China's further-flung cities and counties are rising as a new front in the country's fast-growing import market, according to a report issued on Wednesday.

The report, jointly released by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, accountancy heavyweight Deloitte and the China Chamber of International Commerce, pointed to cross-border e-commerce's steady penetration into China's smaller cities and counties.

Data from Tmall Global, Alibaba's online marketplace for imported goods, show the county-level cross-border e-commerce penetration increased from 1 percent in 2014 to 7 percent in 2018, the report said.

Consumers in third- to fifth-tier cities and counties account for 45 percent of China's total users of cross-border e-commerce. County-level areas alone make up 23 percent of the national tally.

The report said rising income levels and full e-commerce coverage in these areas, apart from China's continuous efforts to lower market thresholds for imported goods, are unleashing local demands for imported goods.

The report also pointed to greater diversification in terms of source countries of imported goods.

It cited Tmall Global data to show yearly rises of more than 200 percent in consumer goods imports from Latvia, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Russia, Cuba, Cyprus, Argentina, Greece, Cambodia and Rwanda.

Gao Hongbing, vice president of Alibaba Group, said cross-border e-commerce, which accounts for only 2.2 percent of the total online shopping market, holds huge potential for China.

While continuing to optimize its policies on consumption of imported goods, China is stepping up efforts to expand import and scrap market barriers for overseas products.

The country has lowered tariffs on imported items on many occasions in recent years and met the WTO requirements for its developing members, cutting the average tariff level from 15.3 percent in 2001 to 7.5 percent as of 2018. In particular, tariffs on imported automobiles and medicines have seen a remarkable reduction.