

By the end of 2015, the industry's overall output was estimated at 4.5 trillion yuan ($680 billion), according to the National Development and Reform Commission.

The industry covers areas such as technologies to control pollution, facilities manufacturing, engineering services and maintaining services for the facilities, the report said.

"China has nurtured the environmental industry as an emerging sector in a bid to better control pollution and improve the environment," Zhao Lijun, head of the association, said on Tuesday.

The industry is developing rapidly, making it one of the hottest spots of the economy, which is evident in the increasing number of mergers and acquisitions at home and abroad, he said.

In 2015, there were 120 mergers and acquisitions with total investment exceeding 40 billion yuan, the report said.

The central government has also pushed the development of the industry by encouraging cooperation between the public and private sectors.

Of the more than 9,000 public-private partnerships, 978 are in the environmental industry with total investment of 526 billion yuan, according to the commission's center on public-private projects.

However, despite rapid growth, the emerging sector has a long way to go to become a pillar of the domestic economy, it added.

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(China Daily USA 03/02/2016 page3)